Risk taking may not yet be her forte – but Bic Runga is still a luminous presence and a stylish songwriter.
In a city momentarily preoccupied with parading some long-awaited rugby silverware, a waifish singer-songwriter from the sport’s spiritual home of New Zealand takes to the stage. Bic Runga, a diminutive geisha lookalike swamped by her Stratocaster, possesses both a fragile beauty and a honey-dipped larynx. Tonight she showcases songs from her newest release, Birds, a more sombre and melancholy collection than her breakthrough album Beautiful Collision.
The crowd, mostly made up of petite, doe-eyed girls and their beanpole boyfriends, are enamoured by her breathy coo. Slight of frame she may well be, but Runga occupies the stage impressively. She has charm and grace, peering out from behind a raven bob to deliver moments of peerless contemporary pop beauty.
The title track from her new album is the signpost to her new sound. ‘Birds’ has the kind of sophisticated song structure and sense of yearning that Aimee Mann has patented. Indeed, often during the night, you could close your eyes and convince yourself that it was Mann you were listening to. Similarly, the solemn and aching ‘It’s Over’ has elements of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s emotionally wrought space country.
It’s not all as imperious. When her band disappears, Bic runs through some of the populist, upbeat numbers off Beautiful Collision like ‘The Be All And End All’ and ‘She Left On A Monday’, pleasing the sing-along elements in the crowd – but these songs don’t have the substance of her latest work. Runga’s initially smouldering but eventually farcical rendition of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, which started off as a sultry torch song but ended in a fit of giggles, was another disappointment.
The mid-gig slump ended with the swinging pop of ‘Winning Arrow’ and her break-out hit ‘Sway’. Runga obliged with an encore, dedicated to her mum – which culminated in her cheery guitar anthem ‘Get Some Sleep’.
On this evidence, risk taking may not yet be her forte – but Bic Runga is still a luminous presence and a stylish songwriter.
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