Live Review: Living Colour at San Fran, Wellington

Doug Wimbash Living Colour San Fran Wellington
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Living Colour were my stand out band of 2017. I managed to interview drummer Will Calhoun early on in the year (one of the highlights of my blogging career). Their Auckland show at Powerstation was incredible – easily my favourite gig of the year. A few months later, when travelling in America, I was fortunate enough to catch guitarist Vernon Reid put on a Chuck Berry tribute night in New York. And then in September they dropped the awesome new album Shade.

So imagine my pleasure when they announced another tour which included a Wellington date. I would have happily flown up to Auckland again to see them, but managed to save the money on flights and accommodation, and got to see them at a more intimate venue!

Curlys Jewels San Fran Wellington

Curly’s Jewels opened the night with a bang, launching straight into the set with plenty of energy. They’re exactly as I remembered them from when they opened for Skinny Hobos in June, with colourful singer Jel Pollock injecting plenty of character into the show. I noticed that the crunchy guitar tones sounded especially good at times, and should come to the forefront more. There were a few slight hiccups, but they managed to deliver with their brand of fun rock music.


This tour marked the 30th anniversary of Living Colour’s landmark debut album, Vivid. It’s an album that still stands the test of time, both musically and thematically. I remember discussing the political nature of many Living Colour songs during an interview with Calhoun last year, and he suggested that the human rights issues that the band writes about will always need to be fought for – regardless of  which government is in power. Issues like discrimination, racism and gentrification are still just as prevalent in society now as they were decades ago.

And of course, the music is still excellent. It’s fascinating how the songs have evolved as the band have played them over the years – speeding up parts, adding different fills and flourishes, adding and extending some sections, and breaking down other segments. Its only natural that the band would change how they play things over such a period. Heck, in a hilarious recent interview with May The Rock Be With You, guitarist Vernon Reid confessed that he plays completely different solos in different pressings of the same song.

Vernon Reid Living Colour San Fran Wellington

Singer Corey Glover is phenomenal, no doubt about it. He can switch from soul to hip hop to hard rock with ease, and this was most apparent during “(Open Letter) To A Landlord”. He really broke the song down, showing off his impressive vocal range with powerful trilling. The crowd reciprocated towards the end, loudly singing the chorus back at the band. It sounded great.

Vivid was the name of the game, but that didn’t stop the band from visiting other albums. They played two tracks from last year’s Shade: “Freedom of Expression”, and my favourite from the record: “Come On”. It’s a shame that the cover of Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya?” got dropped from the set, because their hard rock interpretation of the hip hop classic is fantastic.

Living Colour San Fran Wellington

Not only did Glover have vocal chops, but good banter too. He had many comical exchanges with Reid throughout the night, the two of them sniping at each other like an old married couple. This is the third time I’ve seen the two of them together on stage, but it’s still just as funny now.

“These are old songs” Glover shared. Reid shot him a look. “No, they are,” Glover continued, “They’re really old and that’s the truth. Some of y’all weren’t even born when these songs came out.” I had a little giggle at that one, seeing that the statement applied to me.

At times it felt like the band verged on overplaying, to the point of doing a disservice to the songs by being too flashy. I guess it’s hard for musicians of that calibre to hold back when they have such talent they can draw upon. But they came here to put on a show, and they sure succeeded in doing so.

My highlight of the set was Doug Wimbash’s bass solo. Wimbash boasted the biggest pedal board I’ve ever seen a bass player use [ironically, master bass player Thundercat has the most minimalist bass pedal setup I’ve noticed]. He dedicated his song to his wife and the lovers in the crowd before launching into sounds I didn’t even think possible from a bass guitar. He created layers using a looping pedal, building it up to an expansive track that swept us away. It was fun to watch too, because he would act out the sounds as he played them, sweeping from side to side as he used his wah pedal, or mouthing the sounds as he accented certain notes.

Doug Wimbash Living Colour San Fran Wellington

Calhoun also had a solo later in the set. You can probably already tell I’m a big fan, but he deserves the praise. First of all: he’s just a fantastic player. He’s all over the kit, tastefully colouring in the sound with all percussive means at his disposal, and throwing in plenty of metal blast beats just to mix things up. Secondly: he’s innovative. He has all manner of weird and wacky custom cymbals, drums and hardware that he helps to design, but his solo takes him beyond drumming when he uses electronic hand drums and modulators. During his solo he took time out from behind the kit to lay down an electronic track with looping pedals, before returning to the drum set to play over the music he’d just formed. A truly next-level musician who thinks beyond the constraints of his instrument.

