Review: I Survived A Zombie Epidemic (Guy Pigden, 2014)

*Some spoilers – I tried to keep them to a minimum but proceed with slight caution

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Ever since Peter Jackson arrived on the scene with the uber-low budget splatter sci-fi Bad Taste and put NZ on the horror film map with the zombie gore-fest Braindead, any New Zealand filming maker attempting a film in a horror genre has faced inevitable comparisons with Jackson and his horror classics. Some have added extra NZ themed gimmicks into the mix the differentiate themselves, i.e. the sheep of Black Sheep and Maori cannibals of Fresh Meat – both of which stuck to a comedy/horror template comparable to that of Jackson’s – others have played it straight such as The Ferryman.

Perhaps New Zealanders are more naturally gifted or comfortable with satire – Guy Pidgen’s debut film I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is another successful combination of both comedy and horror – differentiating itself from those that came before with a self-aware narrative that winks at the audience as it deconstructs horror film cliches. It also cleverly manages to comment on the nature of film-making in NZ, with a frustrated director brought to the brink due to the stress in part of being turned down for funding time and time again – as well as by the real life living dead that have invaded his film set. The film also nods to cult classics of yore – with references to Sam Raimi and Romero films – and is sure to appeal to jaded international horror fans with its mix of horror homage and fresh ideas – thus breaking away from the long shadow of Jackson. This is also the first major horror film to have been majority shot in Dunedin (by Dunedin-ite filmmakers), the city where I’m from – so I’m quite proud to have the city not immortalized in cult-horror history.

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We open with a succession of stumbling zombies and a bulked up hero brandishing science fiction weaponry – this turns out to be a film-within-a-film as we’re introduced to the film set of maniacal auteur director SMP, played brilliantly by New Zealand screen veteran Andrew Laing. The bulked up hero is vain celebrity Adam Harrison (Mike Johnson), whose co-star of this film-within-a-film is diva Jessica Valentine (Reanin Johannink). SMP’s crew includes location manager Tane Henare (Ben Baker) whose rugby past is explored through-out the film, the loyal Assistant Director Richard Driver, whose loyalty might prove to be fatal, and a gun friendly American props-master, Randy Bateman (Mark Neilson). Into this wanders aspiring writer and first time runner Wesley Pennington (Harley Neville), who fumbles his way through a first day, attempting to get his script read, only to have it used as toilet paper by the director – and who falls for the kindly caterer Susan Ford (Jocelyn Christian).

The variety of stories and strength of acting is impressive – it is unusual for a low-budget film to have a scope such as this and not trip over its own ambitions. As the real life zombies appear and the massacre begins the gore and action set pieces don’t let down for a good 50 minutes. Egg beaters are taken to faces, dismemberment abounds and there’s even some good head explosions. There is an eyeball gag to rival Fulci’s slow ocular impaling from Zombie. Towards the end, there is something particularly unexpected involving a characters hand, but I won’t mention any more as this also forms a crucial plot point. Although violent the gore never takes it self too seriously, and there are some hilarious set-pieces – such as a misguided rampage on civilians mistaken to be the living dead – a handheld horror segment in which SMP takes one last shot at finishing his film and one involving a phallus that won’t soon be forgotten.

The performances and script are strong across the board – Ben Baker as the broken ex-rugby playing location manager delivers some great moments in his subplot, as does Mark Neilson, whose one-liners and misguided rampage provides some of the most memorable comic moments. I felt truly sympathetic to the plight of the DA brought to life by Simon Ward, who sacrifices himself more than his job would usually entail. Mike Johnson is given some of the best catch phrases of the film and proves he has a knack for comedy. We are also sympathetic to Harley Neville’s Wesley Pennington, whose writing ambitions take a backseat as he must help his fellow crew members survive the real life zombie violence. Neville gets some great comic moments as well – such as early on when he is forced to be a nude stand-in – the results are one of the comedy highlights of the film. His romance with Jocelyn Christian’s Susan Ford is also a nice touch – and the duo have a fair amount of onscreen chemistry.

