Live Review: Jakob at The Tuning Fork 8th Birthday Celebration

Jakob Tuning Fork
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Jakob

w/ Proteins of Magic
Friday 4 June 2021
The Tuning Fork, Auckland

The Tuning Fork Jakob

It’s been quite some time since our Aotearoa instrumental heroes Jakob have treated us to a gig. They opened for Alice in Chains in Auckland back in March 2019, but I went to Download Festival in Melbourne to see AIC, so it’s definitely been a few years since I’ve seen Jakob last play

.And what a way to emerge after such a break, playing their seminal record Solace in full to celebrate the 8 year anniversary of Auckland venue The Tuning Fork.

This was my first time at The Tuning Fork and I thought it was a great venue. Nestled in the wing of the march larger Spark Arena, TTF offered a better setting for those medium tier acts. Nice and long with a bar situated at the rear on the side. It was an ideal size for a gig of this size, feeling intimate but not too tight for the sold-out crowd. Festoons were strung across the ceilings, and although they weren’t on until the end of the night, I thought they looked great.

Proteins of Magic Tuning Fork )

Opening act Proteins of Magic started the night with her haunting music. Maurice from Jakob was gushing to me about her, saying how he’s been listening to her music heaps lately, and that she’s got some serious cred as the former bassist for Dimmer.

She used her synth with some backing tracks to create a sparse sonic base, and then built upon it using a looping pedal, adding layered vocal harmonies. Oh, and she rocked out on flute. Not something that you see at most rock gigs. She cast a spell upon us during her set, with layered vocal on vocals and otherworldly sounds.

Proteins of Magic Tuning Fork

Damn, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy seeing Jakob play. There are moments where I just shout out loud because it’s so good, an exasperated cry. I can’t put it into words easily – I’ve been raised not to discuss my feelings like all New Zealand males – but their music stirs something deep within that I can only react to by tipping my head back and making weird noises. Am I possessed?

Ask any post-rock fan around the world, and Jakob’s album Solace is regarded with much reverence. Post-rock is a genre that initially was about surpassing the boundaries of rock music, but has in many ways become stale and uniform. But Jakob have always managed to sound like themselves. And they stand out. You’ve got to be pretty good if bands like Tool and Isis are inviting you on international tours.Jakob Tuning Fork

Those opening notes of “Malachite” signaled that something special was about to unfold. The guitar builds, layer upon layer, slow and moody. The drums are primal and repetitive. The rumbling bass ties it all together. It’s mesmerizing and enveloping. And then they’ll unleash the distortion pedal. And the world unfolds and fall back on itself. You get knocked back by a sonic wall of fury. And you welcome it because it makes you feel something that you can’t describe, but at least you’re fully alive in that moment.

“That’s enough of that”, they joked, “We’re far too old for that kind of carry-on!”

They’ve got a great sound. I love watching them and seeing how it all unfolds. Watching guitarist Jeff Boyle letting the notes rise and swell and he deftly picks the strings and rolls the volume knob in one motion. Watching how Maurice Beckett – the once hairy behemoth – now shorn but still a beast of bass – drums and shakes on the body of his instrument to unlock those deep rumbling tones within. Watching how drummer Jason Johnston creates that percussive pulse by laying into his toms. Watching how the trio all communicate with each other onstage with knowing looks that only comes from years of playing with each other.

Jakob Tuning Fork

I’ve tried to emulate their sound myself. Johnston sometimes plays with mallets, and with the snares wires thrown off, opening up the cymbals and giving the snare drum a deeper hollow sound, as opposed to the usual “crack”. I copied this when recording a single for my own band, aiming to replicate Johnston’s style. The guy who mixed the single promptly sample replaced my drums and undid all my efforts…

Jason Lurman from the band Sora Shima came onstage for a guest spot during the song “Everything All Of The Time”, playing the guitar line first recorded by Tristan Dingemans of HDU. Lurman was clearly having the time of his life, grinning from ear to ear and rocking backward and forward as he held an e-bow to his guitar strings.The guys all exchanged a bit of banter onstage which caused a few laughs.

Jakob Tuning Fork

As you have probably gathered, I’m a big fan. There’s something special about a Jakob gig. That album, Solace, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the greats, and seeing masterful musicians deliver those songs in a live setting is something to behold.

They left us with a passing comment: “See you again soon, hopefully with a new record!”. We all responded with cheers.