For the encore, Reid was about to launch into a spiel, but caught himself and just offered: “You’ll know when you hear the guitar line”. Sure enough, he played the recognisable chords to Soundgarden’s “Blow Up The Outside World” and nothing more needed to be said. Chris Cornell’s death impacted rock fans around the world, so this rousing tribute came as no surprise.

It was their second cover of the night, the other being “Memories Can’t Wait”, by CBGB’s contemporaries Talking Heads.

Doug Wimbash Living Colour San Fran Wellington

They finished the night reinforcing just how diverse and able they are, transitioning from the furious thrash metal of “Time’s Up” to the infectious funky call and response of “”What’s Your Favourite Colour?”. Both songs were extremely fun to dance to in their own ways.

I watched the crowd disperse after the show and noticed that a number of notable NZ musicians had been in attendance, such as Rhian Sheehan, Steve Bremner and Jakob drummer Jason Johnston. To me, that’s as good as any indication that Living Colour have got the goods – if some of the best in the game show up for the gig.

And it was damn good. Sure, there were a few technical hitches, but Living Colour are some of the best musicans I could name. I’m still shocked that they came to play a small bar in Wellington, but I’m stoked that they did.

Living Colour Set List San Fran Wellington
The set list. 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Shihad at Shed 6, Wellington

Shihad 30 Tour Poster
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Shihad 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Villainy and Beastwars
Shed 6, Wellington
Saturday 20 October 2018

The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the middle-aged men dancing at the front. I teach toddlers for a living, but not even three-year-olds rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack could match the levels of uninhibited dancing I saw during Villainy’s set.

I mean, these guys were really giving it their all. There’s something truly wondrous about seeing man with grey hair prancing around playing air guitar and enjoying themselves so much. In fact, a good portion of the crowd were lapping up Villainy’s show.

I’ve never paid much attention to Villainy. I know I’ve seen them play a bunch of times but I couldn’t say when. Sad to hear from a music reviewer, I know, but I’ve always dismissed them as one of the many generic radio-rock bands that New Zealand pumps out. But they played well, and maybe I need to reconsider my opinion on them. The final song was a real crowd pleaser, with a melody lifted from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”.

Hearing Beastwars announced as a support slot was a great surprise. I thought that the show they played at San Fran in July was the last Wellington show planned for some time, if not for good. Beastwars went on hiatus a while back after releasing their last album for a variety of reasons: infighting during the recording process, frontman Matt Hyde battling cancer, and drummer Nathan Hickey emigrating to Europe. They’d only ever planned on releasing a trilogy of albums, so with their planned output completed, there was no guarantee that the band would continue. But thankfully they are back – or at least for this Shihad tour and a few upcoming dates in Oz.

As always, watching Beastwars play was an immersive experience. Hearing the distinctive chugging of “Damn The Sky” (my favourite Beastwars song) made me cry out in joy as they started their set, and they didn’t relent with their offerings until finished. In some ways, they’re New Zealand’s answer to Killing Joke. They draw you in with oppressive riffs and primal drumming, creating a captivating ritual. Hyde summons up God-knows-what and uses the process to purge himself of demons.

As great as it was to see Beastwars unleash the riff again, they were no match for Shihad. This tour marks 30 years since Shihad formed as teenagers, and their experience shows. They’re seasoned veterans of the stage who have refined their art of rocking to perfection.

30 years to hone their abilities. Tom Larkin, as always, is a monster behind the kit. He always sounds amazing, whether whipping out thrash-metal blast beats or just holding down a groove. His backing vocals were more noticeable than usual tonight, as he sung into his gooseneck microphone. Karl Kippenberger helps with the groove, always looking effortlessly cool. And Phil Knight lets his playing do the talking, bringing the riffs and the solos.

Shihad have nine studio albums out now. I can think of a few times that I’ve seen them play a set spanning their whole career,picking a track or two from each record, and playing through them chronologically. It’s a smart move, ensuing that they please fans old and new.

