Live Review: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at Meow, Wellington

Frank Turner Sleeping Souls Meow Wellington New Zealand tour poster
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Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls

w/ Jon Snodgrass
Meow, Wellington
Saturday 18 April 2015

Let it never be said that Frank Turner doesn’t please his fans.

His output is prolific: a constant stream of new EP’s, splits, B-side collections and live DVD’s to appease his fans between studio albums. All on top of a hectic touring schedule.

Just last week he played all of England Keep My Bones at a show in Melbourne. To say I had looked forward to this gig would be an understatement.

Meow was an interesting choice of venue. I’m used to seeing small folk acts play here, not bands with this kind of following. Being sold out, the place was crammed, making it far more ‘intimate’ than I’m used too. Not that I’m complaining – how often do you get to witness a special small gig like this, put on by someone who has headlined Wembley?


Jon Snodgrass (Drag The River) started the night off singing some of his solo material. His voice was warm and comforting, reminiscent of Southern styled country music. He was soon joined onstage by Frank Turner wearing a Converge hoodie and armed with a harmonica.

The two of them played a bunch of songs from their Buddies split EP, a rough recording penned in only four hours during a stint together on the Revival Tour in America. The songs were far from perfect – clearly not well rehearsed – but the stories behind each song were entertaining and the relaxed approach from the duo set the mood for a fun night ahead. One of the highlights was the song “Happy New Year”. They bullied their stage tech into taking over on harmonica for that song, despite protests that he didn’t know how.

For his own set, Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, were all dressed in white button up shirts. The Sleeping Souls were the perfect choice of band. All four of them  were clearly into it, jumping and dancing about onstage, although mid-set they lived up to their name and had a sleepy sit-down while Turner played some material solo. Bassist Tarrant Anderson held his bass high on his chest and waltzed round with it, while Ben Lloyd boogied and ripped on guitar and mandolin. The placed was so densely packed that I couldn’t see the drums or keys from where I was standing, but I could certainly hear them.

This tour was supposed to promote the new album, but the new album hadn’t yet been released. Not to be deterred by this, Turner previewed a handful of tracks from said forthcoming album. The first song had a country feel. “Get Better” is a straight up thumper. Every song was great, leaving me eager to listen to get my mitts on the new album once it comes out.

The show was full of rousing sing-alongs, or more accurately, shout-alongs. The musicians were at home on-stage, happy to interact with the crowd and exchange banter. There were threats to cover Crowded House and Shihad. Drummer Nigel Powell played the tourist card and asked how many people in the crowd worked for Weta Digital. Turner told a funny story about how he was inspired to write a song in Melbourne about an ex-girlfriend who smelt like a koala.

Towards the end Turner noted how there was no point in doing the typical encore ritual, mainly because there was no room for the band to leave the stage. The “one more song!” chant was supported by the drums, and the *boom, boom, clap* evolved into a short cover of Queens’ “We Will Rock You”.

The encore included some of the hits from the early albums, ending with “Four Simple Words”. Turner conducted the band theatrically, before crowd-surfing during the last verse.

Frank Turner selfie

Cheesy selfie with Frank after the show. Not often that I stand next to someone taller than me!

This was Turners show #1666, and the last of the current tour. He recounts how one thousand shows ago he played an Iron Maiden cover. This remains testament to Turner’s longevity as a musician, due to his inclusive, humble approach to playing music. All the musos hung back after the show to meet the fans and sign merch, despite a 4am flight home the following day.

At the end of a tour bands are either too exhausted and at the end of their tether, or go all out and end with a bang. This was a case of the latter.

Because there’s no such thing as rock stars, just people who play music. Some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks.  

Frank Turner – “Try This At Home”

Turner is the anti-rock star. He knows how to master the stage and had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. But he’s just a regular guy. He swears and shouts and crowd surfs, and invites the audience to do the same. Many of his lyrics are thought provoking and tender, written from the point of a man who once idealised punk ethos and has since matured, but refuses to forget his past. Turner acknowledges the teenage anarchists and old fogeys alike, and invites them both to dance and sing along.

