Skinny Hobos album release tour
w/ His Master’s Voice, Coridian, Curly’s Jewels
San Fran, Wellington
Saturday 9 June 2018
His Master’s Voice – The Devils Blues
All photos by Joseph James
His Master’s Voice – The Devils Blues
All photos by Joseph James
It’s weird to think that it was just over a week ago that I last saw Jared Wrennall onstage. The Dead Favours singer had joined Skinny Hobos during their set when they opened for Biffy Clyro in Auckland last Tuesday.
The Hobos had done well, but this opening set that Dead Favours played in support of Royal Blood in Wellington tonight was heads and tails above it. The sound wasn’t even that great – TSB Arena is notorious for poor acoustics. The singing and guitar struggled to feature above the heavy low-end mix. Despite this, Dead Favours still managed to do themselves proud.
The crowd response was unbelievable. It was a big turn out for so early in the night – roughly 1700 people at that stage – and they were lapping it up, clapping along without prompting, cheering, and encouraging the band. I attend a lot of gigs and to see this kind of crowd support for a local opener is unheard of. Well done Dead Favours!
It’s hard to believe that Royal Blood have risen to this status on the back of just two albums. In fact, they’d already earned a lot of attention from their eponymous début, and latest album How Did We Get So Dark? only helped to cement their place in modern rock stardom. I was out-of-town when the duo last played Wellington three years ago, but they were already a much hyped-about band back then. The packed out venue tonight goes to show how popular they are. In fact, the crowd started up a chant “Royal Blood, Royal Blood!” after the first song, showing the strength of their collective enthusiasm.
“It’s a shock to come so far from where we live and see so many people here” singer Mike Kerr confessed, “We count ourselves lucky.”
I review a lot of solo projects on this blog, and the odd two-piece. But the fact remains that I’ll always be impressed with what just two talented musicians can pull off. I’d say the standard rock band has five roles: a singer, drums for the beat, bass for the low-end, and two guitars – one for rhythm and another for lead. And often you can get by with fewer players if they are talented enough, but creating a full sound from just two players is quite the feat.
Kerr employs a lot of technical wizardry to pull of the tones he creates with just a bass guitar in most of his songs. He’s like the swiss army kit singer, filling a range of duties, providing singing, banter, bass, guitar sounds, even playing a Rhodes organ at one stage.
Drummer Ben Thatcher is no slouch either. He came across as super casual, wearing a Slayer t-shirt and snapback cap, and spending as much time supping tequila from a red plastic cup as he did playing drums. He only spoke once during the set, coming forward to recite a poem, just to demand that we party with him when screams from the crowd interrupted his prose. But when he played you knew about it. A thunderous back beat, with deft playing that remained unbusy. He had interesting mannerisms. He threw his sticks high into the air as he played, just as he frequently threw his red cup off to the side between songs, only to fetch it and fill it, just to repeat after the next song.
The duo treated us to their arena rock with a hint of danger. A touch of blues, a sinister vibe, a noticeable swagger. Hard hitting, with crunchy riffs and clearly defined beats. They’ve clearly been at it for a long time. I noted that during the breakdown of “Lights Out” they managed to play as a tight unit, despite various tempo changes.
I could draw comparisons from other notable blues rock duos, but that’s just lazy. That said, I did see another two-piece, 21 Pilots play this same venue last year.
21 Pilots are great showmen. It’s all gimmicks and theatrics. They get away with playing as a two piece because they rely heavily on backing tracks. But hey, it makes for a great show. Royal Blood, however, are more straight up. No messing around with backing tracks, video screens, and odd stage costumes. They play hard, and they play well. And I respect them for it.
Royal Blood take notes from top-tier rock legends. The stark lighting show of vertical light bars and blinders could just fit in at a Nine Inch Nails gig. During “Little Monster” they paused, launched into a spellbinding drum solo, built the intensity, and came back to finish the song five minutes later. It’s the kind of move that Foo Fighters used to pull back in their prime.
Two backing singers came on for a handful of songs throughout the night, dressed in glittery black outfits. They were barely audible for most of it, but their haunting coos certainly enhanced “How Did We Get So Dark?”, from the album of the same name.
One of the key attractions is that Royal Blood make things things appear simple. Obviously it isn’t – getting those tones from a bass guitar isn’t normal at all – but it seems simple. Good riffs, fairly straightforward beats, stark lighting. It’s minimal, efficient – even down to the amount of people on stage. No-nonsense rock and roll. And it’s all damn good.
