w/ Garage Boys and Bakers Dozen
Las Vegas House of Blues
Friday 25 August 2017
All photos by Joseph James
All photos by Joseph James
It was my first ever time visiting New York. The sheer scale of the place is nothing like I’ve encountered, being from the tiny nation of New Zealand. On the bus ride in I decided to do an internet search to see if any gigs were on tonight. Surely there has to be something happening in the city that never sleeps?
I began to scroll through the search results, when something caught my eye: a free gig featuring Vernon Reid. Wait… The Vernon Reid? From Living Colour?
I saw Living Colour play in Auckland this year and the talent was unreal. And the very same guitarist was putting on a free show? Count me in!
The show was a free event at the Lincoln Center, one of the last of a series that had occurred over the summer. There were three acts all working together to pay tribute to the late, great, Chuck Berry.
First act – Philadelphia based Low Cut Connie – were fantastic. They excelled due to the energy they put into their performance. I arrived ten minutes late (turns out that the New York subway is far trickier to navigate than the Boston subway that I had ridden yesterday), to see singer standing atop a piano stool theatrically while singing. A few songs in he ventured out into the crowd to sing as he ran up and down the aisles.
Vernon Reid had pieced together a great band to play Chuck Berry covers. The stage was incredibly crowded, with a grand piano, three piece brass section, bass, at least three guitarists, and a revolving roster of singers and extra guitarists all playing their part throughout the night.
Of course, the talent Reid had handpicked for the event were all fantastic. It was clear that they were all having fun onstage, dancing around as the played the hits of such a legendary artist. Living Colour singer Corey Glover even made an appearance, pretending to bicker with Reid between songs to provide funny banter.
The band ended with the obligatory “Johnny B Goode”, before a naughty encore of “Ding A Ling”.
By the time The Jayhawks arrived onstage it was dark, making the stage lights stand out and set the mood. Compared to the first two bands, The Jayhawks were more relaxed, with a sound that reminded me of Calexico.
All words and photos by Joseph James
Last night was wild haze. I went to the show at Valhalla … which was awesome… and I woke up feeling quite lost and unwell in a van in Marton … which was not so awesome. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.
I spent the rest of today hitching and busing back to Wellington. Here are some snaps I took at the gig.
Words and photos by Joseph James
The internet existed ten years ago, but it was a completely different animal. My family still had a dial-up connection, so good luck trying to load a video. Not that there were many music videos on YouTube anyway. A few of my slightly older mates tell me about how they left the computer running all night just trying to load a new four-minute Blink 182 video when it was released.
Can you remember the ghastly screeching sound that the computer made when making a connection on dial-up? I can certainly remember my dad shouting at me to disconnect when he wanted to make a phone call. And to think that today we use our phones to connect to the internet!
Youtube was a fledgling, Spotify and other such streaming sites were the speculative talk of some sci-fi future. Facebook existed, but didn’t become popular within my peer group until around 2009. We were all on Bebo [remember that???], with some of the more alty scene kids also having a Myspace account. Nobody really bothered with Facebook messenger anyway, because everyone used MSN.
Which gives you some rough context to why I was my best friend’s house trying to listen to a song called “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” using a program called Limewire. I’d read about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro who had just released an album called Puzzle. They were on the front cover of Rock Sound magazine and they sounded interesting, so I was trying to find some of their music to listen to.
Like I said, my family had a dial-up connection, so no point trying to find anything online at home. Streaming sites didn’t exist and sites like Youtube offered little music content. The record stores in my small hometown of Nelson weren’t going to import music by an unheard of [ha!] band like Biffy Clyro unless I was willing to shell out at least $40 – almost as much as I earned in a week working part-time at a supermarket. So I decided to use Tom’s computer to try to listen to this band.
Limewire was notoriously bad for containing poor quality content. Viruses were abundant and most tracks were mislabeled and poorly spelled. So when I started listening to this song that I’d tried to download – “Living Is A Problem…” – it was of little surprise that the track sounded corrupted. I listened to the jarring, stabbing sounds at random intervals for about a minute before I stopped listening and gave up. There’s no way that this file was the single I had read about!
