Veda Hille & Her Swell Band

Date and Venue 12 December 2009@ 8pm | The Cultch

Featured Artists Veda Hille & Her Swell Band

Reviewer Sasha Dryden

The second of Veda Hille’s two-night run at The Cultch had her taking a trip down songwriting memory lane. Not being really familiar with Hille’s catalogue, it was the inclusion of familiar talented local musicians that piqued my interest in attending her ‘collected works’ evening.

Starting the first set with core band of bassist Martin Walton, drummer Barry Mirochnick and guitarist Ford Pier, Hille with guitar took off on a 4-tet rich zoom. Switching to piano she and band sauntered and swayed through folk-pop early song beauties with tunes like ‘One Hot Summer’ and ‘Slumber Queen’ and ‘Strange, Sad’ offering soulful lullabies and sweetly honed plaintive nuggets.

It was a treat to discover her sharp and sweet honed songs, rolling out like well-aged offerings. Changing gears easily through brief relaxed between-songs banter, the focus ranged from soulful deep and dark to raw and rocky, returning again to wandering modern folk-pop lilt landing safely with brief endings on her crystal clear voice.

Joined mid-set by second drummer Skye Brooks, Shaun Brodie on trumpet and vocalist Patsy Klein, a swell-in arrangement began and the tunes shifted gears towards Hille’s other clear love; theatre-tunes. A children’s song called ‘UFO’ brought the silliness with the band playing parts in an absurd story of alien abduction: mkusical, surreal whimsy.

For the second set Hille was joined by “the full compliment” to include Peggy Lee on cello, Jesse Zubot on violin, A.K. Coope on clarinet and Jeremy Berkman on trombone to shift from the more intimate feel to larger, ensemble showcasing arrangements, the tunes taking on a more epic scale.

'Lucklucky’ rolled out thrumming double-drummed pulse, a bass and guitar rumbling train of low thunder speeding the billowing tune to Hille’s swerving vocals. ‘Ace of the Nazarene’, a crowd-pleasing edgy rock-heavy tune, swelled from the expansion of instruments, followed by ‘Rose of Sharon’, a more prancing klezmer-style boom and ricochet.

The set end veered into Brecht-ian flavour with audience participation on the obviously titled ‘Cats That Live in a Berlin Graveyard That Houses Brecht and Eisler’. From here we were in theatrical territory; each tune a short snap of show-pop easily lending themselves to Brecht homage.

Clear at the end of the show was Hille’s ability to easily shift from pathos-wrapped sharp pop to more epic show-tune drama. So many of the second set expanded band arrangements were rich and meaty and I found myself wishing for them to take off just as they ended, wanting each song to linger longer. It was that kind of band. But perhaps, for Hille, not that kind of evening, although there will hopefully be plenty more opportunities.

© 2009 Sasha Dryden