Scattering The Rats: An Interview with Donita Sparks of L7

L7
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Mina Perniskie (lead signer of Wellington’s own Secrets of the Sun) chats on the phone with the indomitable DONITA SPARKS of LA band L7. Mina is a longtime fan of L7, first hearing them as a teenager. Her 14 year old self was fan-girling hard during this interview.

Having formed in 1985 with raucous genre defying blend of metal, punk and pop, L7 are back with new album Scatter The Rats. L7 are in their element as a live band, and have a tour of Australia and New Zealand lined up for May. Make sure to get along to one of the shows to get your face ripped off.


Mina Perniskie: I was really excited to see that L7 were coming to NZ, and I believe this is your first time coming to NZ with L7 is that correct?? I know you have been to Australia in the past.

Donita Sparks: I think we were in NZ in either 1992 or 1993, we’ve been there once.

It’s been a while obviously, are you excited to be coming here?

We’re very excited to be coming to NZ.  We were really disappointed that last time we went to Australia, we did not come to NZ, and we thought you guys hated us! We were like, why aren’t we playing Auckland at least? So we’re happy to be playing there now.

And you have two shows, Wellington and Auckland! After a long hiatus you’ve been playing together again now for about 6 years?

I think we reformed in 2016, yeah those were our first reunion shows so this will be our fifth year back, which is crazy!

You are obviously a very influential band, so how does it feel over the last couple of years in particular to be able to write new music, get out a new album Scatter the Rats and tour again after kind of a long hiatus?  Do you feel that this is a great climate for a comeback if you will? With your legacy as well?

Well, it’s been amazing.  There’s a documentary on us that’s out called Pretend We’re Dead.  That was coming out, and then we were thinking about doing some reunion shows, and then that kind of happened. And then we were thinking about well let’s do some new music, because if we want to keep touring, none of us wanted to be like an ‘oldies band’ or something, you know what I mean?  You can’t just keep on doing a reunion tour forever, you know! So that’s why last year we put out Scatter the Rats and we’re super happy about the way it came out.  And it’s great, because we’re still touring that record, and there are spots in the world that we haven’t hit yet with it. It’s exciting again.

You can probably find new fans as well as reminding your older fans that you’re around as well with new music, so that’s great.  Your music has always been great and to me really aggressive but in a fun way. It’s soo heavy hitting and I think in the current political and general climate of the world it’s great to have L7 back out there and touring.

We’ve always been heavy hitting and we’ve always had melody in our heavy hitting as well so we’re not just a metal band, we’re not just a punk band and we’re not just a pop band, we’re like all three combined you know? (laughs).  We like a good catchy melody, and we also like aggression and we also like to slow it down every now and then too and play something a bit more introspective maybe.

Absolutely. It’s quite hard to pin down L7 down to one genre, it covers multitudes. Do you like talking about genre, or is it kind of annoying?  I personally hate talking genre, it’s like people have to pin you down to one box. Alternative rock kind of covers it but people want something more specific.

Well I suppose it’s important if your readership or your listening audience has never heard the band.  Most bands that I love are sort of genre defying. You might think “oh you may think they’re this, but then argh there’s this curveball and I never expected them to do this  kind of a song”! Those are the most interesting bands to me. So we’re cool if people wanna talk about it. Listen some people think we’re a heavy metal band you know? But we’re actually from the art punk scene in mid 80s Los Angeles. So we are not even from a metal scene  So we’re cool discussing genre and all that stuff. It’s a valid train of thought I suppose

With having multiple style and taste and influence as a band, you’re quite a collaborative band with all of you contributing to the music.  Is that kind of fun, do you all have different tastes and things that that you bring into the music?

What brings us together is the music, and I think that we all like the different corners and pockets of our band musically.  So any one of us can bring in a song that’s gonna sound like L7. As long as we’ve got Dee playing drums, and us with distortion.. just the way we play is very L7.  It’s almost like anything that comes in is gonna sound like an L7  song. So it works you know. And If we have to make some additions or changes to it we’ll do that too.   But we’re not afraid to play any genre of music. We’ve played songs that just have reverb guitar, no distortion at all.  I’m a sucker for hand claps, and for bongos! Some people think we’re just metal but it’s like what are bongos then? I like surf music. So..there’s that.

