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Bic Runga - Royal Albert Hall on 30 March 2005

After Bic led us into the extremely emotional, cathartic Finn Brothers performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Easter Monday, thousands of us gathered again for their third consecutive show on Wednesday, 30 March. Surely much of the audience had seen the show before, and there was a sprinkling of relief in the air, as though the overwhelming sense of gloom and misery that had drenched the atmosphere on Monday following the fresh and shocking news of Paul Hester’s death that Saturday was not quite so evident on this night. We were still reeling from the news, true, as undoubtedly Neil and Tim Finn were, but Monday’s show had been therapeutic and helped us approach some of those scarier, more disconsolate feelings so that we were coping with them slightly better by Wednesday. It still could not be a happy occasion, but we all seemed to be glad to be together, anticipating the welcome presence of the Finns not just for their talents but for their soothing spirits in this desperately sad time.

Bic had helped on Monday by projecting a sense of normality when we were not sure what to expect or what we would be able to manage. Wednesday’s performance was similar. She played nearly the same set list in the same outfit with the same staggering skill, so my comments here will be limited, since I set out my usual rambling detail of the show on Monday, and this night’s variations were minor.

Once again, she walked calmly onto the front of the stage, with most of it screened off by a black curtain, amidst the instruments that the Finns would use when they initially took the stage. The snare drum that remained on stage all night in honour of former Split Enz and Crowded House drummer Paul Hester had now been moved from centre stage to a more subtle spot stage left by the grand piano, although it was still up front in full view of the audience. Bic did not acknowledge that or Paul in any way; she didn’t need to and it really wasn’t her place. She just needed to stir our more positive spirits with an extraordinary performance, which she did.

Enchanting (I won’t say sexy as I’m a heterosexual woman!) as she had been on Monday, again wearing the sleeveless, wispy belted black dress over fuchsia boots with a long necklace, Bic began playing the electric guitar and treated us to an irresistible welcome in the form of her tantalizing first single, Drive.

When our glowing applause finally tapered off, Bic explained that it was their third night at the Albert Hall and she had kind of settled in now. She thanked the Finns for everything, having first toured with them in the States. By this time, we knew that the Finns had rescheduled some dates at the end of the week so that they could return home to New Zealand for Paul’s funeral, but the plan was to resume the new, date-packed European tour the week after that.

As on Monday, she next obliged the audience with the delightfully bright Something Good from her second album, a track on which Dave Dobbyn and Neil Finn perform, although when I had previously seen her play it live, Dave Dobbyn and Tim Finn performed it with her on a glorious Waitangi Day celebration in Brixton. The Albert Hall audience adored this song, but that was unsurprising as few who heard it failed to fall under its spell.

When it ended, Bic confided in us that she was really nervous. She said that her manager had flown all the way from New Zealand just to watch her perform this show—implying that part of his duties were to help her keep calm in a challenging situation--but there was a television back stage and there was soccer on, so that’s where he remained! Any members of the audience who hadn’t warmed to her yet certainly did so now.

Then she moved straight into The Be All and End All, which has really grown on me since I’ve heard it played live twice, despite the vaguely country feel that she somehow managed to create, twisting her guitar into making a bit of a clip-clop horsy sound.

When she finished and the applause eventually ended, Bic showed that she still has a knack for keeping the audience waiting a lot in between songs. Still, the audience’s silent patience demonstrated that they didn’t mind too much as the silence would eventually be filled with such marvels as her songs.

She finally added a bit of banter as she changed to her electric guitar, telling us that she had really been looking forward to playing at the Albert Hall, particularly as one of her favourite documentaries was Don’t Look Back about Bob Dylan, which showed him playing at the Royal Albert Hall when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were in the audience. She said that Dylan was going out with Joan Baez at the time [they were both only 25 then], and Bic said Joan was shown eating fruit in every scene. The Albert Hall audience were enamoured by Bic and her dynamic discussion of the film before she feigned disappointment that few of us seemed to have seen the film ourselves. I’m sure that most of us have, at the very least, seen the opening sequence, which has since been used as a music video clip on channels like VH1 for Subterranean Homesick Blues, with a deadpan Dylan showing us flashcards of lyrical witticisms before dropping them to the ground. Anyway, perhaps Bic got the same kick out of appearing in one of the film’s locations—although we certainly couldn’t claim to be the Beatles or the Stones—that I got out of visiting the Piazza della Signoria in Florence where a dramatic scene in A Room With a View was filmed. Mind you, I didn’t perform there, I just sat and looked around, wondering why everything looked smaller.

