Anthonie Tonnon

2 February 2018 /
Paisley Stage, Napier /
By Ceridwyn Freeman

A quick peruse of the internet, reading snippets out loud about this fella from Dunedin, we plough across urban Hawke’s Bay to make the ‘doors open’ time for a seat in what turns out to be a Friday night gem.

Arriving, I scan Google maps for some sign of reassurance on the corner of a busy Napier street. Wafts of fried chicken from the take-away joints, stores selling tyres, this is the industrial end of Napier’s chichi centre. We find the doors to the Paisley Stage and venture up the stairs. We are hopeful but admittedly a smidge dubious of how culture could ‘happen’ here until we step into the large space of immediate charm and comfort. It’s almost cluttered with retro 1970s furniture, selected and strewn in such a way that we feel compelled to sigh and smile at the same time. Bold murals of naked women and framed pictures of Freddie Mercury are among the many pieces of eclectic décor. I have dragged my partner along as a last-minute venture and I feel smug as we sip cold beer from glasses and settle into a beautiful ‘porn-star’ lounge suite – maroon no less – to the side of the stage. Almost as VIPs, we watch the night unfold.

At first there’s a disconnect between Anthonie Tonnon, one man alone, and this big, groovy space with its full-width stage. But only a little way in my impression of Tonnon has grown to full-sized admiration and appreciation for this talented, polished performer. He delivers a show both original and familiar. Exquisitely dressed in suit pants and jacket, the perfectly folded handkerchief in his top pocket becomes a good-luck token. He touches it, checking its placement, throughout this show, a testament to his commitment to appearance. His clean-cut, well-polished delivery is punctuated with amusing-for-Kiwi’s lyrics of rural NZ and dry, subtle statements on world topics: after enacting his overarm swimming stroke through the end of a song he states, simply, “That’s how I’m dealing with global warming.”

He entertains with a voice that holds its own with ease for the full two-set experience. Refreshing and committed, he’s quirky, and he’s cool, and in that way perfectly suits this space.

Tonnon enlists the audience for sections of sing-along and clapping, enough to feel virtuously involved but not so much as to feel he’s making us work for our own entertainment.  My partner is a self-confessed critic of New Zealand music, never really feeling a sense of affirmed identity with the reggae/dub/beats that make up the cornerstone of a large part of the commercial NZ music scene. This guy, well he wasn’t any of that but he was: fresh, different, and still very Kiwi – in the words of the man at my side, “Excellent”.  Comfortable, with immediate charm, an Anthonie Tonnon gig is worth venturing out to see.

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