The film stays self-aware through-out, with our writer/runner protagonist attempting to get his own zom-com-rom script acknowledged by the film’s crew. This leads to some great reflexive moments – Wesley is given advice early on from the film’s writer Harold Beasley, who points out the archetypes that the various characters around the filmset would fall into in a theoretical way – ending with the moral that for Wesley to be a good writer he must write from what knows. This scene in turn works as an acknowledgement by the film’s writer/director Guy Pidgen of the archetypes that he himself is utilizing and commenting upon. It’s this sort of reflexivity that gives the film an intelligent edge over horror films that play it straight – and perhaps one that is necessary in the jaded film viewing world of 2014. Later, director SMP in a moment of anger teetering on madness, details the difficulties he has gone to get his films funded – facing constant rejection. Given that this is a New Zealand Film Commission funded film, one can only assume that this is direct commentary on the nature of struggling for funding in a small film industry such as New Zealand’s.

It is not often that a lower-budget New Zealand film makes as much of its funding as this –  pulling off multiple sub-plots, a self-reflexive plot that doesn’t manage to trip over its own cleverness and large horror action set-pieces ambitious enough to be in a $5 million dollar film, let alone a $250,000. There is horror, comedy, romance, meta-commentary and a good ending – ingredients that add up to one of the strongest New Zealand debut’s probably ever. The gore hounds will be satisfied but so will those that require an intelligent script. I used to be quite passionate about horror films when I was younger, obsessively hunting out cult classics such as Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and devoting many afternoons to re-watching Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. My love for the genre has since faded, and I find myself rarely willing to praise a modern horror film. But I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is worthy of the praise – not least because it rivals Jackson’s Bad Taste (hate to mention it but the mans shadow is inescapable in NZ film history), which I remain quite fond of. I haven’t watched Bad Taste in quite a while, so who knows, perhaps this even beats it as an NZ horror debut.

I have a slight bias of course. The film is shot in Dunedin and I’m friends with the filmmakers and a large amount of the cast. You might even see me rapping in music videos with the director and the lead actor. But objectively, the film is really impressive. I only managed to see it for the first time after yanking the director’s chain for about a year to let me watch it. Go and track it down when you can – the hard-work that’s gone into the film is clear.

I also have a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo near the start of the film. If you’re watching, look for a green coat handed a gun in the opening scene of the film. Like I said, slight bias, but my opinion of the film is objective and would stand without this bias.

Queen + Adam Lambert Auckland 3rd September [Concert Review]

Note: Footage from the concert below and on my YouTube page

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I’m going to find it hard to review this concert – for being a Queen fan for so long there’s so many memories and expectations tied up in seeing an influential band like this finally, in the flesh. But it was a great experience, yes for the fact of seeing Brian and Roger in the flesh but they put on a damn good show regardless of any cynicism one might have about a band still touring decades after the death of their beloved front man. It’s by now getting cliched to compare Lambert to Mercury but I’m going to have to do it never the less. As the other fans and reviews suggest – Adam is a great fit for the band and does indeed make the songs his own, finding his own stage presentation to fit the songs, his own unique flamboyance – playing tribute to Freddie but not copying his style. I can’t claim to be an Adam Lambert fan so I still found myself comparing his performance to the way Freddie would have delivered a song, but that’s going to happen if you’ve spent as much time obsessing over a band as I have done with Queen. But if anyone was going to take this show back on the road with the original members and give it new life, it may as well be Lambert – he’s got a great voice and the stage experience to rock an arena or stadium audience with ease.

The Adam Lambert fans might not agree with me – but the parts of the show that hit me the hardest were when Brian took the mic, first performing Love Of My Life, with Freddie appearing on the large screen to help us sing key moments. This was a live staple from 1975 onwards, the acoustic sing-along of Love Of My Life and there was something so touching about a room of 8,000 singing it along with Brian, with Freddie appearing momentarily. It was just nice to hear Freddie’s voice once again booming throughout an arena. At the end of the song it looked like Brian wiped his eyes, perhaps as affected as the audience at singing along with his lost friend. Roger, long-time Queen keyboardist Spike Edney, touring bassist Neil Fairclough and Roger’s drummer son Rufus Taylor joined May for a stomping jam through of May’s 39″ off Night at the Opera. One of my highlights of the night for sure.

