Review: Wellington Int’l Ukulele Orchestra

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The band entered from stage right and took their places across a semi-circle of bar stools, set up across the stage amidst a haphazard array of stage-monitors, rugs, and bizarre lamps and  lampshades of all shapes and sizes (Some hung precariously above the performers’ heads from invisible strings). I immediately felt like I had been invited into a private performance in a gypsy‘s living room.  I also kind of felt like a “welcome intruder” as everyone in the 2000+ capacity auditorium seemed to know one another, or were either related to or married to someone in the band. However, any sense of unease or ‘not belonging’ completely disappeared as they broke into a rousing rendition (yes, ukuleles can apparently be rousing) of the Cream classic Sunshine of Your Love halfway through their first set.

It was at this point I realized that not only are these people snazzy dressers, but they’ve got pretty good taste in cover songs. It was also at this point that I began to hear the twelve wonderful vocalists shine through the wall of ukes that had dominated my senses for the first few tunes. This is a group that can harmonize, and they do it  well. No small feat for such a large ensemble.


The band played two 45 minute sets. Highlights included a wonderful original tune called Walk in the Park (with notable whistling solo by Kiwi television star Amanda Billing), a heart-wrenching rendition of Roly Salley’s Killing the Blues and a rippin’ set-ending version of Electric Light Orchestra’s Livin’ Thing.  Other highlights – Bret McKenzie surprises the audience and joins the band on stage on the gong during Toto sing-along Africa -in a gorilla suit, and my first ever indoor Mexican Wave (Yes, that’s what they call the stadium ‘wave’ down here. I’m not sure what’s so Mexican about it, but I’m pretty sure if I were Mexican, I’d be somehow offended).

(A note on Bret McKenzie in a gorilla suit: Although the crowd was obviously pleased to see local-boy-does-well rejoin the old band for a few tunes, and although Brett has obviously completed some ‘Andy Serkis-esque’ study of gorilla body movement, I was less than thrilled to see him back in Wellington. Bret, a very funny and talented performer, is a very shit driver. He probably doesn’t remember, but he almost hit me with his crappy little hatchback while I was crossing the street  near the Miramar shops about three and-a-half months ago.  Apparently he’s gone a bit Hollywood and forgotten that pedestrians have the right of way. FIGWIT my ass, Britt!!)


As the second set played on, the normally reserved Kiwi audience loosened up, and dancers left their seats to fill the space between the first row and the stage. (From my vantage point in the balcony, I had a really good time acting out my own, internal Simon-Cowell-monologue, critiquing the brave dancers below). The show ended on a very high note with a tune the WIUO has become well known for playing, Outkast’s Hey Ya. Check out their energetic take on this tune here:

For a further taste of the WIUO experience, check them out on the web here and here. And be sure to check them out live, in your town, when they inevitably do go ‘International’.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Wellington Int’l Ukulele Orchestra

  1. Charlie Brinson Reply

    Scott – Great stuff! I am jealous that you were able to see this live (and the fact that you were down in Kiwi Kountry which I hear is amazing). I am really digging their sound and FOTC’s Bret is definitely a plus and would love to hear one of their shows in its entirety.

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