A smooth talker, a sultry singer, an Elvis from the 80s in a white suit with giant side burns and a sleazy side-smile. Who am I describing? It couldn’t be anyone other than Vance Fontaine, who with his versatile and quirky band the Peculiar Sensations, is performing at the Comedy Festival.
Fontaine, aka Greg Ellis, introduces himself as having recently toured the world playing at rest homes and shopping malls. The cheesiness of the opening sets the audience up for something tacky to come. But what follows is better than tacky, it’s amazingly hilarious and full of sheer talent.
Fontaine and his four-piece band are an improvisational comedy band, so they literally make up comical and brilliantly executed songs on the spot, in any genre. Yes, absolutely any genre the audience requests.
As Fontaine chats to the audience about life and love, his sparkly coiffure glinting in the spotlight, audience members appear to jog his memory about songs he has written about very obscure things.
Each night will be different, but last night, as Fontaine wondered where people found love these days, someone shouted “RSA!”, and the song that followed was called “I’ll show you my war wound if you show me yours”.
Fontaine’s conversation with the audience turned to Greek mythology as an audience member mentioned her favourite play was Oedipus. It turned out Fontaine had once written a song about the man who married his mother, but he couldn’t remember what genre it was. Someone shouted “Gamelan!”, and sure enough the band began to play their interpretation of the Indonesian traditional music, while Fontaine sang a song of incest.
Other genres we heard last night included funk, grunge, country, 80s post-disco and goth, all completely improvised, but very professional sounding. With a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist and keyboardist, the band members seem to have boundless knowledge of musical styles.
If you love to laugh, dance, participate and really help influence the direction of a show, this one is for you.
Greg Ellis is performing as part of the 2013 New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
Vance Fontaine is one of the best kept secrets of the Comedy Festival in Auckland. But it is a secret that needs to be let out.
From the improvisatory genius of Wellington’s Greg Ellis Vance Fontaine is the greatest New Zealand singer you have heard of. I went to his Auckland show Vance Fontaine in Command Performance on a whim last year, where Ellis and his polished live band ‘The Peculiar Sensations’ make up on the spot entries from Fontaine’s back catalogue, in any and every genre of music imaginable. As we discover in Vance Fontaine for Lovers, the Vance is a bit of a romantic – a lover of anything that moves – and he has an extensive number of love songs, and relationship advice, that he has built up over his career. Indeed, we learnt that many of us in the audience were likely conceived during a Vance Fontaine love song.
After last year’s discovery, I was keen for more Vance. I overheard another audience member exclaiming that he deserved a bigger audience than what he got on a miserably wet Wednesday evening (the second show in his Auckland season). Vance, wearing a white suit and glitter in his Elvis hairdo, put a showman spin on it in his first comments to us about having a ‘boutique’ audience tonight. As audiences goes, we threw him a real curveball. As improv, the show relies on the material Ellis is able to get out of the punters – and his first question to us, was met with awkward silence. So on cue, Ellis and the band strike up his classic hit “Love is like an awkward silence”, which showed off Ellis’ impressive pipes.
Ellis had to work doubly hard to get our reticent audience responding, and the high-risk show at times threatened to fall apart. Lovers does not seem as tightly structured as last year’s Command – Ellis says his show will take you through all stages of a relationship, but this doesn’t clearly come through, and he also asks if anyone has any relationship questions to which he can provide material – thank goodness for the audience member who asked Fontaine what his thoughts were on picking up at the RSA, to which Fontaine’s enthusiastic advocating for the senior citizen set, through song naturally, were some of the richest material of the night. The open forum structure seemed to be connected to the collective uncertainty about what to offer Ellis, but he worked his magic and found gold in other ways, by making connections with individual audience members. My friend didn’t make it to the theatre for start time, and found herself the subject of Vance’s questioning when she came to sit next to me. Soon Vance was singing the theme tune for a failed Oedipus Rex movie, in the style of Gamelan no less (show bonus: your own musical knowledge is improved), which threw some members of the Peculiar Sensations. A version of ‘Love is like an awkward silence’ could conceivably have been performed before, but there was no precedent for that unique musical reimagining! We became the subject of Vance’s questioning again on the nature of our relationship, and my colleague quickly answered that we had been married for 12 years no less! It was a peculiar sensation indeed for Vance to make up a long song that borrowed elements of my life (my daytime employment, the drama class where we met) within the context of a fictionalized relationship. Sorry Vance for misleading you, but I think we can agree it made for a much more interesting song.