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The show was great – high production values with one of the most impressive lighting rigs I’ve ever seen at an arena show, a huge screen that was made to appear as the circular Queen ‘Q’ logo. The rig that made up the Q itself moved over the band in a spectacular fashion, reminiscent of the moving lighting rigs Queen employed in tours between 1977 and 1986. During Lap of the Gods, the fantastic final song off Sheer Heart Attack the giant circle light detached from it’s place in the center of the stage and turned into quite the magnificent ring hovering over the band. Lap of the Gods is a brilliant song – and this was a performance well worthy of previous Queen performances of the song – such as at Wembley in ’86. Brian May later took a guitar solo, incorporating parts of his Bijou guitar piece from Innuendo, and filling the arena with his trademark delay harmonizing. This was set to a hypnotizing array of red lasers and cosmos-esque images.  Visually, very elaborate – and perfectly fitting to a the legacy of the Queen live show.

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Other musical highlights include a drum battle between Roger and Rufus, both amazing drummers – Roger with his very unique tom heavy style, and Rufus a technically skilled modern rock drummer. Roger took lead vocals for A Kind Of Magic, great to hear the man singing and would have loved to hear more of him. Neil Fairclough provided the best bass solo I’ve ever heard, dropping in riffs from Queen classics such as Nevermore off Queen II, Don’t Try Suicide from The Game and Body Language and Staying Power from the underrated Hot Space. Adam performed the lesser known songs really well, stuff like Dragon Attack off The Game. It was kind of amazing to hear a song such deep cuts played live and still sounded as fresh as when they were first toured.

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The show ended with the traditional onslaught of Queen hits – Tie Your Mother Down with Rufus Taylor on drums, I Want To Break Free, Radio Gaga with the crowd doing their best to imitate Live Aid and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Then it was on to Bohemian Rhapsody, with Lambert nailing the vocals as a singer as trained as him should. But the original members could not be out-shined – Brian taking his place at the base of the walkway, busting out the most iconic guitar solo he ever wrote while wearing a shiny gold suit reminiscent of the band’s early 70s glam attire. Freddie appeared again on screen in the operatic section of the song and again at the end in a duet with Lambert, each singing a line each. Freddie was most definitely watching over proceedings, but Lambert held his own. The night ended as all Queen gigs have since again 1978, with We Will Rock You followed by We Are The Champions. Lambert wore a crown in regal style, and they all stood together side by side taking one last bow towards the crowd which was by now well and truely one over. Brian and Roger are playing their cards right, appearing to still love performing to the adoring masses, and securing their legacy for many more decades thanks to the suitable front-man they’ve found in Adam Lambert. As another reviewer mentioned, with so many classic rock bands unwilling to tour for the fans (such as Zeppelin and Floyd) – it’s a lucky thing that we have a band such as Queen so dedicated to keeping the legacy alive. That is if we leave our cynicism at the arena doors.

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I may have been slightly unfair on Lambert at times – but this is only due to being such a strong fan of the original Queen. The show they’ve put together really is something special, even if it yet again seeks to highlight to lost talents of the unmatched Freddie Mercury in some ways. A part of me thinks they don’t need to still be touring in this way, Brian and Roger both have amazing voices and are great songwriters and performers in their own right, they could have each focused on their solo careers instead of continuing with the world conquering beast that is Queen. I’m divided as to whether I think they should keep touring for many more years – part of me would love to see the show again, but the other part of me feels it’s a great tribute, perfect for a fleeting moment for fans and the band to get together and celebrate their legacy, but perhaps one that should stick around just long enough for it’s best qualities to be appreciated. I hope for a few festival dates at least, they’re putting on a show that feels much larger than the arena’s it’s being staged in. At the end of the day, I’m pretty amazed I’ve had the chance to see any of these Queen members in the flesh and hear these songs live. Credit to Lambert for putting his solo career on hold to play this part in Queen – there’s not many singers who could do as good a job as he has – he’s a much better fit than Paul Rodgers, having the vocal chops, the right glam image and the chemistry with the remaining Queen members to pull it off.

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To end this review on a hardcore fan note, I waited outside the venue (the next night, after getting a spare ticket to the 2nd show) for many hours with some other New Zealand and Australian Queen and Adam Lambert fans. Brian took the time to stop and meet the fans, a real honor and it shows how humble a guy he is. The best I could manage was to tell Brian some of my earliest memories were listening to his music. I don’t remember his reply, I was too in awe of standing next to the guitarist who I’d been looking at on album covers for such a long time. Still haven’t learnt how to keep my cool when meeting heroes or people I admire.