[This video clip cuts roughly 90 seconds off the album version of the song]
It was a few months later that I bought a Kerrang! Magazine which featured a best of 2007 sampler. That CD featured a Biffy song called “A Whole Child Ago”. It had a crazy riff that sounded like a polyphonic ringtone [yes, this was 2007 remember!], weird drumming that had a looping pattern [or did it?] and nonsensical lyrics. And I loved it!
This track – along with “Get Fucked Stud”, from the Rock Sound sampler that I’d got when I first read about Biffy – made me want to track down this elusive Puzzle album again.
Tom pulled through for me. A true best friend, he had heard me go on and on about wanting to listen to that album so somehow managed to buy a copy of Puzzle on CD for my birthday.
I remember being so excited. I finally had it! I put it into my crappy discman that was hooked up to criminally bad speakers [so tinny they should have come with a gram of bud!] and sat down to listen to the album. It had a bright orange sticker on the cover with a quote from NME: “This album will change your life!” Yeah… right… I doubted the claim, but still had high expectations.
The first track was “Living Is A Problem…”. Wait… What the hell? The same stabbing sounds for almost two minutes! So that file from Limewire wasn’t corrupted? And this was a single???
Upon closer listen, I figured that the song showcased some incredible musicianship. Certainly not easy to listen to, but bloody impressive that the three musicians could play something with such odd timing and play as a tight unit. The song got really aggressive, but oddly enough had choral sections and string arrangements juxtaposed again the heavy rocking.
Listening through the rest of the album was an interesting ride. It was weird, that’s for sure. Clearly they were on drugs when they came up with most of the lyrics. And there are so many quirky elements and odd time signatures, which were actually tame compared to their previous three albums – not that I knew it at the time.
I think it is impossible to listen to the infuriatingly catchy “Who’s Got A Match?” and stay still. The triplet groove compels the listener to nod their head, tap their foot… something!
In fact, Biffy may well lay claim to my first exposure to math elements in rock. It’s either them or Tool. They took my listening experiences beyond the standard 4/4 or 6/8 time signatures that most songs we listen to are written in. “Now I’m Everyone” contains a 5/4 passage that used to annoy me so much, but I now love it.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the lyrics for most of this album. Plenty are simply nonsense. However, there is a coherent theme of mourning throughout. Simon’s mother had passed away shortly before the album was written, and glimpses into his grieving can be found throughout. I couldn’t tell you why a man is on the corner selling dozens of bones, but when Simon cries “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you” the message to his late mother is clear.
And, just like that, I became a Biffy Clyro fanatic. I started trying to push it on all my mates, spreading the good word of the Biff. It became a bit of a running joke among my mates – “yeah, yeah, Joseph. We know – another weird rock band. Stop going on about it would ya?” Took a photo of the Puzzle album cover with my phone to use as the phone wallpaper, but after a while switched it for something else after a few too many people had asked me why I had the photo of a naked man on my phone.
I did manage to convert a few mates. I was in a band with my best friend Tom [who had gifted me the CD] and another friend Harry, and we chose to add “A Whole Child Ago” to our repertoire, alongside other obligatory teenage covers band numbers: Nirvana, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, System Of A Down, Incubus, Rage Against The Machine etc… I actually sat down to try to drum along to the track a few days ago and realised that I never did figure out how to play it properly, and just managed to come up with something similar that seemed to work. It’s a tricky linear beat that swaps between the hi-hat, snare and kick, and changes ever so slightly every few bars. I think I was more suited to playing something more simple and aggressive like Nirvana’s “Breed”.
It’s crazy that no-one had heard of Biffy in New Zealand. At the time, the band was busy headlining major festivals and touring with the biggest rock bands over in the UK. I guess that shows how important radio play was for entering the public consciousness, back in the days before music was so easy to find online.
I’ve since dug through the band’s catalogue, and own all of their albums and on CD or vinyl (I have most in both formats, because I’m a loser fanboy) as well as a few b-sides collections. I saw Biffy the one time they played in New Zealand and it was everything that I’d hoped for and more. I used that review to launch this music blog (and probably got a meagre 10 views – whoo!).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that NME was right. On that little orange sticker, stuck to the front on the album near the parent advisory box, they told me that the album would change my life.
