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
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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

Live Review: Bill Murray & Jan Vogler in Wellington

Bill Murray Jan Volger
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Bill Murray and Jan Vogler – New Worlds Tour

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Wednesday 14 November 2018

Jan Vogler and Bill Murray met each other on a plane ride from Berlin to New York. A friendship formed, and soon the two decided to collaborate. Vogler, being a renowned cellist, and Murray a famous actor. The result is look into fine arts, with particular focus on classical music and American literature.

Joining the duo onstage Vogler’s wife, Mira Wang, on violin, and pianist Vanessa Perez. There was also a young man who turned the pages of Perez’s sheet music for her.

I’ve toured across America and some of Europe with the band Ranges during the past year, and have been trying to figure out how I could make a living doing something along those lines ever since.  I think I may have found the answer. Perez employs someone to turn the pages of her sheet music. I could do that! I can become a page turner! I’ll travel the world, hanging out with rock stars, living the dream. I’m willing to risk a few paper cuts for that kind of career!

Bill Murray Wellington

It’s a great concept – poetry and prose with powerful music for company. In the past I’ve extolled hardcore band La Dispute for trying this themselves (their Here, Hear EP’s fuse literature with experimental music). Sometimes Murray gave solo readings, sometimes the band played classical instrumental pieces, and sometimes they all came together, either for songs with Murray on vocals, or for literature with classical backing.

I’ll be honest, this is not my usual style of music. Other than the recent Rhian Sheehan show, the last time I saw a cello in a live context was in Portland, Oregon last year, where I saw cello quartet Apocalyptica play a set of Metallica covers. It was about as far removed from this event as you can imagine.

But although I seldom listen to chamber music, I can still appreciate the talent. As always, Michael Fowler Centre sounds incredible. And you could tell that the trio playing were masters of their craft. They plucked, bowed, strummed and played with great passion and dynamics.

Bill Murray Jan Volger Wellington

We also had some more modern numbers. A rousing short version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” had everyone in the auditorium joining in loudly. West Side Story, featured a few times (please picture a grown man singing “I Feel Pretty” and running about in excited circles.) Murray downed a tumbler of liquor, because launching into Tom Wait’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking”

As you’d expect, Murray was quite the character. He has someone managed to evolve beyond the image of the standard acting celebrity Internet forums share rumoured urban legends of him showing up to random parties uninvited, or taking over bars to serve tequila to all the patrons, regardless of what they order. Many stories end with Murray telling someone: “No one will ever believe you.”

It is also heavily rumoured that the contracted purchasing agreement between pharma cretin Martin Shkreli and the Wu Tang Clan specifies that Murray is legally allowed to burgle the exclusive copy of the Wu Tang album from Shkreli, should he choose to.

Of course, we are all familiar with Murray’s quirky film characters too. Which made me wonder whether we were seeing the true Murray tonight. Is it authentic, or is it an act?

Either way, he was thoroughly enjoyable. Drawing upon his acting talents, he adopted accent for some readings. And he was wickedly funny, both in dialogue and mannerisms. His singing ability was nothing to write home about – not bad, but not good either – but he injected such life into the performances that songs captivated regardless.

I’d love to sit down with Murray and Vogler to pick their brains, and see why they chose the pieces they did. What kind of narrative or message or theme did they want to share with us?

Bill Murray Jan Volger Wellington

The literature was interesting too. My favourite was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Dog”. Another highlight was an extended passage of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

Murray sat down to read (in a Southern hick accent) when one person approached the stage and left placed a small gift bag at his feet. Murray continued to read, but his fan clearly needed some attention. Ushers came down to sit with her, but she actually ran onto the stage and chased Murray later in the show.

At the end of the night, before the last song, someone from backstage came on with a bouquet of roses and handed them to Murray. Murray proceeded to run about the auditorium, pelting members of the audience with said roses. Usually offering someone flowers is a lovely gesture, but seeing a grown man attempting to hiff them up to those seated in the balconies was pure comedy. And our friend from earlier, who had left the gift onstage, received a rose for her efforts too.

All up it was a great night. Some of it was a beautiful look into music and literature. Some parts were more shambolic. But it was all engaging and entertaining, and everyone left with cheery smiles, enraptured with the comedic spell Murray had cast.