This time they’ve taken the same idea and reversed it. They commenced with “Think You’re So Free”, from latest album FVEY, and worked their way backwards, playing a song or two from each record. “Think You’re So Free” is venomous and powerful, as is “FVEY” – both tracks a commentary on society, and protest against the then-government and world powers who control our lives.

Love Is The New Hate’s “Alive” felt slightly jarring after the throbbing dance-beat of “Sleepeater” and poppiness of “One Will Hear The Other”, but “All The Young Fascists” signaled that we were approaching Shihad’s golden era that balanced commercial appeal with a heavier rock edge.

I saw Jon Toogood front The Adults at Meow recently, and it was obvious how at home he feels on stage these days. He acted slightly different in this context though. The Adults show felt more intimate and relaxed, whereas here he seemed more professional. That is, if you could consider someone encouraging the crowd to shout swear words “professional”. You can never tell if an artist is just paying lip service or not when they say how great the audience is, but I would suggest that he was genuinely touched at seeing a sold-out venue full of die-hard fans in his hometown.

He gave a special shout-out to a young boy sat upon his Dad’s shoulders and wearing an AC/DC shirt. “This is the future of rock and roll!” Toogood announced, “Kid, one day you’re going to be up here doing my job. Just don’t become a fuckin’ DJ!”

Pacifier was a contentious time for the band, when they changed their name in an attempt to break into the American market. Some people hate it, but it has some great tracks on it. The two that got played tonight were “Comfort Me”, and the anthemic “Run”

Next up was The General Electric. TGE came out 20 years ago, so Shihad have just remastered it and released it on vinyl for the first time. To celebrate, they played about a third of the record.

I’ve seen Shihad play all of TGE live on two occasions (at San Fran in 2010, and at Big Day Out the following year) and, tell you what – this time was just as great. The band went backstage for a breather while Toogood serenaded us with the synth-ballad “Brightest Star”, before coming back in force with the furious “My Mind’s Sedate”.

If you’ve ever seen the band play “The General Electric” and “Wait and See”, then you’ll understand with songs from this album always dominate Shihad sets. They’re energetic, dynamic. They make you want to move and jump about. Clearly Toogood got swept up in the excitement too, finishing “Wait and See” with a stage dive, before accidentally dropping his microphone, and sheepishly waiting while a tech fetched it back for him from under the drum riser.

Toogood encouraged everyone to pull out their phones and lighters to wave them in the air for the classic ballad “Pacifier”. The stage lights dimmed, unneeded due to the glow emitted from the hundreds of screens.

The self-titled album – referred to as The Fish Album by some, gave us “Home Again” – one of the bands most enduring songs – and “La La Land”. Killjoy offered the immersive synth drenched “Deb’s Night Out”, and the vitriolic accusing “You Again”.

Which brings us to the début album Churn. The industrial-meets-speed-metal record that first came out back in 1994. “Factory” is an intricate song filled with malice. I imagine that they rehearsed this one a lot, because it would be incredibly unforgiving if they weren’t absolutely in sync with each other.

Yesterday Shihad played in Christchurch, and put up a poll on Facebook so the fans could vote on which song they wanted to hear for an encore [it was “Bitter”]. Tonight the band chose to play “Cheap As” – Toogood’s favourite riff, he revealed. It was a neat way to highlight the band’s evolution, playing the first track from their début album, and then the last song from their latest album. Both are crushingly heavy, abrasive and politically charged. And in between those two songs we had ballads and anthems, tastes of pop and metal, synth-backed dance tunes, somber love songs, and hard hitting rock numbers.

30 years. Nine albums. A sold-out hometown show. It’s one hell of a legacy, but it’s not even close to over. Shihad have been one of my favourite bands since I was a teenager, and they reaffirm why I love them so much every time I see them play.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Alien Weaponry – Tū

Alien Weaponry Tū
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Mythical Māori figure Tūmatauenga is known as the god of war, among other things. That should give you a fair idea of what to expect when considering that metal trio Alien Weaponry have named their debut album after him.

 commences with “Waikōrero”, a haunting welcome recorded in some Waipu caves. The air hisses and hums as a purerehua [Māori bullroarer – literally translates as moth/butterfly] spins around overhead, while koauau [traditional flute] pierces the atmosphere with shrillness. Henry de Jong recites a welcome in his native tongue. This is how you set the mood.

