Barbara Manning's Guitar Rock

Rocking hard in New Zealand with the help of two ace guitarslingers. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Barbara Manning has been flirting with indie-rock

stardom (whatever that is) since her first recordings with 28th Day back in

1985. Over the past decade the San Francisco based songwriter has made a name

for herself both as a solo artist and as a member of World Of Pooh and her most

recent band, SF Seals. She disbanded the Seals in '95 and has a new solo album

due in June. Manning has been touring New Zealand the past few weeks with her

regular rhythm section (Joey Burns-bass & John Covertino-drums) along with two

of New Zealand's finest guitarists, David Kilgour from The Clean and The

Verlaine's Graeme Downes.

The tour wrapped up in Auckland this past

weekend (Saturday, March 8) at Luna, a small downtown club. A crowd of about

100 turned out to catch the show that opened with Downes playing a quick solo

set accompanying himself on electric guitar. A four-piece, the Magik Heads,

followed with an impressive half hour of folk-tinged pop songs.

Next up

was long time Kiwi favourite Chris Knox. Knox, as always, looked as if he just

walked in off the beach: shorts, loud t-shirt and bare feet. He opened his set

with a delicate little number sung in a falsetto that would have made Brian

Wilson proud. He filled his allotted time with a series of catchy, off-beat pop

tunes. Alone with his electric guitar and tape machine, Knox treads the common

ground between the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground, making his guitar

squeal and howl, singing his delightful melodies over the top.


Manning brought her band on-stage at about 12:30 and opened with the dark,

brooding title track from her 1988 solo LP Lately I Keep Scissors. She

continued the mood with "Isn't Lonely Lovely". Then things lightened up with

her ode to Dock Ellis, the pitcher who, legend has it, threw a no-hitter while

on acid. The subject matter may have been lost on the Kiwi crowd but, they were

digging the sound guitarists Kilgour and Downes were coming up with. Downes was

in particularly good form throughout the evening, tossing out neat, melodic

solos left and right.

Manning's voice is both warm and edgy, at times

reminiscent of Suzanne Vega or former Belly leader Tanya Donelly. But it is her

songwriting that separates her from the crowd. The dozen songs she performed

ranged from bittersweet tales of lost love to psychedelic musings on what would

happen if the sun absorbed all the water from the earth, all with strong

melodies and inventive arrangements.

The 70 minute set hit its high point

with "Arsonist Story," a series of songs scheduled for her next album. The 10

minute song-suite really gave the guitarists something to sink their teeth

into, rivaling the legendary guitar duels of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of

Television. It's a shame this group of musicians are together only on a

temporary basis, but with the miles that separate them, it's lucky we got to

hear them at all.