Live Review: Amy Shark at Hunter Lounge, Wellington

Amy Shark Love Monster NZ tour poster
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Amy Shark

w/ Neil MacLeod

Hunter Lounge, Wellington

Saturday 15 September 2018

 

Hot off the sold-out Australian leg of her Love Monster tour, Amy Shark stood onstage, silhouetted by a powerful spotlight, softly picking at her guitar strings. The stark lighting looked fantastic, revealing a shadowed figure opening her soul to Wellington.

Possibly a risky move, opening with the last track from her album – and a slow burner at that. Usually artists tend to choose high energy – or at least more popular – songs to kick off their sets with impact. But when the bridge hit… when the drums and synth smashed their way into play… when the strobes began to flash… when Shark shook off the meekness and bellowed into the microphone… we knew that we were in good hands.

Keeping the mood up with the boppy “Blood Brothers” from last year’s Night Thinker EP, she presented us with the chance to dance – the first of many throughout the night.

Shark stood front and centre, rocking her trademark look of a sweatsuit jacket with her hair half in a loose topknot, and half down. She was flanked by drums to the left and a musician switching between guitar and synth to the right. A backdrop of Shark’s portrait was at the rear of the stage, with an intermediate sheer banner emblazoned with the word AMY stretched between the musicians and the backdrop.

I had wondered how Shark’s music would translate live. A lot of her songs have programmed samples, and I didn’t even know if she would have a band joining her. Things sounded great as a three-piece though. Shark played guitar during many songs, switching between acoustic and electric. The drummer had both a standard set up and a Roland trigger pad. And the guitarist played synth at times. They obviously used backing tracks for some parts too.

The crowd screamed with approval as Shark mentioned her lifelong infatuation with the band Blink 182, knowing that this meant Shark was playing “Psycho”, which features Mark Hoppus. She switched to an acoustic guitar, deftly picking the melody as she cooed into the microphone.

One point that I feel compelled to touch on is that the volume wasn’t too loud. I always wear earplugs to protect my ears, given the amount of gigs I attend, but I took them out for a period to compare, and the levels sounded quite adequate, and not excessive.

The Hunter Lounge wasn’t quite at full capacity, but the passionate crowd made it feel full. And Shark reciprocated the love. One can never tell whether an artist actually loves the audience they’re playing to, or is paying the same lip service every show, but Shark appeared to have formed a real connection tonight. She playfully interacted with the crowd, allowing a small group to start a Baby Shark (do do do do…) chant, and stating how she hates the meaningless pantomime of encores, but obliging tradition regardless.

Shark walked us through her career, taking the time to share anecdotes that explained meanings behind certain songs.The best was when she imitated a NZ accent, playing out a funny phone conversation between a former [Kiwi] boyfriend and his mother. 

Shark was at pains to highlight that she has flaws, and wants her songwriting to reflect that. This vulnerability she demonstrated helped her connect with the crowd.

One surprise highlight was a cover of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag”, which prompted the biggest singalong of the night, as everyone joined in on the nostalgic trip.

I found the choice of set list fascinating, with intimate ballads alternating against high energy hits. But the audience was with her each step of the way, eagerly clinging onto every word.There were no surprises for the end of the show, with Shark playing three of her biggest hits: “Weekends”, “Adore” and “I Said Hi”, which is a certified banger. She may have started out softly, but she certainly ended on a major high.

It was a brilliant night, filled with great music, awesome lights, and a sense of community. As I left the venue I noticed that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. 

Amy Shark set list Hunter Lounge Wellington

Joseph James

Live Review and Photos: The Adults at Meow, Wellington

Estere Meow Wellington
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The Adults Wellington Meow banner

The Adults’ second album, Haja, is one of the better albums to come out in recent months. Vivacious and upbeat, it combines energetic Sudanese percussion with emerging New Zealand pop and hip-hop talent.

I was wondering how they would pull it off in a live context, purely because the album featured a lot of contributors from around New Zealand and Sudan. Many songs on the record revolve around Sudanese Aghani-Al-Banat music, and the women who laid down those beats were unlikely to come all the way to Aotearoa for a few Adults shows. I also wondered what material they would play, seeing as there are two Adults records to draw material from.

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

Raiza Biza opened the night with some smooth hip-hop. He looked familiar, and then I realised that I recognised him from one of David Dallas’ Hood Country Club album release shows last year. He had a great chilled out style, and his backing music was musical – as opposed to just beats – with horns and all.

After a handful of songs Biza looked over to the door to the green room. “Jon, are you ready? Should I do another song?” he enquired, unsure of how long he should play.

“Keep playing, we want more!” a lady behind me yelled. Biza shrugged, signaled the DJ to start another song, and played a few more

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

The rest of the band came on after Biza’s set. Trinity Root’s Ben Lemi on drums, Steve Bremner on percussion, Emily Browning on guitar and vocals, Estere on roto toms, percussion, vocals and synth, and the main man himself, Jon Toogood on bass and vocals. A fairly star-studded line-up.

Biza stayed on for a few songs, taking on the rapping parts that he and Kings had laid down on Haja. Toogood was clearly stoked to have him on as part of the team.

