Live Review: Death DTA (Le Divan Du Monde, Paris, 2016)

Steve DiGiorgio played his 3 string fret-less bass like a maniac, beard grey and tied up looking kind of like a metal pirate. Bobby Koeble played every riff, every solo including the classic leads he wrote for Symbolic almost perfectly, lip syncing the lyrics along with an enamored crowd. Gene Hoglan, the atomic clock showed no signs of tiring, as he smashed through the ground breaking poly-rhythmic beats he composed for the two classic Death albums on which he played, lighting up cigarettes between songs, and playing the other drummers beats better than they ever could. Max Phelps at the front, the substitute Chuck Schuldiner now a veteran in his own right having toured for 3 years with these legends, still seems as surprised as anyone that he was picked for the role. But it all comes together as the best metal karaoke show one could ever hope for, a massive release for those who have been listening to Death for their whole lives and had perhaps never thought they’d see these songs played live, by a collection of men who wrote them.

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Chuck Schuldiner was of coursed missed, his onstage presence, technical proficiency and signature vocals of which perhaps invented the Death Metal genre (before outgrowing it) could not be replaced by Phelps, who has a role I do not envy, in spite of how fun it looks. I’m sure it’s an enormous task to have to fill Schuldiner’s shoes night after night, but Phelps to his credit nails nearly every solo, and also attempts various low and high vocal styles that Schuldiner moved between during his career. The crowd was supportive, often yelling Max’s name and giving him support. We were there to celebrate Schuldiner’s legacy, as DiGiorgio made clear to the crowd during in between banter, yet these musicians seem to have grown into their own confident and unique force. It’s shame this formation of Death DTA will not be able to move beyond the limits of an official tribute act, and perhaps compose new material. I would be interested to hear what new compositions the group would create.

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To tell it like it was however; hearing such  classic songs live, played by such iconic musicians of the genre, left me to uncontrollably grin for nearly the entire set. I couldn’t but joyously mosh when hearing something like Overactive Imagination off Death’s 1993 album Individual Thought Patterns played live right in front of me, with the very drummer who I listened to in wonder ten years earlier as I tried to figure out what he was doing. I often found myself with my arms around the fellow French Death fans in the pit, jumping up and down and yelling every lyric to Pull The Plug and Crystal Mountain. Air guitar displays burst out amongst us at the front as we fanatics displayed our obsessive knowledge of the solos and fretwork from throughout Death’s discography. There was all the expected moshing and circle pitting, and rampant crowd surfing also broke out. I managed to pull off one ill-timed but hugely entertaining crowd surf as the acoustic intro to Destiny kicked into distortion. It was a bit of a struggle to get down once I was up in the air, but credit to the French crowd for going along with such antics. Almost all the signature tracks were played, minus a few – it will be interesting to see if any future Death DTA tours will feature Scavenger of Human Sorrow or Flesh And The Power It Holds for example (we might need Richard Christie on drums for those two).

Bobby Koeble

This being the last night of the tour, and being a metal show in Paris, there were extra bouts of between song banter – mostly from DiGiorgio , giving shout-outs the the backstage crew and taking time to specially thank the French crowd for coming out and supporting. We were apparently the best crowd of the tour – something DiGiorgio made clear he doesn’t say every night. Whether that was the case or not, it was a great gig and something I’m proud of trekked to have seen. My only regrets are that I don’t speak french well enough to make many friends before or after the show, and that security was tough enough to not allow some of us to wait after the performance to meet the band. Perhaps next time the band tours I’ll have a chance to chat to Hoglan in person. And maybe next time I’ll know French a little better – or maybe that’s asking a little much. For now, this Death fan is satisfied.

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[Journal] Back To Metal or: Looking Back On Being a Teenage Metalhead

Our tastes change depending on who we are at any given time. When we’re kids, we often lean towards pop and friendly or gimmicky dance music, as this is what appeals to us. Or in our younger days, we listen to whatever our parents are into. As we grow up, we become more aware of cultural trends happening around us, and try to keep up with them, for the sake of being one with the crowd, to bond with our peers through shared cultural knowledge. When we hit our teens, some of us want to distance ourselves further from the mainstream, and look for periphery or outsider art that doesn’t so much appeal to those still following the mainstream. For recent generations, perhaps that means diving deeper into movements such as rap or metal, or at least that is what it meant for me, as well as searching for cinema not so accepted by my teachers or parents, horror and art-house for example.

