Live Review: Biffy Clyro at Spark Arena, Auckland

Biffy Clyro Spark Arena
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Biffy Clyro

w/ Skinny Hobos

Spark Arena, Auckland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

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!

Joseph James

Biffy CLyro Auckland set list

A young fan proudly showing his new shirt and set list

EP Review: His Master’s Voice The Devils Blues- Woman

His Master's Voice The Devils Blues Woman EP Cover
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I first heard of His Master’s Voice when Mathias Hallberg reviewed Into Orbit’s latest album release show. I had been in the South Island at a sporting event, and came back to Mathias raving about this bluesy band from Auckland.

Needing to make up for missing the show, I made a point of seeing the band next time they visited Wellington, and Mathias was 100% right. They’re damn good.

The band sent me Woman yesterday. I’ve been playing it on repeat non-stop since.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Take the blues and revive them with dosage of danger. Add filthy southern rock riffs. Swirl in a generous serving of Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Drop in a few drugs. And then, amidst the swirling haze, you will find you have produced His Master’s Voice.

They play with such a swagger. Whether laying down a doomy groove, or ripping into a fast-paced swing section, the music is saturated with infectious feel.

My personal favourite is first track, “Burning” – a slow burner with a smooth, rolling riff. That is, until frontman Jesse Sorenson cries out “Come the groove!” And that’s exactly what happens. It all kicks in. If the bass line doesn’t get you moving then wait til the tambourines start ashakin’ and the primal drums kick in. And then, just to send you over the edge, we have a guitar solo.

There is no denying how much Black Sabbath have influenced His Master’s Voice’s sound. The title track on this EP reminds me of “Electric Wizard”. Sorenson channels his inner-Ozzy as he wails over a sweetly picked guitar melody. The rest of the band joins in, and the soaring guitars and organs elevate the music to the next level.

The only problem with Woman is the duration. 20 minutes is not enough! But I’ve been playing it on repeat and I can’t see myself tiring of these songs anytime soon. But honestly, what more do you need? Groovy blues with a heavy edge. Music that will possess you to dance. It’s just fantastic.

His Master’s Blues have pulled it off again, and Woman comes with my highest of recommendations.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Woman is due out digitally on Bandcamp on 1 October 2017, and will also be available through the usual streaming platforms. The CD will be available at the EP release show at The King’s Arms on October 28th.

His Master’s Voice links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedevilsblues
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedevilsbluesnz/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/thedevilsbluesnz
Bandcamp: www.hismastersvoice.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/brando28
Reverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/hismastersvoice
Merch: www.thedevilsmerch.com

His Master’s Voice are:

Jesse Sorensen – Vocals and Guitar
Brandon Bott – Bass
Az Burns – Guitar
Renè Harvey – Drums
(Plus Paul Lawrence – Keys on ‘Evil’ and ‘Woman’)

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review and Gallery: Living Colour at the Auckland Powerstation

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland
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Living Colour 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Heavy Metal Ninjas

Powerstation, Auckland

Thursday 11 May 2017

 Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Money or music?

I faced a difficult decision a few years ago

I was a year into my university studies and hadn’t been able to find much work over the Summer break. I was in the process of opening up a student account at the bank for when I’d need the interest-free overdraft for the upcoming year. I had to take 11 weeks off work that year to do the teacher placements as part of my studies and I couldn’t see any way that I could afford to do that.

So of course AJ Maddah announced the lineup for that years Soundwave festival.

It wasn’t the big names that drew me in. Sure, I’d like to see them, but I didn’t see them as major drawcards. It was some of the lesser known bands that I reeeallly wanted to see. You know, the bands written in tiny writing at the bottom of the poster that you have to squint to read. Like my favourite band: Scottish trio Biffy Clyro. Or Arizona act Jimmy Eat World. Or funk rock titans Living Colour.