Which makes the hard-hitting aggressive nature of first song “Rū Ana Te Whenua” all the more powerful by comparison “Listen up!” they cry: hear our message! Cue savage riffs and frenetic blast beats as they chant about the forces of nature unleashing. Death is coming! They reference caves where the dead lie resting, possibly similar to the caves where they recorded the “Waikōrero”. All this mention of death and destruction works in well with the heavy nature of the music, especially considering the warrior-like cries that the band emulate. The boys derived inspiration for the track from the stories of their tupuna [ancestor], Te Ahoaho, who fought the British at a notable battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) in 1864.

I should mention that most songs on this album are not sung in English. New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori, and NZ Sign Language. [Surprisingly English isn’t an “official” language of NZ, although may as well be considered so by default]. Obviously sign isn’t going to feature in audio music recordings. And Māori is criminally under-represented.

Which makes Alien Weaponry unique, even within New Zealand. Sure, we’ve got a few token songs sung in te reo that charted here and there. Taika Waititi’s film Boy brought “Poi E” back to public conscious in 2010. I still remember the goosebumps I got when watching Tiki Tane perform “Tangaroa” at the NZVMAs as a teenager. Personally, the only use of reo I had in my music collection before Alien Weaponry was Kerretta using a karanga on “Kawea Tātou Ki Ngā Hiwi“.

This is obviously a big point of difference for the band. And it’s done with authenticity. The haunting mournful cries reflect karanga, and the strong chants could be compared to haka and war songs. They even use traditional instruments, which are effective in setting the tone as well as adding cultural value to the music.

Don’t let this put you off. You may not understand it all (I don’t), but this does little to detract from the music. I think it enhances the music by adding unique elements. Half of the tracks on the album are written in English anyway, with many songs also featuring dual languages.

Alien Weaponry

Lewis de Jong playing in Porirua on Waitangi Day. Image: Joseph James (Will Not Fade)

They touch on some heavy themes. “Holding my Breath” looks at struggling with anxiety, “PC Bro” explores the effects of social media, and how we can create false realities through it, and “Nobody Here” also explores the addictive nature of it. Fighting racism and retaining cultural identity are themes woven all throughout.

There’s also more than a few nods to their whakapapa [family history], with references to pre-colonial times and New Zealand historical events that happened once the European settlers arrived. “Kai Tangata” – the name a reference to war parties and cannibalistic practice – looks at how one Ngapuhi iwi [tribe] slaughtered another iwi with the use of muskets, which obviously outmatched traditional weapons that Te Arawa possessed. “Urutaa” tells a tale of how Europeans brought illness that Māori had no immunity against, which led to misunderstanding and paranoia.

“Raupatu” – the standout track on the album – is heavy, memorable and features a brutal breakdown. It translates as “Confiscated”, and discusses how the colonist government stole the lands from the native peoples, and set about trying to destroy Māori rights and identity. For many years Māori children were beaten at school for speaking their own language, the language that Alien Weaponry sing. But the message from the bridge is unmistakable:

“You take and take 
But you cannot take from who we are 
You cannot take our mana – (dignity)
You cannot take our māoritanga – (cultural identity)
You cannot take our people 
You cannot take our whakapapa – (family heritage)
You cannot take, you cannot take 
Raupatu!”

One criticism (if you can call it that) is that the sample at the start of “Whispers” is an interview with prominently racist politician Don Brash. The problem with this is that he is a lazy and ignorant man, and mispronounces the word ‘Māori’. I just wonder if international listeners would think that this is correct pronunciation, considering that they’d have no reason to know otherwise.

The production is decent. Tom Larkin from Shihad played a part in production, which earns them bonus points from me. I could certainly see an extra guitar coming in useful for filling out the sound, but they trio sound damn good for just a a three piece. And although it is thrash metal, they use dynamics well, as well as the traditional Māori instruments already mentioned, so it’s not all just a chug-fest that gets tired quick.

Put simply – this is an incredible release. A strong statement both musically and thematically, and all the more impressive when you consider that three school boys are behind it all. I am proud of Alien Weaponry for what they have achieved to date (including raising over USD $12,000 to record this album, and signing to Napalm Records), and can only see them gaining more success as they introduce their strong cultural identity to the world.


Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com

Bandcamp: https://alienweaponry.bandcamp.com/album/t-2

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry

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

 

Joseph James

See also:

NGĀ TAMATOA WAIATA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALIEN WEAPONRY (November 2017)