Brian May meeting New Zealand fan

Good ‘end-of-the-world’ documentaries

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I say end-of-the-world facetiously, but if anyone’s in the mood for some heady criticism of our society, culture, commerce and politics, here are some suggestions;

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (Adam Curtis, 2007)

Adam Curtis is an English filmmaker predominantly known for his documentaries which combine archival footage with interviews and narration by Curtis himself. The arguments Curtis constructs are pretty airtight and quite original statements against our society, and his thinking has been quite influential. Century Of The Self from 2002 which explores the Freudian influence on modern advertising and politics is one of his most notable and well worth checking out, as is The Trap from 2007. The Trap explores our ideas of freedom – moving from the influence of John Nash’s Game Theory on cold war politics and how that filtered into economic thought, to discussing psychology treating Humans like machines and later showing the corruption of freedom in politics. Curtis’ arguments are typically broad and require some concentration, but he also spins an entertaining yarn and his use of music and archival footage can get pretty addictive. I watched three of his documentaries in a row and then attempted to start a fourth, it may have been overkill, but that’s testament to the addictive nature of his non-fiction story telling. It’s all extensively researched and far from the zone of conspiracies.

 

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick, 1992)

A little old school but by no means any less relevant Manufacturing Consent based on the Noam Chomsky book of the same name is pretty famous, but if you haven’t seen it it’s well worth the watch. Serving as both a history of Chomsky’s life and of criticisms of media found within the original book, film largely seeks to illustrate Chomsky’s ideas on how the media (news, advertising) work to uphold the ideals of the status quo (particularly right-wing ideals) of government and commerce. The central case study in the film is that contrasting the media’s coverage of the genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot and an equivalent genocide in East Timor supported by the US government, which is quite an eye opener and comparable to the current media coverage of what is happening in Gaza or the Ukraine. A great introduction to Chomsky and if you want more, Achbar and Wintonick’s documentary The Corporation (2003), also highly influential, is a great watch.

 

 

The Four Horsemen (Ross Ashcroft, 2012)

There’s been a few good documentaries on the financial collapse of 2008, and although that seems a few years ago now it’s good to remind ourselves of what happened, and to open our eyes to the economic and political system which is arguably holding humanity hostage. This documentary focuses on the neo-classical school of economic thought and the affect this has had on our society. There’s a whole lot of good interviews and once again Chomsky turns up, which lends an element of reputability. It leaves with some suggestions of how we can affect change in the world which rises the documentary above complete doom and gloom rhetoric. A little dry at times, but if you’re in the mood to get some facts in you it’s a good watch.

 

This is the stuff that has been tickling my fancy lately anyhow. Please feel free to comment below with any discussion or suggestions of other documentaries to watch.

Projects: (John Key) Stop Bullshitting Me – Goes semi-viral!

Well viral in terms of anything else I’ve released previously. 7000 views on Youtube in 4 days, not bad I think, and of course largely this is due to dirty politics being the theme of the week in New Zealand news. But there has been some positive discussion surrounding the video on the Youtube page, and on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Some websites even shared us including NZ Herald and Ultimate Student.

Some of the good feedback include things like this from user biggles2661 on Youtube:

a great inclusion of the political discord! a hugely perceptive and in depth analysis of keys government! i see it attracts the brightest of kiwi society

And on the negative side, user KoraraProductions gave us this;

This was TRASH!
Made me wanna vote for national even more.

If you haven’t seen the video, the topic is pretty evident from the title. We shot it all in one afternoon and largely improved most of the ideas. Allister Whyte my good man shot it, Harley Neville gave a guest verse (and contributed in a large way to the creative ideas in the video), Guy Pigden appears (and also have some backing vocals), Julie Clark popped in for a cameo, as did Raice Hannay and Hayley Sharp helped us out on set and looked after Allister as he went a little far into his role as the gas-mask dude (that blood is real).

If you haven’t seen it and are watching it after reading this, lower your expectations – it’s very much a homemade thing.

 

Queen II: An under-rated gem (and a brief history of a fan)

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It’s not really cool to be a Queen fan and it probably never has been, for whatever closed-minded reasons. I overheard one person saying that Queen fans were up there with Tool fans for the worst fan-base around. In spite of this, I’m going to break no new ground with this post but instead do what fans do best; praise the achievements of their idols. From this I hope that readers will at least check out some of the fairly overlooked (in terms of their catalogue) but impressive gems hidden within Queen‘s second album.

