Xylouris White and Tiny Ruins
The Tuning Fork, Auckland, NZ
March 8th, 2017
4/5 stars
Reviewed by RUBEN MITA

 

First things first: Jim White of post-folk duo Xylouris White, and previously of Dirty Three, is the most insanely talented drummer I have ever watched live, let alone in such close proximity. This closeness was a blessing of the venue which, although not quite packed, was full of energy on this drizzly Wednesday night.

But let’s start from the start. Hollie Fullbrook, a.k.a Tiny Ruins, opened up the night with a solo set, playing her acoustic guitar without her usual backing band. It seemed that it took her a few tracks to find her wavering voice, but once she did it was a pleasure to hear many new songs from her upcoming release, of which the lyrical highlight was the dreamlike School Of Design, a piece to look out for in the following year’s releases. Her “sh*ttily DI’d” guitar, in her own words, was admittedly roughly amplified, but her fluid and impressive fingerpicking really carried the songs along.

Tiny Ruins (Hollie Fullbrook). Photo by Georgie Craw.

We didn’t have to wait long for the headlining act to follow. Xylouris White are the similarly frizzy-haired and unlikely duo of Australian post-rock drummer Jim White and Greek singer and laouto player George Xylouris. Starting soon after 9pm, the music was simultaneously incredible and bizarre… well, bizarre for anyone unaccustomed to the sound of a full drum kit being played dramatically and skillfully over an otherwise a capella Greek folk song, as one piece began.

Watching Jim White endlessly adjust his drums while playing, flip sticks, swap sticks for others, drops sticks from arm’s length onto the drums, and generally play every inch of the kit with such skill, both technically and in his ear for textures and dynamics, was incredible. I could not take my eyes off him all night. This music could best be described as post-folk, a journey through long, drawn-out lulls into intense and equally time-stretching climaxes. It was all lengthy numbers combining structure with improvisation, and all with jazz-like rhythmic insanity.

Having broken a string early on, George Xylouris left the stage for 5 minutes to restring his instrument on advice from the crowd. While at the beginning his laouto (a traditional Cretan lute) was hard to make out, with all but the highest strings buried behind the drums, the sound was much improved after this unplanned interval, and as though in response to this his playing took off as well. His deep, gravelly deliveries of often centuries-old folk songs drew cheers from a small but vocal Greek contingent throughout the crowd. In return the duo were amiable and open with the crowd, as well as with each other as they quietly discussed the setlist between tracks (although ‘tracks’ might be a less accurate description than ‘movements’).

Admittedly, some of the slower passages went on for a very long time between each peak of the two-hour-plus show, but eventually they became trance-like and it didn’t seem to matter any more. These lengths of more downbeat traditional Greek folk songs were a foreign experience for much of the crowd, me included, and an interesting taster of a different musical culture in conjunction with our own. Despite their accomplishment however, I still found myself guiltily waiting for the drums to join in after a few minutes.

The Tuning Fork, although a great venue, has the annoying habit of placing tables and stools so that the only standing space close to the stage for the majority of the audience is directly in front of those seated. This however was a minor issue, as the night was highly memorable, a musical experience unlike anything else on offer.

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