Your experiences might be different, as I’m looking at this from a reasonably personal perspective. But metal for me formed a defining part of my teen years, from 14 upwards, I found myself listening to increasingly heavier music, out of enjoyment and also to know about something and be a part of a cultural movement outside what was predominantly taking place within popular groups in my home town. Sport and pop music never really had enduring appeal. I was preoccupied by the mainstream in my tween years, and although I found the Beastie Boys and felt pretty proud discovering such cool artists before the rest of my peers, I would soon turn my back on them, based on one nasty interview they have in New Zealand in 2005. That was before a concert I would want so much to go to but never had a chance, their headlining performance at the Big Day Out. When they acted like bored assholes, in an interview with Clarke Gayford on ex-NZ music channel C4 – my genre loyalties would be prompted to change.

They may have been having a bad day, and I would eventually forgive them (rediscovering them in 2007 upon the release of The Mix Up), but in the interim, metal would fill the gap of my teenage obsessions, and a love of dance and rap would soon be replaced by obsessive support for the heavy – Megadeth, Pantera, Death, Carcass, Mayhem, Slayer, Immortal, Cryptopsy, Metallica, Sepultura, Metallica and Black Sabbath amongst others. The chug, the growl, the double kick, aggressive lyrical delivery and the overly long song structure would become my new musical guide.

Incarnate playing Oamaru's Penguin Club, 2007

Incarnate playing Oamaru’s Penguin Club, 2007

Local New Zealand metal bands would also form a huge part of my metal education and influence. Playing alongside stellar bands such as Christpuncher, El Schlong, 8 Foot Sativa, Tainted, Overlord, Nuns With Guns, Injection Of Death – some from Dunedin, some from around NZ, would only cement my desire to become a better metal musician and be more a part of the community. I was drumming with my high school friends in a band Incarnate (separate schools, but similar friends and ages) and I was prompted to double kick faster and faster, and learn more complex beats and fills, through competition with the peers around me. Gigging together, with friendly competition and rivalry, these high school and university gig days were some of the best times of my life.

After tour photo - Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

After tour photo – Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

Time moved on, I changed cities, and perhaps moved away from metal. Rap re-entered my life, and in a turn of events I still find hilarious even as I delicately pursue it, I’m now an aspiring solo and group rapper writer and producer. Metal is still in my life, as I sporadically meet my friends for gigs and festivals, but mainstream, indie and rock is back to being a more dominant part of my life. I’m no longer trying to prove myself to a community, or gain respect in one genre or subculture. I’m following whatever I like at whatever given time, although still arguably somewhat being under the thumb of trends and phases.

The last month I’ve moved back to a metal phase, interspersed with other genres, but returned to much loved groups such as Baroness, Black Sabbath, and Immortal (whose live DVD is a brilliant lesson in live metal theatrics) as well as diving into bands I’ve previously ignored (as I write this I’m listening and loving Meshuggah’s  “I”) – particularly Gojira, who I find are a brilliant mix of progressive and melodic elements with traditional metal brutality. The whale pick scrapes they’ve pioneered add an addictive element to their death and sometimes even nu-metal influenced chugs. Their lyrical content is on point as well, drawing from philosophical as well as literary influences and also environmental concerns. I love a band that has a heart and cares about topical themes, and Gojira further prove a metal band can be intelligent and as heavy as the heaviest substance on earth, in line with philosophically minded metal bands like Death or Cynic. I will see Gojira live in June at Download Festival, with some friends adventuring over to the UK from New Zealand. I look forward to this greatly.

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Tastes can change, and I’m lucky to be friends with many different people with tastes ranging from the hardcore dance fanatics, to the indie rock purists. I focus on music because this is what I know, but equally, many of my friends are just as much die-hard about sport or gaming. Our interests and obsessions take many twists and turns, but it’s comforting to know something solid that I loved in a past life, such as metal, as an interest and a community – just will not die.

Live Review: Peaches (Electric Ballroom, London, 2015)

Last Sunday night in Camden Town, London, Merrill Nisker brought the Teaches of Peaches and schooled us in how to perfect a solo club show.

On this later tour, Nisker has returned to a minimal approach to Peaches as a live act, similar her Berlin club beginnings, or early festival shows promoting The Teaches Of Peaches and follow up Fatherfucker. Eschewing the band show she had developed to much acclaim during tours for Impeach My Bush and I Feel Cream, the focus of the show was the energy and performance of Peaches herself, backed by a couple of dancers and some very entertaining visual surprises throughout. I had doubted that as a solo show, this would be as excited as the Peaches band set-up I’d seen years earlier. But Nisker had the audacity to pull this off, proving why she is the queen of electroclash – and why she is a true classic live performer.

