Preservatorium, 39 Webb St, Mount Cook, Wellington

24/02/2017 - 26/02/2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Wellington’s most obscure pop orchestra, the Sven Olsens, return with fresh tales of Kiwi madness and mayhem, ripped from the headlines. This time they present their orchestral time capsules of Kiwi misdemeanour within the gothic confines of the Preservatorium.

This one hour show is presented by a 15 piece band with strings and choir. These melodic tales of intrigue and woe cover many aspects of NZ dysfunction and in a startlingly bold move, the Sven Olsens have offered to tell the fortune of those who attend.

The Svens are an underground song-writing machine that have already recorded 70 songs worth of NZ stories. Their last effort, the 50 song ‘magnum hopeless’ The Almanac, was critically acclaimed and somehow wound up in the Listener’s best of the year list 2014.

The band is about to record a follow-up and is road testing new material specially for Fringe goers. These will be intimate, all seat gigs, with prizes and treats for those who turn up.  

Preservatorium, 39 Webb St, Mount Cook, Wellington
24-26 Feb 2017

Theatre , Musical ,

1 hr

Songs taste vividly and uniquely of whence they came

Review by Michael Gilchrist 25th Feb 2017

Sven Olsen’s Brutal Canadian Love Saga is an underground pop orchestra and singing group – and another reason to love Wellington, if you didn’t already. Its presiding genius is Nigel Beckford whose wonderfully surreal and whimsical lyrics and deceptively laid-back and inventive melodies provide the material for a kind of community collective of talented musicians.

The group is a moveable feast but in this incarnation they number no less than 20, comprising strings, guitars, woodwind, drums, bass and  singers – plus an excellent VJ providing perfectly matched visuals.

The songs reflect Nigel’s interest in the unspoken, unlicensed, intimate and unexpected history of Aotearoa. He collects stories that prompt richly textured songs. That makes for fascinating often hilarious introductions on topics such as the use of sterigel stolen from the Waikato DHB being mixed with V by desperate youth – “Can I interest you in a little glass of …” This song is ‘Terroir’, grounded in the urban territory of Hamilton.

Another example is the story of the prison psychologist who fell in love and ran off with a prisoner to live in Sandfly Bay.  This song, ‘I’m On Crime’s Side’, gains particularly enthusiastic audience participation. The lyrics themselves are always clever, humorous, poetic, often bittersweet and manage overall to convey an incorrigible optimism while confronting the most uncompromising material – for example, the catalogue of substances inhaled by a famous Hastings tagger.

They are surreal in the best sense, offering deceptively naïve connections that open up new emotional avenues. The love song ‘Lighting Store’, for example, begins with the sensations evoked by being in the sculptural space of a lighting store and then moves on to describe the kind of inverted illuminations a love affair can bring: “Sometimes unemployment is a blessing, for Autumn is the season for undressing.”

The ensemble are fully in tune with the spirit of the music – all contribute wonderfully and convey the greatest pleasure in what they are doing. A lot of work has been put into charting the arrangements, enabling the performers to come together to optimal effect. The sound is a bit like the west coast sound of Brian Wilson, a bit like Martin Phillips’ pop sensibility – but like ‘Terroir’, all the songs taste vividly and uniquely of whence they came.

Nigel is capable of writing exciting, driving riffs for strings and guitar, and taut, punchy vocal lines – as in ‘Aspro Building’ – as well as long, seductive and insouciant melodies. He is a seriously talented composer. There is heaps of potential here for a tighter, more concentrated and telling sound working with an experienced producer. But there is also a kind of perfection in the songs’ present state.

This show is right at the off-centre heart of the Wellington Fringe. It runs from 8pm until about 9.15pm and entry is strictly by Koha, in keeping with the philosophy of the group. Its combination of the real, the surreal and a powerful sense of communal capability make for a genuinely rich, unforgettable experience.

The space at the Preservatorium is ample and well set up. Don’t miss it.


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