LIVE REVIEW: THE MENZINGERS AND MEWITHOUTYOU AT NEUMOS, SEATTLE

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The Menzingers (Scranton, PA, USA)
mewithoutYou (Philadelphia, PA, USA)
Pianos Become The Teeth (Baltimore, MD, USA)
Restorations (Philadelphia, PA, USA)

Neumos, Seattle, WA, USA
Saturday November 14th, 2015

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It had been a very long time since my last live show experience.  I’ve been to plenty of local shows over the past few years but I’m not even sure I can recall the last time I attended a live show where the sound check happened before the doors opened, people were actually at the venue on time, and the first band actually took the stage precisely at the time stated on the flier.  I’m sure very few paid attention to these details.  But for me, being reminded how professional bands operate at professionally run venues, like Neumos, was a breath of fresh air.  Obviously, I need to get out more.

Typically, the reason you attend a show and subsequently write a live review is to highlight the headliner, or in this case, the headliners.  And while The Menzingers and mewithoutYou put on a great show, I didn’t necessarily find anything too remarkable about their sets.  Honestly, this was my first experience with The Menzingers so, to be fair, I can’t really say much about them as I know very little about them (shame on me, I know).  As I like to say, “they were fine”, meaning they did their thing and people enjoyed it and I appreciated what they did.  Enough said.

mewithoutYou on Audiotree Live

mewithoutYou has always been one of my favorite bands.  They are fantastic at writing catchy music that is capable of hitting the heart strings of whatever emotion you’re in the mood to meddle with.  Ever since [A->B] Life came out in 2002 I’ve been quite comfortable keeping their music in my arsenal.  Frontman Aaron Weiss has a unique lyrical style that absolutely works for me.  While others may struggle digesting his lyrics, I am continually impressed with anyone that can work “pumpernickel bread” into their writing.

Restorations opened the night and did a great job setting the vibe for the evening.  I hadn’t really heard much from these guys prior to the show but they are definitely headed in the right direction.  Their stage presence was enjoyable to watch and kept a newbie, like me, entranced for their full set.  Like Restorations, mewithoutYou and The Menzingers held the attention of the venue for the entirety of their sets and I would definitely see them again.

This brings me to Pianos Become The Teeth.  While I had every intention of writing this review on mewithoutYou, it was Pianos Become The Teeth that absolutely stole the show for me.  And it was absolutely for reasons I did not expect.

Pianos Become The Teeth live @ The Underworld, London

Like most bands I come to discover, Pianos Become The Teeth have been around for a while.  They formed in 2006 and have honed their sound over the past nine years moving from an aggressive, post-hardcore band to masters of gloomy, emotionally packed, post-rock.  For those of you who have yet to indulge in their newest record, Keep You, I highly recommend you do so.  If you need an enticing comparison, this album is very reminiscent of Oceana’s Clean Head from 2010.

While the other three bands put on visually stimulating performances, Pianos Become The Teeth struck me in a different way.  I was lucky enough to get to the venue early enough to grab one of the few spots on the balcony that gave me a great view of both the band and the crowd.  Pianos Become The Teeth were steady, energetic at times, but the way they moved the crowd was absolutely stunning.  The movement I witnessed was not physical by any means.  In fact, the crowd was absolutely motionless, aside from a bit of head-banging here and there.  Being fairly in tune with my mushy side, the emotional grip that pushed and pulled throughout the crowd was mesmerizing.

I think I spent most of my time watching one specific kid in the crowd.  By appearance alone, he was completely out of place.  If I would have seen him walking on the street prior to the show there was no way I would have thought he and I were headed to the same destination.  But this kid knew absolutely every word to absolutely every song Pianos Become The Teeth played.

