Anthonie Tonnon plays Rail Land

Anthonie Tonnon: Rail Land

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Sitting Room Session /
4 August 2019 /
By Jess Soutar Barron

Anthonie Tonnon tonight delivered a concept album of a Sitting Room Session. The New Zealand Railways propaganda on the walls spoke to the fundamental theme of the work: the connections, lines, junction points, binary switches of rail systems mimicked by the synth, loop and stomp-box central to Tonnon’s music making.

Intro’d as folk meets electronica, it’s more a case of versus as the two genre pull at each other. Imagine if David Byrne was born in Dunedin thirty years ago, growing up on Submarine Bells. This is pre-Ward-Lealand Front Lawn delivering The Story of Robert. Early McGlashan; Sinclair when he made theatre not film. He’s a little bit Delaney; a little bit Pokey. If Marcus Lush wrote songs this would be them. For the sake of the filing cabinet let’s label it ‘anorak-rock’ or ‘public service pop’.

Tonnon begins, hands on the wheel, then peppers his sets with these kooky kinetic dramatic segues.  It’s captivating to watch. He dives into spoken-word memoir with a dry wit that rewards the keen listener. Each song builds on the one before, selling a story of the wonders of rail. There are detours, although all well sign-posted, like “an item of correspondence from the past” read mellifluously by Jamie McPhail.

A skilled songwriter, as a singer Tonnon’s range travels from honeyed to choir boy but there’s a sense that he’s playing, experimenting with process and technique, still raw in delivery, as if he’s trying out combinations and sequences before settling and solidifying. Everything’s transitory. The intimate surroundings and the proximity of the audience place process at the centre rather than polished performance. It’s a show perhaps designed for a larger space but such a delight to see so up close.

Tonnon layers sounds, turns the audience into his percussive backing track, dives from synth to guitar to keyboard. He’s laying out a commentary on that future promised by yesteryear, where rail was the way to go. That future that never came.

Cerebral meanderings aside, Tonnon can bang out a catchy tune. This is roadtrip music for vintage geeks: window down, elbow out, sights seen through horn-rimmed Clubmasters. He’s an old soul; youthful in a nostalgic way, with a civilised quality. Like looking at photos of Granddad before he was even a Dad. Slick-back hair, suit jacket. “She carries albums in her mind from another time”, sings Tonnon.

There’s something delicious here that’s hard to identify, like an NZR tearoom savoury. Meaty, spicy, little nuggets to really chew down on, leaves an after taste that lasts for the whole ride home.

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