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What a year it has been! We’ve been blessed to have so many amazing bands to come to our shores this year, and we are just as lucky to have strong local talent that we can depend on seeing throughout the year as well. I’ve summarised below some of the highlights and letdowns of my year, concluding with a discussion of the live music scene.
The best shows of 2015
Jurassic 5 blew me away with their incredibly fun and interactive show. Great music, great showmanship.
Frank Turner has been one of my favourite artists for years now. There’s no way that I could see him play his rousing music and it not be a highlight of my year. It was a cool bonus to meet him and have a chat outside the venue after the show as well. His new album, released a few months later, was also excellent.
I actually thought that Australian post-rockers sleepmakeswaves put on a far better set than the more established headliners This Will Destroy You. There was so much energy and joy on stage. Many post-rock acts just let their music do the talking, but sleepmakeswaves put on a show as well as playing great music.
Most insane show award would go to either powermetal lords Dragonforce or mathcore act Dillinger Escape Plan. Although both could be classed as metal bands, they are at different (extreme) ends of the spectrum. Both played at a packed out Valhalla, and both bands featured musicians who were ridiculously proficient at their instruments.
I finally got to see what I consider an original hardcore/punk band this year. I’ve seen OFF!, Misfits and Corrosion of Conformity in the past, but they may as well be covers band,featuring more ring-ins than original members. A group of us hired a van and drove up to Auckland to see Gorilla Biscuits play at The Kings Arms. I think it is as close as I’ll ever get to seeing one of those pioneering punk/hardcore groups live, and it was great. Such a fun and positive band.
It is always a pleasure seeing perennial local heroes Jakob and Beastwars (the two bands toured as a double bill), and I managed to see my favourites Shihad play three times this year (at Homegrown and AC/DC).
My last highlight was Declaration AD, although I say this with a hint of sadness. They released their final album (Sometimes It’s Us) earlier on in the year, along with the announcement that their time as a band was coming to an end. The lineup for their final show at Zeal included some of the best current punk/hardcore/metal acts in New Zealand. Declaration played a mammoth 16 songs and finished on a high. They made a big impact, not only in Wellington, but also in the wider New Zealand hardcore scene.
Every show I attended in Auckland this year left me feeling disappointed.
It started off with Foo Fighters cancelling their intimate Town Hall show because a truck with their gear had en route, leaving them without the equipment they needed. My friends and I took the opportunity to see American rapper Freddie Gibbs instead. Gibbs was brilliant, but making fans wait for hours just to see a short 40 minute set was disrespectful to those who paid good money to see him perform.
The following night wasn’t much better. The Foo Fighters weren’t bad, but it was nothing compared to their previous few NZ concerts. They had stopped trying, choosing instead to rest on their laurels. They included a handful of covers throughout the set that dragged, and I was bored and ready to go home well before they had finished. I was glad to see that Rise Against were on form though. I didn’t think much of their latest album, and their opening set wasn’t very long, but it was actually one of the better sets I’ve seen them play.
A month later I was up in Auckland again for Westfest. I was most excited to see grunge icons Soundgarden. They started off with my favourite song of theirs, “Spoonman”, and it sounded terrible. Frontman Chris Cornell’s voice sounded strained and the band couldn’t keep energy up. I ended up leaving halfway through their set, because a free ride back to where we were staying was more attractive than seeing one of my favourite bands struggling onstage. Thankfully my other drawcard, Faith No More, were great, and metal pioneers Judas Priest put on an outstanding show earlier in the day, making Westfest worth attending overall. Cornell came back to New Zealand at the end of the year and all the reviews I read were glowing, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy a ticket to attend after he had put on such a dismal display at Westfest.
Venue Shed 6 has been refurbished as an alternative to the infamous TSB Arena that it sits beside. I saw both Gary Clark Jr and Jurassic 5 both play there, and had no complaints either time. It’s a versatile space and I hope that it gets utilised more in the future.
I attended two concerts at the Westpac Arena this year, and I would hesitate to attend another there. I have no issue with Elton John’s show, but his fans were totally ripped off, being charged extortionate fees for limited visibility. Likewise, AC/DC put on a brilliant show, but when 40 minute delays left fans exposed in the cold wind and rain I doubt many present were happy about the choice of venue. Sound and visibility issues coupled with overpriced tickets and cramped seating do little to suggest value for money.
Robbie Williams played a successful show at the Basin Reserve in October, indicating that the Basin could be a better alternative as Wellington’s primary outdoor venue.