peaches electric ballroom

No time was wasted as the lights quickly dimmed and Nisker appeared on stage in a ridiculous cartoon-cyberpunk outfit, like something from an anime version of Dune. Opening track and title track off the new album, Rub, seemed nothing too special on recording, but lines such as “can’t talk right now, this chicks dick is in my mouth”, came across with hilarity and set the tone for the rest of the night. The sold out crowd was heaving, jumping, dancing, screaming (and cracking up) as she projected her sexual electro punk classics on to us all. Nisker was the MC and the DJ, as she queued each track up on a set of CD-J’s and a mixer placed on a riser in front of her rock show light rig. Proving charismatic enough to own the stage on her own through-out Fatherfucker favourite Operate, she returned to the new material with Vaginaplasty, bring out her two person dance crew to help out. Dressed in giant vagina outfits, complete with over-sized clitoris’, the dancers helped add visual flair to the proceedings. The male and female dancers I felt had a particularly mainstream look to them, which gave the ridiculous content (and dance ideas) an accessibility. They seemed like regularly people, not flamboyant performers or drag artists (like many that appear in her videos) and I couldn’t help think her choice of backup dancers perhaps spoke to the sexually repressed among her audience. It was as if to say, if this common looking couple can get freaky to the suggestion of Peaches, so can you.

peaches live 2015

Nisker kept the energy up, soon walking over the hands of the audience and right to the middle of the venue during I Feel Cream. Talk To Me and Boys Wanna Be Her proved two of the most popular of the set judging by audience reaction, but she wasn’t only playing the hits, drawing deep into her catalouge for standalone single Burst! and Teaches Of Peaches deep-cut Lovertits. The most outrageous prop of the night was to come during Dick In The Air. With a great trap beat, and some of Peaches funniest lyrics off the new album, I had anticipated this song being one of my highlights. Not content with just bringing a blow up penis (which would have illustrated the songs content just fine), the stage crew proceeded to inflate a giant see-through plastic shaft, which spread out across the audience. The tracks deep baseline kicked in, and Peaches delivered the first verse before entering the giant shaft and walking across the audience. I had expected perhaps a dick to be raised to the air during this song in some form, I hadn’t expected a penis shaped shaft to be inflated over the audience with Peaches dancing and rapping within it. I true moment of stage-craft genius if there ever was one.

The inevitable mass crowd-singalong to Fuck The Pain Away occurred, before Peaches left the stage, taking a suitcase with her to the tune of The Warriors theme. I wasn’t sure if she would be one to return and encore, but she soon did, this time topless (although tastefully so – skin coloured nipple covers and a new costume). She chose perhaps the best song off the new album to open this encore, Dumb Fuck, with her backup dancers returning also for one last routine, this time creatively involving hair dryers. AA XXX gave us all one last time to shout along with her brilliant punk poetry, before she exited the stage once again. It was not over yet however, as she graced this Camden stage one more time for Light In Places. A hexagon shaped swing was unfurled from the lighting rig, and if you’ve seen the video, I think you can guess what came next. We were basically treated to a cirque-du-solei show, as Peaches was joined by aerial performance Empress Stah, who took to the swing to demonstrate some amazing acrobatic abilities. All with a lighting device placed just about on her butt. I’d never been so happy to have an ass shine over me. It was quite the performance, and not one I’ll forget any time – especially impressive if that was a butt-plug creating those lights.

peaches live buttplug ass

After two encores and a show full of high energy set pieces and a large setlist of new and old songs, I doubt there was an unsatisfied fan in the room. Nisker took the time to sign records and meet the fans straight after the show, showing her humble nature. I took the opportunity to talk to her again, having met her briefly as a wide-eyed 17 year old at the Big Day Out 2007. It is somewhat comforting to know that in that time since, Nisker has been able to maintain her career, stay relevant, and arguably become an even better live performer. What she gave us at the Electric Ballroom was one part insane party and another part punk political statement, and with her career of fearlessness and confrontation – to gender norms and repressed sexuality – it must be a vindication of her continued efforts to see the frenzied fun she inspires within a club setting such as this.

peaches rub signed

Live Review: Chvrches (Alexander Palace, London, 2015)

 

I was slightly cynical before attending Chvrches largest London headline show to date, having previously seen them play Laneway in Auckland in 2014, where they had been promoted to headliner after Lorde dropped out. At the time they didn’t quite seem headline material, even for an indie festival such as Laneway, and a minimal stage set up and technical issues in my eyes confirmed this to be the case. With their latest album, Every Open Eye being a strong follow up to The Bones Of What You Believe, and their fan-base only growing in size and dedication, it seemed there were enough reasons in the lead up to the Alexander Palace show to believe that Chvrches now have what it takes.