Early Childhood of Queen

I’ve been listening to Queen nearly all my life. Some of my earliest memories are digging through my parents record collection, destroying and absorbing them. A particular favourite of my younger self was Queen’s Greatest Hits, of which we had a warped copy of. I remember taking the record around to my grandmas house and attempting with her to iron out the warp, which didn’t work. Never the less I kept playing the disc, regardless of the skipping and scratches, which to my young mind seemed just as much a part of the music as the drums and guitar. I would take the record along with me to kindergarten – and not really interested to play outside – I would rather stand inside by the record player and listen to it spinning. I remember the record player being on an extremely high shelf, that I would have to crane my neck up to see. An enjoyable early memory indeed.

Probably rocking out to Queen

Probably rocking out to Queen

Since then I’ve been through all kinds of Queen phases. I received Made In Heaven as a gift just after it was released in 1995; I remember hearing of the albums release through a news article, and with the naive mind of a child tried to figure out how Freddie was able to send his vocals back down from the afterlife. That album was perhaps a bit too dark for a 5-year old, but I’ve grown to love it – one of the better posthumous releases. Later in my childhood I would dissect their music videos through VHS rentals, captivated by Freddie and the band, totally unaware of his sexuality and not understanding the cause of his death.

In my teens I would rediscover Queen through the re-release of Live At Wembley on DVD. I would gradually start collecting their albums on vinyl, albums I had been curious about since staring at their discography within the Greatest Hits liner notes as a young one.  My introduction to the first two albums, Queen and Queen II was via a double sided cassette compilation that I was playing on a tape walkman as curiously late as the early 2000s (apparently beating the hipsters to the cassette trend). I’ve loved Queen I for some time, with great lesser known anthems such as Liar and Great King Rat, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I feel I’ve really unlocked Queen II. It turns out to be nowhere near the sophomore slump, and could quite possibly be their best album.

Re-discovering Queen II

My appreciation for Queen II lies predominantly in the second side of the album (vinyl edition), dubbed ‘side black’, though ‘side white’ (the first side) is great as well. Brian May writes nearly all of ‘side white’, which Roger Taylor contributing one song. Not to diminish their contributions, they’re a great introduction to album. May opens the album with the perhaps Pink Floyd influenced Procession, which links into his early epic of his Father To Son. Freddie gives a great vocal job, and there’s a slight psychedelic folk vibe running through the song, and a similiar song structure to Liar off the first album. This links into May’s White Queen, a live favorite from the early years of Queen, before Roger Taylor finishes the side with Loser In The End a glam rocking tribute to the sometimes rocky relationships of mother’s and sons (probably intentionally connecting thematically with Father To Son earlier). The riff reminds me some what of T.Rex’s Children Of The Revolution, yet it’s a heavier groove than that song, thanks to Roger’s slamming drums (an influential and all things said, pretty underrated rock drummer). Now onto ‘side back’…

Every man and his dog knows Bohemian Rhapsody – the very memorable intro riff, the complex song structure, heavy metal section and operatic vocals. But not many people, not even Queen fans (except the die-hards, or those interested in progressive rock albums), have fully dived into the second disc of Queen II. I’m assuming once it was well known amongst Queen fans, probably when they were fewer, when they first helped to get the disc on the charts in 1974, and packed out their first arena and stadium shows – before the We Will Rock You’s, the Bites The Dust’s and the Radio Ga Ga’s. Everything that made Bohemian Rhapsody such a massive and iconic hit is evident in the second side of Queen II, except arguably, it’s better. It hits a lot harder, the melodies are more complicated, the song structures and overdubs even more overboard. At least to my ears. It’s a little less accessible and obvious as Bohemian Rhapsody, the lyrics a bit vaguer. It feels like a songwriter reaching to the absolute top of abilities, and pushing the band around him to pretty incredible levels.