True. I was listening to one of your songs and noticed it has a surf element, I think it was “Mr Integrity”.

Yeah and that has bongos! And hand claps. And surf guitar. So it’s like you know (laughs).. and it rocks.

I think that’s what makes L7 fun.  Because you do all these things and it’s surprising and interesting, you know?

I think we feel pretty free to kind of just throw in whatever elements.  I think maybe some bands are afraid to do that, because they are in a very tight narrow genre.  And my God if they fucking break that genre well they’re fucked! Because their fans will not forgive them. But with us it’s like ‘OK whatever, you’re not gonna forgive us you don’t have to be our fan anymore’.  OK fine, you don’t dig it? Go listen to…whatever’.

 

There’s plenty of stuff out there and they don’t listen to you …but hopefully they do! My next question.. so this is around the whole gender issue and you guys probably get sick of talking about this to a point, but I’m gonna ask the question. And quoting from the documentary as well,  you said you ‘wished the whole gender thing would go away’ and ‘please recognise us for our rock’. Do you feel that you’ve achieved this on the whole or is this still an issue today? I feel as women in rock we have achieved some measure of respect now, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But I still think it’s a thing.  What’s your view on that?

Well, we had respect from the get go, from our peers and from rock audiences.  Pretty much. It was sort of the guys with the power, the money guys, the business suit guys who were really kind of for whatever reason afraid to let go of the power.  I think we’ve always transcended our gender. I don’t think anybody really fucking cares.

My objective with the band when we started out, I didn’t want a name that revealed our gender. I was like ‘L7’.  I didn’t want The ‘blah blah blah Girls’ or anything like that. I was just like No. I want people to hear our music and not be able to tell what gender we are. And we definitely achieved that. So yeah I feel great.  Listen, if you were a Doctor 100 years ago, you were a ‘Lady Doctor’..it didn’t matter if you were the best doctor on the fucking planet. So you know, it’s all growing pains and its all you know, somebody’s gotta be the fucking avant garde, in terms of you’re out there first, or second, or third..whatever.  I think in the rock circles we hold our own, and yeah.

I definitely think so.  I’m really looking forward to the show.  When I heard that you were coming and there were tickets  I was like, I’m in there! Done! It’ll be a great show. I’m sure you rock just as hard as ever.  Watching the documentary I was just like…the raw power, the fun..it’s soo rock. So I’m really looking forward to seeing that in person, with my own eyeballs and my own ears!

I feel and I think the whole band feels this way too, that we’re a better live band than on record. We’ve had producers and engineers spend like a month on one of our records and then they go see us live and they say ‘What the fuck have we been doing for the last month!?’.  Because there is this connectivity when we’re on stage together and you feel the power of the band that you just can’t capture sometimes in a recording studio.  So if you want to see us in our element, come see us live.

See you live.  Absolutely. Excellent. Well I think that’s about our time up isn’t it?

Hey, I do wanna tell you one thing though.  We did a collaboration with Joan Jett. We did a cover of her song ‘Fake Friends’ and she’s on our version, singing and playing guitar. We’re going to be releasing that just for the Australia & NZ tour.  So that’s gonna be available just in that market as a single. So you can throw that out there!

Oh wow! Awesome, I will definitely be throwing that out there.  That’s a little tidbit just for Kiwis, I guess. And Australians. That’s awesome news!

That’s exactly right.  Cool!

Was great to speak with you, thank you so much.  I’m really really looking forward to the show when you’re here!

Thanks! We will see you in NZ, finally!