Alexander Palace, with it’s standing capacity of 7,300 is not a small venue. Chvrches has sold this out, which is perhaps an indication of their rising popularity. The audience was eclectic, not being dominated by teenagers or indie kids, but with a suitable proportion it seemed of over 40 year olds and casual concert goers, of both genders. Gangs of lads could be spotted as could many couples, choosing this band for the soundtrack to their courtship. It seems Chvrches are a band that crosses demographics.

The opening acts were equally eclectic, with Australian indie-EDM cross-over act Mansionair opening proceedings. There drummer was particularly notable, backing up layers of melodic synths and reverb heavy chords with jazzy rhythms and the expected drum machine sample. It was a fairly chilled beginning, before Four Tet took the stage with his intoxicating progressive house vibes, encouraging some welcome movement throughout the steadily growing crowd. It is perhaps notable to mention that the show ran like clock-work, with Chvrches taking to the stage exactly on their 9pm listed time.

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The house lights went down and the Glasgow band emerged, with singer Lauren Mayberry’s presence causing the expected shrieks of excitement from their especially female fan-base. Wasting no time, Mayberry danced about the stage, leaping up on the fold-back’s and seemed a much more confident front-woman than at Laneway two years earlier. Opening track Never Ending Circles has some of the best hooks off the new album and provided an energetic opener. Her two bandmates, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, were largely stuck on their podiums of synthesizers and samples, although 41 year old Cook occasionally left his podium to add live bass. Doherty gets turn front of stage later for a lead vocal cameo, with Mayberry showing her percussions skills, her drumming cameos being somewhat of a highlight.

The two massive screen’s either side of the band focused on Mayberry, making her a seem larger than life presence, in spite of her relatively slight real life stature.  These screens also provided a glimpse into what was taking place behind Doherty and Cook’s podiums, giving evidence that they were in fact playing their synthesizers live – not just queuing backing tracks as could easily be assumed. The stage design has gone up a notch as well, though remaining understated, with three screens of colourful animations and an arena-sized lighting rig providing a visual accompaniment to the music. These production values are expected for a band of this size, but in my eyes greatly improved the shows sense of spectacle compared to that minimal Laneway performance. They are now suited to a venue the size of Alexander Palace, without completely giving themselves over to the excesses of mainstream pop live productions.

Although Chvrches are fast rising the ranks of indie fame, they continue to approach their pop career with modesty. This determination to stay down to earth shows itself particularly in Mayberry’s on stage persona, herself admitting during between song banter that she could never be a Motley Crue-type, crowd pleasing front-woman. Although asking the crowd later if they were having a great time, referencing the earlier self-deprecating banter, the crowd in turn responded with cheers, showing that if Mayberry was every to fully embrace the role of a rock performer, she would well have the capability. But perhaps Chvrches reluctance to embrace the fake side of rock and pop is what draws their fanbase towards them. At other points in the concert, Mayberry talked of her fear of becoming another headline, in light of recent onstage events becoming tabloid fodder. Regardless of what the journalists chose to write, the bands authenticity in songwriting and performance remains endearing  and I think it is a large part of their appeal.

Most importantly, Chvrches have the hits, blitzing through big singalong moments such as Gun and We Sink off the first album, with new singles Empty Threat, Leave A Trace and Clearest Blue already being some of the biggest moments. Vocals are always impressive and the performance quality near identical to what is heard on the album (a good or bad thing depending on your appreciation of improvisation). Ending with the tender Afterglow, before signature anthem The Mother We Share, Chvrches prove they more than have the songwriting skills to be major headlining act. Compared to recent concerts I’ve attended of this genre which seemed slightly underwhelming, Purity Ring being one example, Chvrches are staking their claim as a major electronic pop live draw-card, and they have the evidence to prove it.

chvrches alexander palace

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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Arctic Monkeys New Zealand May 2014 [live review]

Vector Arena Auckland

AM in Auckland

Anticipation has a habit…

The highly awaiting chance to see Arctic Monkeys live again got taken up to the next level due to a chance opportunity to go to both Auckland and Wellington shows. I had posted on the Arctic Monkeys online forum weeks in advance asking if anyone had a spare ticket to either show, as I had missed out on the original G.A. sale and was looking to not buy from scalpers if possible. Just last week an admin of the forum named Athena saw this message and offered me a spare Wellington ticket she had, as she could no longer make the trip from Australia. I was blown away by the generosity and offered to pay for the ticket but she insisted on no payment. Fellow Monkeys fans are the best. So after a few days of deliberation I jumped at the chance (perhaps self-indulgent but I will pay it forward when the opportunity arises) to go to both shows.