Words and photos by Joseph James

More photos to come

Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
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You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Biffy Clyro at Spark Arena, Auckland

Biffy Clyro Spark Arena
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Biffy Clyro

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!

Joseph James

Biffy CLyro Auckland set list

A young fan proudly showing his new shirt and set list

EP Review: His Master’s Voice The Devils Blues- Woman

His Master's Voice The Devils Blues Woman EP Cover
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I first heard of His Master’s Voice when Mathias Hallberg reviewed Into Orbit’s latest album release show. I had been in the South Island at a sporting event, and came back to Mathias raving about this bluesy band from Auckland.

Needing to make up for missing the show, I made a point of seeing the band next time they visited Wellington, and Mathias was 100% right. They’re damn good.

The band sent me Woman yesterday. I’ve been playing it on repeat non-stop since.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Take the blues and revive them with dosage of danger. Add filthy southern rock riffs. Swirl in a generous serving of Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Drop in a few drugs. And then, amidst the swirling haze, you will find you have produced His Master’s Voice.

They play with such a swagger. Whether laying down a doomy groove, or ripping into a fast-paced swing section, the music is saturated with infectious feel.

My personal favourite is first track, “Burning” – a slow burner with a smooth, rolling riff. That is, until frontman Jesse Sorenson cries out “Come the groove!” And that’s exactly what happens. It all kicks in. If the bass line doesn’t get you moving then wait til the tambourines start ashakin’ and the primal drums kick in. And then, just to send you over the edge, we have a guitar solo.

There is no denying how much Black Sabbath have influenced His Master’s Voice’s sound. The title track on this EP reminds me of “Electric Wizard”. Sorenson channels his inner-Ozzy as he wails over a sweetly picked guitar melody. The rest of the band joins in, and the soaring guitars and organs elevate the music to the next level.

The only problem with Woman is the duration. 20 minutes is not enough! But I’ve been playing it on repeat and I can’t see myself tiring of these songs anytime soon. But honestly, what more do you need? Groovy blues with a heavy edge. Music that will possess you to dance. It’s just fantastic.

His Master’s Blues have pulled it off again, and Woman comes with my highest of recommendations.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Woman is due out digitally on Bandcamp on 1 October 2017, and will also be available through the usual streaming platforms. The CD will be available at the EP release show at The King’s Arms on October 28th.

His Master’s Voice links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedevilsblues
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedevilsbluesnz/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/thedevilsbluesnz
Bandcamp: www.hismastersvoice.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/brando28
Reverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/hismastersvoice
Merch: www.thedevilsmerch.com

His Master’s Voice are:

Jesse Sorensen – Vocals and Guitar
Brandon Bott – Bass
Az Burns – Guitar
Renè Harvey – Drums
(Plus Paul Lawrence – Keys on ‘Evil’ and ‘Woman’)

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review and Gallery: Living Colour at the Auckland Powerstation

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland
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Living Colour 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Heavy Metal Ninjas

Powerstation, Auckland

Thursday 11 May 2017

 Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Money or music?

I faced a difficult decision a few years ago

I was a year into my university studies and hadn’t been able to find much work over the Summer break. I was in the process of opening up a student account at the bank for when I’d need the interest-free overdraft for the upcoming year. I had to take 11 weeks off work that year to do the teacher placements as part of my studies and I couldn’t see any way that I could afford to do that.

So of course AJ Maddah announced the lineup for that years Soundwave festival.

It wasn’t the big names that drew me in. Sure, I’d like to see them, but I didn’t see them as major drawcards. It was some of the lesser known bands that I reeeallly wanted to see. You know, the bands written in tiny writing at the bottom of the poster that you have to squint to read. Like my favourite band: Scottish trio Biffy Clyro. Or Arizona act Jimmy Eat World. Or funk rock titans Living Colour.

There was no way I could afford to attend Soundwave, but there were a few sideshows that could have been viable options.I had friends I could stay with in Melbourne. Biffy Clyro played at The Corner Hotel, where I’d seen hardcore legends Terror play a few years beforehand. Living Colour were to open for Alter Bridge at The Forum. Dipping into the $1000 course related costs I was entitled to became veeeeery tempting.

Financial reason won in the end. Sad face emoji. No trip to Melbourne, no seeing awesome bands.

Buuuuut, I have been fortunate enough to see those three bands since. All at the Auckland Powerstation. And tonight, Living Colour proved that they were worth the wait.


