Jess Atkin

Molly, Danica. Jess and the Urban Cats.

Fringe in the 'Stings /
10 October 2019 /
By Rosheen FitzGerald

A metaphorical bottle is being smashed against the hull of the long-anticipated space on the corner of Warren and Heretaunga Street. Fringe in the ‘Stings’ newest satellite venue, Still Here, launches with a triple bill of Hawke’s Bay wahine, loud and proud.

First up a pair of emerging voices, both just eighteen, each with a diverse and distinctive sound beyond the scope of their years. Molly Friis, an angel in gingham with a voice like nectar glides her way through a set of considerately chosen covers, from Neil Young and Elton John, to Feist and Courtney Barnett. She’s backed up by established local, Arahi, in stagehand black and braces, whose thoughtfully pared-back guitar and gentle harmonies allow Molly’s fledgling talent to shine. Sweetly gracious, she finds her flow, her full-hearted voice and disarming charm has the audience in the palm of her hand by the end of her set.

Next Danica Bryant takes us darker, belting through a set of impressive originals punctuated by a handful of covers that came out before she was born, from Alanis Morissette to the Beatles. With pink-tipped hair and pink-rimmed eyes she’s channelling a young Patti Smith, before life chewed her up and spat her out. All hard guitar and pain-filled howl, she eyeballs the audience with a sass born from just how good I hope she knows she is. Her original compositions display musical confidence and lyrical dexterity, most notably ‘The Cutlery’, a self-referential, ponderous memento mori framed by the Sisyphean cycle of dirty dishes.

The space resets for local pro’s, Jess Atkin and the Urban Cats, a toe-tapping, hip-twitching, shoulder-shimmying, hair-shaking big band blues quintet. Jess’ enormous voice roars through a repertoire of jazz, Motown, rhythm and blues classics, knicker-wettingly raunchy. It’s a family affair, with Jess’ father on keys and husband on cajón. Add to that a slapping double bass and wonderfully rambling jazz trumpet whose solos elicit spontaneous bursts of applause, and you have a recipe for a steaming soul stew. The band are obviously deeply comfortable with one another and musically commune with an infectious joy that spreads through the crowd. They tackle challenging material with grace, displaying their expansive range. Like all good professionals, they make it look easy, giving the impression they are winging it but pulling it out of the bag with polish and panache. Like a siren, Jess’ sultry, sensual sound, dripping with sex appeal, draws passersby to the open door, bewitched. They rip through familiar hits, from ‘Route 66’ to a smooth reworking of ‘Jolene’ to end on a high note with a heart wrenching rendition of ‘Natural Woman’ whose crescendo blows the roof off, rebounding around the surrounding Hastings streets.

Back at Common Room Fringe fever has set in. Brave’s custom FitS in a Bottle brew is flowing. Sequins are shimmering. Kelly’s red lipstick has done the rounds and there are red kiss marks everywhere. Shrieks of laughter bubble up and bounce around the bar. It’s going to be a fantastic festival.

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