There was no way I could afford to attend Soundwave, but there were a few sideshows that could have been viable options.I had friends I could stay with in Melbourne. Biffy Clyro played at The Corner Hotel, where I’d seen hardcore legends Terror play a few years beforehand. Living Colour were to open for Alter Bridge at The Forum. Dipping into the $1000 course related costs I was entitled to became veeeeery tempting.

Financial reason won in the end. Sad face emoji. No trip to Melbourne, no seeing awesome bands.

Buuuuut, I have been fortunate enough to see those three bands since. All at the Auckland Powerstation. And tonight, Living Colour proved that they were worth the wait.


Heavy Metal Ninjas opening for Living Colour

Heavy Metal Ninjas

Local quartet Heavy Metal Ninjas came onstage dressed very much like Kora, which isn’t too surprising seeing as the two bands share members. As well as rocking the samurai garb, the two guitarists and bass player all had half face masks that gave off a Kylo Ren vibe. Maybe the drummer didn’t get the memo regarding dress code, choosing to opt for a bogan Jesus look instead.

Their music was sharp technical metal, full of double kick drums, guitar noodling and djenty riffs. They took Steve Vai worship to the next level. I counted 22 strings between the three masked men. As for the drums… well you can never really have enough cymbals can you?

The hard-hitting sci-fi take on instrumental metal delivered blow after pummeling blow, strengthened by the regular inclusion of strong sub bass that made me want to vomit. I’ll give them points for making an impact, and the crowd lapped it up.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Living Colour

Living Colour last visited our shores in 1993. A few people in the audience were rocking t shirts from that tour tonight. I, however, was merely an infant at the time, being born in 1992.

Not that this made a difference. Being one of the younger people in attendance made me feel as if I was in on a special secret.

The band weren’t scared to add a handful of covers to their set; they both opened and closed with a cover, as well as interspersing them throughout the night. Their influences range far and wide: Robert Johnson, Notorious BIG, Junior Murvin, Elvis, The Clash. Both familiar yet new, the songs all worked seamlessly into the set.

Living Colour are well seasoned pros. Their abilities are phenomenal. I don’t say this lightly. They. Can. Play.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

The way Corey Glover sung, you wouldn’t know that he has worked those vocal cords hard for over 30 years. Not only is his singing great, but he has such range. He can bark during the thrash numbers. He can scream – you know, rock star style – like in “Hey Jude”. He has speed. I swear that even though I was watching his lips move, my brain couldn’t keep up with how fast he was spitting out words in some songs. And of course, he can do sexy soulful. He wore a paint splattered denim suit with gingham shirt, tie and a feathered hat.

Doug Wimbish was the centre of attention, playing up for the cameras. He may be the newbie in the band, but you’d never pick it. His bass solo was one of the highlights of the night. He played a tune – great in its own right. Then using a looping pedal, he added upon the tune, jamming with himself. His joy was openly visible as he expanded the sound during his solo. He employed various pedals to change his tone – deep, rich bass, higher guitar tones, alien sounds. And if the music wasn’t enough, he started playing with his mouth too. It was a wonder to listen to as he masterfully played his instrument.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Drummer Will Calhoun was just as mesmerising. His two kick drums sported Australian art. The first with a picture of Ayers Rock and a kangaroo, and the second depicting the Aboriginal flag (which looked like a pokéball when cropped into a circle). Situated around him were his many signature drums, cymbals, electronic pads and a large corrugated Hammerax sheet cymbal.

The way he approaches his playing is so outside-the-square that I doubt I’ll ever see another drum solo quite like his. First of all, he’s lightning fast. Living Colour have their thrash metal moments, but I didn’t realise how frenetic a lot of the rest of their works are. And then there’s his experimental side. He discussed it with me when I interviewed him a few weeks back. He takes electric drums and messes with the sound just as a guitarist uses pedals and effects to affect their tone. And on top of all this talent and creativity, he is highly educated in the ways of drumming from cultures worldwide. For me, his drum solo was worth the price of admission alone.