 

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Side Black opens up with the bombastic rock epic of Ogre Battle,showing the diversity of Freddie’s writing ability even as of the early 70s. It features the kind of proto-metal, bluesy riffs that are a staple of early Queen, showing their often overlooked Zeppelin and Sabbath influences. The lyrical content concerns as the title suggests, a battle against a giant ogre creature that can swallow oceans and other such metaphors. A lot of early Queen lyrically seems strongly fantasy influenced; J.R. Tolkien and such, more so from Freddie than Brian and Roger I think (Deacon wouldn’t contribute a song until the 3rd album, Sheer Heart Attack). The song is damn catchy and became a live standard up until about 1977 – 78. On a side not, there’s even got a Super Nintendo/N64 series named after this song.

A gong hit at the end of Ogre Battle segues into the vaudeville progressive rock of The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, a song I’d previously overlooked until recently. The song is named after a 19th century painting by English artist Richard Dadd; the painting itself is impressively detailed and apparently took nine-years to paint. It’s another progressive hard rock jam, with an infectious chorus and very short verses, decorated with elaborate operatic vocal harmonies and lead work. I’d say it’s one of the odder songs of Freddie’s and yet it’s very infectious and probably could have been a single. It was thought to have never been played live, but an upcoming remastered version of Queen’s 1974 shows at the Rainbow in London is to their one and only performance of it. The short clip on youtube sounds pretty amazing.

The painting that influenced the song

The painting that influenced the song

We then have a piano ballad titled Nevermore which is nice and sweet but not particular stand-out, though connects to Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke in a way not dissimilar to The Beatles’ Abby Road medley, showing the impressive early ambition of the band, and Freddie’s ability to write an entire sequence of songs with relative ease. This segues into the highpoint of the album; and of early Queen in general, the precursor to Bohemian Rhapsody; overshadowed by that tracks might but no less impressive in terms of composition complexity; The March Of The Black Queen. I could listen to the song and describe the songs structure; how it segues from intro, to heavy sequence, to some other operatic sequence; fakes an ending and then returns with a orgasmic-ally fulfilling ending – or you could just listen for yourself:

A sort of Beach Boys-via-progressive Medieval rock track turns up next Funny How Love Is, before the big single that broke them in the UK, a vocal-remake of Seven Seas Of Rhye from the first album. You should all know that one already. A great hit single concludes a very ambitious album from a band that weren’t really that successful at the time; they were barely known at all. To quote queensongs.info, “in August 1973, Queen were still ‘commoners’, who’d failed to chart and who were lucky to be paid to make a second album at all”. Which makes the risks they took, and skills on display as such as fresh band even more impressive.

I feel I am getting increasingly bad at describing these songs, and it’s descending into fan-boy worship territory, so I’d better stop here. But to conclude, Queen II is really under-rated, go listen to it (side one is great as well, even though I skimmed over it in this review). I’ll be seeing Queen live with new replacement singer Adam Lambert in September, and while it’s easy to be cynical towards bands that are still turning out to fill arenas and make the cash decades after the deaths of their beloved front-men, I’ll put any pessimism to the side and appreciate seeing some of my life-long heroes, live and breathing, in the same room as me. You can be sure there will be another blog covering that show to come.

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[Concert Review] Bob Dylan, Claudelands Arena, 9th August 2014

Bob Dylan Hamilton poster

Another legend ticked off the bucket list, but little did I know it would be Hamilton which would provide the opportunity. Claudeland’s Arena turned out to be a suitable replacement for Vector in Auckland (which was booked with Disney on Ice), with a great sound mix and the right atmosphere for an evening with Dylan and his band.

The strumming of a guitar introduced Dylan as he and his band took the stage right on 8pm. Soft lighting replaced the black of the stage and revealed a tasteful setup, with a curtain backdrop and large lights hovering above. From our position at the back of the arena the band was still very visible, although Dylan the most darkly lit of all the members. Still, his hat and long coat distinguished him as he took to the old style mic setup at the front of the stage, and launched into first song Things Have Changed from the Wonder Boys soundtrack. His voice is in great form, still choosing odd rhythms to sing as is his modern style, but the melody is still there below the husk. The sound mix was particularly good, putting his vocals right in front of the mix where they should be, but the drums, multiple guitars, bass clearly audible. From there Dylan would run through a large portion of most recent album Tempest, other favorites from Time Out Of Mind onwards, and he even found time to play some of the old classics that perhaps much of the Hamilton crowd came out to hear, albeit with new arrangements.