 


Here’s a playlist of Mina’s favourite L7 songs:


Ticket link for L7’s upcoming Australia and New Zealand tour: https://sbmpresents.com/tour/l7/

L7 Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live Review: Bob Log III and Labretta Suede & The Motel 6

Bob Log III Valahalla
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Bob Log III Labretta Suede Motel 6 poster

Bob Log III

w/ Labretta Suede & The Motel 6

Valhalla, Wellington

Thursday 9 May 2018

Picture – if you will – a venn diagram. This diagram represents most live musical acts. In one circle there are technically proficient bands that you’d see because you can appreciate how well they play (such as an orchestra); and in the other are bands that you wouldn’t usually listen to, but you know they’d put on an awesome show. An example for the latter category is German metallers Rammstein. They sounded damn awful when I saw them play, but their notorious live spectacle of pyrotechnics and stage theatrics makes them an unmissable act.

Obviously there is crossover within this diagram – bands who play well and put on a great show (Iron Maiden being the finest example I’ve come across in both respects), but given the choice, I’ll take the option of a wild spectacle anyday.

Which is why I missed notable punk band Propagandhi last night to see some backwards sounding novelty act from Arizona.

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Labretta Suede Johnny Moondog Valhalla


Opening the night was Labretta Suede & The Motel 6, an NZ band who have made the shift to the States in recent years. Fronted by the larger-than-life Mrs Suede, they offer an entertaining mix that I’d compare to a rockabilly B-52s. Boosting a recent line-up change with a fresh rhythm section, they played a fun set that got the mostly-full venue grooving.

Labretta herself was the centre of attention. She wore a bra and some high waisted shorts that did little to cover much, with a large flower in her hair. She gyrated about the stage, contorting into crazy positions and standing upon the stage rail above the crowd. To her right was her hubby, Johnny Moondog, on guitar, with long hair, sunglasses and a tassled sleeveless shirt. And to her left was the young guitarist, Tweedy Bird – a muscly hulk in a tank top. He copped a lot of flack for being the young one, who hadn’t played in any bands before, but looked like he deserved his spot – experienced or not. Visually, Boots the drummer (of Sticky Filth fame) didn’t appear to fit in with the odd band, but his beats and grooves show that looks can be deceiving.

And then we had the main attraction – Mr Bob Log III.

He waltzed in from the the rear door of the venue, dressed in a sparkly zip-up onepiece – think Elvis impersonator. His identity was a mystery because his face was covered by a motorbike helmet with an old telephone receiver attached [let’s just ignore the fact that we saw him setting up sans-costume before his set, and revel in the mystery]. Throughout the night he complained about his lack of vision due to a dark visor blocking his view, but the reason he wore the helmet is because the telephone worked as a hands-free microphone set up.

He let loose with a rough-and-ready blues number. The sound was a bit murky – probably because some idiot was perched in front of the speakers to take photographs, blocking the sound. [Full disclosure: I’m the idiot]. And the heavy distortion didn’t help. But we didn’t come here for articulate guitar virtuosity, we came to party!

After an introductory song, Log handed out a packet of balloons and asked the audience to inflate them for him. The next song involved him popping said balloons by stomping on them to punctuate points in the song.

And the interactions didn’t stop there. He crowdsurfed in an inflatable dinghy, shouting “FEET FIRST!” as the audience pushed him back onto stage the wrong way. He generously offered everyone free champagne, using a dogbowl and an inflatable duck as drinking vessels.

In a stroke of marketing genius, he invited people up onstage to sit on his knee and take selfies with him to send to their mums as he played. Way to go viral! One oblivious drunk lady came onstage and stepped all over his pedals, interrupting the song. But that just added to the wild charm of the set.

I’ll be honest: virtually all the songs sounded the same. At the start of his set he demonstrated his 8 sounds: the kick drum, tambourine, high chords, low chords, and a few other triggered pedals. The songs all revolved around filthy blue riffs with a slide, heavily muffled vocals, and looped drums that he played through the use of the pedals at his feet.

Log actually changed guitars half way through the set, and I have no idea why. Usually guitarists switch up because they need to change tunings, but he had been tuning his other guitar already, and this one looked exactly the same.

Truth be told, the sound wasn’t amazing. It was hard to tell the songs apart. But it didn’t matter. The place was alive. Everyone was dancing and drinking and hollering and choosing to ignore the fact that it was late on a Thursday night. Bob Log III promised a party, and he sure delivered.

