Live Review: Frank Turner at San Fran, Wellington (2x shows)

Frank Turner NZ Be More Kind Poster
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Frank Turner (solo) – Show 2284

Matinee show

San Fran, Wellington

Thursday 29 November 2018

It was April 2015 when Frank Turner last played Wellington. He’s since released two albums, Positive Songs For Negative People (2015), and Be More Kind (2018). That show he played at Meow was #1666, and today was #2284 and #2285, which just goes to show how often he plays.

When first announced, this date was billed as a solo show. I was disappointed, but still planned on going. Then plans changed: The Sleeping Souls were also coming to play with Frank – yay! Tickets promptly sold out, so Turner opted to play a second set for those who missed out – a solo matinee set. Double yay – two Frank Turner gigs in one day.

I’d taken half the day off work to make sure that I could get here in time for the 5pm start. I obviously don’t go to matinee shows much, because I couldn’t get over how bright the venue was in the day. Aren’t bar venues supposed to be dark and dingy? Not that it mattered, because I was about to see one of my favourite artists play.

Frank Turner San Fran Wellington

This was my fourth time seeing Turner play, and it felt different. Dressed casually, and armed with an acoustic guitar, he rewarded his fans by playing a both hits and deep cuts, spanning his solo career. As you can imagine, he drew largely from his most recent album, but he covered the essentials, as well as some unexpected numbers.

I’ve been having a hard time recently, and this set was just the remedy I needed. Hearing Turner open with the gentle encouragement of “Don’t Worry” washed away all the turbulent crap filling my head and eased me into the moment.

And soon I was dancing and singing along to his rousing tunes. His recent albums bore themes of positivity and kindness, which did wonders to bring the mood up in the venue. Turner always encourages participation at his shows, coaching us to sing along with him.

That said, a solo acoustic show is the perfect setting in which to play slower tunes, such as “Song For Eva Mae” and “Journey Of The Magi”. But those moments didn’t last long, with Turner infectiously turning the intensity up throughout the set. I would have loved to her “There She Is” again, having fallen in love with the song when I saw him play it in Vancouver last year, but he did play 18 songs… as a warm up… so I shan’t complain.

Turner was as charming as always, dropping funny anecdotes about sitting next to a doomsday prepper on a flight, and screaming at the band Slayer in a petrol station at 3am one morning. Intimate shows like this are a great setting for artists to open up and share the stories behind the songs [another similar one that jumps to mind was when I saw Into It. Over It. in Melbourne].

Frank Turner San Fran Wellington

His voice was sounding fairly hoarse by the end of the set. I know he recently cancelled an instore show in Dusseldorf last week to give his voice a break, which leaves me wondering how he is going to hold up later tonight.

It was a fantastic show, and I’m glad that I chose to attend this set as well as the main one, but something was lacking. Certain songs just needed that extra oomph that only a band could offer. I’m looking forward to the real deal later on.

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Show 2285

w/ The Hard Aches and Emily Barker

I walked home to my nearby apartment to grab something to eat, draft up my review and upload the data to setlist.fm, before promptly returning for the second show.

Emily Barker played country/folk with a tinge of danger – similar to Emma Ruth Rundle at times. I was surprised that Turner didn’t come out to reprise his part on Barker’s song “Fields of June” – like he’d done with Jon Snodgrass when playing Buddies material last time they were in town – but I guess that he needed to rest his voice as much as he could. It sounded weird hearing country/Americana styled music from someone with an Australian accent, but Barker pulled it off with no worries.

Emily Barker San Fran Wellington

Emily Barker

I preferred Barker’s countrymates The Hard Aches, a punk duo who boasted an impressive sound for just two people. Royal Blood make way, because The Hard Aches are going to give you a run for your money! Their sound was energetic and fun, with great vocal harmonies. They sounded familiar, without me being able to put my finger exactly on who they reminded me of. Some of their music was snotty punk with strong Aussie accents, but a lot of songs featured deceptively mature songwriting.

The Hard Aches San Fran Wellington

The Hard Aches

You know how I mentioned before that Turner’s first set was great, but lacked something? Well, this time that void was well and truly filled. The Sleeping Souls are a well oiled machine – as you can well imagine after having played literally thousands of shows together. Their collective experience shows because they’re hella tight, and great showmen.

Obviously they were always going to draw heavily from the last record on the Be More Kind Tour, but the entire first half of the set was from the last three albums. I guess they haven’t played in New Zealand since releasing the past two records, so they needed to cover some of that material.

But it’s the older material (first four records) that the crowd really lapped up, singing along to wholeheartedly. Turner openly admitted that he was struggling with his voice by this stage, so welcomed the help from the “Wellington Gospel Choir”.

Turner took on a secondary solo spell for the night, playing calmer numbers “The Lifeboat” (a deviation from the planned set because it was requested and easy to sing) and “Glorious You”. But from there on in it was all go, with crowd favourite sing-alongs and mosh pits. Each song seemed sequentially better than the last.

