On a miserable wet Sunday night in Auckland, on 26th June, 2016 at Civic Theatre in Auckland, I went along to see a couple of singers from a bygone era perform a clutch of old songs for a mostly middle-aged audience. One of the prime motivators for checking them out was the venue. I have become disenchanted with stadium concerts that are so impersonal that one seldom experiences the soul of the performers. Any attempt at connecting with the audience on a personal level is usually substituted with the glitz and glamour of digital light shows and mega-production gimmicks. And the sound quality can be sadly miss-interpreted as sound quantity.
So I shuffled to my comfortable seat in the Civic auditorium, along with 2,000 similar grey-haired blokes and coloured-haired blokesses and was early enough to check out the stage set-up. It looked encouraging. A nice Ludwig drum kit sitting proudly on its riser in the centre rear of the large stage, flanked by Fender bass and guitar amplifiers (one bass, two guitars) and surprisingly two sets of keyboards, one stage-left and another at stage-right. My gaze then shifted to the interior of the theatre, and I was reminded what a magnificent auditorium this is. From the twinkling stars in the midnight blue ceiling to the big golden cats sitting either side of the stage, with their illuminated green eyes staring out, this is a classy place. It’s reminiscent of a Las Vegas Showroom, but with less glitz and more traditional character. Not to mention the very natural-sounding acoustics that never get in the way of the music.
With every seat in house supporting a backside, the off-stage announcer introduces “Ladies and gentlemen, Leo Sayer and Lulu” and they enter from oposite sides of the stage to perform their first duet. Both of them were dressed casually, Lulu sporting a cool black hat, black jeans, and shirt/waistcoat affair; Leo in blue jeans and chequered shirt and sport coat, and of course with his trademark frizzy hair. They are both small people, but so dynamic! It was obvious from the get-go, this was going to be a good night. The band was great, and the sound mix was perfect! I cannot remember ever making that statement about the sound of any concert over the past 20 years. But this time it all came together in a wonderful blend of clear, precise vocals and awesome guitars, keboards and drums at a solid volume level that “did the business” without completely demolishing our eardrums.
As the set evolved, it became apparent that additional backing vocals were added by way of a single female singer, augmented by both guitarists and both keyboardists, as required. The harmonies were brilliant, and once again beautifully mixed. After a couple of duets to kick off the show, Lulu left the stage and Leo did his stuff for two or three songs after which Lulu came on and did the same.
They finished the first set together again before the interval. The audience was typical of the age-group; applauding strongly but politely at the end of each song, but remaining silent throughout performances.
After the interval they started winding the audience up. Lulu did a segment where she got to tell some stories about her days with Maurice Gibb and she sang a couple of Bee Gees hits. “To Love Somebody” was superb (with lovely BV’s as described above). A highlight for me was her story about Maurice and Barry writing “Run to Him” and Robin coming in late to provide the main chorus. This was a well rehearsed segment where Lulu seamlessly moved from talking into singing mode to portray the songwriting process, and back to story-telling mode. The back and forth switches were handled seamlessly by Lulu and the band. Brilliant!
By the time Lulu performed her amazing version of “Shout” everybody was out of their seats singing and clapping along, including Leo, on stage with her. Then Leo did his monster hit, “You Make me Feel Like Dancing” and the whole place went wild. Lulu showed her dancing skills and Leo showed his lack of them. These last two encore numbers capped off a great show.
Other highlight performances were, Leo’s “When I Need You”, “ More than I can Say”.
Duets “Moonlighting”, “Long Tall Glasses(I Can Dance)”, and a great version of Bob Seeger’s “We’ve Got The Night”, an then Lulu’s “ To Sir With Love”, Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”.
I came away feeling that Leo Sayer is still a very good singer, whilst Lulu struck me as being exceptional; and both are almost 68 years of age! A great concert from a pair of absolute professionals, the likes of which are rare in this age of digital gimmicks and manufactured videos.