If Bic Runga had any anxiety about her exercise in nostalgia, a belated 20th anniversary tour for her 2002 album Beautiful Collision, the reaction of crowds across Aotearoa would have immediately put her mind at ease.
“All of the shows have been great, the crowds have been really warm,” the singer-songwriter told Rolling Stone AU/NZ last week. “I think people are psyched to see live music again, and this tour is sort of nostalgic of a very different time, 20 years ago. It’s been a really good vibe.”
On Friday night, Runga received more warmth from the people gathered inside Auckland Town Hall. The fully-seated crowd – skewing older, the former youth of Runga’s pop heyday – were politely enthusiastic (save from a gathering of woman who rushed to the front during “Listening for the Weather”), eager to listen attentively as one of this country’s finest 21st century music artists aimed to remind everyone of her talent.
Georgia Lines, a singer-songwriter just at the beginning of what promises to be a stellar career, opened for Runga, and she controlled the older crowd well, most of whom were unlikely familiar with her work before Friday.
Lines is a formidable lyricist, blessed with a powerful vocal range, but it also helps that she’s caked in self-confidence, and her charisma easily won over the mellow crowd below her.
When it was Runga’s turn, everyone knew what was coming: the entirety of Beautiful Collision was played, Runga’s backing band helping her transition through some tricky genre changes (her second album features flourishes of country, pop, and almost everything in between).
On what was a particularly crisp Auckland night, her gently summery songs helped to clear the winter cobwebs. Her performance was part of the city’s music series Elemental Nights, and her inclusion made quite a bit of sense: her place in the Kiwi canon long secured, Runga is an essential, elemental part of this country’s music history.
This all meant that any signs of nerves on the night – which were wholly understandable – were immediately forgiven. For those in attendance, the real joy of seeing Runga again was to hear the songs of their youth performed live, the person they used to hear through their car radios on summer drives singing to them only feet away.
After running through Beautiful Collision, Runga made sure the more casual observers in the crowd weren’t disappointed with a belting rendition of her timeless classic “Sway”, which was enthusiastically received by everyone inside Auckland Town Hall.
Runga even found time to debut a new song, “You’re Never Really Here (Are You Baby?)”, endearingly informing the crowd that she had always wanted to make a song with parentheses in the title. Mission accomplished.
Buoyed by the reception from the New Zealand crowds, Runga will likely travel to Australia in fine spirits when her tour heads there in August. Her acoustic Australian tour will see her perform in Cairns, Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, and Melbourne throughout next month (tickets available here).