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Pianos Become The Teeth from the balcony @ Neumos

For those who are familiar with frontman Kyle Durfey’s lyrics, you know they are very sad and tend to center around the loss of his father in 2010.  Like many lyricists, Durfey’s lyrics are dark and contemplative.  But unlike some, Durfey is surrounded by an exceptional band that is able to add deep dimension to his words.  The coupling of his lyrics with the desolate tones of his band’s music is nearly heartbreaking.  To me, it’s the cohesion of these two elements that make my eyes well up with tears and send chills down my arms.  I’m sure we all experience these phenomenons in our own way, but experiencing Pianos Become The Teeth live was the pinnacle of emotional overflow for me.

The kid three rows back, belting Durfey’s lyrics will forever be seared into my musical memories.  It was a profoundly powerful moment for me.  It left me wondering how this out of place kid related to Durfey’s lyrics.  What was it that moved him by this band.  Being witness to the connection between the writer and the listener added a totally new experience for me.  Usually you only get to see the back of everyone’s head at a show, but my balcony vantage point let me see things in a new light.  It was truly an honor for me to be in the same place at the same time with five guys in a band, the kid in the third row, a few friends, and a room full of strangers.

C.J. Blessum

 

 

Album Review: Declaration AD – Sometimes It’s Us

Declaration AD Sometimes It's Us
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I need to admit something before I start. I consider the boys in Declaration AD some of my closest friends. I even lived with a few of them for a few years. And frontman Sam Coates designed the WNF logo for this site. This review cannot be impartial.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve attended more of their shows than anyone else. I was their first show back in 2010, at the now defunct Happy Bar. I tagged along on their first tour. I helped them print their first lot of t-shirts, and I loaned them my lungs when they recorded the gang vocals for their first two releases. I’ve watched them grow and evolve into who they are now. Obviously this is going to be a biased review, but it’s a two-way thing. My familiarity with the band also means I can give an insider’s perspective.


Declaration AD formed in Wellington late in 2009. The Wellington hardcore scene was in a re-building stage at that point, after some of the previous bands who had carried the torch had either broken up, or were in the process of doing so. We would have to road-trip up to Palmy if we wanted to attend hardcore shows.

I still remember the first one they took me to: The Chase on their final tour (I was honestly terrified. It was my first experience seeing people throwing down like they do, and I kept getting hit by backswings.One girl standing next to Kirk got knocked out).

Declaration AD would play shows with pretty odd lineups, simply because that was the only option – there were no other hardcore bands in Wellington to play with. It worked alright when they played alongside punk and metalcore bands, but often they’d play with indie bands, powermetal acts… anyone who was willing to have them on the bill. Last year they even opened for internet sensation rapper Bangs.

Over time the boys have helped to revive the Wellington hardcore scene through constant touring and inspiring friends to start their own bands. They would befriend bands in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmy, and then invite them to play shows in Wellington. Our flat was known as The 44 (short for “44 hardcore”) – named after the street number. As Wellington hosts, we’d let visiting bands stay over, crammed into our limited floor space and draped over couches. It was pretty common to have the entire place filled with sweaty sleeping bodies after a show.

The hard work led to success. Declaration AD have shared the stage with heavyweight local acts like Saving Grace and Antagonist AD, as well as international artists such as Terror, Trapped Under Ice and Sleeping Giant. They released two EP’s and a full length album over this period.

Sometimes It’s Us is Declaration AD’s most recent offering, the first that they’ve recorded in a professional capacity. Previously they’ve had help from friends with recording gear, but this time the band saved up to pay for time at a proper studio.


The album begins with static and tuning, like the faux-radio intro to Queens of the Stoneage’s Songs For The Deaf. It kicks off with the furious ‘Spent’, the grooviest track Declaration AD have written in ages. And it’s from this first song that the new dynamics start to pop up. Kirk Hodgson’s guitar playing is eerie and high pitched at times, unlike the usual chugged open chords. And during the bridge vocalist Sam Coates’ delivery is almost spoken word.

There are two key aspects that make Sometime’s It’s Us standout: the energy and the use of dynamics. These songs are heavy. They’re fast and angry. Listen to the blistering ‘Enfleshed’ and you’ll see what I mean. But they’re also well written. There’s the cut outs in ‘Mental Hell’ and ‘Belonging’ that add impact. The different styles of vocal delivery. The changes of pace, the guest spots from other vocalists, and the use of powerful gang vocals. All these elements are used to make the songs more interesting.

