Last night, the second of two benefit concerts for those affected by the Christchurch terror attack took place at Christchurch Stadium. Artists including Lorde, Stan Walker, Sol3 Mio, Marlon Williams and more performed to a crowd of around 20,000 people. James Dann was there.
Where do you start with an event like this one? In a live cross to RNZ last night, I described it as ‘surprisingly excellent’.
While that might sound like I was damning it with faint praise, I really wasn’t.
It was a feat of both great technical and musical logistics – more than 20 acts performed last night – and yet it went off without a hitch.
Proceedings opened with the first of three appearances from Marlon Williams, singing famous Ngāi Tahu song ‘Tahu Potiki’ as part of the mihi whakatau.
MC Mike King then took the stage and introduced Dave Dobbyn, who sang his anti-racism anthem ‘Welcome Home’.
Jon Toogood’s side-project The Adults were up next, with a line-up that included local Christchurch singer Emily Browning, Wellington electronic artist Estere, and rapper Raiza Biza. No shade to Dobbo, but they took the energy up a couple of notches and the crowd really started to find their groove.
Persian-Kiwi rapper Chaii was next. Having released her first single – viral hit ‘Digebasse’ (“enough” in Farsi), only a month ago, this was a brave bit of scheduling from the promoters. She performed the song, which shines a positive light on the Middle East, with the confidence of an artist who performs shows this size all the time.
Canterbury native Jason Kerrison took the stage with a red and black scarf and an eye-patch covering some sort of eye injury. He sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, with backing from the Christchurch Combined Choir, who – in a nice touch, sang one of the verses in Māori.
The choir then accompanied Amitai Pati and Moses Mackay of Sol3Mio for a vocally powerful set of songs.
In one many put-your-phones-in-the-air moment, Auckland singer-songwriter Mitch James covered Robbie William’s ‘Angels’, as well as playing his own hit ‘21’.
Unsurprisingly Six60 took the stage to huge screams form the crowd, before Stan Walker appeared and ensured the show wasn’t entirely Finn-free. He performed a cover of the Crowded House hit ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, finishing with a verse in Māori, then segueing into a mas sing-along of the national anthem.
Shihad was next, delivering the hardest, angriest song of the night, ‘Think You’re So Free’. The track is off their 2014 album FVEY, named after the global intelligence network that New Zealand is a part of. It culminated in Toogood punching the air while yelling the letters ‘G C S B’.
It felt particularly poignant to watch a Muslim man (Toogood converted to Islam recently) belting out a song about the modern security state at an event honouring the people that same security state had failed so appallingly.
They followed this up with another song loaded with meaning – ‘Pacifier’, from 1999’s The General Electric. The song’s title is the name the band adopted when attempting to break into the States – Shihad sounded too much like ‘jihad’ in the Islamophobic aftermath of 9/11. It seems a strange footnote to New Zealand rock history now, but I don’t think anyone in the crowd was too concerned about it as they put their phones in the air.
Next they played ‘Home Again’. Before putting the clocks back for the winter and unleashing that riff, Toogood captured a sentiment many have shared since the attack, saying “Home is not the place – it’s the people.”
Soul singer Hollie Smith was a show-stealer, appearing alongside Anika Moa and Boh Runga (of 90s rockers Stella), then Don McGlashan and the Christchurch Combined Choir for hit ‘Bathe In The River’.
Teeks then appeared, and he Smith and the choir belted their way through ‘Whakaaria Mai’.
Marlon Williams returned, bringing his old mate Delaney Davidson on stage for his second song. Davidson’s peculiar style of dark, country cabaret would usually be far too weird for an event like this, but their version of old country staple ‘Get Down On Your Knees And Pray’ came off well. Another example of the artists putting a good bit of thought into their song choices.
Shapeshifter brought their patented brand of euphoria and bass, setting the stage for the biggest name on the bill… Lorde.
Sure, she only played two songs and neither of them were ‘Royals’, but for the entirety of her brief performance, everyone in the crowd knew they were in the presence of an artist on another level.
Marlon Williams joined her for the first track, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’, then Bic Runga joined her to perform ‘Team’. From Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine.
While initially some may have been disappointed she didn’t just cycle through the hits, it became apparent the superstar had put in the extra effort to give the crowd something special.
The Exponents were next. Jordan Luck – still somehow the shaggy, ageless rockstar in tight jeans and a white tee – led his band in their song ‘Christchurch (In Cashel St I Wait)’. The song has taken on more significance down here, first due to the earthquakes, and now due to the terror attacks.
While yelling “CHRISTCHURCH” can be cathartic, it’s a long way from their best work. Especially when you only have a 3-song set, it’s a shame to skip over better songs like ‘Who Loves Who The Most’ or ‘Whatever Happened to Tracey’, but parochialism wins the day.
Anyway, no-one cared when they moved on to ‘Victoria’, with Jon Toogood joining in on vocals, and ‘Why Does Love Do This To Me?’, which featured the whole crowd on backing vocals.
Dave Dobbyn was the final act of the night, and came with plenty of friends. After a subdued rendition of ‘Beside You’, he was joined by almost all the musicians on the line-up a giant sing-along to ‘Slice Of Heaven’.
It was a pretty special moment, and it looked like the artists were as moved as the crowd. Many of them had their phones out, taking selfies and videos, as so many of the audience had been all evening.
It spoke to the outpouring of love that we’ve seen here in Christchurch since the attacks.
With so many artists on the bill, and many of them only making the briefest appearances, this could well have ended up less than the sum of its parts. But Aroha Nui harnessed the exceptional musical talent we have in this country to create something that not only looked the part on TV, and sounded the part on the radio, but also provided nearly seamless entertainment for the thousands in attendance for almost four hours.
- Who: Lorde, Stan Walker, Sol3 Mio, Marlon Williams and more
- What: You Are Us / Arohanui Christchurch benefit concert
- Where: Christchurch Stadium
- When: April 17th 2019
All proceeds from the You Are Us / Aroha Nui benefit concerts go to the Our People, Our City Fund, to support those affected by the Christchurch terror attack. You can donate here: https://christchurchfoundation.org.nz/giving/our-people-our-city-fund/donate