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Jurassic 5 at Shed 6, Wellington

Jurassic 5
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Jurassic 5

w/ Name UL
Shed 6, Wellington
Wednesday 8 April 2015

 

Watching Wellington rapper Name UL tear up the stage was much the same as last time I saw him. He gave a valiant effort attempting to pump up the crowd, but there wasn’t much of a crowd present to be pumped up. I’ll give him credit, Name UL has skills and potential, it just seems that the reception has been a bit lacklustre both times I’ve seen him perform. I’d love to see him in a packed club, where he could really set a crowd off with his energy.

The venue was largely empty, set up with the stage at the North end. This left me feeling a bit disoriented for a bit, seeing as the stage had been at the South end for the Gary Clark Jr show just over a week ago. At first it seemed like it would be a quiet mid-week gig, but the place slowly filled up with time.

I’ve seen a range of different hip hop acts in the past, but never a full crew like Jurassic 5. The four emcees, Chali 2na, Akil, Soup, Mark 7even; along with DJ’s Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, put on one of the most lively and entertaining shows I’ve seen in a long time.

Having multiple emcees and DJ’s really filled out the sound. It was more than rapping – it was musical. There was singing and there were harmonies. Any one of them alone would have been impressive, but the way that they tag teamed and bounced off each other added to the vocal dynamics. The mix was great and all the lyrics could be clearly heard. The delivery was flawless, clearly the product of many, many hours of rehearsing. The emcees obviously enjoyed themselves as they danced about onstage and took turns delivering lines.

One of the highlights of the night was the DJ battle. Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark came to front of stage with all sorts of ridiculous instruments. Nu-Mark set down a beat using a portable trigger pad. Cut Chemist responded by scratching on a portable turntable strung around the back of his neck. Nu-Mark stepped it up by playing a contraption he’d made from multiple old records. They then teamed up to play an oversized record player that dominated the centre of the stage. One would spin the large “LP” that played a Run The Jewels track, while the other would flick the switches on the mixers. If you’re trying to imagine it: the record was about the size of a large round coffee-table.

J5 really worked the crowd. The set was split into acts. Chali 2na, would introduce new segments, saying “And for this part of the show…”  in his deep baritone voice, before explaining what he wanted the audience to do. They had the crowd opening and closing their hands, fist pumping, riding invisible motorcycles and witnessing old Western shootouts. These moments seemed silly and gratuitous, but were fun nevertheless and added interactive components to the set.

To show that they really were there to please, they asked the crowd for requests of obscure songs from the band’s back catalogue. “Now you already know we’re going to play ‘What’s Golden’. But what else do you want to hear? Think of something that you don’t expect us to play!” The set covered hits from every album, and the request session surely left even the most die-hard fans satisfied.

Not only was it a stellar hiphop show, but there was so much more. You come to expect rapping and dancing from a hip hop show, but you know that you’ve witnessed something special when the set involves DJ battles and a kazoo solo. Jurassic 5 are true entertainers in every sense. They were all very talented, but more importantly, they were fun.

 

Joseph James

 

 

 

Live Review: Gary Clark Jr. at Shed 6, Wellington

Gary Clark Jr NZ poster
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Gary Clark Jr.

w/ Aaron Tokona
Shed 6, Wellington
Sunday 29 March 2015

A few years ago my friend Sam and I flew up to Auckland for a few concerts at Vector Arena. The first show was Weezer playing their first album (known as the “Blue Album”) in its entirety. A few nights later Red Hot Chili Peppers played at the same venue . It was a great trip and both shows were awesome. The standout band though, was Gary Clark Jr, one of the acts who opened for the Chilis.

I’d never listened to him beforehand, but Clark and his band caught my attention straight away. He was something else. So smooth. So slick. He had a swagger about him that just reeked of cool. They only played four songs, but that was more than enough to make a lasting impression.