One of my favorites, ‘Mental Hell’, is frantic and speed driven, with a doomy break down juxtaposed against the breakneck beat. Towards the end it sounds like Sam is shouting through a megaphone. I also really like ‘Picket Sings & Protest Lines’ because of the enormous sounding gang vocals.

In fact the entire album is pretty relentless. ’04-14′ steps it down a notch for some slow burning self-examination, but on the whole there is a lot of aggression coming through.


Perennial crowd favourite ‘Better Man’ features in its third incarnation. ‘Better Man’ first featured on the NZ Hardcore Compilation CD in 2010. I remember the Declaration boys being so excited during the lead up to the compilation release; recording their first song and featuring alongside some of their heroes. The recording session didn’t go as ideally as hoped though, leaving them slightly disappointed with the end result. Their next attempt was with début EP MMX later that year. Again, they realised that this recording lark was harder than they’d initially thought, leaving them despondent about another recording that didn’t really capture the sound that they had wanted. So they’ve decided to test the idiom “third time lucky” with their first professional recording, and give ‘Better Man’ another go.

I’m reminded of how Anberlin re-recorded their song ‘Feelgood Drag’ as a single, three years after they’d first released it. The song became their breakthrough hit. The re-recorded version sounds darker and edgier. But I prefer the original version that I grew up listening to, simply because it’s more familiar. In the same sense, this newer recording of ‘Better Man’ may be better, but it will take me some time to get used to. Naturally, the song has evolved over time, as the lads have learned to play their instruments better and gel as a band. One of the more noticeable aspects is that vocalist Sam Coates is no longer at the forefront, but sounds somewhat distant in the mix. And the gang vocals are more prominent, as is the case in their usual live setting. Long story short: ‘Better Man’ has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Few people actually have a copy of either of the first two versions, so it’s only right that the band’s most enduring song get’s proper recognition.

Image: Grace Gemuhluoglu

L-R: Dan Drower (bass), Kirk Hodgson (guitar), Sam Coates (vocals and Dave Morrison (drums).    Image: Grace Gemuhluoglu

The stark images throughout the album depict anguish, loss, anger and pain, but the overall there is a theme of hope. There are personal issues laid bare, and although this makes Sam the lyricist vulnerable, it makes him all the more relatable as well. Many of the songs explore identity – who we are, how we act, what makes us feel validated, what we stand for. During the contemplative ’04-14′ he shouts “my flaws are too real to deny”. I’m sure that none of us can deny that we have similar battles. Words have always been Sam’s gift. He’s a genuine, unassuming guy who can brighten anyone’s day with an affirmation. He writes with conviction and shouts with such power that he has always stood out as great frontman.

Sometimes It’s Us showcases improved musicianship from the band. I love how Kirk uses treble to bring balance to the sound – an oft neglected aspect of “heavy” music, with its frequent drop-tuning and distortion. His sound has changed, with a very metal tone, tight riffs and plenty of pinch harmonics and Dimebag-styled squeals. Drummer Dave Morrison has really stepped up this time round, going for the no-fills approach. His efficient style gives the music momentum without over-complicating things. And the times that he does include an aspect like a fill or something flashy, they stand out. And bassist Dan Drower always was known for his musical abilities, and finally gets to cement his role in the band by recording new material, after having joined the band early in 2013.

Sometimes It’s Us is a big improvement for Declaration AD, showing how far they’ve come during the three years since their last release. It’s furious and focused while at the same economic and efficient. They’ve put planning into the song writing and recording that has led to tighter and more dynamic sounding songs. This is easily the longest release, lasting almost half an hour, but it’s also one of their best.

… And it’s also their last. After roughly six years, they’ve decided to call it a day.

I was there at the start, and now I can say I was there until the end. When the Declaration boys look back over their time as a band there will be no shortage of achievements to reflect on. They’ve survived a few line-up changes and left a legacy to be proud of. It’s bittersweet that this album features some of their best work, but they won’t be around much longer to celebrate it.