The Lovers showstopper is a love medley of four different music genres, which included on our night very general country to the very specific post-80s discos. Ellis and the band are a remarkable team to watch – and they can do it all. When you catch your breath after laughing, you marvel at how sharply they come out with these tunes, key changes and all. Starting from an awkward silence, we end with head-tapping, whoops, and cries of encore. Vance Fontaine is a legend. Go see Auckland.
Appearing on stage in a white suit, red sequin shirt and sparkling teddy boy hair do, Greg Ellis is Vance Fontaine. He’s here on a mission. To tell us all about love through the expressive art of song!
Fontaine, along with his hipster looking band the Peculiar Sensations, are capable of much more than their first impressions my imply. Let the musical majesty commence! Although the ’boutique audience’ wasn’t immediately convinced resulting in the opening number being titled ‘Love Is An Awkward Silence’.
Following his successful time on the shopping mall and rest home circuit of Eastern Europe, Vance is back in New Zealand and feeling rather loved up. Taking us on a serenaded journey of relationships we begin with how to pick up a date. Resulting in ‘partner hunting’ at the RSA.
Love isn’t all plain sailing as was proved in one of the highlights of the show, a gamelan style piece where Oedipus calls his mum a MILF.
This clever show of musical improvisations, formed from audience interactions, resulted in some truly wonderful and original comedic moments. Greg Ellis is a wonderful off-the-cuff comedian whose banter alone could be the show. Throw in the talented Peculiar Sensations and some smooth Vance Fontaine genre bending vocals and you have a hit.
The climax of this love fest came in the form of of a sex retrospection. A song made up of many genres from Reggae and Goth to Country and Western. All of which told the story of the relationship of a couple in the audience.
Vance Fontaine for Lovers will have you swooning, swaying, smiling and foot tapping.
If John Rowles, Barry White and improv guru Keith Johnstone could father a child together, Vance Fontaine might be it. Greg Ellis's immense skills as an improviser are put to good use in this semi-structured show that tackles the peaks and troughs of amour.
With the delicious use of his ‘licorice love larynx', Fontaine takes provocations from the audience to journey through his catalogue of essential love tips. Where do you meet the love of your life? How do older women meet younger men? What's the worst pick-up line you've ever heard?
If you've ever been kept awake at night by these soul-burning questions, Fontaine will bring them to the stage and suggest some answers. Johnny Cash infamously relied on ‘three chords and the truth'. Fontaine – Improv's Lovechild – is lubricated by four musos and a (bad white) suit.
The four-piece backup band – The Peculiar Sensations – provide fantastic support for The Vance as he traverses musical genres, nationalities, cultural cringes. Nothing is off limits for this spontaneous, fornicatory troubadour.
Tonight's musical offerings included the never-heard-before-and-never-to-be-repeated musical lovin' gems, ‘Love is a Hurricane', ‘Rest Home Geisha', and that old feminist anthem, ‘You're Better than a Bag of Pony Pooh'.
I love this kind of comedy that pulls an audience together through shared experience. A bit of Shakespeare was in the room with those rhyming couplets and as Vance reminded us, “Music may be the food of love, but love can be the food of music.”
The format of Vance Fontaine for Lovers is an apt reminder that just like love and STD's, you never quite know what you're going to get. However there is always a cure at hand. The Vance knows this, so he dives headlong into the improvised love abyss with the incredibly adaptable Peculiar Sensations following his lead.
It's funny, witty, full of rhyming couplets and just plain silly. A comedy outing that won't change the world but will make you laugh: Vance Fontaine might even make you squirm in places that shouldn't be touched.
My companion and I left The Basement reminded that sometimes all you need in life is a hot pickup line, a multi-genre backup band and a sequined shirt. Too bad he's gay, single, twenty years younger and I'm straight and happily attached. Still, you never know… Vance wouldn't be deterred. Such is the magic of Vance Fontaine, Lyrical Love Lord extraordinaire.