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February 23, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The Thomas Oliver Band

Every year, the NZ Campus Activities Network (NZCAN) pick out one of the country’s most promising up and coming bands to tour the country, entertaining the hordes of students at university Orientation weeks. Last year it was Tahuna Breaks, and this year it’s Wellington five-piece The Thomas Oliver Band. They’ll be performing at every Uni in the country over two weeks, and making a stop at Victoria’s Hangover Hangi.

salient09_00-thomas_oliverFronted by—you guessed it—singer/songwriter Thomas Oliver, the band play energised numbers that are hard to pin down to a particular genre. There are elements of blues, jazz and rock, with a smattering of folk and rootsy aftertaste. Thomas explains that they’re driven not so much by adherence to a particular style, but by an overall attitude to making music: “The unique aspect of our sound is that it changes from song to song, yet still maintaining the essence of our approach to music. The lyrics are honest, and the progressions make you feel good.” Besides the usual guitar and drums, they incorporate an upright bass, saxophones and lap steel guitar.

But he refrains from giving a note-by-note description of their sound, saying that you really need to hear it to get it. Let me help you out with that one: their songs sound like what happens when musicians with oodles of technical skill take on musical forms and styles known for their simplicity. You can sense the talent and artistry bubbling underneath the surface, without being assaulted by it, and the end result has all the rich quality of a fine wine.

The band came together through “…a common desire to make music that didn’t sound like anything else you hear here.” Since their conception, they’ve played opening sets for such big names as Eric Clapton, The Black Seeds, The Phoenix Foundation and Little Bushman, among others. Oh, and they’ve also strummed, plucked and twanged their way through four national tours and over a hundred Wellington shows. Experienced indeed.

I ask Thomas about the best gig the band’s ever played, and he relates the story of the release party for their debut EP Every Penny in mid-2007. “It was a Thursday night at Hope Bros, and we expected a decent crowd but got blown away by 450 people, shoulder-to-shoulder, upstairs and downstairs, singing to the words of unreleased songs! That was pretty special.” And he says that more of the same can be expected later this year when the band release their debut full-length album.

If you’re looking for some pointers to the TOB’s sound, check out singer/songwriter Andrew Moore, who plays with the TOB and his own band (which also includes Thomas Oliver—ah, Wellington and its incestuousness!). Thomas says that Andrew “…writes music with simple beauty that is unmatched by anyone.” He’s also a fan of local funk/soul outfit Harbour City Electric, perennial favourites Shapeshifter (“They’ve created a genre that falls between the beauty of pop music and the energy of drum and bass.”), and the classic Virginia-based Dave Matthews Band.

Hopefully when Thomas et al step on stage at the Hangi, their final date in the NZCAN Orientation Tour, they won’t be too worn out by the rigours of “overnight drives, drunk students and crappy HiAce stereos,” as Thomas puts it. They promise “natural energy and dynamic exultation” in their live performance – and after all the gigging they’ve done over the years, odds are you can rely on them to deliver. Not to mention there’ll be some choice kai on offer.

The Hangover Hangi takes place on the 8th of March at Te Herenga Waka Marae, 46 Kelburn Parade, with the band on stage at 2pm.

At Hangover Hangi, 8th of March


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