Saturday 2nd March

Christchurch Town Hall reborn: CSO and Shapeshifter a joyous masterclass of sound - review

Photo credit: Bevan Treibels
First published on on 2nd March, 2019
Reviewed by Vicki Anderson

Shapeshifter and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra performed at the first concert at the reopened Christchurch Town Hall on Friday, March 1. I'm not a very good photographer but this image, taken near the end of the two-and-a-half hour show, does offer an idea of the sold-out show. The crowd was clearly moved to be back in the popular venue.

Music has a lot of power. It can uplift your consciousness. It is a salve for all emotional wounds and is a powerful tool of connection.

It was the latter that was most evident at the opening concert at the Christchurch Town Hall on Friday night.

Shapeshifter and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) offered a masterclass in harmony, serving the sold-out crowd in attendance a joyous celebration of music.

Eight years ago, the "lovely old lady" – as Shapeshifter vocalist Paora Apera, aka P-Digsss, referred to the venue – was silenced by a devastating earthquake.

For eight years we waited for this event, unsure if it would ever arrive, if music would ever be heard, and joy felt, on this spot again. 

But our town hall is reborn, still familiar but a shinier version of itself.

Shapeshifter and the CSO are to be congratulated. This was an epic concert for all the right reasons and the match of "worlds colliding" genres a perfect choice for the opening event, a historic moment in itself.

After the sheer overwhelming joy of the perfect opening track, When I Return – "and everything will be the same" – I had tears of happiness jogging down my face by the second track.

The sound, oh the sound, it was so emotional to be reunited with this purity of sound the venue is so famous for. Thank you to Sir Harold Marshall, and Friday night, Guy and the Bounce crew for their much appreciated efforts in the science of sound.

While there was the odd bump in the road, I actually hugged myself at one point, so thrilled by the musical quality, it felt as if P-Digsss' magnificent vocals were hanging on the air in front of me, notes so perfect I could reach out, grab them and tuck them in a back pocket.

When P-Digsss gave a shout out to popular soundman and Christchurch-raised Tiki Taane on the mixing desk, half the crowd turned around and gave him a wave.

A massive bouquet to P-Digsss, New Brighton local Nick Robinson, Sam Trevethick, Darren Mathiassen and Dan McGruer and another to those talented people responsible for the exquisite arrangements: Hamish Oliver, Victoria Kelly, Tom Rainey, Pablo Ruiz Henao and John Psathas.

It's not the first time the two entities have performed together.

In 2006 they performed an epic concert at the Christchurch Town Hall, which led to a live album.

Reviewing that concert 13 years ago was an entirely different experience – that concert will never be repeated. It was more of a sparring match, a tussle of genres between classical vs bass music.

However, Friday night's show was a meeting of minds and musical hearts and was all the richer for it.

Shapeshifter started in Christchurch and are marking their 20th anniversary this year. I've been along for the ride throughout as their shifting electronic soundscapes of drum 'n bass, jazz, electronica, rock and funk have ebbed and flowed into a delta.  

Over the past 20 years they've dazzled at festivals like Glastonbury, sold out performances across Europe and around the world and released outstanding albums. Most recently they've been impressing crowds in Canada and Japan.

They played one or two songs from every album on Friday night, and treated their hometown crowd to some stonking new tracks, proving they are still at the top of their game.

As I moved around the venue throughout – sitting upstairs for the first half and moving around downstairs for the second – it struck me that in the past eight years I have rarely seen such a diverse range of people enjoying themselves together.

Before the second half, which was simply Shapeshifter making everyone dance energetically, among the heaving mass of happy people I suddenly found myself face-to-face with an earthquake hero – a man I once interviewed who helped save many lives at the PGC Building. 

We hugged. I cried again.

It was all so moving, from the organ surprise and Monarch, to my favourite moment of the night, Dutchies

Towards the end of the more than two-and-a-half hour show, P-Digsss asked the crowd to raise their hand if it was their first ever time in the Christchurch Town Hall.

Several young arms were raised high.

"Welcome to the family," he said gently and we all cheered.

It felt like coming home. It was beautiful in both a musical and very human sense.

To all those responsible for making all the colours ignite – thank you, thank you, thank you.