The first three songs during the encore had also featured earlier in the night during the solo set, but felt fully fleshed out and full of vigor this time. Everyone was whipped into a dance frenzy for “Four Simple Words”

Frank Turner preaches a lot about his idealised punk-rock world, where people care for each other and can tolerate differential viewpoints without resorting to them-and-us politics. Where we can link arms with strangers and sing and dance together despite our differences. And although I’m sure he says virtually the same thing at every show, I think that he genuinely believes in his message of community. During the final song “Polaroid Picture” he substituted a line about London venue The Astoria closing down for Wellington’s own Bodega. This showed his awareness for our local music scene, and that he truly places importance on live music and how it can bring people together. A subtle difference that I really appreciated when I picked up on it.

Tonight I got to see one of my favourite musicians play a whopping 43 songs. And it was awesome. I got to see the intimate, poetic side to him, as well as the road-weathered master showman. And I feel incredibly blessed for it. If you get the chance to see Frank and the Sleeping Souls play, seize the opportunity!

 

Frank Turner San Fran Wellington set list

Turner switched “Long Live The Queen” for “The Lifeboat”

Words and photos by Joseph James

Album Review: Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion

Winter Dust Sense By Erosion cover
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I’m going to make a bold claim.

The 2015 EP Thresholds by Italian sextet Winter Dust is one of the best releases you’ll find in the world of post-rock.

I still remember when I first heard Winter Dust. It was during a walk to work on a frosty winter morning. I used to love that time of morning, and used those walks as an opportunity to get into a good frame of mind for the day ahead. It was especially cold. The grass on the park was coated in white crystals, and I blew jets of steam with every breath. I had headphones on and was listening through the new Open Language compilation that A Thousand Arms had recently released.

It was a good collection of songs. I already knew a handful of tracks, from the likes of Tides of Man, I/O, Ranges, We Lost The Sea and Dumbsaint. But many bands were new to me.

The one that stopped me in my tracks was “There”, by Winter Dust.

That night I logged onto Bandcamp and downloaded Thresholds as soon as I got home. Months later a vinyl copy arrived in the post [I believe the first order got lost in the post so they sent me another]. I love that EP so much.

And now we have a follow-up: Sense By Erosion.

It’s exactly what I wanted: Thresholds, but more. Intense emotion, anguished hardcore vocals, sublime instrumental passages and visceral dynamics.

The many Marco’s have exceeded themselves this time. (four of the band members have the same name, along with Fabio and Carlo). Some of them live in separate countries, so I can’t begin to fathom how they managed to write this masterpiece. Yes, the internet is amazing, but nothing can substitute human contact when you’re communicating and creating with each other.

Sense By Erosion starts of as many post-rock releases do: softly building up. The track “Quiet January” quietly loops on itself, building with intensity as dialogue plays in the background. Then, just as it built up, it then slowly decays in waves.

“Duration Of Gloom” continues the build up with a good groove, slowly growing. The playful melody that floats above the main riff is a nice use of treble. Then BAM, distortion and cathartic roaring. I always find it fascinating when foreign bands choose to sing in English. Then again, I can hardly tell what they’re saying unless I pay close attention anyway. These post-hardcore vocals are one of the marked improvements that Thresholds and Sense By Erosion have over Winter Dust’s earlier output, giving the music a huge injection of urgency and feeling.

This song has me sighing with delight. This is what I want: emotional, energetic music that kicks me right in the feels and leaves me winded. Just like with Thresholds, I feel so consumed and swept away by the music. It’s so engrossing: Hard hitting drums, tremolo guitar, and a raw undercurrent. Then, once you think it’s all over, a calm bridge to let you catch your breath and ease you into a false sense of security. Before BAM, back into the intensity. If you listen carefully during the soft outro, you’ll hear church bells faintly ringing in the distance.

If you can’t tell yet, I’m a big fan. Loud or quiet; heavy or soft; sung or instrumental, Winter Dust just nail the mood.

At first, “All My Friends Are Leaving Town” seems like a softer song, although it picks up later on. One passage features a weird reversed effect. Maybe they’ve subtly backmasked messages that brainwash me into loving the music?

“Composition Of Gloom” is the second song with the word ‘gloom’ in the title. Funnily enough, the absence of vocals makes it feel like an interlude, despite the fact that one of the defining aspects of the post-rock genre is lack of singing. That, and the fact that it’s the shortest song.

Again, “Disharmony” is by no means weaker, but the lack of vocals is noticeable. Ironically enough, I found lead single “Cruel Jane” is one of the songs that makes the least impact for me, with the first half feeling soft and meandering. This is not to say these songs are bad, but they don’t offer as much oomph as the tracks from the first half of the record.

Their blurb on Bandcamp states “Our new album is ideally divided in two, the nervous part and the heartening part. It’s a record about leaving people, leaving places, parting ways, losing things.” This makes total sense. And I’m not sure what that says about me, that I prefer the nervous part, but as you can tell, I’m very much drawn to those songs.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear much piano in the mix throughout this album, but they make up for it with album closer “Stay”. After a tumultuous emotional ride, this is the touch of hope at the end of the album to send us on our way in good spirits, with a parting gift of ambient tranquility.