 

Declaration AD:      Facebook        Twitter       Instagram        Bandcamp

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Ur Boy Bangs at Zeal Welly

Bangs Wellington Zeal
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Ur Boy Bangs (Melbourne)

w/ Declaration AD (Wellington) and FLYBZ (Melbourne)
Zeal Welly
Thursday 27 November 2014

Sudanese born Ajak Chol, best known by his stage name Bangs, moved to Australia in 2003 and took to building his rap career with great gusto.

Bangs achieved internet notoriety in 2009 with his viral hit “Take U To Da Movies”. At the time of writing the YouTube clip has had 9.7 million views. Honda even commissioned Bangs to help them promote their Jazz range of cars. Bangs was also prolific on the social media. He had so many followers on Facebook that he reached the limit and had to create a secondary account.

The reason for this is because his music was so bad. The lyrics didn’t flow, the beats weren’t catchy. His music videos contained plenty of badly green-screened backgrounds like maps of Sudan and Australia, and pictures of cash and sports cars. His attempts at wooing girls by calling them “Shawty” and offering to take them “to da movies”, or chat to them on “the Facebook” were hilarious. So people showed the funny videos to their friends, who in turn show the video to their other friends, and so on.

A rapper who gains worldwide publicity and fame from one song because of how bad it is. Welcome to the internet age.

Since then this has become common practice, things that are bad or unusual going viral. Take Sharknado or Gangnam Style, for instance.

Last time Bangs played in Wellington I decided it wasn’t worth attending. This was mainly because the show started at 10pm, plus there were a number of opening acts, meaning that Bangs probably wouldn’t have even come on until close to midnight. I wasn’t willing to pay $20 and stay up so late on a school night just to see an internet joke in the flesh.

But this time Bangs has announced a last-minute all ages show, two days before playing. This suits me fine because it means I won’t have to stay up so late to watch him.

The joke gets even funnier with the announcement of the opening act: local hardcore band Declaration AD. I was living with Declaration guitarist Kirk Hogson in 2010 and I’m pretty sure it was he who showed me Bang’s video in the first place. Original Declaration bass player Tom White spent a lot of time pestering Bangs over Facebook. I bet he still has a screenshot saved on his computer saying “BStar Bangs likes Declaration AD”. They joked about it at the time, but I don’t think anyone actually expected that they would get to share a stage with Bangs.

Declaration AD were on form, even with their former bass player filling in at last minute’s notice. They’ve just been in the studio putting the finishing touches on their fourth release, so not doubt performing live would be a pleasure after recording in a sterile studio environment. They’re well-known at Zeal so enough of the audience knew what to expect, but it was pretty amusing seeing the shock on the faces of the others present. Imagine young kids showing up to the show expecting to see an internet sensation from five years ago, and instead having four hairy men playing loud hardcore music and shouting at them.

Declaration AD

I would have loved to seen Declaration AD collaborate with one of the rappers, something along the lines of a rap/rock crossover like Aerosmith and Run DMC doing “Walk This Way”.

The turn out was fairly small. Most people present were Zeal volunteers or friends with the boys from Declaration AD. But there were 20 or so others who had shown up to just to see Bangs. I’m surprised at how many young teenagers even remember who Bangs is. If most of the people in the audience are underage, it means they would have been roughly 12 when Bangs was at the peak of his hype.

The second act was another Melbourne based rapper named FLYBZ. FLYBZ was a former child soldier from the African nation of Burundi. He surprised us by being quite good. He worked the crowd and got us dancing and singing along. He even asked one boy from the audience to come onstage and help him by sing the chorus for a song about equality. It was funny how when he decided that a song was finished, FLYBZ would reach over to his laptop and stop the music abruptly, instead of having an outro.

FLYBZ also took over DJ duties and backing vocals for the star of the night, Ur Boi Bangs.

