Head Like A Hole at Valhalla – 25th Anniversary Tour

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington Poster 25th Anniversary Tour
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Head Like A Hole playing the album 13

w/ Hiboux

Saturday 20 May 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

A friend of mine has a story from when his band opened for Head Like A Hole many years ago. During HLAH’s set a naked man run onstage and stage dived off. He got consumed by the mosh pit, only to emerge from the midst of it right and the end of the night when the crowd had dispersed.

Imagine being part of that mosh pit. It’s hot. You’re enjoying the music and bouncing between other sweaty bodies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an undressed man with flailing penis appears out of nowhere, blocking out the light and landing square on top of you.

My friend is now a priest, and although it isn’t very priestly to condone tales of rock n roll like this, he loves sharing it. He grins from ear to ear as he tells his story, giggling about wild times.

Of course Head Like A Hole have been known to perform naked and caked with mud in the past as well. Tonight was my first time seeing the band, and they were performing their début album 13 (released in 1992 – the year I was born!). All bets were off, and I braced myself for some madness.

Hiboux opening for Head Like A Hole at ValhallaHiboux

I’ve been following the Instagram account of local post-rock lads Hiboux, and it is clear that they’ve worked hard recently. With a début album now under their belts, the band have filmed videos, written more music, and are planning an upcoming trans-Tasman tour. They sounded great when I saw them open for Alcest last month, and tonight was just as great.

The lighting guy was having fun trying to destroy my photos, employing far too much red light and working the for machine overtime – two ingredients that serve to foil my camera’s ability. I had fun though, climbing up on the side of a speaker rig to find interesting angles.

If you haven’t heard Hiboux yet, I recommend checking them out. Their hypnotic instrumental tunes cast a spell over Valhalla. It was perhaps a bit sedate at first considering that they were opening for legendary wild men, but later on the set the distortion pedals came to the foray and the headbanging material unleashed. Although their music is well-crafted and exact, fantastic energy brims beneath, making the explosive sections of the songs all the more dynamic.

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Head Like A Hole Valhalla WellingtonHead Like A Hole

Head Like A Hole disbanded when I was eight, meaning that although I’m know of them, they have never been at the forefront of music I listen to. They’ve had their share of play on The Rock radio station, and one of Dad’s friends used to bring HLAH CDs to our family BBQs [related story], so I am familiar with a few hits, but couldn’t say I know any of their albums well. Knowing that they had planned on playing début album 13 on this tour, I’ve listened to it leading up to the show.

13 is snotty punk music: fast, aggressive and fun. It captures the band at the start of their career – slightly naïve, yet with obvious potential. The recordings sound dated –  funky alt-rock Faith No More worship with bright popping drums and wiry guitars – but despite this the album remains a fan favourite.

By comparison, tonight when the band played the 25 year-old songs they sounded full and punchy. Not only did they sound great, but they had brilliant presence. We didn’t see the naked mud men of yesteryear, but the wildness was still evident.

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington

Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve taken rock music, added an alternative edge, and perfected the delivery. Frontman Booga Beezley – dressed in black leather and hair dripping with sweat – swung his mic stand around and told self-deprecating stories.

“This song [Penut] was written after a night of dangerous drinking.” He revealed, half proud of himself, half cautioning us. “I woke up at Nigel’s mum’s house, having shit myself. Shit was everywhere: on the walls, on the toilet. There was shit on me. Nights like that define who you are as a person, which is how we manage to write such great songs.”

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Valhalla was as full as I’ve seen it in a year or two, sold out and filled with aging rock fans wanting that taste of their teenage years. The pit up the front was in full swing and a handful of punters tried their hands at stage diving throughout the night – with varying degrees of success.

“We’ve come to that point in the night where we are going to play some radio friendly pop hits”Head Like A Hole Wellington Set List Beezly laughed when the band approached the second half of the set, “who wants to hear some Ed Sheeran?”

Despite never having listened to Head Like A Hole much, I was pleased to learn that I actually knew many of the songs from the second half of the set. “A Crying Shame” was great fun, with a signature trumpet hook played by the woman who had given me my wristband at the start of the night. “Hootenanny” earned cries of excitement, with everyone chanting along to the chorus. A cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” brought the mood down, before the band switched it up a gear to turn it into a rowdy frenzy.

The band members live distributed throughout the North Island these days, but a Wellington show will always be a homecoming gig. I’m glad that I finally managed to see Head Like A Hole live, but I bet that the old fans were even happier than me.

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All words and photos by Joseph James

Album Review: Hiboux – Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up banner
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Local post-rock band Hiboux (pronounced ee – boo. The French word for owls) have worked hard to get to this stage of their career, cultivating a following as they wrote and recorded the songs on this, their first album, Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up.

They struck me as talented when I saw them open for Tortoise last year [Tortoise live review], and this début release has only cemented that opinion.

Before we start discussing the music, I need to draw attention to the title of the opening track: “East Of Seddon”. For those unaware, some of the more major New Zealand earthquakes in recent years have triggered – you guessed it – just east of the upper South Island town of Seddon. I adore the imagery that the title evokes. Does it indicate that Hiboux are at the epicenter of something big? That their music is earth-shatteringly good? Let’s find out…

The track starts of with some gorgeous harmonising guitars that riff together in tandem. Not like thrash metal riffing, but more elegant and leisurely. The two guitarists each deviate ever so slightly with their picking to keep the ostinato sounding fresh. The rest of the band joins in – bass and keys add atmosphere while the drums add urgency. The song meanders and changes – as you would hope from a nine minute epic – and the guitars split to each adopt different roles. But it’s those dual guitar lines at the start that really make this opening track what it is.