Mon the Biff!
A friend of mine has a story from when his band opened for Head Like A Hole many years ago. During HLAH’s set a naked man run onstage and stage dived off. He got consumed by the mosh pit, only to emerge from the midst of it right and the end of the night when the crowd had dispersed.
Imagine being part of that mosh pit. It’s hot. You’re enjoying the music and bouncing between other sweaty bodies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an undressed man with flailing penis appears out of nowhere, blocking out the light and landing square on top of you.
My friend is now a priest, and although it isn’t very priestly to condone tales of rock n roll like this, he loves sharing it. He grins from ear to ear as he tells his story, giggling about wild times.
Of course Head Like A Hole have been known to perform naked and caked with mud in the past as well. Tonight was my first time seeing the band, and they were performing their début album 13 (released in 1992 – the year I was born!). All bets were off, and I braced myself for some madness.
I’ve been following the Instagram account of local post-rock lads Hiboux, and it is clear that they’ve worked hard recently. With a début album now under their belts, the band have filmed videos, written more music, and are planning an upcoming trans-Tasman tour. They sounded great when I saw them open for Alcest last month, and tonight was just as great.
The lighting guy was having fun trying to destroy my photos, employing far too much red light and working the for machine overtime – two ingredients that serve to foil my camera’s ability. I had fun though, climbing up on the side of a speaker rig to find interesting angles.
If you haven’t heard Hiboux yet, I recommend checking them out. Their hypnotic instrumental tunes cast a spell over Valhalla. It was perhaps a bit sedate at first considering that they were opening for legendary wild men, but later on the set the distortion pedals came to the foray and the headbanging material unleashed. Although their music is well-crafted and exact, fantastic energy brims beneath, making the explosive sections of the songs all the more dynamic.
Head Like A Hole disbanded when I was eight, meaning that although I’m know of them, they have never been at the forefront of music I listen to. They’ve had their share of play on The Rock radio station, and one of Dad’s friends used to bring HLAH CDs to our family BBQs [related story], so I am familiar with a few hits, but couldn’t say I know any of their albums well. Knowing that they had planned on playing début album 13 on this tour, I’ve listened to it leading up to the show.
13 is snotty punk music: fast, aggressive and fun. It captures the band at the start of their career – slightly naïve, yet with obvious potential. The recordings sound dated – funky alt-rock Faith No More worship with bright popping drums and wiry guitars – but despite this the album remains a fan favourite.
By comparison, tonight when the band played the 25 year-old songs they sounded full and punchy. Not only did they sound great, but they had brilliant presence. We didn’t see the naked mud men of yesteryear, but the wildness was still evident.
Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve taken rock music, added an alternative edge, and perfected the delivery. Frontman Booga Beezley – dressed in black leather and hair dripping with sweat – swung his mic stand around and told self-deprecating stories.
“This song [Penut] was written after a night of dangerous drinking.” He revealed, half proud of himself, half cautioning us. “I woke up at Nigel’s mum’s house, having shit myself. Shit was everywhere: on the walls, on the toilet. There was shit on me. Nights like that define who you are as a person, which is how we manage to write such great songs.”
Valhalla was as full as I’ve seen it in a year or two, sold out and filled with aging rock fans wanting that taste of their teenage years. The pit up the front was in full swing and a handful of punters tried their hands at stage diving throughout the night – with varying degrees of success.
“We’ve come to that point in the night where we are going to play some radio friendly pop hits” Beezly laughed when the band approached the second half of the set, “who wants to hear some Ed Sheeran?”
Despite never having listened to Head Like A Hole much, I was pleased to learn that I actually knew many of the songs from the second half of the set. “A Crying Shame” was great fun, with a signature trumpet hook played by the woman who had given me my wristband at the start of the night. “Hootenanny” earned cries of excitement, with everyone chanting along to the chorus. A cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” brought the mood down, before the band switched it up a gear to turn it into a rowdy frenzy.
The band members live distributed throughout the North Island these days, but a Wellington show will always be a homecoming gig. I’m glad that I finally managed to see Head Like A Hole live, but I bet that the old fans were even happier than me.
All words and photos by Joseph James