Early morning plane to Welly

Early morning plane to Welly

Crowds queued up early at both shows, with mostly the teen fan base taking a place long before the doors open, attempting to get as close to their heroes as possible. Wandering the streets of Wellington in the early morning, about 8.30am after my plane touched down, I came across a small group of fans who were already sitting outside TSB Arena, complete with sleeping bags and necessities to keep them going. Some told me they had been waiting since four in the morning. It seems Arctic Monkeys fandom has well and truely continued after their initial success of the last decade, undoubtedly on a second wind due to the success of last years AM.

The night before in Auckland I arrived relatively late to the venue, only securing my ticket very last minute. I caught up with a few friends and then took my place inside, having missed the opening act Pond. I would catch them the next night at Wellington, and there they were awesome, sounding heavier and carrying more weight live than on their albums. They deserve to have their own limelight, and escape the shadow of fellow Perth-psychedelic rockers Tame Impala, who they have shared several members with.

Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment some say. And I had years of pent up anticipation brewing before the Arctics took stage in Auckland. I had a seated ticket for that night right down the back of the arena and as the boys came out and launched into One For The Road I quickly realized this seated thing would not do. The music sounded great, the band looked great, but Vector Arena’s screens weren’t on and many people were staying in their seats, not dancing around my area. I made my way down the steps to the side of the barrier, with the arena within jumping distance below me. I did not plan this, but by the time of Arabella I felt my decision had been made for me. A security guard turned his back and in time to the music I jumped, hitting the floor and loosing my footing as I fell. I quickly got up and ran into the standing masses, a little shocked and incredibly excited that I had not been caught and thrown out. I continued to make my way into the mass of people as the band started up with Brianstorm. Any potential disappointment was soon eradicated, within the standing crowd was the place to be, as I had previously assumed.

Adoring Masses, Vector Arena

Adoring Masses, Vector Arena

“…Evening Entertainment”

Boy had things moved on since New Zealand last saw the Arctics live at the Big Day Out 2009 before the release of Humbug. We’ve all followed the youtube streams, Glastonbury performances and other album promotional stuff since then, so the look of the band came as no surprise. Nick O’Malley still rocking his beastly beard, Jamie Cook now back with long hair, Matt Helders letting his curls grow out a little longer and Alex with the characteristic quiff and expensive suits that have come to define him in this period of the band. The first time I caught them live in 2009 at the Auckland Big Day Out the band opened with Pretty Visitors, a completely new track at that time, which sounded great but felt a slightly awkward opening to a festival set (Alex played the keys then which is now left to touring keyboardist Thomas Rowley). This time the Arctic’s took the stage bathed in red light to the sound of a backing track, which led into a slightly extended One For The Road intro. The confidence the band has gained from years of non-stop touring is immediately apparent. I was glad to see the band had brought the giant AM lights down this side of the world (although they were no doubt smaller versions than the colossal ones present at the 2013 European tour) and the general lighting design went for the huge and impressive, with smoke and strobes utilized to impressive effect. A far cry from the couple of lamps that littered the stage back at the Big Day Out.

The new songs sound almost studio perfect live, with Davey Latter filling in the extra percussion and back up vocals, his spot to the back left of the stage just to the left of the giant ‘A’ light, but still visible. As well as keyboards Thomas Rowley fills in extra live guitar, often doubling the Jamie’s rhythm licks, with fills up the sound. Matt’s drumming is on point, he’s an ever impressive live drumming nailed every fill and beat. Occasionally I wondered if the tempos were slightly slower than on the album, but this was possibly only noticeable in the old material, Florescent Adolescent and Dance floor particularly, perhaps a symptom of the band moving on from their punk roots and towards this more groove orientated direction. Jamie’s playing was also tight as, and he seems to be moving around a bit more, though still keeping near his pedals. He was particularly in motion at the Wellington gig, perhaps encouraged by the rapturous crowd response at that second gig. Nick’s stage presence is also at a new peak nowadays, due largely to his great beard and his backing vocals were one of the most impressive parts of either gig. He now performs Josh Holmes vocal spot in Knee Socks and if you close your eyes you can barely tell a difference between the two. Hopefully they continue to use his vocals in the future.

Finally Alex, now every bit the front man, teasing the crowd between songs – stalking the stage with just a mic in Pretty Visitors and Arabella like some indie rock Elvis – nailing the vocals of every song and switching between lead and rhythm with effortless ease (Alex’s lead/vocal double act in the chorus of Knee Socks is some pretty impressive stuff to watch). Ladies love him, guys want to be him (judging by the Alex turner haircuts around both arena’s); he might come across a bit more full of himself than the Alex of 2009, but it seems to be working in terms of pulling off a gripping live show.

