Live Review: The Paper Kites at San Fran, Wellington

Paper Kites NZ poster
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The Paper Kites Where You Live Tour

w/ Mountain Boy
San Fran, Wellington
Thursday 28 March 2019

Clearly my effort of watching one YouTube video amounted to inadequate research, because upon arriving at San Fran I noted that the opening act was not a Mountain Boy, or even a Mountain Man, but rather a fully fledged band.

Mountain Boy is the work of Aaron Clarke. My friend Joram told me about how Clarke had undergone a project which involved writing and recording a song every week for one year, in the same vein as Into It. Over It52 Weeks. Clarke’s year-long effort was named Project Sinai – hence the mountain reference. (Mt Sinai is a place of religious significance, most notably where Moses met God and obtained the Ten Commandments.)

Mountain Boy

Mountain Boy

I had anticipated a solo set, but Clarke had obviously recruited a band for live gigs. And they suited their role perfectly, offering moody folk songs that set the scene for the rest of the night. And the rest of the audience appeared to agree, with a solid turnout that you wouldn’t see so early on for a support act. My favourite was the last track, which gradually grew in intensity, with the drummer pounding away on the toms with mallets, before switching to standard drumsticks for an energetic finale.

This softer styled folk music isn’t as loud as most gigs I go to, and I noticed that throughout the night there was usually a lot of conversations happening in the crowd while the bands were playing. It raises an interesting question surrounding the appropriateness of talking during a band’s set. Is it disrespectful? Or does it indicate that the music makes people feel comfortable and familiar. The talking wasn’t loud enough to make the bands hard to hear, but there was a definite murmur that could be heard almost all night.

Mountain Boy

Mountain Boy

It’s funny how surprised I was that The Paper Kites had changed so much over the years, seeing as I’d kept up with them as they’ve released sequential albums. I first saw them a few times when they only had a few EP’s to their name, and stylistically they were a lot different back then. I remember the music switched between kooky indie folk anthems, and fingerpicked love songs, softly cooed for intimate settings.

The more modern material indicated a big shift to a more electric sound. Less cutesy folk numbers, and more searing guitar, albeit still fairly chill. They stood onstage creating murky psychedelic vibes whilst bathed in a rich purple light.

They did play a few throwbacks, like “Arms” and “Bloom” – both from their d├ębut EP which had come out a decade ago – but new material like the funked up “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain” showed us that evolving sound wise can prove worthwhile.

The Paper Kites

The Paper Kites

Sam Bently is the obvious leader of the band, the key songwriter, and lead singer. But the rest of the band still match him for talent. All of them could sing beautifully, and at a few times throughout the night they formed a semicircle around a microphone and treated us to serene five-part harmonies. I didn’t see much switching between instruments, but if my memory serves me they are all adept at playing different instruments. For example, drummer Josh Bentley came out from behind his kit to play guitar at one point.

Although he seemed quiet at first, Sam proved quite the comedian when he spoke to us. The band chose to play without lighting for one of their more romantic songs. He explained that there were two types of people who came to Paper Kites shows: the lovers and the sad singles. They played that song in the dark to spare the single folk the shame of being seen crying on their own.

It almost felt as if he was breaking the fourth wall, with self-aware humour. He indicated that the band was going off stage, but would return for an encore if we wanted it enough, obviously setting himself up for later in the night.

Paper Kites Whether casting spells with their tender ballads, riding the wave with slow burning songs drenched in guitar effects, or boosting the energy with some upbeat indie singalongs, there is no doubt that The Paper Kites have talent. They’ve come a long way since I first saw them nine years ago, and they show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Paper Kites set listWords and photos by Joseph James