The Adults Meow Wellington

I was pleased to hear the group faithfully recreate the Sudanese beats. Bremner and Lemi showed off their obvious proficiency on drums and percussion, with Estere adding roto toms, tambourine and maracas to the mix at times. Toogood complemented this by laying down thick bass, which came through loud and strong.

The mostly instrumental tracks “Haja” and “Like The Moon” were standout. They were able to mess around with the songs – due to the lack of verse/chorus structure – giving them the feel of fun extended jams.

The Adults Meow Wellington

Another highlight was lead single “Bloodlines”. “Oh, this is a good one!” a lady shouted as Toogood announced it.

“I hope so,” Toogood replied, “I thought it was good too. That’s why I’m here to play it.”

He appeared in a good mood – perhaps feeling slightly flustered and under-prepared for the first live performance of this material – but also clearly having fun, judging from his dancing as he immersed himself in the music. He joked along with the crowd as they shouted out, and made sure to direct positive attention to his colleagues.

The Adults is a supergroup, of sorts, and each member tonight proved themself a worthy addition to the band. Browning sounded great on guitar and could sing well, although could have used a volume boost. And Estere was the star of the night, spreading her talent across multiple instruments and leading most of the singing. She took on the parts written by Aaradhna and Ladi6 with ease.

Estere Meow Wellington

They played the all eight songs from Haja, followed by “Nothing To Lose”, the lead single from the original Adults record. This was a brilliant way to end, with everyone dancing along to the strong, bouncing bassline.

A short break was followed by one encore, “Short Change” – a b-side I didn’t recognise that Toogood had co-written with Shayne Carter. Bremner played drums this time, freeing Lemi to come up to play lead guitar.

All up it was a fantastic gig. Lots of talent, lots of energy, and plenty of opportunities to dance. It didn’t feel fully polished – being the first performance of new material – but it didn’t feel lacking either. I would have loved to hear more, but they did play the entire album, so I can’t exactly feel cheated. If you get the chance to see the Adults play any of the rest of the dates as they tour New Zealand of Australia then I recommend you head along and have some fun.

Words and photos by Joseph James

The Adults Meow Wellington  Ben Lemi Meow Wellington Steve Bremner Meow Wellington Emily Browning Meow WellingtonThe Adults Meow Wellington The Adults set list Meow Wellington

EP Review: Toe – Our Latest Number

Toe Our Latest Number EP cover
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To me, Toe are about as close as you can come to a perfect band. They are incredibly talented musicians who create great compositions that appeal to just about everyone. It’s never a bad time to listen to Toe, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. I have a funny anecdote that I shared in my Masaki Hanakata review, which involved me introducing Toe to American teenage girls at a Summer Camp I worked at, resulting in them all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe!” until I played some of Toe’s music through tinny speakers at the campfire.

Their new EP, Our Latest Number picks up where Hear You (2015) left off. In fact, I feel that the new song “Etude of Solitude” could complete a trilogy started with the 2015 tracks “Premonition” and “A Desert of Human”, following similar sounding guitar lines. “Etude…” is my favourite track of this EP, featuring split tapped poly-rhythms, sparing yet effective use of vibraphone, splendid drumming, and possibly even sitar?

We hear light, airy songs that sound simple, but are deceptively complex. The songs are very repetitive, looping around groovy motifs that gradually evolve. Precise poly-rhythms of noodly guitars sit above concise, dry drumming, loaded with explosive energy, yet exuding chilled out vibes.

Most Toe tracks are instrumental, and when they feature vocals the singing is usually diverse and unpredictable. Hear You had male and female vocals, stunning harmonies and even rapping. By comparison, the two songs featuring singing on this EP are relatively straightforward and calm.

Thanos would love this EP because it feels so perfectly balanced. The playing is busy, but the musicians know where to leave space. The music sounds so clean and articulate due to the fact that there are very little sound effects added to the playing . Most post-rock music is saturated in distortion, reverb, delay etc… so these songs sound fresh by comparison.

That is not to say there are no effects or synthetic sounds utilised. “F_A_R” has a weird sliding sound – almost like a robotic heartbeat – at the start of the track. I first noticed it as I was walking to work a few days ago, and I thought the sound was my headphone cord rubbing against my clothes. The track continues to employ interesting sounds from synths and sequencers to add texture.

It says something about the quality of the music when you love a band so much without knowing much about them. I have no idea what they sing about on their songs that contain singing. It’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to over social media, seeing as most content I find is written in Japanese. I can’t understand what their message is, so I simply let the music talk on their behalf.

The only downside of Our Latest Number is that it is too short, last just shy of 20 minutes. And on top of that, some tracks almost feel like rehashed versions of older songs (compare the drumbeat “The Latest Number” against “You Go”, from 2009’s For Long Tomorrow). But my complacency isn’t justified – I just crave more music from this outstanding band!

This is an immaculate EP, in keeping with their previous output. Essential listening for most math-rock and post-rock fans, and I’m sure just as appealing to anyone who doesn’t usually listen to instrumental music. Just press play, and bask in the music’s genius and clarity.

