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.