As you arrive at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall, panic sets in: you’ve somehow been transported back to high school, and it’s time for the dreaded dance.
Once inside, an even worse fate presents itself. There’s a boxy TV-VCR onstage, presumably there to play an “educational” documentary that was made on a budget of buttons. Perhaps even worse, there’s an acoustic guitar onstage, too, possibly for some teacher embroiled in a midlife crisis to weaponise in pursuit of forgotten artistic dreams.
Luckily, though, you’re not at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall for a high school dance but for the final Elemental Nights show, and the acoustic guitar is about to be played by Fazerdaze, one of New Zealand’s very best modern artists.
Auckland’s winter music series hasn’t gone fully to plan this year – some artists quietly dropped out – but in the city’s sleepy western suburb on Thursday night, it all felt worth it.
Tom Lark ably acted as support due to the COVID-related absence of Lontalius, and after his set finished, Fazerdaze revealed that the two of them used to play sports together not far from the Memorial Hall.
It was that sort of night: cosy, intimate, comfortable-in-a-good-way. Amelia Murray resurrecting her Fazerdaze project in 2022 was one of the most welcome events in New Zealand music in years, the return of a truly crossover artist, and her Elemental Nights show – solo, stripped back, unplugged – was the ideal showcase for her natural musicianship.
It’s not a music writer’s place to emotionally editorialise, but Fazerdaze appeared genuinely happy, as artist and person, during her set. There were nerves, sure, as she made explicit, but she thanked the attentive Mt Albert crowd for helping her perform so well on the night. She seemed happy to be back in Auckland, too, the city she recently left to set up home in Christchurch (in another sweet moment, Fazerdaze revealed that one of the people working at the merch table was, in fact, one of her new friends from the South Island city).
Fazerdaze’s set was a nice mixture of old and new. “Jennifer”, always so sweet, remained charming reduced to its elements; her latest single, the supreme shoegaze-lite of “Flood Into”, sounded almost plaintive in such a quiet setting. Recognising the spirit of the night, she was also unafraid to unveil several new songs, all of which showcased her usual swirling melancholia and contemplative songwriting.
Fazerdaze’s 2022 comeback confirmed that she was no mere bedroom pop artist – although “Lucky Girl” has served her well – and her EP, Break! (nominated for Best Record at the upcoming 2023 Panhead Rolling Stone Aotearoa Awards), featured distinctive takes on shoegaze, alternative rock, R&B, and indie pop. And if the new songs were anything to go by, an acoustic folk Fazerdaze record would likely sound immeasurably impressive (call it wishful thinking).
I spoke with Amelia upon her return to music last year. “Fazerdaze had to break before becoming herself again,” the headline to the interview read. Enough has been said about what she went through, almost becoming another loss to a horrid, jaded industry, but on Thursday night, she performed like someone on the other side of things, fully “herself again.”
“I’m just easing back into the Fazerdaze project again,” she told me last year. “I’m careful to go at my own pace.” The Elemental Nights show was, in its very small way, vindication of this last statement, the performance of an artist really enjoying their music, consciously and carefully interacting with it in the world.
Perhaps for Amelia, playing such a stripped back show was a landmark in itself. She’ll be reunited with her excellent band soon (three of them cutely backed her up during “Winter”), including for an appearance at Yours & Owls 2023, but last night’s solo show provided her the opportunity to be truly vulnerable artistically again.
What next? Hopefully, a full album, a follow-up to 2017’s Morningside, is growing closer. “The second half of next year (2023) is looking pretty busy, but that’s all I can say right now,” Fazerdaze also told me during that interview. Make of that what you will.