Live Review: Shihad at Riwaka Hotel, Nelson (FVEY tour)



w/ The Datsuns, I Am Giant and Cairo Knife Fight

Riwaka Hotel, Nelson

Tuesday 30 December 2014

I last saw Shihad play Riwaka in 2010, promoting their previous album, Ignite. They’ve since released FVEY, a heavier nod to their first two albums. This is their first NZ tour in roughly two years, and they’ve brought some premier Kiwi rock bands on the road with them.

To my surprise, the music had already started when I arrived at 7.15pm. The tickets had advertised that doors open at 7pm, but bands don’t usually start until at least half an hour after doors open.

I only saw the last three songs because I was late, but Cairo Knife Fight put on yet another impressive set. It seems that they are the perpetual opening act for many notable rock bands. Drummer Nick Gaffaney continues to leave me in awe each time I see him play, dominating the drum kit as well as singing, playing synth bass and operating looping pedals. Ex-Weta guitarist Aaron Tokona wasn’t playing tonight, making me wonder if this has anything to do with his other band, Ahoribuzz, who are headlining New Years Eve celebrations in Nelson.

Their new single “Rezlord” from their forthcoming album reminded me of Muse, and the final song was rather Tool-esque. I love watching how two musicians can create such a full sound using effects and looping pedals. They had silly little moments in which they went wild making as much meaningless noise as possible, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall experience.

When I first saw I Am Giant in 2010 I thought they were pretty cool. “City Limits” had received regular airplay on the radio and they had released their début EP that week. I bought a copy of the EP at the show and their singer signed it for me and we had a great chat. How things have changed…

Since then their egos seemed to have skyrocketed and their performances haven’t improved at the same rate. Their singer Ed Martin has recently left to pursue a solo career and replacement singer Ryan Redman (ex-Exit Ten) has only exacerbated the inequality between the standard of the music and the pompous attitude of the band members. Redman is a twat. He clearly thought he was all that, making eyes at girls in the crowd and blowing kisses and thrusting. Too bad for him he couldn’t actually sing well. At first I thought his voice was hoarse because his collar had been buttoned up too tight around his neck, but it turns out he just wasn’t any good. He couldn’t hit the high notes and he could barely do justice to the rest of the singing. I Am Giant had the arrogant rock star attitude without the talent to match.

Australian rockers Airbourne were originally billed to play but have since been replaced by The Datsuns. I’ve seen both bands a few times each in the past and I prefer The Datsuns spacey garage-rock over Airbourne’s AC/DC impersonations.

And I’m glad for the lineup change.The skinny Cambridge rockers got thrust into the limelight when NME called named them “Best Live Band” in 2002, and they’re still killing it over a decade later. I swear they were all dressed exactly the same as last time I saw them play, a few years ago. Three of them had long hair and they were all worryingly thin. To add to their classic rocker appearance, the drummer played a transparent perspex drum kit like the kind Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham used to play.

The music was relentlessly energetic and they worked the crowd well. Rudolf, the singer, had everyone sit down and instructed us that once the band let loose we were all expected to “jump up and go bananas”. They had us clapping along and singing the ‘woahs’. One standout song was “That’s What You Get” from the new album Deep Sleep. Of course, they played the obligatory hits as well.

During their set a drunk bogan hi-fived me and told me “The Datsuns are the epitome of New Zealand rock music!”. Well, I don’t know about epitome, but other Kiwi artists could certainly learn a thing or two from them.

The lights dimmed, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” rang through the speakers, and then the almighty Shihad tore into their set. They opened with the visceral single “Think You’re So Free”. I was excited to hear them play new heavy material from their new album, FVEY. Songs from Churn and Killjoy always go down a treat, as do heavier songs like “My Mind’s Sedate”. But The FVEY songs didn’t make the same impact.

The new songs are certainly aggressive, but they are also quite long and don’t change much. I like it heavy, but I need more variety. Being pummeled by such a consistent barrage of bass got a bit boring. Lead guitarist Phil Knight needed to be louder in the mix. He usually brings some treble into the foreground to balance out the sound, but was lost to the murkier low-end.

Frontman Jon Toogood vehemently dedicated one song to our prime-minister,  making it very clear that this was not a respectful act. There was a built up anger that shone through the songs.

Over half the set consisted of new material. I actually preferred the older, more familiar songs. As always, Shihad were tight and professional and energetic. They delivered a blistering show like only veterans of the stage can. It was enjoyable, but the new songs didn’t appeal as much as I’d anticipated.

There were a few surprises for me tonight. Cairo Knife Fight had a new guitarist. I Am Giant’s new singer was rubbish. Shihad’s heavy new material isn’t actually that exciting live and The Datsuns stole the show. Overall it was a great night out.

Shihad's set list.  Eight of the songs are from the new album, FVEY. The pick belonged to bass player Karl Kippenberger

Shihad’s set list. Eight of the songs are from the new album, FVEY. The pick belonged to bass player Karl Kippenberger

Album Review: Shihad – FVEY

Shihad FVEY vinyl record cover

Last time I saw Shihad play was on Boxing Day a few years back in Lower Hutt – the eternal dwelling place of the bogan. The band played a few songs from each of their releases in chronological sequence, starting with their début EP Devolve, and concluding with their most recent album, Ignite. It was a good cross-section of their history, showcasing their sound as it evolved from the speed metal of their formative days through to the more radio-friendly songs of recent years. The downside to this was that as the show progressed it became clear that Shihad’s later releases pale in comparison to their more aggressive early works. In my opinion Shihad had peaked with The General Electric.

This is why FVEY (pronounced Five Eyes) makes me so happy. It’s a nod to Churn and Killjoy, but with the use of production and mastering technologies 20 years more advanced. Listening to the album teaser was enough to make my hairs stand on end. Being able to the blast the finished product on 180 gram vinyl is a glorious experience.

No doubt Jaz Coleman played a part in this. His influence was unmistakable in the brutal industrial metal that was Churn, and lingering traces could still be felt in the raw anger of Killjoy. And once again the Killing Joke singer has returned to the producer’s chair to impart his wisdom. This record was one of the last to be recorded at Coleman’s York Street studios, allowing the band good use of one of New Zealand’s premium recording studios.

Coleman can still be heard in this record, both musically and thematically.  Title tack ‘FVEY’ sounds like it could comfortably be part of Killing Joke’s 2010 release Absolute Dissent, and some of Jon Toogood’s lyrics resemble those of the songs on Killing Joke’s MMXII.  Anger, distrust of the authorities and conspiracy theories seem to be common themes throughout.

It’s raw but at the same time clean. They’ve captured the heaviness without muddy distortion. Not an easy feat, seeing as how the guitars are drop-tuned so ridiculously low. Frontman Jon Toogood has described the record as “intense” and “blistering”. He’s not wrong.

Where did the band re-discover this energy and determination? The album title FVEY points towards paranoia over our international spy network. Maybe something to do with a fat German millionaire buying off our politicians? No doubt Shihad are riled up about various social injustices, and FVEY is the creative by-product of these feelings.

I’ve always loved Shihad. I own every album and watch them live every time they come to town. It was always a given that I’d be buying FVEY. But this time round I feel safe recommending this album to my friends, not something I could have said about the band’s recent outputs like Ignite or Beautiful Machine.

Killjoy-era Shihad is back in form. And with an accompanying tour promised; I find this very exciting.


Joseph James