Bob Log III throwing a balloon at Valhalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Bob Log III crowd surfing in an inflatable Valhalla

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Download Festival, Melbourne

Download Festival Australia
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Download Festival

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Monday 11 March 2019

It’s not always easy settling on what you need for a festival. Is it going to rain? Should I pack a poncho? Sunglasses? Will they have sun block and water available? I know that at a recent festival in NZ attendees were not allowed to bring drinks, and the site ran out of water on a dangerously hot day. Will they accept a driver’s licence for ID, or do I need to take my passport?

Clearly most people didn’t put as much thought into it as I did. Melbourne had hit 38c just a week ago, but the black-clad crowds obviously didn’t seem fazed. But then again, this is Download, a descendent of legendary Donington – a Mecca for fans of heavy music from around the globe. It was a fairly stereotypical metal crowd: tattoos, studded belts, combat boots, leather and denim jackets adorned with patches. And of course: the obligatory black band t-shirt. Slayer was the most common name emblazoned on shirts that I noticed today, clearly influenced by the headlining act.

Download Dog

Upon arrival my friends and I took a quick photo inside the inflatable dog head (the festival mascot), and made our way to the mainstage for Luca Brasi. The Tasmanian punks had drawn a decent turn out for so early in the day, and judging from the amount of people singing along, many were long time fans.vin The attempt at a light show was entirely redundant in the middle of a sunny day, but the music was fun and set the tone well.

Like many festivals, the main stage was actually two stages stationed parallel [Red and Black], allowing for near continuous music. Stage techs on the left could set up and sound check while bands on the right performed, each side alternating throughout the day. The stages were flanked by two totem-like statues featuring the Download dog mascot, and a large screen was installed in the centre, allowing punters at the back a better view of what was happening.

We had a quick look around the rest of the site. It was fairly typical really: a selection of stages, plenty of food trucks selling future diarrhoea, a few stalls selling clothes and nerdy nic nacs, a merch stand, lines of port-a-loos, and plenty of bars. Great to see that the festival management were good hosts and made sure that water, sun block and ear plugs were freely available.

Next up we went to Slaves at the Avalanche stage. The Avalanche stage was a big tent, and easily the best stage at the festival, taking me back to the Boiler Room at Mt Smart, or Main Stage at dunk!festival last year. The reasons that tents like this work so well is because they provide shelter and shade from the elements, protecting us from sun/rain, and meaning there are less variables like wind that affect the audio mix. Light shows are also more effective during day time, seeing as they are darker. The downside is that the capacity can be more limited than an open air stage, and I’m guessing that it requires more set up, but I never thought this stage overcrowded when I was there throughout the day.

Slaves certainly had a unique approach. There were just two of them, both topless and heavily tattooed, giving their all with intensity. Isaac Holman played drums whilst standing – having converted a kick drum to a floor tom. Laurie Vincent played guitar.  The two shared vocal duties. It was high energy and reckless, the duo throwing themselves about the stage, bouncing off speakers and launching themselves into the crowd.

Fever 333 at Download

Next up were Fever 333, who followed on in a very similar vein to Slaves. Lead singer Jason Aaron Butler was led on stage wearing a jumpsuit and a bag over his head – imagery that wouldn’t look out-of-place in Guantanamo Bay. He was joined by guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta. All three of them have played in other successful bands, and their experience showed. It was a hectic brand of impassioned hardcore fused with extra intensity and politics. Many of the messages were about fighting – fighting to make shows a safe space for women, fighting against the NSW government who are trying to restrict live music, fighting for the rights of black people.

All three of them jumped around like mad men – even Improta, who jumped up on his drum throne on the regular. They even had us jumping – asking everyone to crouch down, and spring into the air after a countdown. One great section involved a “drum off” between Butler beat-boxing, and Improa on drums. Then Butler dived out into the crowd, ran the length of the tent and climbed the rigging for the lighting tower. I have no idea how long his microphone lead was, but I’m guessing at least 100 feet. Not to be outdone, Harrison began to climb the rigging on the side of stage, until he became slightly stuck, so jettisoned his guitar down onto the stage below. I loved the ferociousness of it all, and I think it’s fair to say the rest of the crowd did too. Easily a highlight of the day.

