w/ Skinny Hobos
Spark Arena, Auckland
Tuesday 24 April 2018
Last time I saw Skinny Hobos play was a mixed bag for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great show that they put on. It’s more that I had consumed a few too many beers that night and things ended far worse than I could have anticipated.
It was my last night out with friends before heading overseas for most of the remainder of the year. As you can imagine, I got slightly carried away – it being a farewell and all. One “friend” decided to take advantage of me in a drunken state, kidnapped me, and drove me halfway up the North Island, stranding me in Marton delirious and hungover the following morning. There are few times in my life that I’ve felt worse than that, sick, betrayed, and having to spend the day hitching back to Wellington in the state that I was.
Not that this should have any bearing on my thoughts on Skinny Hobos. I’ve enjoyed their show every time I’ve seen them and this time was no exception. I would have expected something punchier than the slow, meandering song they started with, but once they got into it they played great. You could tell that they were nervous – blurting out bizarre phrases between songs in attempts at banter – but the music spoke for itself. Jared Wrennall from Dead Favours came out to guest on a song, which worked well. I wish I had chosen to photograph this show because they looked fantastic under these lights. They have an album coming out shortly, along with a nationwide tour with His Master’s Voice, so expect to hear the name Skinny Hobos coming up a lot more.
The energy in the crowd was humming as we waited for Biffy. It was a mixed audience, with many parents bringing their children to the spectacle. A handful of punters had Scottish flags draped around their shoulders, and the bar was offering Tennents beer to keep with the Scottish theme.
This was my first time at this venue since they switch branding from Vector Arena to Spark Arena. And to be honest, I don’t notice any changes. I’ve certainly never been to a bad gig here. What is different, however, is that the arena is substantially bigger than Powerstation, where I saw Biffy Clyro play last time they came to NZ.
At first it was slightly disappointing to see that they hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the arena. The stage had been brought forward, cutting the venue in half. A large black curtain blocking off the space behind the stage to make the arena feel more intimate. It’s a shame that such a high-caliber band is still yet to gain a decent footing in New Zealand. That said, the venue felt ideal once the show was underway.
Most bands I’ve seen play this arena have had big screens and impressive stage sets. Well Biffy had great lighting, but that was it. No gimmicks. This was all about the musicians.
An interesting choral tune played as the band walked onstage, all five standing motionless and bathed in blue light as the tension built.
They launched their set with “Wolves of Winter”, the aggressive lead single from latest album Ellipsis. Oh man, oh man. That is how you start a show. The three Scotsmen played tight, heavy, and full of vigor.
They then followed up with “Living Is A Problem…”, from Puzzle, and “57”, from their first album, Blackened Sky. Talk about starting strong.
“Living Is A Problem” has the band showing off their musical abilities, with jagged staccato stabs that come at random intervals. The kind of playing that sticks out like a sore thumb if someone is off their game. I still marvel at how they can pull it off. Not only that, but Simon also paused, began singing Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend”, before they all dove back into the song without missing a beat.
I’m glad that they did pull songs from their back catalogue. This is only the second time Biffy Clyro have reached our shores, so it’s nice that we got to hear older songs that we’ve missed out on in the past. We got the euphoric ballads like “Mountains”, the dancey numbers like “Who’s Got A Match?”, and the batshit insane early era stuff like “There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake”. They draw from a variety of influences, resulting in anthemic, technical music that I find irresistible. Virtually all of their songs are nonsensical lyric-wise, but that didn’t stop me from lending my voice to all of them as they played.
That said, most of the set list derived from the recent album Ellipsis. It’s understandable that they’re playing songs from the album that they are promoting, but I’m thankful that we got to hear a wider selection.
It was a class show that you’d expect from a band who have attained the status that Biffy have. They didn’t have the fancy screens and lasers, but they still had all the kit. I counted at least 6 bass guitars. That seems slightly excessive to me, but it is telling about how professional the band are – that they have that many extras on standby.
Simon Neil [guitar] showed us exactly why he’s such a stellar frontman, delivering his vocals with intense passion, whether cooing on acoustic guitar, or screaming bloody murder on the heavier tracks. I was surprised to note how much the twins Ben [drums] and James Johnston [bass] sung as well, adding brilliant subtle harmonies to many songs. It seems obvious that twins would be awesome at harmonies, but I’ve never noticed how much they sing before now. Their playing is already busy enough as is.
The trio are known for playing topless – and I can see why: it looks bloody hot up on stage. There was a steady dribble of sweat pouring off Simon’s microphone stand all through the night.
Joining the Ayrshire trio were two touring musicians, Mike Vennart [guitar] and Richard Ingram [keys] – formerly of the prog band Oceansize – adding elements that flesh out the sound in a way that a three-piece couldn’t.
They finished the night with two songs that demonstrate their diverse talents: the tender acoustic track “Machines” – one of the biggest singalongs of the night; and the triumphant anthem “Stingin’ Belle” – resplendent with synth-bagpipes during an ever-climaxing outro.
I have nothing to complain about. I got to see my favourite band play last night. They more than delivered, and it was a treat to hear some older numbers. It’s a shame that they overestimated the size of the venue they needed, but all in all the show with nothing short of perfect. I’m surprised that I still have a voice.
Mon the Biff!