Leisure with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: Jason Tran)

Soul, R&B, pop and… classical? LEISURE and the APO, reviewed

This weekend, Auckland supergroup/side gig LEISURE collaborated with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, playing at the Auckland Town Hall as the first in a series of APO concerts with pop acts. Hussein Moses came away with mixed feelings.

A supergroup or a side gig? It’s hard to justify a band like LEISURE as both, but that’s how they’ve been described since they showed up in late-2015. They’re mysterious, savvy as hell and armed with more than enough ambition to see it through. As a group, they’re “more concerned with what’s best for our songs, than what’s best for someone’s ego” while “the project was and is still very much something we do in our spare time”. It all feels very non-committal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not working.

That was true on Friday night when the band went full S&M and played to a sold-out crowd at Auckland Town Hall, backed up by the 72-person Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. “I feel a gig like this will weed out the casual fans,” said a guy waiting in the queue to get a beer while the band were playing.

Unfortunately for him, “casual” was kind of the theme of the night. The concert is said to be the first in a new series of performances that will see local pop acts team up with the APO. It’s a cool idea, but one that might need some fine-tuning to make it work.

The night began with the APO performing two pieces by contemporary composers. Not that you could hear much of it. Some people tried shoosh-ing to get the crowd to settle down, but it wouldn’t work for long.

Leisure with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: Jason Tran)

The five members that make up LEISURE – Jaden Parkes, Jordan Arts, Djeisan Suskov, Tom Young and Josh Fountain – began perfecting their brand of soul, R&B and pop on a writing trip they went on together in Muriwai back in 2014. Those sessions culminated in the release of their debut self-titled album which scored them nominations for Best Group and Album of the Year at last year’s New Zealand Music Awards.

The record is about as far away as you can get from some of the previous acts they were involved in, like Goodnight Nurse, Kids of 88 and Kidz In Space. They write, record and mix everything in-house themselves, and when they’re not playing together, each member of the band has a day job in the music industry, from A&R to working behind the scenes with some of New Zealand’s fast-rising young artists. “It’s almost an escape from what we’re doing in the rest of our lives,” they say.

Once the APO had done their thing, they slipped out back while LEISURE opened their show by playing four songs without accompaniment. The band are big on groove and melody, and they tend to let each song ride out for as long as possible. That worked for the crowd. ‘Take It To The Top’ saw people vacate their seats upstairs for somewhere with a bit more space to dance, while ‘Know You Better’ did plenty to please their mostly yo-pro fans. (“Everyone’s wearing those MAALA hats,” my plus-one said of the trend not to cover your ears with your beanie anymore. “Where do they get them? They’re so small.”)

Leisure with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: Jason Tran)

It felt a little too long before the APO showed up again. They returned for ‘Hot Love’, but it wasn’t until ‘All Over You’ later in the set when things really started to vibe. On record, the song is a little more toned down than most of their singles, but with some epic backing from the orchestra, it took on a whole new life.

It’s just a shame that for most of the night, the orchestra was drowned out by chatter or muffled by the loudness of the band. LEISURE and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a collaboration that no-one expected, but it’s good to know there’s someone out there thinking outside of the box when it comes to ideas like this. It wasn’t the best fit, but the crowd there to see the band didn’t seem all that fussed about taking in the orchestra anyway. At least there’s still a lot of other local acts organisers can choose from for next time.


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