Whilst offering decent value for money, and an opportunity to see a range of artists play, festivals sometime feel less satisfying when the band you really want to see can only play a stunted set. But I didn’t feel that today, with many bands having a decent enough time slot to put on a good show.

Back out into the sunlight, and Polish death metal act Behemoth were on the mainstage. Not my thing. Looking at the crowd, many people love the Satanic shtick, but to me, raspy ‘evil’ vocals just sound pathetic, especially when you compare them to punchier shouted hardcore/punk style vocals. I’ll hand it to them though, their imagery made them stand out (spooky face paint and costumes) and they had cool pyrotechnics. The gimmick of being ‘shocking’ and ‘extreme’ just feels dated.

Time for a recharge: get something to eat and drink, reapply sun block, and risk the port-a-loos.

Truth be told, punk covers band Me First & The Gimme Gimmes were my prefered act for this time of the day, but I’m seeing them play a full set in Wellington this Thursday, so I thought I’d try something new. Many of my friends are big fans of Converge. I’ve tried listening to them in the past, and didn’t like it, but some bands are better live. I stayed for a few songs, still couldn’t get into it, so went to Anthrax.

Anthrax are one of the Big 4 – the four most notable thrash metal bands. The other three are Slayer (the festival headliners), Metallica and Megadeth (fronted by original Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine). Now I don’t listen to a great deal of any of those bands, but when the opportunity presents itself, you’d be foolish not to see them.

They were great, clearly veterans of the stage. In true metal fashion, the drummer had double bass drums and an excessive rack, and guitarist Scott Ian played a Flying V – the most metal (and one of the least practical) guitar shapes. You could see that they loved their job, with the leathery singer Charlie Benette and Ian taking turns to hype the crowd up. Their style of thrash is still centred around fast, heavy riffing, but takes a note from epic NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden as well. Ian insisted on crowd participation. You can go nuts in the pit, you can nod your head, you can pump your fist, but everyone must move! They didn’t play many songs, but they sure hit the spot.

Amity Affliction took the next slot on mainstage. They played a decent set, although an incident up the front interrupted the set and caused the band to cease for some time. I think someone had fainted in the pit, and security we trying to remove them, but I couldn’t say for sure what happened. Despite the hold up, they played a suitably dynamic set, with great sound, and a mix of heavier songs to get the crowd moving and clean sing-alongs that elicited just as much involvement.

I met up with my friend Jason who had been tour managing Slaves earlier in the day, and we caught some of Alien Weaponry and Rise Against. A few years ago I had earmarked Alien Weaponry as the next success story, but never anticipated the extent to their success. They’ve spent the past year touring Europe and America, playing festivals and joining the likes of Ministry on the road. It has been almost a year since I reviewed their début album , and judging from the amount of views I still get from that article, I can tell that they are sustaining steady growth.

They may have played the smallest stage at Download, but the crowd was spilling out of the confines of the allocated space. I am proud of them for bringing their unique style of Māori-infused thrash metal to the world, and it was a blast shouting along to their rallying war cries as they played.

I’ve seen Rise Against four times in the past, and although they are one of my favourite artists, I think they’re stronger as a studio band then as live performers. That said, the sound mix at Download was better than I’ve come to expect from them, and they still come across as seasoned players. Nothing is ever as good as listening to some of your favourite songs from your formative years, and they made sure to touch on a mix of songs new and old. Special mention to the section of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid” that they slotted into “Savior”, likely as a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, the billed headliner who had to cancel due to health issues.

Grunge giants Alice In Chains were one of my big drawcards to this event. I’d read good reviews of their Auckland show the previous week, which only served to whet my appetite even more. And boy, did they deliver! Lead singer William DuVall will never be able to escape the shadow of original singer Layne Staley, whose substance abuse and subsequent death effectively ended the band in the 90’s. And although Duvall has recorded as many albums with AiC as Staley had, people still ask if he is fit to fill Stayley’s boots?