The lights, Vector Arena

The lights, Vector Arena

Wellington or Auckland, “Do I Wanna Know?”

In terms of the differences between the gig, I think the Wellington show had better atmosphere, the crowd was electric and really densely packed due to the small venue. The boys seemed to register this and the energy on stage was higher, as well as more banter from Alex at that second show. At one point Alex asked for the audience lights to be turned on, at which he pointed to a silhouette in the back of the arena, stating something along the lines of “that’s some trippy stuff Wellington, looks like a James Bond title sequence” in his Sheffield-cum-Rockabilly drawl. I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about but the audience appreciated the interaction. Later before final track R U Mine? and after I Wanna Be Yours, Alex pulled out the effective routine of “we are yours Wellington, but I have one question to ask.. R U Mine!?” (paraphrased). His in between song banter through out was as amusing and the crowd responds enthusiastically every time. Auckland was as good of a show as well, not to do any disservice to it, but due to me having to mission into the G.A. area part of the way into the set and perhaps the more intimate size of Wellington led to me putting that second show just slightly above the first. Maybe also the fact it was my first show at the TSB Arena in Wellington, and the little I had adventure surrounding that second gig with a 6am flight (not to mention the last minute hook up of the ticket from Athena); these personal elements probably have some part to play in my preference of the second gig. But both amazing shows none the less, justifying why I hold this modern rock band so much higher than many others.

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The boys lookin’ sharp in Auckland

“Nothing on the early stuff”

As well as nearly hearing the whole of the new album over the course of both nights (we got Number One Party Anthem at the second show, the only songs missing were Mad Sounds and I Want It All ) the band treated us to many of their old classics. Having missed the Suck It And See tour, I was stoked to hear She Thunderstorms. I’m a big fan of Suck It And See and was hoping for just a few random tracks from that album, so that did the the trick. Library Pictures was also a highlight of both sets, the fast numbers standing out even more against the groovier new numbers. From Humbug we got the ever kick ass Crying Lightening, a live favourite of mine. At the Wellington show, a rare live stumble occurred just before this song with Matt cutting off an introduction from Alex by counting the song in perhaps too soon. Both shows also got a version of Cornerstore, with Alex playing the first verse and chorus acoustically by himself. Auckland also was lucky enough to receive an epic version of Pretty Visitors from the same album. From Favourite Worst Nightmare both shows featured Brianstorm which never fails to set the crowd jumping, the sing-along of Florescent Adolescent which I felt was played slightly slower (and perhaps has been since the Humbug tour) and 505, which seems to be quite a crowd favourite. Auckland got 505 as the traditional encore closer, whereas 505 closed the first set at Wellington, with R U Mine closing the show that time round. I have to say I prefer R U Mine? as the set closer and it’s good to see them mixing it up. From the first album we got the very welcome Dancing Shoes and that other song which needs no introduction (Bet You Look Good), that seems to forever remain their number one crowd favourite (the little kids seem to have got into it like it was 2006).

The lights in Wellington

The lights in Wellington

I should note that the new material got some of the largest applause from the audience, particularly and perhaps unsurprisingly Do I Wanna Know?, which I felt worked better earlier in the set, such as in Wellington, than as the first set closer as per Auckland. Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? came early in the set in Auckland so had more of an effect on me when placed at the start of the encore in Wellington. At that second show, High? came across to me as one of the biggest set highlights and I hope it remains a fixture. It was also great to hear I Wanna Be Yours both nights, which I assume won’t stay in the set forever, but is probably the darkest song of the set at the moment and a real moody juxtaposition. Great to hear Helders on the electronic samples during this song as well.

Being on old fan since the Beneath The Boardwalk days, I have to be lame and say I miss not hearing a lot of the old material. There was sadly no Old Yellow Bricks that I was hoping for given it’s inclusion in 2013, and part of me left Wellington wondering what had happened to Teddy Picker/Still Take You Home/A Certain Romance, that sort of stuff. They’d be huge crowd numbers so I hope they don’t retire them for good, but in saying that they’re starting to amass quite a large list of classics so it’s impossible to hear them all. They also seem to have stopped playing b-sides at the moment, and even though it’s not yet had a live debut, it would be great to hear stuff like Stop The World which I personally think is one of their best songs and probably deserved to be on the album.