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: David Byrne at TSB Arena, Wellington

David Byrne American Utpia
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David Byrne – American Utopia Tour

w/ Kimbra
TSB Arena, Wellington
Tuesday 13 November 2018

I’ve never seen TSB Arena set up with carpet tiles. I guess most of the time I’m watching rock bands and the bogans spill beer all over the floor, but still, it added a slight air of classiness to the night.

Kimbra seemed a suitable choice as opener tonight. Quirky, and very percussion-based, her unique brand of pop shares many commonalities with Byrne’s. Kimbra stood centre stage, fitted out in a glittery caped outfit that Rob Halford would be proud of. She was flanked by two other musos, mostly playing synth, but using a number of other instruments too. The mix sounded muddy, with excessive focus on the low-end, which sadly made Kimbra’s voice harder to hear. I didn’t enjoy it to start with, but towards the end of her set things started to improve.


On of the key figures in the CBGB’s scene – a New York club from whence the seeds of punk and new-wave grew – David Byrne came to prominence fronting Talking Heads, which in turn provided a springboard for his solo music career. Tonight drew heavily from his recent album American Utopia, with a few covers and Talking Heads numbers thrown in for good measure.

In a live setting there are bands that play music, and bands that put on a show. There was never any doubt that Byrne falls into the later category.

Byrne sat on a chair at a solitary desk situated centre stage. Stark lighting illuminated draped strings that hung around the perimeter of the stage, acting as curtains that could easily be passed through at any point. He held a fake brain up as a prop, pointing to different sections as he sung his song “Here”. Screens either side of the stage showed this from a bird’s-eye perspective, giving an oddly surreal feel.

He wore a crisp all-grey suit, with all three blazer buttons done up. But his bare feet and shock of thick white hair gave the impression of someone slightly eccentric. Although how small is the divide between eccentric and genius?

Some band members came on stage to join him, a couple backing singers, a keyboard player, guitar and bass. They all dressed uniform: barefoot in grey suits. This is when things started to get impressive. The music was captivating, but all the performers danced and moved around in sync. Hats off to the choreographer, and to the performers who had to memorize and execute the nearly two-hour long set most nights.

It was infectious too. The entire event was seated, with no general admission option, but you could see by the third song that a mass migration was well underway, with punters abandoning their allocated seats for dancing space within the aisles. It makes me wonder why they even bothered setting up chairs in the first place, knowing the kind of music Byrne would play.

There were 12 musicians in total. Some had distinct roles – like the singers and keyboardist, but many changed instruments depending on the song. And did I mention that they all moved about the stage? That’s right: no stationary drum sets, no keyboards on stands; everyone danced about the stage and played flawlessly while they were mobile. Byrne himself took to guitar on a few songs too.

I can’t even name all the instruments I saw. There were lots of drums and percussive instruments. The final song featured melodica solos. And it was all live. Byrne explained that although many people suspect backing tracks and samples, everything was coming from the 12 people onstage or in the wings. It was hard to believe, but he broke down one track, allowing us to see for ourselves as each musician began to join in sequentially.

The stage set-up changed slightly for each song. Usually it was all under stark white lighting, but they made use of spotlights and shadows to highlight certain elements. My favourite effect was a harsh floodlight at the front of the stage projecting shadows of the players against the rear wall. The musicians would march on and off stage at certain points, providing visual dynamics to match the wonderful music.

As you can guess, some of the songs that garnered the best reaction from the crowd were the bigger Talking Heads hits, such as “Once In A Lifetime”, “Road To Nowhere” and “Burning Down The House”. One of the best songs took me by surprise though.

I had expected them to close with “Psycho Killer”, on of the more iconic Talking Heads songs. Instead, they finished the night with an electrifying cover of called “Hell You Talmbout”. Byrne explained that he’d seen Janelle Monáe play it at the 2015 Women’s March, and had become completely taken with the song.

And I can see why. First of all, it made use of the many talented percussionists and drummers in the band, providing a compelling primal energy. Secondly, the political content provided a righteous anger to help everyone get fired up. And finally, it is repetitive, which helped everyone fall under the spell of the infectious groove. What an incredibly powerful song.

It was a sensational night. Fantastic music, impressive showmanship, great stage set up, brimming with fun energy, and completely original. Byrne demonstrated exactly why he’s managed to have such a long and critically acclaimed career. If you get the chance to see this show, do not miss it!

 

Joseph James