Bic then switched around two songs in the order from Monday’s show, moving next to the hauntingly luscious Bursting Through. In playing the introduction, she hit a note on the electric guitar that didn’t quite seem to fit in, perhaps because it seemed almost as though she had got her long necklace nearly caught in the guitar, so she jerked her head back to move the necklace away and smiled as she exclaimed, "Wow!" which got the audience laughing before she sang the knockout song whilst bravely inspecting the massive audience.

When the roars for that performance finally finished, Bic moved into the gently upbeat Get Some Sleep, after explaining that it was all about touring and being sleep-deprived. The snappy song received another tremendous reception from a now adoring audience.

Initially suggesting that perhaps she had practiced downing water quickly between songs so as not to keep us waiting in awkward silences, Bic took a quick swig of water before—well, keeping us watching in silence for a bit as she changed to the acoustic guitar and fiddled with that for a while. Finally, she led us gently into Honest Goodbyes whilst once again bravely looking up at the thousands of people watching her almost in the round. Although the song had the clean feel of country from the early 50s, her winsome delivery was almost as Doris Day might have sung a clean 40s number in front of a big band.

Then, as if we needed further proof after our applause faded that she hadn’t quite mastered the quick interchanges, she kept us waiting in silence again for an incredibly long time as she changed to her electric guitar, then took a long swig of water, then paused some more. Perhaps she was reflecting then on whether she was strong enough to share with us the thought that had crossed her mind, and apparently she was….

"I told my father that I would be playing the Royal Albert Hall, and he was so excited! He was clapping his hands in the kitchen," she said, smiling fondly at the memory, before adding the punch line: "Turned out he thought I meant Carnegie Hall!" This filled the hall with warm chuckles. I was conscious that Bic’s beloved father, Joseph Runga, had died in February during the American tour, which she left briefly to fly home to New Zealand before rejoining the Finns, and I admired her courage. Tonight, she had given no indication to the audience that her dear father was no longer with us.

Turning to her next song, she skipped Election Night, which, whilst hardly unsatisfactory, was probably the weakest song of her set on Monday, and replaced it with another track from her last album, She Left on a Monday, which earned some thrilled cheers from the fans who recognised it right away—a simple task when the title is in the first line. A much sweeter and pleasant song, its delivery in this raw form was vastly preferable to that on the album which, for me, was ruined by my arch enemy: the slide guitar. Perhaps her thoughts had turned to her father before performing this tune as this song was a family affair, with sisters Boh (of the band Stellar) and Pearl singing on the album track and mother Sophia Runga credited with adding "vocal guidance and direction." The song’s soothing, gentle, jazzy feel was a gratifying choice, her crystal voice ringing out as she belted out the wise advice, "Go to her, foolish man / What's the use of having pride if you don't have her? / She'll endure all she can, But you could make this easier on her."

When the cheers died down after that treat, Bic thanked us "so much for listening!". She said we’d been amazing to play to, and we applauded enthusiastically, not to congratulate ourselves for our audience skills, but to indicate that she had been amazing to listen to.

Most of us cheered again as she picked out the familiar introduction to Sway, and more cheers joined in as people recognised the first line she sang. Tonight, she seemed to remember to stick near the mike so that she didn’t fade out at any part of the song, and we were intoxicated by the sensational, appealing number that closed the set of the sensational, appealing woman.

Once again, her upbeat, straightforward set had helped boost our spirits when most everyone present was sad and worried about the Finn Brothers, and once again, the Albert Hall put only two bartenders in each bar to serve hundreds of people during the 30 minute interval. One was a fine example of class, the other one of blazing stupidity (she says even though she is teetotal.) Still, absolutely nothing could spoil an evening with Bic Runga and Tim and Neil Finn.

Copyright © 2005 by TC. All rights reserved.

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