But in spite of being a picky AM nerd, both gigs were amazing and satisfied the several-year long urge to see the band live again. For the time being that is, I see me travelling to see them live many times in the future, hopefully at some international festivals. I don’t see why it won’t happen as well, they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

Alex in the blue

Alex in the blue

“Your heroes aren’t what they seem…”

The only other disappointment of the weekend, was I failed in my attempts to stalk and get a photo with any member of the band (but this is definitely periphery to the music). I spent most of Saturday waiting around TSB arena, the hoping to spot the boys coming in for a soundcheck. At around three o’clock their music could be heard from within the venue, so we all thought it was them soundchecking. Turns out false alarm, and was just the sound crew testing the gear, fooling us all. I was there however when their cars arrived at TSB arena, and led a gang of 15 year olds at their first concert up to try and meet the band. They were running late so went straight inside though but Alex did give us a wave. Was kind of cool as well to see who traveled with who, Matt was in a car with Jamie, Alex with Nick in another car. Apparently they were hanging out at Wellington bar Mighty Mighty later that night, but I was pretty exhausted after the show, so we’ll have to give up the stalking until next time (or maybe give it up completely and repress the instincts of the teenage fan-boy within).

TSB Arena, the morning after

TSB Arena, the morning after

But I hate to end on a pessimistic note and it was a pretty damn good couple of gigs indeed. The Arctic fan base in strong down these southern ways and seems set to remain, so hopefully the boys come and grace us with a few more gigs next tour. With another couple of albums the size of AM, they could be doing their own stadium shows rather than basketball arenas next time we see them here.

To finish, here’s a video of  R U Mine? recorded on an Ipod Nano I had in my pocket. Pretty awful quality, but alright for archival purposes:

 

Big Day Out Auckland 2014 [concert review]

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Shiitttt. It’s 2014 already? Time flies when you’re… ..doing nothing.

My first Big Day Out was in 2006, since then I’ve been to four others. 2014 made it my sixth, so it had a whole bunch of other festival memories to compete with. How did the change of location to Western Springs hold up against the tried-and-trusted Mt Smart? Was it still a good day in spite of artist clashes? Would there be teething problems such as really long drink lines?

Well, Western Springs proved a successful replacement for Mt Smart in many ways. One of those ways included the ease that one is now able to move between the two main concert areas, with the main stages (now called Tui and Kowhai) and the other stages (now called Tamaki and Aroha) within but a wee jog of each other. So in spite of the clashes, if you were keen for a mission as I was, you were able to catch a bit of everything with no real problems. Though there were the teething problems I anticipated. In spite of four beer gardens-one for each stage area and one at the Chow Town eatery-the drinks lines were utterly ridiculous. One was forced to wait more than an hour in the spiraling vortex of the queues that forcibly ate up the precious time of anyone who was brave enough to venture within them. I was not willing to spend my festival hours waiting for the chance purchase a maximum of two beers at a time, so a sober Big Day Out it would have to be. (There was also large congestion in the only entrance way to the Lakeside stage, filling the role of what once was the boiler room.) Unless they figure something out for next year, the Western Springs BDO’s will be intoxicated ones only for those with a genuine interest in choosing queues over live entertainment.

David Farrier's swan tweet

Stolen from David Farrier’s twitter

But the live entertainment was plentiful. My buddies and I arrived in time for Portugal. The Man on the main stage, whom played what seemed like a yawn inducing set, although we really only walked past on our way to get wrist bands, check our bags and get orientated. The first band of the day we were to watch in full was Tame Impala, whom eased the crowd into the day with their increasingly popular psychedelic pop jams. Half Full Glass Of Wine was the highlight until Elephant forced everyone to get their jump on. Songwriter/singer of the group Kevin Parker is growing into a pretty awesome frontman, doing all the rock star stuff required with a healthy dose of self-aware humour. Looking upon the front row he said “judging by the good looking faces in the front row, we must be the coolest band here” or something to that effect. I was amused at the time. Though perhaps it’s not that funny in hindsight. Well anyhow, their set was good.

A bit of a wait until Primus on the main stage, so skipping The Naked And Famous, we went for a walk, got a burger and checked out this and that around the venue. This was our first of not many attempts to purchase alcohol, we quickly gave up and took our place within the D-Barrier for Primus. Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and recently returned original drummer Tim Alexander soon appeared, kicking some ass and causing some mayhem. Circle pits emerged as the band opened with Those Damned Blue-Collared Tweakers off Sailing These Of Cheese, continuing with a set of other classics that I didn’t know very well because I’d only just realised how awesome Primus are in the weeks leading up to the festival. Perhaps predictably Jerry Was A Racecar Driver and My Name Is Mud were my highlights of the set with Jerry providing me with my first and only crowd surfing opportunity of the day. The band brought with them two giant astronaut props which was something nice to look at, but the entertainment came largely from gazing in awe at the stunning musicianship of all in the band and marvelling at Claypool’s singular wit and talents. It was almost a bit unfair for a band of Primus‘ status to be playing middle of the day to a probably largely apathetic audience apart from the front-most pile of people. But we can thank the failing of AJ Maddah’s Harvest festival for having Primus instead gracing the Big Day Out bill, and our New Zealand stages.