Bangs’ set almost had a linear narrative. He rapped about how his life is hard because he comes from the ghetto. But no matter what you have to keep your mind right. He had a song ready for each point he made. Then he taught us the process for courting a woman. “First you need to meet her somewhere” he told us, before playing “Meet Me On Facebook”. Once you’ve met her you take her shopping. Then you take her “for a deena!” [Dinner]. There was a song about Christmas that interrupted the musical date that Bang’s was taking us on. And of course, he finished with the obligatory “Take U To Da Movies”.

Just like Adam reaching out to the Creator in Michelangelo's famous painting at the Sistine Chapel

Just like Adam reaching out to the Creator in Michelangelo’s famous painting at the Sistine Chapel

Was it worth going? I’ve seen bands that I expected to be bad before for the sake of a joke. Guitar Wolf can barely be classed as musicians, yet I’ve seen them play twice and both times the performances were amazing.

Bangs doesn’t seem to mind the haters. He gave us a speech about it before performing his song “Hi Haters”

“Haters make you famous. If you can’t love your haters you can’t love yourself”

– Ur Boi Bangs

He’s like Tommy Wiseau, the man behind The Room (widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made). His product may be terrible, but it has earned him fame and a cult following so why fight it?

I expected Bangs to suck. I went for one famous song that seemed like a joke. I went to see how everyone would react. I went to see Declaration AD scare children. I went for the nostalgia, because we all thought it would be so exciting to see Bangs when he was all the rage back in 2010.

Bangs surpassed my expectations. It was actually an amazing night. Everybody was having so much fun singing and dancing along and waving their hands in the air. There was crowd surfing and stage diving. I think the Snapchat and Instagram headquarters much have been under extra stress based on the sheer volume of selfies that people in the crowd were taking.

I’m glad the show was cheap. I’m glad that it didn’t run late. And I’m especially glad that I went.

Ahaa!

Joseph James

Live Review: Jakob at San Fran, Wellington

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Jakob guitarist Jeff Boyle adjusting his effects pedals at the Wellington gig on Friday night

Jakob guitarist Jeff Boyle adjusting his effects pedals at the Wellington gig on Friday night

Jakob (Napier, NZ)

w/ Bachelor of Architecture & Spook the Horses

San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington

Friday 24 October 2014

It seems that it has been quiet on the Jakob front for a very long time. Their last record, Solace, was released in 2006. And the semi-regular gigs seemed to have stopped since they opened for Tool in Auckland during May last year. There have been a few side projects like Mean and Desbot to whet our appetites, but still fans were left hungry for more.

And now, a tremendous new album, Sines, with an accompanying tour to boot! To say I am thrilled is an understatement.

It felt so right being back at the freshly renovated San Francisco Bathhouse, watching such a glorious band. I have missed both the venue and the band so much.

Although no mention of opening acts were on the tour poster or the website, Wellington had two.

Bachelor of Architecture started the night with his sonic soundscapes. The most interesting part for me was seeing him play an unusual instrument: a metal fireplace shovel with a bow. Although BoA may have seemed suitable to open, his music was too long and directionless to be captivating.

Spook the Horses were more exciting. Their driving music seemed more stimulating, with polyrhythmic drumbeats and riffs propelling the music forward. They broke the mould be adding hardcore vocals to some songs, in the form of bearded roaring.

Jakob were always going to be good. The place was packed and everyone knew what to expect. They may not be showy, but their music is enough mesmerise.

There is something primitively attractive about it all. The band is bathed in rich coloured light, shrouded by the thick smoky haze. The building hums from the bass. You can feel the vibrations in your chest cavity. The guitar rises and falls in waves and layers, gradually immersing us in aural bliss. The repetition of a tribal drum tattoo is hypnotic. Everyone watches in awe, drinking in the sights and sounds.

And then: the most exciting part. That moment when guitarist Jeff Boyle leans forward to step on his distortion pedal and usher in the climax of the song. It’s that anticipation that keeps you on edge during each song, waiting, wanting.