Last time I saw Skinny Hobos play was a mixed bag for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great show that they put on. It’s more that I had consumed a few too many beers that night and things ended far worse than I could have anticipated.
It was my last night out with friends before heading overseas for most of the remainder of the year. As you can imagine, I got slightly carried away – it being a farewell and all. One “friend” decided to take advantage of me in a drunken state, kidnapped me, and drove me halfway up the North Island, stranding me in Marton delirious and hungover the following morning. There are few times in my life that I’ve felt worse than that, sick, betrayed, and having to spend the day hitching back to Wellington in the state that I was.
Not that this should have any bearing on my thoughts on Skinny Hobos. I’ve enjoyed their show every time I’ve seen them and this time was no exception. I would have expected something punchier than the slow, meandering song they started with, but once they got into it they played great. You could tell that they were nervous – blurting out bizarre phrases between songs in attempts at banter – but the music spoke for itself. Jared Wrennall from Dead Favours came out to guest on a song, which worked well. I wish I had chosen to photograph this show because they looked fantastic under these lights. They have an album coming out shortly, along with a nationwide tour with His Master’s Voice, so expect to hear the name Skinny Hobos coming up a lot more.
The energy in the crowd was humming as we waited for Biffy. It was a mixed audience, with many parents bringing their children to the spectacle. A handful of punters had Scottish flags draped around their shoulders, and the bar was offering Tennents beer to keep with the Scottish theme.
This was my first time at this venue since they switch branding from Vector Arena to Spark Arena. And to be honest, I don’t notice any changes. I’ve certainly never been to a bad gig here. What is different, however, is that the arena is substantially bigger than Powerstation, where I saw Biffy Clyro play last time they came to NZ.
At first it was slightly disappointing to see that they hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the arena. The stage had been brought forward, cutting the venue in half. A large black curtain blocking off the space behind the stage to make the arena feel more intimate. It’s a shame that such a high-caliber band is still yet to gain a decent footing in New Zealand. That said, the venue felt ideal once the show was underway.
Most bands I’ve seen play this arena have had big screens and impressive stage sets. Well Biffy had great lighting, but that was it. No gimmicks. This was all about the musicians.
An interesting choral tune played as the band walked onstage, all five standing motionless and bathed in blue light as the tension built.
They launched their set with “Wolves of Winter”, the aggressive lead single from latest album Ellipsis. Oh man, oh man. That is how you start a show. The three Scotsmen played tight, heavy, and full of vigor.
They then followed up with “Living Is A Problem…”, from Puzzle, and “57”, from their first album, Blackened Sky. Talk about starting strong.
“Living Is A Problem” has the band showing off their musical abilities, with jagged staccato stabs that come at random intervals. The kind of playing that sticks out like a sore thumb if someone is off their game. I still marvel at how they can pull it off. Not only that, but Simon also paused, began singing Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend”, before they all dove back into the song without missing a beat.
I’m glad that they did pull songs from their back catalogue. This is only the second time Biffy Clyro have reached our shores, so it’s nice that we got to hear older songs that we’ve missed out on in the past. We got the euphoric ballads like “Mountains”, the dancey numbers like “Who’s Got A Match?”, and the batshit insane early era stuff like “There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake”. They draw from a variety of influences, resulting in anthemic, technical music that I find irresistible. Virtually all of their songs are nonsensical lyric-wise, but that didn’t stop me from lending my voice to all of them as they played.
That said, most of the set list derived from the recent album Ellipsis. It’s understandable that they’re playing songs from the album that they are promoting, but I’m thankful that we got to hear a wider selection.
It was a class show that you’d expect from a band who have attained the status that Biffy have. They didn’t have the fancy screens and lasers, but they still had all the kit. I counted at least 6 bass guitars. That seems slightly excessive to me, but it is telling about how professional the band are – that they have that many extras on standby.
Simon Neil [guitar] showed us exactly why he’s such a stellar frontman, delivering his vocals with intense passion, whether cooing on acoustic guitar, or screaming bloody murder on the heavier tracks. I was surprised to note how much the twins Ben [drums] and James Johnston [bass] sung as well, adding brilliant subtle harmonies to many songs. It seems obvious that twins would be awesome at harmonies, but I’ve never noticed how much they sing before now. Their playing is already busy enough as is.
The trio are known for playing topless – and I can see why: it looks bloody hot up on stage. There was a steady dribble of sweat pouring off Simon’s microphone stand all through the night.
