w/ Hiboux and Into Orbit
San Fran, Wellington
Sunday 23 April 2017
When I was 18 I lived with the guitarist of Wellington hardcore band Declaration AD. Always up for adventures, I jumped at the chance when the band offered me the opportunity to come along with them on their first tour. I took a few days off work and we all drove up to Auckland and Hamilton in a hired van. The first night they played in Auckland at Zeal West. The following night they played a venue called Void in Hamilton.
I contacted a girl I used to work with who was then living in the nearby town of Cambridge. Turns out she was also going to be in Hamilton that night, and she wanted me to come watch some other bands with her and have a catch up.It was an obvious choice. I seldom saw my friend from Nelson, but could watch my flatmate’s band any weekend.
After helping to carry some speakers and amps into Void, I promptly ditched my mates to head to another venue. I don’t remember the name of the venue, but I do remember that it was below ground level. As I entered I was greeted by mesmerizing primal music of an instrumental trio. I liked them, but was confused to see that they had no singer. I was a fan of 65daysofstatic and maybeshewill at the time, but wasn’t yet aware of what post-rock was. Years later I made the connection that the hypnotic trio was in fact Jakob, who are now one of my favourite bands.
I met up with my friend and her boyfriend and we had a great night. The headliner was an Aussie prog-rock band called Butterfly Effect, which was fitting because my friend and I both shared a love for the similar sounding band Karnivool. That night was the first time I had ever had shots at a bar. Before then we had always sculled spirits at teenage house parties.
For some reason the Alcest show tonight had me thinking back to that night in Hamilton – probably because the lineup consisted of brilliant post-rock acts opening for equally awesome prog-rock.
Hiboux and Into Orbit
Having recently reviewed albums from both the opening acts, Hiboux and Into Orbit, I was looking forward to seeing them again in a live setting.
Hiboux were just as great as when I saw them open for Tortoise, and I enjoyed watching them even more now that I knew their songs. As a relatively big band (five members), they know how to do effective layering, and they do it with finesse. Gentle picking, light flourishes on the cymbals, subtle build-ups. But they also know how to give it a nudge, with distortion and washy cymbals and plenty of energy. A great choice for the opening act.
Despite being a mere two-piece, Into Orbit were still able to command the stage as well as Hiboux. Drawing almost entirely from their latest album Unearthing, they performed a monstrous set. Guitarist Paul Stewart was doing a great Cousin It impression, hiding under a long mop of hair. The tones and noises he can elicit from his guitar are other-worldly. And I’ve always loved watching Ian Moir smashing away at the drums with such force and precision.
I found that with both bands, I had a newfound appreciation for the songs that I had reviewed. It was neat to notice how they played with the dials on the effects pedals, or added parts to craft the atmospheric music we had come to experience.
Ironically enough, it seemed that I was one of the few present who hadn’t come to see Alcest. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted to see them – but I wasn’t actually familiar with their music. If anything, I came based on the recommendations of the support acts.
I had streamed some songs from Alcest’s latest album, Kodama a few times, but in truth was just hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And I was. In spades.
I had expected post-rock that sits on the heavier end of the spectrum. And that’s what I got… in a way… but the band also sat well within what I consider prog-rock.
For one, they had singing. Not something you often find in post-rock. But the singing was fantastic. Don’t ask me what they were singing about. I don’t speak French. But I do know that the singing and the harmonies were excellent.
And they were heavy like I expected, but at the same time had a sweetness to their sound. Serene picking and great vocals added a balance to their sound. I guess that the terms black metal and blackgaze used in their description had me expecting some unpleasant, but I was simply in love with their sound.
The four Frenchmen all sported long hair, and circulation-restricting skinny jeans. Frontman Neige had a bright white t-shirt and a peacock feather necklace around his neck, while the other three all wore obligatory dark colours. They clearly enjoyed their time performing, shyly offering thanks at times throughout the set with coy smiles. It was great to see their long hair whipping around as they grooved along to their own music.
And I can understand why they danced. It really rocked. It was like an arena metal gig, with brilliant guitar solos and pummeling double kick and infectious beats from the drums. I didn’t know any of the songs but I felt pulled to dance along to many of the songs. It me of some recent shows I’d attended like Caligula’s Horse and Opeth, and the aforementioned Butterfly Effect show from when I was a teenager.
All in all it was a fantastic night. Three incredibly talented bands putting on brilliant shows. I was surprised at how packed the venue was considering that it was late on a Sunday night, but after being blown away by Alcest’s set I can understand why.