They rest on the strength of their songs. Each one is immaculately written and played with such finesse and control. Like any three-piece band, each member really needs to pull their weight to make it work. And these three musicians are clearly experts of their craft.

I love how down to earth they are. Dressed plainly in black and delivering no-nonsense, high-quality music. Many bands of lesser calibre would expect stage hands to do the set up and menial labour, but these three were sound checking and tuning their own guitars between songs.

Seeing Jakob at San Fran was the same as it has always been. The same awesome music. The same straight forward delivery. The same songs, but now with a fresher expanded set. The same Jakob: consistently excellent.

Joseph James

Set list from the Jakob show at San Francisco Bathhouse, Friday 24 October 2014

Set list from the Jakob show at San Francisco Bathhouse, Friday 24 October 2014

Live Review: Foo Fighters at Western Springs, Auckland

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Foo Fighters

w/ Cairo Knife Fight, Fucked Up, Tenacious D

Western Springs, Auckland

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Fucked Up

Canadian hardcore act Fucked Up brought the party. As far as openers go, these guys definitely knew what to do to hype an audience up. The band played well; energetic and fast paced. The five musicians stuck largely to their own spots on stage, while vocalist Damien “Pink Eyes” , spent a majority of the set walking throughout the crowd interacting with the punters. A beast of a man, topless with his hairy belly hanging out and a cup sitting atop his head, he threaded though the sea of people at random, sharing the microphone, giving hugs and high fives, even picking up one guy and carrying him around on his shoulder for a period. Most songs sounded the same due to the terrible live mix, but braving the moody weather and arriving early enough to catch the set definitely paid off.

Tenacious D

Tenacious D arrived onstage to a more rapturous reception. Their set was entirely what you’d expect if you’re at all familiar with the band: that is, two fat men with acoustic guitars singing songs about rock, weed, and all things crass. They gave a faux-storyline to the set, so that they could incorporate some of the narrative styled songs from their second album into the mix, along with some light drama to match.

With the help of their band, Kyle and Jack played a good mix of songs from both albums, as well as a yet unreleased song dedicated to their roadie, and a medley of Who songs. The backing band was great, each having a solo when being introduced to the crowd. I particularly enjoyed watching drummer Brooks Wackerman (of punk band Bad Religion) playing drum parts that were originally played by none other than Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl. The set was juvenile, but entertaining nonetheless.

Foo Fighters

From the moment they charged onstage to the palm-muted strums of All My Life, to the final lingering notes of set-closer Everlong, Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. It’s almost as if even the rain subsided for him, because as he came into view scores of people removed their flimsy plastic rain ponchos and threw them into the air or started spinning them above their heads.

A Foo Fighters show is one hell of a ride. Hit after hit, both old and new, complete with lengthy solos, guitar duels and extended jams galore. They have some cool screens and lights, but the strength of their performance comes from the great music and crowd interaction. A lot of the charisma came from Grohl, who, after 17 years of fronting the Foos, knew how to work the crowd like a seasoned pro.

The band seems to have a genuine love of New Zealand; quoting a show they did at the Auckland Supertop years ago as one of the favourite they’ve ever played, and having done a charity show at the Auckland Town Hall earlier this year to raise funds for the Christchurch earthquake. Grohl loves playing Auckland so much that he chose to film the crowd for a live music video for the song These Days. He also showed a real appreciation for his fans, specially playing a few acoustic songs for the people way down the back, and sincerely thanking everybody involved, before the band finished.

After doing a bit of bartering with the crowd via a video camera backstage, Grohl came out to encore with some acoustic numbers like Wheels and Times like these, before rocking out a few final tunes with the band (including a cover of Queen’s Tie your Mother Down featuring guest appearances by Tenacious D wearing nothing but underwear and suspenders) and inevitably ending with the classic hit, Everlong.

All up the Foos played for just under three hours. With live shows such as this it’s little wonder that they’ve lasted so long, and built up such a large fan base. I just wonder how they’re going to fit everybody in next time when they play Auckland Town Hall.

 

Joseph James