At one time Wellington’s best live venue, James Cabaret really let things slip. Lack of adequate air conditioning and no passouts made it hard to cope with the hot overcrowded conditions, especially when shows ran later than advertised. It was a real let down during Nas and Run The Jewels. And I don’t know if it was the venue’s fault, but there were complaints made about the excessive noise levels at Mogwai. After a handful of bad experiences I was seriously considering if I ever wanted to attend the venue again. And then without warning, the venue closed. Gorillaz Sound System had been booked to play James Cabaret, but got switched to Bodega last-minute. That was the last I ever heard of the venue.
We still have the trusty old bars Bodega and San Fran, who tend to get most bands. Meow has also been hosting more big bands this year. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t been to the new venue MOON in Newtown yet. I hope that the Town Hall will get revived one day, but from what I hear about the costs of earthquake restrengthening, it is too costly to be considered viable.
The festival scene
The established staples in the festival scene seem to be surviving. Homegrown promises to be exactly the same as it has always been. It’s almost the musical equivalent to the 7’s rugby tournament. Hipsterfest Laneway is potentially expanding next year. Raggamuffin promises to be a hit, with Wu Tang Clan announced as headliners.
Trusty old Big Day Out has experienced a rocky past few years, and has since been re-branded as Auckland City Limits, with affiliations to the similarly named Austin festival. It will be interesting to see how well ACL fares. Headliner Kendrick Lamar will be a major drawcard, and it is held later in the year, so won’t be competing against other festivals and events to the same degree.
It’s a risky time for promoters at the moment. Soulfest was cancelled last-minute due to poor ticket sales. New festival Mclaren Falls had to change venues due to complaints from locals. After the change of location they renamed as Echofest. And Echofest also cancelled and announced liquidation, leaving ticket holders potentially unable to get refunds.
Somewhat related, Australian festival Soundwave has ended. Promoter AJ Maddah has a history of dodgy dealings, and it sounds like the responsibility for the festival can be shared between Maddah and ticketing agency Eventopia. Fans are understandably upset, especially because neither party are willing to refund ticket holders. This has wider implications for live music in Austalasia, because it has undermined concertgoers faith in promoters and ticketing outlets. There is no way that Soundwave’s cancellation is a good thing, although some people are trying to crowdfund a Soundwave replacement called Legion.
It also places the future of Auckland heavy music festival Westfest in question. Westfest has ridden on the coattails of Soundwave for a few years now, offering very similar lineups. Westfest 14 and 15 both ran at a loss, and Westfest 16 had a noticably smaller lineup, reflecting and foreshadowing Soundwave’s issues. With many bands no longer travelling to Australia for Soundwave, it remains uncertain if they will travel further to New Zealand. However, despite being unprofitable, Westfest has done wonders to boost ODR Productions’ profile, and I have faith that whether they retain their festival or not, ODR will continue to organise most of the best shows for heavy music fans in New Zealand.
2016 still looks bright. Wellington is offering their bi-annual Arts Festival, with acts like Sufjan Stevens and Death Cab For Cutie attending. I’m sure that we will have plenty of sideshows from Laneway and Byron Bays Bluesfest to look forward to as well.
David Dallas is playing at Victoria University O Week, and although I expect that will be awesome, I’m apprehensive about going to a gig that will likely feature a crowd of 17-year-old drunk first year students (probably dressed in togas as well). I’m also looking forward to seeing Iron Maiden play in Christchurch in April, and comedy/percussion show Blue Man Group in June.
What were the best shows you attended in 2015? And which ones are you looking forward to attending next year?
It’s time to look back and remember some of the highlights on the year just been. Here are some of the best concerts, albums and films I saw/heard in 2014.
The year went by so fast. I was pretty busy with university assignments so didn’t always have time to write reviews. I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads of things that deserve mentioning, but here is what I do remember.
Although it wasn’t technically 2014, it was a year ago that my friend Sam and I flew to Sydney to see The Roots play at the Horden Pavilion. I was disappointed that Questlove hid his glorious afro underneath a beanie, but the show was still awesome. “Captain” Kirk, the guitarist, threw his sweaty towel into the crowd. I caught it and gave it to Sam. He keeps it as a treasured memento to remind him of the gig. We also went to the Broadway show of the Lion King and it was too good for words. I bought a CD of the songs of the show. The Australian cast I saw live were better than the recorded version, but I still listen to the CD more than anything else.