Bob Dylan Claudelands

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, this being my first Dylan show and his reputation of doing what he wants in spite of the desires of his audiences is much documented. But the arrangements were not nearly as wild and jammed as I had expected, and though the band played with new styles on classics such as She Belongs To Me and Tangled Up In Blue, but still retaining the essence of the original songs. Regardless of that, it shows just how unique an artist Dylan is, that he is prepared to continually reshape his songs decades after writing them. She Belongs To Me came early in the show, and would probably have to be my favourite of that first set. But the band was also able to let rip on Dulquesne Whistle, with musical director and longest-serving Dylan band-member Tony Garnier on the double bass, and this track from Tempest was another early highlight. Charlie Sexton was frequently allowed solo breaks, and his licks were consistently entertaining. This is a very well rehearsed band, all able to play off each other and Bob, the rest of the band being rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball, Donnie Herron on the pedal steel, mandolin, violin and banjo and all held together by a stompingly tight drummer, George Recile. What Good Am I? from Oh Mercy provided another early highlight – as did Time Out Of Mind‘s Love Sick and the bluesy revenge drama of Paid In Blood from Tempest. But Dylan’s captivating performance of all-time classic Tangled Up In Blue proved to be the biggest crowd pleasure judging by the cheers.

Bob Dylan performs in Barolo during a festival "Collisioni 2012"

Dylan left the stage for a brief interval and returned for another hour-long set, beginning with High Water off Love and Theft. The highlights from the second set were for me the ballads; Soon After Midnight from the new album and the pretty Spirit On The Water from Modern TimesBetween singing Dylan took to his harmonica to deliver some terrific solos and also played a grand piano in several songs, most notable Spirit On The Water. His piano style seemed simple, keeping mostly to chords, but especially in Water the plonking jovial piano style was the highlight of the song (besides his vocals). It may be a shame he doesn’t pick up a guitar anymore, but he’s found ways to work his performance into something different, perhaps to suit his new even rougher vocals. Maybe it’s also just plain easier to play piano live every night rather than stand up bashing a guitar, and seeing as the man is in 73rd year and still going strong, it is a credit that he’s found ways to innovate and keep his performance fresh. Spirit On The Water was played authentically to the album version with the band delivering some of the best melodies of the night. The other highlight of the 2nd set was another Blood On The Tracks classic, Simple Twist Of Fate, proving Dylan’s more of a crowd pleasure and more prepared to give the people the classics they want than many people give him credit for.

Bob Dylan Hamilton

Raw photos, but you get the idea

 

Talking with several of the event staff after the show, they stated that there was several walkouts from unhappy punters, expected the old stuff and not happy with the majority new material. But credit to these people for helping to fill the seats and thus getting Dylan to play two shows in Hamilton, because the rest of us, familiar with his newer material or just more open-minded were greeted with a really great show, from a legend whose decade long touring career shows no signs of slowing down. Those who left early also missed the most crowd pleasingly unexpected encore, of All Along The Watchtower and Blowing In The Wind. Perhaps not totally unexpected with those familiar with setlist.fm but in the middle of a concert of unexpected twists and turns, it still felt out of left field. All Along The Watchtower was played with unexpected aggression and I could no longer contain myself in my seat, pulling another ‘concert sneaky’ and running to the front and the side of the stage, where a group of people dressed in matching 1965 style Dylan concerts (black suits, harmonica, curly wig) and a few drunk old punters had gathered to dance in the aisles. At this point I caught my first close up gaze at the man himself, verifying that it was indeed Dylan on stage and not a look/soundalike. Blowing In The Wind again felt totally unexpected, his most enduring anthem, and yet it seemed so surprising for an artist that consistently turns from his past, to launch as far into his myth as he possibly could and pull out his biggest anthem for this grateful Hamilton audience. The arrangement was totally different (and better perhaps) and Dylan delivered one last ripping harmonica solo before leading the band to the songs climax. The house lights then came on, the band walked to the front of stage arms around one another and quickly bowed, before Dylan and his comrades walked off for the final time.

It was over all too soon, and I hope to have another experience with Dylan; if so I would fork out a bit more and try to get close enough to see the man’s face for the duration of the show. I won’t hold my breath for that as who knows what the man will do next. Yet this performance was I’m sure something more than Hamilton has seen in some time, and those that were prepared to re-evaluate what the myth of Dylan meant to them surely got their moneys worth.

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Leaving the arena