Joining the Ayrshire trio were two touring musicians, Mike Vennart [guitar] and Richard Ingram [keys] – formerly of the prog band Oceansize – adding elements that flesh out the sound in a way that a three-piece couldn’t.
They finished the night with two songs that demonstrate their diverse talents: the tender acoustic track “Machines” – one of the biggest singalongs of the night; and the triumphant anthem “Stingin’ Belle” – resplendent with synth-bagpipes during an ever-climaxing outro.
I have nothing to complain about. I got to see my favourite band play last night. They more than delivered, and it was a treat to hear some older numbers. It’s a shame that they overestimated the size of the venue they needed, but all in all the show with nothing short of perfect. I’m surprised that I still have a voice.
Mon the Biff!
Apotheosis sounds dense. Thick and heavy, saturated in sound. Think about the intense textures of Rosetta and The Ever Living and you may imagine something that sounds like New Mexico act Coma Recovery’s latest offering.
There’s another music blog I follow called Drowned In Sound, and I feel that term fits when describing this music. It’s full-bodied and consuming, swallowing you whole.
On first track “Nox Medicus” relentless bass and sloshy drums create a groove. Although there is a crushing density to the music, it feels uplifting due to soaring synths and vocals.
The next two tracks follow suite: epic songs full of feeling and grittiness.
I’ve read through the lyrics for all three songs, and to be honest this leaves me no more enlightened than before when it comes to interpreting content matter. Some mystic stuff, creation, spirits… Who knows? I’ve never been one to pay much attention to lyrics anyway. The singing is good though.
There’s not much more for me to say. Just listen to it. It’s worth a listen.
Apotheosis is huge and vital. Put on your headphones and prepare to get engulfed.
Marcos Curiel has lots to be grateful for. He’s the founding guitarist of P.O.D (Payable On Death), the San Diego nu-metal crew formed in 1992 who boast three Grammy nominations and over 12 million record sales. He strikes me as modest, downplaying his achievements and humbly attributing any success he’s had to his fans and “the beauty of music”.
When I ask him about the longevity of his band, he deflects the focus away from the band and towards his fans.
“We are very gracious and thankful for this and to fans that are so loyal. Whether in South America, Europe, here in the states or even Australia or New Zealand. People still come up see us doing our thing and we are still riding that wave until that wave stops.”
But he’s also quick to credit his band members and crew for P.O.D’s success as well.
“I think a lot of it comes from our upbringing – having the same sort of background – basically coming from nothing. And just aspiring to want to play music for people and just doing it, acting out on it and building a following. We were independent before we signed to a major label and kept saying that there was an audience there for what we were doing. It encouraged us to continue to do it and encourages us to keep doing it today even though we are 25, 26 years deep.
“We are definitely a second family on the road. We were basically teenagers when we started jamming together. Now we are full on grown men with kids and families of our own. P.O.D is our second family, you know what I mean? We’re probably together more as a band then we are with our own family sometimes. You know, we travel the world together. We are in an airplane, we’re in a bus… we are always travelling together as a band and with our crew”
Curiel is also a fan of New Zealand, having come several times in the past decade. Last time they co-headlined with NZ act Rapture Ruckus. Before that they’ve toured with Disturbed and played Edgefest. He begins the interview just gushing about our country.
“Given the opportunity, if I had to leave the states and go somewhere else to live and I always say New Zealand. . . Maybe I could even retire there.”
In recent years P.O.D have tried new directions, putting out an acoustic record (SoCal Sessions, 2014), and a concept album (The Awakening, 2015). I ask if the latest single, “Soundboy Killa” will be part of any upcoming album and Curiel admits that he isn’t sure at this stage.
“Well that is kind of a transitional single kind of thing We put that kind of to let our fanbase know that hey we’re working on new music, we’re still here – you know what I mean? I don’t even know if that’s going to make the record. Some people are like ‘That should go on the record!’, and we’re like ‘well… you never know…’ We’ll figure it out.
“Actually, we just signed a new deal with Mascot Labels. And they’ve taken us on, and hopefully releasing the new album in the summertime here in the States. We’re currently writing and working on pre-production which started in November. We were in the studio last week and we’re working through December, but we’re taking time off for holidays and we’re going to jump back in in January and head on tour here in the States. And jump back in and hopefully record that record in March and drop it in the summer.