Living Colour Powerstation AucklandWhich leaves Vernon on guitar. The unsung hero. He played the joker, cracking funnies to wind up Corey. He bore the blame when the band made a few mistakes. He referred to himself as the nerd in a band of sexy people. But he is the man responsible for forming Living Colour. And his guitar work is damn amazing. Humbleness is a virtue, but Vernon Reid is more than deserving of an ego.

When you consider the talent, the showmanship, the vibrancy of each of these four men, and realise that Living Colour is more than the sum of its parts, you come to understand that this show is one of those truly amazing nights that surpassed even the wildest expectations. After 30 years, you’d expect them to know how to own a stage. Which they did. The jokes and banter was funny. The music was immersive and compelling. The musicians were genuine. And just to prove it, they all came and met with the fans to take photos and sign merch after the show.

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Living Colour links:

Website: http://www.livingcolour.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LivingColour/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LivingColour

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBp5wftf7WswgIko42GUfWQ

 

All words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Opeth at The Auckland Powerstation

Opeth Sorceress Auckland Poster
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Opeth – Sorceress World Tour

w/ Caligula’s Horse

Powerstation, Auckland

Thursday 2 February 2017

It has been 11 years and 3 studio releases since Opeth last played a show in New Zealand. And from the excitement outside Auckland’s Powerstation, we can definitely assume that they are long overdue.

19:00 The line outside stretched well over 100 meters as we came waltzing up to the gig, prompting a quick detour to Galbraith’s pub across the road for a pint. Once inside we were hit by a strong wave of B.O courtesy of the black t-shirt brigade. High spirits and freshly poured beer in hand helped to focus our remaining senses. We did, however, move outside just in case, meeting up with many well socially lubricated excited fans with tales of sold out shows and the hunt for extra tickets.

20:00 Doors open and the black sea crashes through the gates. Once inside, the merch booth is already pumping out t-shirts. Its only competition is the beer flowing from glass bottles and into plastic cups. One gladly partakes.

Caligula's Horse Valhalla Wellington

Caligula’s Horse: Beckoning the Crowd

Caligula’s Horse

Having seen them just one day prior at Wellington’s Valhalla, I was keen to see what Brisbane Prog-rockers Caligula’s Horse could bring to a larger venue. Playing with a true sense of passion executed with precision, their Brisbane sound translates well to a house packed with Kiwi metal heads. Soaring vocals and blazing yet nuanced dueling guitars showed Caligula’s Horse’s professionalism and judging from the crowd’s reaction they will most certainly be welcomed back to our shores.

Too much of the creature made us lose track of time but the short break after Caligula’s Horse four song set sent us one more time back to the bar rubbing shoulders with the ever-increasing sea of people. I managed to secure a great spot right next to the sound desk ensuring that I would make the most of the acoustics of the venue. And it provided easy access to the bar. Standing in the crowd empty-handed just did not feel right.

Opeth Sorceress World Tour Powerstation Auckland

From Darkness comes Light

Opeth

Opeth walked onto the darkened stage greeted by the deafening cheer of the crowd. Crimson and silver lights flashed. Little dampened the sound of the audience as Opeth ripped into the title track off their latest release, “Sorceress”.

The well-rehearsed set is filled with a mix of old and new continuing with “Ghost of Perdition” – a personal favourite of mine – before moving on with “The Wild Flowers” (also from their latest release). Not a band famous for an overly energetic performance, the set is highlighted with Mikael’s dry humour, often followed by sensible chuckles from the rest of the band and audience alike. A well-balanced sound is at points dressed up with some silky smooth lead guitar tones (Frederik is unmatched for the night).

Opeth Sorceress World Tour Powerstation Auckland

Frederik is ripping it up!

