Aliens, ghosts, monsters and marimbas all feature in a Carnivorous Plant Society concert. FRANCES CHAN loves every moment, and you will too.
When the apocalypse comes, I want Carnivorous Plant Society to be the last band standing. Their toe-tapping cinematic jazzscapes deliver the kind of chutzpah needed to get through any dark times. Just the sheer amount of instruments on stage is a serotonin-inducing sight. Usually a five-piece, CPS pulled out all the stops for this Auckland Arts Festival performance with special guests, creating a fruity nine-headed music-making amoeba.
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Frontman Finn Scholes is the exemplar of a constantly moving membrane: on stage right he commands two banks of keyboards, a trumpet and a tuba; on stage left he’s a four-mallet (Gary) Burton-gripping vibraphonist and marimba player. He also draws and animates naïve comics to illustrate each song, which are projected behind the band. I don’t know which discipline informs the other, but the end result is a vibrant yet sinister world inhabited by amorphous aliens, ghosts and a hole-face monster, natch.
In centre stage Siobhanne Thompson delights on the violin, vibraphone, vocals, pocket trumpet and percussion, while her partner and Finn’s brother Tam Scholes delivers a deft touch on guitar. The meat and potatoes of this piquant platter are Alistair Deverick on drums and Cass Basil on bass and vocals, ably assisted by seasoned percussionist Michael Barker (The John Butler Trio, Split Enz).
The bona fide ‘Carnies’ in the audience got the chance to show their allegiance early in ‘Phantom Finger’, a Mexican mariachi fantasy with floaty violin and a flawless finger-pickin’ guitar solo. When Finn’s trumpet chorus ascends to the skies, it’s the cue for us to holler and howl like crazy – boy, did that feel good.
Zappa met Herb Alpert next in ‘Magic Misty Land’, where the vibraphone and trumpet drive a slower melody, enhanced by guitar effects and culminating in a tender trumpet solo. Finn’s matching visuals showed the cautionary tale of a man being teleported into said land, “getting eaten by a giant in red undies and spewed out. It’s a vomit festival.”
The full complement was present for ‘It Followed Them’, a ballad about a fishing trip gone wrong. Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins – who appears on two CPS albums – contrasted her delicate vocals with Tim Stewart from Hopetoun Brown (playing the sea monster in fetching camo-net drapery). Fellow Hopetouner Nick Atkinson added the dulcet bass clarinet and Finn’s marimba laid a mellow (sea)bed. Tim’s main instruments, trumpet and trombone, together with Nick on either baritone or tenor sax and Finn on trumpet, strike up a formidable horn section, which led most of the arrangements.
CPS may favour the slow grooves but these are lusciously layered, for example, with ethereal vocals by Hollie, Siobhanne and Cass and eerie waning horns on ‘Chambers And Cathedrals’ (a ghost love story that turns parasitic) and the enigmatic-sounding ‘Slave Song’ with Siobhanne rattling a chain and jazzy brass jabs building in intensity. ‘Bob Dylan’ honours the spaghetti western with tremolo guitar, a forlorn violin and rolling drum brushes. ‘Car Dance’ could have been on the Twin Peaks soundtrack with its languorous sway and Hollie’s dreamy vocals; however, it raced away with an upbeat marimba and guitar-fuelled ending.
Finn’s organ and the Hopetoun boys found the funk on ‘Sex Guru’ and the 60s-styled ‘Francoise Hardy’, with the baritone sax and drums breaking out. My favourite might be ‘Take’, a song about losing our natural environment, which opens with fast-arpeggiating solo marimba, inspired by Steve Reich. Cass leads the vocals and the band slowly crescendos to those beautiful horns again.
Speaking of beautiful, the girls made an effort in snazzy jumpsuits – Cass in grass green, Hollie in floral and Siobhanne in leafy motif (I see what you all did there).
The odd man out in their repertoire is ‘The Bogan And The Kid’, a comedic ballad reminiscent of Flight Of The Conchords or Hugh Laurie, but it’s a rousing ditty with full harmonies and fitting for an encore. Ending on a sonorous high, we were dazzled by six horns blasting through ‘Down The Misty Hill’ (Alistair and Tam adding their chops on trombone and flugelhorn, respectively). The creepy creatures of Finn’s imaginary dystopia faded from the screen to reveal a sunrise in a rainbow-coloured sky. We actually survived the apocalypse and are now Carnies of the future.
- Carnivorous Plant Society performed as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. A rejigged quartet version of the band is undertaking a 21-date Arts On Tour NZ to rural and small towns nationwide from 27 March to 25 April 2021, so get amongst!
- Love In An Apocalypse II
- Phantom Finger
- Misty Magic Land
- It Followed Them
- Don’t Go Outside
- Magic Eye
- Chambers And Cathedrals
- The Boy
- Sex Guru
- Car Dance
- Slave Song
- Bob Dylan
- Francoise Hardy
- Temple Kiss
- Carp In A Pond
- The Bogan And The Kid
- Down The Misty Hill