Most of the songs follows suit in much the same fashion. Repeated guitar riffs, band comes in, things start to expand. But this is not to say that the music is formulaic. The riffs are fantastic – musical and memorable. The drumming is sensitive – adding to the overall feel with finesse, but not overplaying.

Something that Hiboux excel at is creating memorable riffs without the need for heaviness. Or creating great sound without the need for effects (that I can tell. I hear little reverb, distortion, delay etc but I am not an expert on such things).  And I hate to focus on the guitars so much at the expense of the other instruments, but they really do stand out.

I always wonder how musicians manage to write and remember such long and complex songs. Ranges have a 24 minute song called “Night & Day“, and “Dominion” by Kiwi heroes Jakob rings in at just shy of half an hour. In a recent interview I learnt that Hiboux take months (or even up to a year) to write and refine their epic pieces. It makes sense when you listen to each track. Spontaneous music is great, but it is clear that these songs are not just ideas picked out willy-nilly from a jam session.

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up Band Pic

(Again, I need to go off-tangent here. Look at that photo! How cool is that shot? And, even better, the band is standing on the wall of old army magazine bunker ruins in Wellington, which was burnt down when bank robbers set alight a stolen van that they had parked inside. So much awesome in just one picture!)

Running a music blog is pretty cool, but I find that after reviewing so many post-rock albums it can be hard to come up with ways to discuss music that sounds so similar. Not so with Hiboux, who have done themselves proud with this release. Yes, it is undeniably post-rock through and through. But it also sounds fresh and innovative whilst sitting comfortably within the genre.

I am always stoked to discover great local bands who can sit comfortably beside their musical peers on a global scale, and with Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up, Hiboux have proven that they fit that description.


Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up is now available for download from https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/ with a limited run of Digipaks available at shows.

Hiboux links:

Bandcamp: https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hiboux_band

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/hiboux-official

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Tortoise at San Fran, Wellington

Tortoise San Fran Wellington
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Tortoise

w/ fFolks and Hiboux

San Fran, Wellington

Saturday 3 December 2016

 

I arrived at San Fran  just in time for local act Hiboux, who set the mood beautifully for Tortoise. The five piece act played mesmerising rock music that had me moving, and even had a camera crew documenting their set (which didn’t help my confidence when taking photos – my entire camera is only a third of the size of many of the other photographers’ lenses!)  I loved the atmosphere that they created, and bonus points for including saxophone in a few songs.

Hiboux Tortoise San Fran

Hiboux. Bern Stock (L) and Lester Litchfield (R)

Watching roadies set the stage for Tortoise was an interesting affair. They carried item after item onstage and arranged the instruments accordingly. I was excited to see two drum kits facing each other at the front of stage. Funnily enough the kits were different brands (Pearl and Sonar). Does that mean the band has two different endorsements with drum companies? A a large vibrophone sat on the right of stage, and on the other end of the stage sat something that looked like a trigger pad crossed with a piano.Selections of guitars and basses stood in formation along rear, and a number of synths, sequencers and other electronic things sporting dials filled the spaces left.

Tortoise boasted some very talented players. And not only was each muso talented, but they all took turns playing different instruments, like Sufjan Stevens’ band. I wonder what this looks like at band practice when they are writing new material? How do they decide who plays what for each song when they don’t have set defined roles?

Tortoise San Fran Wellington

I think I figured out the answer to this from observing the band play. For the most part, the Santa-looking Doug McCombs ties the songs together with his bass guitar, while Jeff Parker sets the melody on guitar.  This leaves the three other members free to share their time between percussion and synths.

I am a drummer myself, and I loved being able to see two drummers playing off from each other right at the front of the stage, rather than having someone hidden away at the back in the shadows like we usually see. I remember being captivated by Genesis DVDs as a teenager, watching Phil Collins and Chester Thompson become one when both sat down behind their kits. I’ve seen a number of bands use two drummers in the past (Bon Iver, Death Cab For Cutie, Shihad, Incubus and The Roots spring to mind) but never in a revolving sense like Tortoise.

John McEntire is the groove master, sitting in the pocket and playing incredibly tight, uncomplicated beats, using the butt of the sticks on the snare. He takes the throne when the song needs something simple to lock in with McCombs. He also grimaces and looks like he is in pain while he plays. John Herndon, however, doesn’t merely play the drums, he beats them into submission. He is the monster, unleashing his frenetic energy to add busy percussive flavour to the mix. Dan Bitney sits in the middle, complementing everyone as drum duets form. He adds those extra elements that one drummer cannot offer with four limbs alone.

Tortoise San Fran Wellington

Tortoise play exciting music. Exciting because of how interesting and experimental it is. Gone is the verse-chorus-bridge type structure that we are accustomed to. Gone are the vocals. Why have a singer when you can have three drummers and vibes? Songs grew and layered in ways that are unique even within post-rock circles, with subtle frequencies taking turns to flash themselves at us.

It was a marvel to watch interactions between band members. Two drummers would become one, with bass slotting in perfectly. Members would casually move around the stage, playing a game of musical chairs. I would watch how they split their time. Someone would adjust a dial and set the right effects, then add some colour using mallets on the vibes, then shake a tambourine or shakers, and  finish off strumming on a guitar. And that’s all within one song!

Tortoise are stunning. Visually, they put on a brilliant show. Not because of lights and screens – but because of how they arrange the stage and share responsibilities.  And musically, they create sounds that are so unconventional and intriguing that one cannot help but listen with amazement. I caught myself grinning many times throughout the set. Grinning at the sheer… weirdness… talent… brilliance…? I’m not sure what exactly, but I cannot recommend seeing Tortoise highly enough.

All photos and words by Joseph James