I was next wisked to The Hives, playing straight after Primus in the main arena, whom provided perhaps my favourite set of the day. I had a phase of listening to the guys back in 2004/05, so it brought me some nostalgic vibes to hear songs such as Walk Idiot Walk, Main Offender and Hate To Say I Told You So live. Most recent album Lex Hives was strongly represented in the setlist, and this wasn’t a bad thing – the sing along of Wait A Minute went down well as did Ramones style crunch of Take Out The Toys. Their stage presense is just so good – the band was fully dedicated to providing an kick ass experience, decking themselves out in Mariachi gear and even dressed their stage hands up as ninjas. Lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is an incredibly entertaining front man-dishing out one hilarious concert monologue after another, jumping around and frequently throwing himself into the audience. He quickly had the crowd in the palm of his hand and while it’s easy to be cynical towards rock show cliches, when you’re in the moshpit, there’s nothing more fun than being encouraged to jump in time with twenty thousand others of your peers. The set ended with Tick Tick Boom, and Pelle Almqvist forcing the entire field to sit down, with most people obliging, giving a moment of rest before exploding into one last mosh (Major Lazer later repeated this trick).

A note here about the main stage moshpits – they quickly turn into a dustbowl with all the trampling and stamping feet. The amount of dust thrown into the air got worse as the day progressed and the dry earth fragments caked my throat, beginning with The Hives. Perhaps next year they could chuck some sort of temporary flooring in the moshpit to avoid this slightly irritating feature of Western Springs.

The next hour or so is a blur (the only blur of the day sadly) as I checked out a little of ‘this’ and a little of ‘that’. The ‘this’ was Mudhoney, who sounded nice a grungy and had attracted a large crowd that looked straight out of 1991. The ‘that’ was CSS, whose second announcement addition to the bill finally provided me with a chance to jump around to their 2006 hit Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above. And boy did I jump. So much so that my cellphone flew out of my pocket for the second time that day. If you ain’t loosing belongings, you ain’t moshing right.

Now without the ability to be contacted, I walked on over to Arcade Fire, having missed their first two songs searching the Lakeside dance pit for my phone. But I soon forgot about that, probably about the time Win Bulter and company busted out Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) . This is their year (or perhaps it was 2010 and I’m just catching up now) and the rest of the globe has got some good festival sets to look forward to judging by this performance. I do particularly like the Reflektor tracks live; Here Comes The Night Time with its frantic calypso beats and tempo changes had the dance floor going nuts (surprising all with an explosion of silver confetti in the final section of the song). Through-out the set the band are continually swapping instruments, with two drum-kits on stage, multiple keyboards and odd shaped guitars. They are clearly one of the most musical bands on the line-up, and they have the songs to pull it off as well. Win Bulter proved to be a great frontman as well, not above throwing himself into the crowd, and standing on top of the monitors project his already huge presence out even further. The older songs were great as well, ending with the huge singalong of Wake Up, but it felt as if they were just warming up and it was already time for them to leave.

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I was so satisfied after Arcade Fire, I probably could have ended the day there. Yet I still had ahead of me enjoyable sets from Ghost, Pearl Jam, Deftones, Snoop and Major Lazer. Not to mention some delicious baby back pork ribs prepared by Nic Watt of TV show Tasting the Menu bought from his Masu stand up at the brand new eatery installation, Chow Town. Followed by an NY cheesecake also from Chow Town, which I ate while watching part of Eddy Veddar and co.’s headlining set. After finishing my cheesecake and having one last look at the Deftones set, I rejoined the main stage D-barrier for Pearl Jam‘s encore. They energetically ended with a cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley, after a two-and-a-half hour set of hits, guest appearances (Liam Finn), giant swinging lights and a flapping industrial bird, leaving the many Pearl Jam fans wanting more.

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Major Lazer finished up on the Aroha stage with a crowd so packed it was nearly impossible to get more than half-way to the front. I danced, and kind of wished it was Blur, but then didn’t really because The Hives and other such bands had been so good. Plus Major Lazer had giant streamers, twerking dancers, Lorde and an MC that managed to get a large percentage of the crowd naked.

A successful day I would say, perhaps the only disappointments being the forced sobriety and the fact that all the Big Day Out bucket hat’s sold out before I could buy one. A sober Big Day Out is not necessarily a bad Big Day Out, and my head probably looks better without a bucket hat. So bring on next year I say!

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