“It’s been pretty cool, because we usually get one producer to do the whole record and on this album we’re working with different producers and different production crews. We’re working with HEAVY – they’ve done stuff with Sublime, The Dirty Heads. .. Just a bunch of different artists. And we’re working with Cameron Webb – he’s produced NOFX, Pennywise, Motorhead… He’s actually the producer of Soundboy Killer.
“We’re just trying different things, man. We’re at a stage in our career that we don’t really have to go out and say ‘hey, look at us, we’re a band.’ You know who we are and you either like us or you don’t. We have freedom to be able to experiment and do what we want, how we want to do it. Which, quite frankly, is pretty awesome.”
One interesting fact about P.O.D that draws attention is that they collaborated with the then-unknown Katy Perry for their song “Goodbye For Now” back in 2005. This remains a seemingly hot piece of trivia, despite the fact that the band have also collaborated with many other artists from acts like In This Moment, Suicidal Tendencies and Bad Brains.
Curiel wasn’t part of the band during that period, so never actually met her. He tells me what he knows about the collaboration though.
“They were working with Glen Ballard for Testify and she was one of his protegés – so to speak – that he was trying to get up and get out there in the scene. She was always hanging around the studio and wanted to go on a track. The guys became friends with her and she actually performed on the song on The Jay Leno Show, I believe. That’s how that all came to be. She will occasionally tweets about the band, tweet out how much she loves ‘Alive’ and certain songs. That’s pretty cool.”
POD are known as a Christian band, which earns them flack from both atheists and churches. In my experience, non-believers are often quick to condemn anyone of faith. And many conservative churches dismiss POD because of the company they choose to keep, playing along the likes of Marylin Manson and at metal festivals such as Ozzfest.
Marcos virtually scoffs when I ask him about this. “Do you know what’s crazy about that? I call it scenester stuff,” he explains, “I know vegans who are in hardcore bands, and I’m like, so what… you’re only gong to play with hardcore vegan bands? No, they’re playing with all different types of bands – you know what I’m saying?
I understand, I explain, my friends in Declaration AD used to get similar criticism. People would question their motives, asking things like “Why would a band of Christians choose to play alongside death metal bands? This strikes a chord with Curiel. He proceeds to explain that he tries to write music for all walks of life, not just Christians.
“Christian people maybe want to hold themselves to be the poster children, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We want to write music that inspires everybody. And so we took an approach that we’ll play most of the shows, because we want to play for everybody.
“But as far as being caught in the middle – we don’t look at it like that. We are a band of faith. Definitely we have our personal beliefs. We try to write music that connects with multiple cultures and different types of people.
“I think that’s the beautiful thing about being an artist. There’s people who are gonna understand your art, and some that won’t. The thing is, we’ve never really tried to become, at an early age we were a little more – so to speak – old in the faith. We never knew there was metal, or punk rock or any kind of scene that was a Christian scene. The band that we referred to as a major influence was U2. We’ve always look at them as inspiration. They had Christian roots and have written songs that are very conscient of humanity, or being positive in general, and we’re taken that approach – obviously playing a different style of music.
“And when we went to Singapore we found ourselves playing in front of Muslims. And they were singing ‘Alive’! And we were like ‘What the heck!’, we were tripping out at it. But at the same time, that’s the beautiful thing about music – it’s universal.
“What we get our inspiration and a lot of our confidence. First of all, it comes from that Chrstian faith, but we don’t go out and say ‘Hey, we’re this and that’s who we are.’ We’re just a rock band, man, that wants to inspire . We have our struggles and try to write songs about those struggles and we try to encourage all walks of life.
“The Beastie Boys, towards the end of their career they all about Free Tibet, and Jay was a Buddist, and they were playing with everybody, from Pearl Jam to Jane’s Addiction.
“You know how it is. Music should be universal. People have certain beliefs that drive their music, and that just happens to be ours.”
I feel that the way he concludes the interview is incredibly indicative of his character: positive and humble.
“We’re excited to get down there. We love your country and everything about the culture – the energy – and we cant wait to get down there and perform. Bring some Southern California vibes down there!”
Saturday 14 April Auckland The Studio
Sunday 15 April Wellington San Fran
Buy tickets for New Zealand: https://metropolistouring.com/pod-nz/
Tuesday 17 April Melbourne 170 Russell
Wednesday 18 April Adelaide The Gov
Friday 20 April Sydney Factory Theatre
Saturday 21 April Brisbane Eatons Hill Hotel
Sunday 22 April Gold Coast Coolangatta Hotel
Buy tickets for Australia: https://metropolistouring.com/pod/