The one low point of the night came when it was time for Mikael to announce their last song for the evening. A large portion of the crowd started to boo but was quickly turned into a cheer when they were told that it was bad form. The set ended as it quite often does with a perfectly performed rendition of the song “Deliverance” from the album of the same name.

All in all a fantastic night was had by all. Our night ended on Auckland’s Queen Street, where we were treated to a show by a 17-year-old male who was taking a joy ride in a forklift that he had stolen. We filmed this young man and sent a video through to stuff which can be viewed here.

Words by Mathias Hallberg.

Photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Alexisonfire at The Powerstation, Auckland

Alexisonfire Powerstation Auckland
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Alexisonfire

w/ Barracks

Powerstation, Auckland

Monday 23 January 2016

You’d think that with the amount of trouble I get into, I’d have learnt by now not to underestimate my ability to get lost in another city. But unfortunately I still find myself in situations like that today, in which I managed to get stranded on an island.

After an exciting day of exploring old army bunkers on Waiheke Island, I found the winding roads too hard to navigate, and managed to narrowly miss the ferry I needed to catch back to Auckland in time for the gig.

Sadly opening act Barracks had long finished their set by the time I got to the Powerstation, and Alexisonfire were already half way through their second song as I entered the venue.

I was kicking myself for showing up so late, but my excitement meant that I was soon caught up in the moment and forgot about the stress of trying to get there earlier. I’d been looking forward to this show for many months, and after an eventful drive up from Wellington I was finally here – albeit slightly late.

Alexisonfire are five piece post-hardcore act from Ontario, Canada. They released four albums between 2002-2009. One point of difference they boast is that they have three singers: George Pettit fronts the band on unclean vocals, Dallas Green sings clean vocals as well as playing guitar and piano, and Wade McNeil provides backing vocals whilst also playing guitar. In 2012 the band disbanded, with each singer going on to front other projects.

The Powerstation was well packed for a Monday night, with a generous turnout to see the newly reformed Canadians back in action. Here was a band that was most relevant a decade ago, but could still attract a decent audience on a work night.

And after seeing them play, I could see why. This was one of the more intense shows I’d been to in a while. The driving drums, high energy riffs and powerful roars all blended together to create a visceral experience.  I’m surprised that the mosh pit wasn’t more wild, between the music, Pettit shouting at us to “Fuck this place up” and McNeil telling us to punch Nazis in the face.

To be honest they could have said just about anything and the crowd would have lapped it up. People even tolerated  Green’s request for us to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the roadies. In fact, if I remember correctly, he also asked us to sing “Happy Birthday” to his guitarist when City And Colour last played in Wellington as well. In my experience this seldom goes down well when a musician pulls this. But everyone was having a good time. People cheered when the band announced that the venue was a safe and tolerant space. People cheered when they heard that former local act The Bleeders lived near the band in Canada. People cheered when Pettit said he could see us all clearly after having had laser eye surgery.

The band covered a great cross section material, with tracks pulled from all four albums – predominantly 2006’s Crisis – and even the title track from their 2010 Dog’s Blood EP.

It was a dynamic set. The band ripped through popular hits and offered an all-out assault at first, but towards the end of the set they changed it up by introducing meandering instrumental sections and tender sing along moments. Encoring with some songs from the older two albums was met with favour, with many people noticeably running to the front to get closer during their old-time favourites.

Although the band’s punk pedigree was a big draw card, their slow burners and more melodic moments stood out. Green has enjoyed a fine career with his solo side project City and Colour, which is more folk/singer-songwriter styled. His strengths lie in vocal melodies and this was more than evident tonight, with his voice being far louder in the mix than the others. His voice is fantastic, and although he strained at times, his singing sections provided standout singalongs that brought balance to George and Wade’s double teamed shouting.

It was a brilliant gig. Varied, dynamic, and featuring all the expected hits. The band not only played their songs, but they put on a show. Nostalgia for well-written old songs were enough to draw the punters in, and excellent delivery kept them wanting more.

 

Joseph James