I simply love this album. I feel so strongly about it, but at the same time find it hard to articulate exactly why. I think the intense evocative nature of the music certainly resonates with me in a way that few others can. By taking the beauty of post-rock, the intensity of hardcore and the emotional aspects of emo, Winter Dust have fused their own sound that ticks all the right boxes for me.

Thresholds EP, was an underrated masterpiece. Sense of Erosion is the logical progression: taking all components of its predecessor, and building upon them to create something longer and more fully realised. I had high expectations of this album, and I’m delighted to say they’ve been met.

Winter Dust

Winter Dust links:

Bandcamp: https://winter-dust.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/winterdustmusic

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

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1wcxnlsMklfqJ_QurUuGVQ

Joseph James

Album Review: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto

Tenacious D Post-Apocalypto
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Tenacious D have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re misogynistic, juvenile and crude, but at the same time I do find some of their content funny, and they know how to rock. I guess the same could be said about Jack Black, who has had gold moments throughout his acting career (namely School of Rock), but mostly boasts lemons. He’s a slightly more reliable Adam Sandler, but I still have a soft spot for his work.

Post-Apocalypto is their fourth full length album. Like The Pick of Destiny, it is a soundtrack. It follows a YouTube webseries that has played out over the past month, featuring the songs and snippets of dialogue from the show.

Both Black and partner Kyle Gass are comedic actors, so writing funny songs with narrative suit their strengths. I’ve seen them play three times, and although it can feel slightly forced, the story arc that carries through their shows is fun, and allows them to play with theatrical flair.

The narrative for this record doesn’t quite work though. I still enjoy the skits from their first record, which were silly stand-alone pieces. But the skits on this new album are just snippets from the web series used to advance the story. This should help to provide context for those who haven’t watched the series, but there isn’t enough to fill in all the plot points of the story-line. I think they would have been wiser to have an all-or-nothing approach, and should have left the snippets out, instead of sprinkling an inadequate amount throughout.

Post-Apocalypto (the web series) was a painful watch. Like I’ve said, I’m a fan, so forced myself through it, but didn’t feel rewarded for my efforts. I hesitate to call it an animation, but more a selection of Black’s hand-drawn stills to give visual reference for the audio. It’s a sci-fi series that explored Tenacious D trying to survive in a (you guessed it) apocalyptic wasteland. Along the way they adopt a three-headed dog, battle genital monsters, fight Nazis and travel to space.

Tenacious D have always been crass, but I was shocked at the many gratuitous sex scenes. But then again, it’s exactly what I should have expected – it was just visual this time. It’s a political show too, with The D taking shots at Trump and Nazis. I guess the timing is appropriate, with approaching elections in America, but only time will tell how fast these political and pop culture references will date the album.

The songs are short. It makes sense, they fit within short episodes. And The D have plenty of short, furious songs with impact. But still, this entire album lasts half an hour, and that’s with skits padding it out. They could have at least fleshed out a few of the songs so that the album lasted longer. The title theme offers plenty of potential for extension, but feels incomplete as is.

And they’ve done their fair share of ballads in the past too, but almost all of the songs on this album are ballads, leaving me wondering what happened to the band that once won a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance”.

It’s not all bad though. Black’s voice acting shines through. You really feel for Terminator’s lament in “Robot” (despite the odd Arnie-esque accent). The redneck Nazi’s sound so thick that you really want to believe that they’re all really that dense.

“Hope” is arguably the best of the ballads, and most rousing. The D explore new musical horizons with “JB JR Rap”, rapped in a hoarse voice and complete with an autotuned section. To be honest, most of the album is Classic D, albeit shorter and less rocking.

The D have a long history with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Grohl has drummed on all of their records to date, and the trio have featured in a number of each other’s videos. The first time I saw The D live was opening for Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland, where the crowd jumped up and down enough to trigger minor earthquakes [It sounds absurd, but it’s true!]. Black has also guest starred on one of Grohl’s Probot tracks, “The Warlock“.

As you’d expect, Grohl’s drumming is on point. He’s long been known as a powerhouse drummer since his Nirvana days, and has collaborated with such a range of rock royalty that it has almost become a meme. You can hear unmistakably in the title theme – a rehash of an old unreleased bridge (Rolling Thunder) that the band cut from their song “Rize of the Fenix” (off their last record). “Daddy Ding Dong” also has Grohl written all over it, one of the few stand-out rock of the soundtrack that venture into metal territory, as does “Woman Time”, with awesome Dio-esque vocals.

In short: Post-Apocalypto not a great album. Just as their other soundtrack, Pick of Destiny doesn’t compare well to the other albums, this one feels weak too. It is entirely in keeping with the Tenacious D brand, being puerile and budget, but doesn’t rock enough. Only the most loyal fans will appreciate it, and I doubt even they will revisit it after the initial listens. If you’re interested in it, at least watch the web-series so that you can hear the songs with context. I hope this isn’t the end of The D, but if they do release new music in the future, they’d be best to write without a constraining concept.

Tenacious D links:

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

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

Website: https://www.tenaciousd.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealTenaciousD

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

 

EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
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Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

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

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