When I got home I immediately looked him up and started accumulating his music. My girlfriend bought the Black and Blu LP for me. I ordered a Gary Clark Jr/ Son House split from Daytrotter. There was a mixtape hosted at datpiff that featured a more hip-hop flavour. He also featured on a catchy little Cody ChesnuTT b-side.

[ChesnuTT was my other musical discovery that year. I saw him play in Wellington on his birthday and he was outstanding.]

Since then I’ve noticed Clark pop up here and there, slowly gaining popularity. There was a cameo on the film Chef, and a Foo Fighters collaboration on the album/television series Sonic Highways.

And now finally he has returned to New Zealand to headline his own shows, as an extension of the Byron Bay Bluesfest.

This was my first time in Shed 6 since it has been refurbished as an alternative to the Wellington Town Hall. It was a similar size to Town Hall, and didn’t seem to suffer from the terrible acoustics that neighbouring venue TSB Arena is so notorious for.


No support act had been announced, so I was pleased to recognise Aaron Tokona (Cairo Knife Fight, Ahoribuzz) when he graced the stage. He opened his set with “Calling On”, the biggest single from his 90’s rock band Weta. For the ensuing half an hour, Tokona noodled around on his guitar and messed with his effect pedals, displaying his mastery over his instrument. It’s hard to say who enjoyed the set more out of Tokona and the audience, because he was clearly having a ball onstage. He strummed and plucked and tapped as he gyrated around.  He even sheepishly took a selfie in front of the crowd. “I’ve never done this before” he confessed, “but all my mates do it.”

Aaron's selfie, taken from his Facebook page

Aaron’s selfie, taken from his Facebook page

“Now I can show my 13-year-old daughter that I’m cool!” he grinned after taking the snap.There was no telling how much of his set was rehearsed or spontaneous, but Tokona managed to impress and entertain us with his abilities.

[Keith Stanfield from Moors is one of the actors in this clip. He also features in the latest Run The Jewels video. Keep an eye on him, because I’m picking Stanfield to become the next big thing.]

Gary Clark Jr and his band were sublime. The highlight of the set for me was “When My Train Pulls In”. I got so excited from the first note. There was a familiar light strum to check the tuning, and he started building feedback and the drummer washed up his cymbals, before a pause, and then that riff. That riff that is so laid back, so groovy. It sounded so effortless. It was nirvana. It was only about four songs into the set, but after that song I could have happily left satisfied.

Not that I needed to leave. The following song, “Don’t Owe You A Thing”, really bumped the energy up, before Clark lowered the mood with “Please Come Home”. And both songs were great. Every song was great, truth be told. Ballad or anthem, cover or original, the musicians on stage all played exceptionally well and left the audience awestruck.

There was a sound that permeated the set – a dirty, raw blues vibe. Although it’s a great record, Black and Blu sounded overly polished. It was too sedate and clean to capture the true essence of the songs. But in a live setting the songs come to life. Most songs were long and drawn out with endless solos.

Clark opened the set with a slide on his finger, and finished with devastating solo and feedback. And in every song between he proved why he has a guitar legend status. It’s not hard to see why all the Hendrix comparisons get made. Clark even covered a Hendrix song, “Third Stone From The Sun”. He scratched up and down the string, making DJ noises, and messed with the tempo by having the band gradually speed up before reverting back to the original speed.

The encore was an unreleased love song (from the forthcoming album) that Clark played solo. It seemed basic compared to many of the other songs, but it seemed to cast a spell over the crowd. He followed with “Black and Blu”, before his band mates joined him for a stunning rendition of the closing song “Bright Lights”

This was the gig that I had most been looking forward to all year. And it more than surpassed my expectations. Not only was the opening act Aaron Tokona thoroughly entertaining, but Clark and his band put on a such a stellar two-hour set of soulful bluesy rock that I can’t help but rave about how good it was. It was slick, yet laid back. Impressive, but seemingly effortless. Clark and his boys have the skills to wow. If you get the chance to see them play, do. They won’t disappoint.

Joseph James