Heavy Metal Ninjas opening for Living Colour

Heavy Metal Ninjas

Local quartet Heavy Metal Ninjas came onstage dressed very much like Kora, which isn’t too surprising seeing as the two bands share members. As well as rocking the samurai garb, the two guitarists and bass player all had half face masks that gave off a Kylo Ren vibe. Maybe the drummer didn’t get the memo regarding dress code, choosing to opt for a bogan Jesus look instead.

Their music was sharp technical metal, full of double kick drums, guitar noodling and djenty riffs. They took Steve Vai worship to the next level. I counted 22 strings between the three masked men. As for the drums… well you can never really have enough cymbals can you?

The hard-hitting sci-fi take on instrumental metal delivered blow after pummeling blow, strengthened by the regular inclusion of strong sub bass that made me want to vomit. I’ll give them points for making an impact, and the crowd lapped it up.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Living Colour

Living Colour last visited our shores in 1993. A few people in the audience were rocking t shirts from that tour tonight. I, however, was merely an infant at the time, being born in 1992.

Not that this made a difference. Being one of the younger people in attendance made me feel as if I was in on a special secret.

The band weren’t scared to add a handful of covers to their set; they both opened and closed with a cover, as well as interspersing them throughout the night. Their influences range far and wide: Robert Johnson, Notorious BIG, Junior Murvin, Elvis, The Clash. Both familiar yet new, the songs all worked seamlessly into the set.

Living Colour are well seasoned pros. Their abilities are phenomenal. I don’t say this lightly. They. Can. Play.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

The way Corey Glover sung, you wouldn’t know that he has worked those vocal cords hard for over 30 years. Not only is his singing great, but he has such range. He can bark during the thrash numbers. He can scream – you know, rock star style – like in “Hey Jude”. He has speed. I swear that even though I was watching his lips move, my brain couldn’t keep up with how fast he was spitting out words in some songs. And of course, he can do sexy soulful. He wore a paint splattered denim suit with gingham shirt, tie and a feathered hat.

Doug Wimbish was the centre of attention, playing up for the cameras. He may be the newbie in the band, but you’d never pick it. His bass solo was one of the highlights of the night. He played a tune – great in its own right. Then using a looping pedal, he added upon the tune, jamming with himself. His joy was openly visible as he expanded the sound during his solo. He employed various pedals to change his tone – deep, rich bass, higher guitar tones, alien sounds. And if the music wasn’t enough, he started playing with his mouth too. It was a wonder to listen to as he masterfully played his instrument.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Drummer Will Calhoun was just as mesmerising. His two kick drums sported Australian art. The first with a picture of Ayers Rock and a kangaroo, and the second depicting the Aboriginal flag (which looked like a pokéball when cropped into a circle). Situated around him were his many signature drums, cymbals, electronic pads and a large corrugated Hammerax sheet cymbal.

The way he approaches his playing is so outside-the-square that I doubt I’ll ever see another drum solo quite like his. First of all, he’s lightning fast. Living Colour have their thrash metal moments, but I didn’t realise how frenetic a lot of the rest of their works are. And then there’s his experimental side. He discussed it with me when I interviewed him a few weeks back. He takes electric drums and messes with the sound just as a guitarist uses pedals and effects to affect their tone. And on top of all this talent and creativity, he is highly educated in the ways of drumming from cultures worldwide. For me, his drum solo was worth the price of admission alone.

Living Colour Powerstation AucklandWhich leaves Vernon on guitar. The unsung hero. He played the joker, cracking funnies to wind up Corey. He bore the blame when the band made a few mistakes. He referred to himself as the nerd in a band of sexy people. But he is the man responsible for forming Living Colour. And his guitar work is damn amazing. Humbleness is a virtue, but Vernon Reid is more than deserving of an ego.

When you consider the talent, the showmanship, the vibrancy of each of these four men, and realise that Living Colour is more than the sum of its parts, you come to understand that this show is one of those truly amazing nights that surpassed even the wildest expectations. After 30 years, you’d expect them to know how to own a stage. Which they did. The jokes and banter was funny. The music was immersive and compelling. The musicians were genuine. And just to prove it, they all came and met with the fans to take photos and sign merch after the show.

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Living Colour links:

Website: http://www.livingcolour.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LivingColour

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBp5wftf7WswgIko42GUfWQ

 

All words and photos by Joseph James