I was fortunate enough to tick three bands off my bucket list this year. I saw Nine Inch Nails in Christchurch co-headlining with Queens of the Stoneage. They were incredible. I even got to chat to Trent Reznor at the airport the following day. It was also great to catch up with school friends in Christchurch that I don’t get to see often.
I finally got to see Biffy Clyro live at the Powerstation. I was buzzing for days afterwards. I managed to get a guitar pick and an annotated copy of the set list as well. I also saw Jimmy Eat World at the same venue. I was considering going to Soundwave in Australia to see these two bands at the beginning of the year but couldn’t afford it, so I was rapt when they each got announced to play in NZ.
The Beards were a comedy band that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was nice catching up with my friend Jason from Melbourne, who was working as their follically gifted merch guy. Another funny gig was internet sensation and rapper Ur Boy Bangs, with local hardcore band Declaration AD opening. It was pretty hilarious, but surprisingly fun.
I’m seeing Shihad in a few days and I’m sure that will also be worthy of this list. I’ve seen them at least ten times in the past and they’ve never disappointed. I’m looking forward to seeing them play material from the new album, FVEY.
The gigs that I’m looking most forward to in 2015 so far include Frank Turner, Gary Clark Jr, and Foo Fighters.
Albums and EPs
There have been some great new music releases this year. Here’s some that stood out for me, categorised by genre but not in any particular order.
- Run The Jewels – RTJ2
El-P and Killer Mike stole the show at the hip-hop triple bill at the beginning of the year, and then proceeded to release an even better second album less than a year after their first.
- Sage Francis – Copper Gone
Sage Francis continues as a veteran wordsmith wizard. Copper Gone in entertaining and thought-provoking, with great music and clever lyrics. His Wellington show was great as well.
Keith Stanfield caught my attention as a talented actor, and proved himself as a capable rapper too. A dark, tormented début EP.
Of course this album was inevitably excellent. Composer Rhian Sheehan helped to add masterful extra touches to help the Napier trio surpass perfection.
The latest release from one of my fave post-rock bands shows a softer side with great results.
A new sound, new direction and new name for Solemn Sun helped them create an alt-rock EP that leaves me eagerly awaiting their next album.
I’ve listened to it at least once every day since it arrived in the post. Sublime electro-prog-rock arisen from the ashes of Cog.
- Biffy Clyro – Similarities (B-sides album)
It goes without saying that any release from my fave band will get a mention.
Queens of the Stoneage – … Like Clockwork and Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways were both major disappointments. Both bands are of high calibre and had lots of hype around the new albums, but the music just wasn’t good enough to make me want to listen to the albums more than once.
I only wrote two film reviews this year, but I saw plenty of great movies that deserve a mention
Housebound was by far the stand out film of the year for me. A Kiwi comedy/horror that strikes the perfect balance. The Dark Horse was another NZ film that impressed. Forget The Hobbit, New Zealand can produce some quality films without the need to sell out to Hollywood.
The follow-up to one of my fave movies came out in July. The Raid 2 was just as violent and intense as its predecessor, but with more varied and imaginative fight scenes. The sequel was pretty long, with a more complex plot. Fingers crossed for The Raid 3 in years to come!
The trailer was bad enough to put me off wanting to watch it, but Gone Girl was gripping, albeit unsettling. This was one that surpassed expectations. It also featured a soundtrack written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, which earns it bonus marks in my book.
2013’s The Wolverine, was abysmal, but the X-Men franchise redeemed themselves with Days Of The Future Past. I was left with plenty of unanswered questions, but it was a clever way to tie in the two timelines.
Another sci-fi that I enjoyed was Snowpiercer, a futuristic dystopian film set on a train that contains the last of earth’s population. It was incredible right until the end, when it lost momentum in the last scene.
I enjoyed Frozen, although as a trainee early childhood teacher went a bit insane because of children singing “Let It Go” non-stop. Lego Movie was fun as well, but Big Hero 6 was my favourite children’s animated film.
The major let down was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It was long. It was grand. But it didn’t come together in a satisfying way. I fail to understand why people rated it so highly.
I’ve been blessed to have such a good year. Since launching Will Not Fade earlier this year I’ve had people from all over the world read my reviews. One review featured at Stereofox.com. I’ve had bands ask me to review their music and I’ve gained media passes to attend events. I really enjoy doing this and I plan to continue what I’m doing.
Please let me know what you think. What did you enjoy reading? Are there bands or films you want to see me write about? Did I inspire you to listen to a new band, or watch another film? Do you have any other suggestions?
Thanks for reading. All the best for 2015!