Short answer: yes. He nailed the older material. He didn’t try to emulate his predecessor, but made the songs his own while remaining true to the what the fans knew. As you can imagine, tracks like “Down In A Hole”, “Would?” and “Rooster” all went down a treat, but I can attest that new material stood up just as well alongside the classics.

It was just approaching dusk toward the end of Alice In Chains’ set, finally rendering the stagelights effective. An some of the original giants of metal: Judas Priest sure made the most of it.

When it comes to Judas Priest, everything is excessive. The stage set, the costumes, the drum kit, the sheer power of the music… it’s all epic. Rob Halford reappropriated the leather and studs from gay culture and pioneered the eternal metal wardrobe. And tonight he showed us how loyal he was to that look, with aviator sunglasses, leather gloves, and a range of leather jackets.

They’re a quintessential metal band, with the sound and look dialled just so. I was loving every minute. But I had a tough call to make. As great as they were, I’ve already seen Priest play at Westfest in Auckland a few years back. And my teenage nostalgia was craving some Sum 41, who I’ve never seen live. It’s the scheduling clash I struggled most with, but I think I made the best call I could have.

We timed it perfectly, arriving at the Avalanche tent just before Sum 41 played “Walking Disaster”, my favourite song of theirs. Sometimes you need to be strategic about which acts to see at a festival, and thankfully I could use Setlist.FM to look up sets from the Download Festival in Sydney on Saturday to inform my choices.

Singer Deryck Whibley commanded the stage like a pro, controlling both the band and the crowd at his whim. It was even more fun than I’d hoped – the great music combined with well rehearsed showmanship. Like Rise Against, they threw a few covers into the set (Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), the most notable being Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, which was so punked up that I didn’t recognise it until they hit the chorus.

They concluded with hits “In Too Deep”, “Fat Lip” and “Still Waiting”, which is what most of us were hoping to hear.

It was a hard decision missing most of Judas Priest’s set. I didn’t see Halford ride his Harley Davidson, but I did see them play “Breaking The Law” upon returning to the main stage, which was a great consolation.

Sadly for me, the night had peaked by that point. I got to shout silly things like “metal” and “Slaaayer” in falsetto when Slayer came on, but they didn’t have enough groove or dynamics to make we want to stick around.

I had been trying to figure out Ghost’s appeal leading up to the festival, and hadn’t worked out why people like them yet. Was it the same lame Satan shtick? Because at least Behemoth sounded plausible. Ghost’s sound didn’t match their image or reputation. I’d been watching Ghost videos on YouTube and it’s like they were trying to emulate Dynasty era KISS by playing disco tunes while dressing spooky.

Thankfully they fared better live. They had a decent stage set, which always helps (Rammstein are worth seeing for their stage set and pyro alone, even despite their music). The drums and bass sounded good, and riffs stood out a lot more than in the videos I’d heard. The singing was still a joke though. I said I’d give them three songs to prove themselves. Well, they were OK – better than I expected, but still not interesting enough to warrant sticking around any longer.

Halestorm proved to be the most worthwhile of the last three bands of the night. They played hard, shredding away and putting on a performance that focused on musicality over presentation. The drummer had some interesting tones from a slightly unconventional set-up, and the guitarists clearly knew their stuff. unfortunately singer Lzzy Hale was losing her voice. She put a heroic effort in, but wasn’t quite hitting her mark. This didn’t take away from the overall experience though.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. My friend and I discussed our day on the train trip home and we realised that we hadn’t encountered any dickheads. No aggro, no shoving, no spilling beer on us. People were respectful, gave space when they could, and all looked after each other. And that’s better than I’ve come to expect from most gigs, let alone one the size of Download. But it all came together: the weather was good, the line up of bands was excellent, the crowds respectful, and the overall experience was excellent.

It’s a real shame that Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t play. He had been one of the big drawcards for me. But you can’t hold it against anyone that he got sick, and it was still a fantastic event.

I may just have to fly back to Australia for Download next year as well!

 

Joseph James

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

Frank Turner NZ Be More Kind Poster
Standard

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