Toe links:

Upcoming US tour dates:

  • September 07, 2018 – Washington, DC, US @ Black Cat
  • September 08, 2018 – Brooklyn, NY, US @ Warsaw
  • September 09, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, US @ Union Transfer
  • September 10, 2018 – Allston, MA, US @ Brighton Music Hall
  • September 12, 2018 – Toronto, ON, Canada @ Virgin Mobile Mod Club
  • September 13, 2018 – Chicago, IL, US @ Thalia Hall
  • September 14, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN, US @ Fine Line Music Cafe
  • September 17, 2018 – Seattle, WA, US @ The Crocodile
  • September 18, 2018 – Vancouver, BC, Canada @ The Imperial
  • September 19, 2018 – Portland, OR, US @ Wonder Ballroom
  • September 20, 2018 – San Francisco, CA, US @ Great American Music Hall
  • September 21, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, US @ Regent Theater

Joseph James

Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
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You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Listener – Being Empty : Being Filled

Listener - Being Empty : Being Filled
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Listener are a polarising band. Intensely poetic – with strong focus on vocal delivery – they either draw you in with their rich lyrically constructed worlds, or push you away with the non-conventional vocals. Maybe you’re already familiar with Listener. If you like other acts like La Dispute and mewithoutyou you should really check them out.

Half the fun is interpreting the lyrics. Both descriptive and cryptic, they can rip your heart apart or restore your faith in humanity. It all revolves around frontman Dan Smith’s impassioned delivery. His voice cracks with intensity. You can picture him on the cusp of collapsing into a teary mess. But he also has the ability to tenderly pick you up and tell direct truths that demonstrate beauty and hope.

Being Empty : Being Filled is Listener’s fourth record, a concept album that explores the lives of notable inventors. The songs were released over an eight month period across a series of 7 inch vinyl EPs and Youtube videos.

Listener delve into the lives of the inventors. Who are these people who the songs centre around? Maybe we know what they are famous for, but do we know about the lives that they lived? It is a fascinating concept. I wouldn’t even say Listener necessarily chose inventors that they look up to and admire. But no matter how useful the invention (ranging from cryogenics to denim jeans), each inventor still has a story.

The figures in focus range from groundbreaking scientists like Robert Oppenheimer (The Father of the Atom Bomb) and Nikola Tesla; to others who may seem mediocre by comparison, but are no less essential (such as Levi Strauss, and Moms and Dads). Good to see that they included some female inventors in their selection too (Stephanie Kwolek – known for kevlar, and Marie Curie – who studied radioactivity).

Listener

Dan Smith’s solo Still Life EP (2015) – the last Listener-affiliated release – was a stripped back affair. By comparison, Being Empty : Being Filled is a full sounding rock record. I was actually shocked by the opening chords of the album. It sounds surprisingly full, considering how in the past the music has taken a backseat to allow the vocals a chance to shine.

Smith’s vocals don’t take up so much of the spotlight this time, but he is still compelling. Energy, emotion and dynamic delivery are three critical factors that help us relate to music, and Smith offers it all in spades. He bellows cryptic lines with accusatory tones, maybe not in condemnation, but with enough passion to invite interest. Take this lyric, for example: “October is my favorite color”. What does that mean?

The brilliant music help to add gravitas to these stories of struggle and success. Victorious trumpets support Levi Strauss’ triumphant work ethic.  Sparse, lingering notes recount the forlorn tale of Rudolph Diesel, who managed to create his engine, but separated himself from his loved ones in the process. In “Plague Doctor” screeching feedback and frenzied distortion transforms into electrifying, foreboding doom.

Layers of emotion and intensity overlap as the music syncs with the stories. I wouldn’t even say that the tone of the music matches the tone of the stories. I would attach feelings of hope and wonder with conceiving and raising a child, but dense, distorted chugging creates a sense of desperation in ” Little Folded Fingers”. And during “Manhattan Projects”, when we hear Robert Oppenheimer’s immortal line (“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”) the melody is light and wondrous – followed soon by guitar chugging that mimics dropping bombs – but then offset by a lovely trumpet tune. But my interpretation of themes are subjective, and whether the messages and musical moods marry or not, they both offer engaging and compelling listening.

Being Empty : Being Filled is vastly different from Listener’s previous output because it feels more fleshed out. The music is intense and dynamic enough to match the vocals. Enough riffs to rock out to, enough intrigue to pique interest, enough poetic lyrics to keep you thinking, and enough pathos to make the album feel like an experience. I’ll award bonus points for exploring such a compelling concept as well. This album has motivated me to research some of the figures who Listener pay homage to with these songs.

Admittedly, I was already a Listener fan before this record came out, but I find it a vast improvement upon their previous output. Give it a listen. Even if you don’t like it, I’m sure you can admire the originality and creativity injected into it.

Listener links:

Website: http://iamlistener.com/

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

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/iamlistener

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/listenerproject

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/listenerfamilyband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/listener


LISTENER 2018 AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND TOUR (Tickets link)

Listener are coming to Australia and New Zealand thanks to Reverse K and Valhalla Touring.

Listener Au NZ tour poster

Review written by Joseph James. Come say hi if you see me at the Wellington show.