Album Review: Shihad – Old Gods

Shihad Old Gods
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It’s no secret that I’m a big Shihad fan. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them play, but the figure is near 20.  I’ve got all their albums on CD, as well as bunch of special editions, a live DVD and a handful of EPs and singles. They never quite “cracked America”, but to me, they embody the dream of a NZ rock band who have achieved the dream of making a successful career from their music. They’ve toured the world, shared the stage with rock heavyweights such as Faith No More, AC/DC, Pantera, Motorhead and Black Sabbath; and have just released their tenth album, Old Gods.

The band has changed a lot throughout their 30+ years. Their debut Devolve EP features blistering speed-metal and a Black Sabbath cover. The first time I heard one of the tracks I honestly thought it was a cover of a Metallica song I wasn’t familiar with.

Churn beckoned a more industrial sound, thanks in part to Killing Joke front man Jaz Coleman in the producer’s role. Killjoy was less metal, but still raw and heavy, boasting some of the band’s most enduring riffs.

The self titled record (known by many as the fish album) introduced a more radio-friendly rock which the band honed and perfected with the commercial alt-rock giants The General Electric and Pacifier.

Pacifier was derided by many fans and critics who viewed it as evidence of the the ultimate sin: selling out. I’ll always remember reading a passage written by Grant Smithies, in which he stated he’d prefer to rub himself raw with a cheese grater and throw himself into shark-infested waters than listen to Pacifier. Harsh words, but fantastically evocative writing.

I personally loved Pacifier. I was a teenager obsessed with bands like Linkin Park and Foo Fighters so I couldn’t understand how anyone could find fault with the music.

Love Is The New Hate was considered a penitent return to form, and although much of it was angry, there was a lot of sadness and mellow moments to be found. Beautiful Machine, by comparison, was very much leaning towards the pop side of things. It’s a lot softer, almost 80’s feeling at times. I enjoyed it, but it was more Foo Fighters than AC/DC.

Ignite was the most forgettable album of Shihad’s catalogue. “Sleepeater” was a hit when played live, but the rest of the album seldom gets a mention. When looking at an overall trend, it feels like the quality and “rockiness” of the band’s output had been in decline since the beginning of the 2000’s.

Shihad’s last album FVEY came out in 2014. It’s the first album review I wrote when I started this blog. I raved about the album and how it felt like a return to form with the sheer heaviness of it all. Admittedly, I did tire of it when the new songs featured so heavily during the band’s ensuring tours. It felt a bit too chug-heavy and I wanted more dynamics. But I’ve given the record a few spins recently and I stand by what I wrote seven years ago: it’s a killer album.

The Adults Meow Wellington

The Adults at Meow, Wellington. Image: Will Not Fade

Front man Jon Toogood has a side project called The Adults. Their second album Haja stands among my favourites. I was fortunate enough to catch that iteration of the band at their first show in Wellington, and they even used one of the photos I took to promote that tour [although they didn’t even credit me for my photo, naughty!]

The Adults revealed a different side to Toogood. Stemming from when he married his wife in Sudan, Haja is a feminist pop/hip-hop album featuring contemporary NZ musicians and Sudanese drumming. A real departure from the hard rock of Shihad. And I learnt something else new about Toogood last year that arose from his marriage – he has become a Muslim.

I don’t wish to come from a place of judgement, I think it’s great that he has found a faith. It just came as a surprise. Look at this list of Shihad songs: “Missionary”, “Sport and Religion”, “The Bible and the Gun”, “Waiting Round for God” and “The Prophet”. I don’t claim to understand everything that these songs are about, but they are certainly anti-religion to an extent. And that’s fine that Toogood could write those songs, and then later change his beliefs. People are allowed to change. But I do find it interested that Shihad would name their new album Old Gods after hearing that Toogood has found a faith. To be fair, it sounds like the title track is aimed at those who have traditionally been in positions of power, rather than an attack on any specific religion. But Shihad are still taking potshots at churches, with one song on the album, “The Hill Song” taking aim at a group that shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

FVEY came from a place of unrest. There was never any doubt that the songs were written from a space of defiance against corrupt governments and world powers. I found it really amusing to see that National MP Chris Bishop featured on a podcast about Shihad recently. Bishop is allowed to enjoy whatever music he choses, but I certainly see an irony, considering that Shihad’s last album had songs that were essentially a middle finger directed squarely at his political party.

Old Gods comes from the same space. Sure, world governments have changed over the past seven years, but there’s still a lot to get angry about. If anything, people feel even more oppressed. One big movement from recent years is #blacklivesmatter. The movement sparked international demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

Another occurrence that sparked the rage was in 2019 when a scumbug came to from Australia to New Zealand and went on a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch. This horrifying event shook us a country and highlighted how New Zealand as a nation is more racist than many would like to admit. Toogood played a number of gigs to raise money to help those affected by the attacks, coming public with his recent conversion to Islam.

In a recent conversation with Grant Smithies (the same guy who wrote the scathing Pacifier review), Toogood shares how he was watching footage of an English crowd tear down the statue of an historic slave-trader. He wrote a song about it. To quote the interview: “That song is about the fact that many of us aren’t prepared for such people to be portrayed as heroic anymore, especially in the middle of the streets where we live.”

I live in Shihad’s hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, and a lot of streets here are named after wealthy colonials who first settled here. It sounds like a lot of these men were not good people. (Here’s a funny song about Wakefield, by local band Housewitches) I’ve got a magazine sitting on the table in my lounge. The magazine is called Massive – the Massey University student rag – and the main head line of the cover is about how former prime minister William Massey was a racist. They’re outing their own namesake. I think that gives a pretty clear example of how far some elements of society have come. So-called heroes are being scrutinised and some of us have decided that we don’t want to glorify people who were responsible for atrocities.

“Tear Down Those Names” is a thunderous cry to action. Sonically, it’s extremely similar to FVEY, with dense, downturned riffing.

My personal favourite, “Feel the Fire” harkens back to Beautiful Machine, with an synth-drenched uplifting feel. I love it so much. It makes me happy and I can happily play it on repeat. It stands out on an album of heavier tracks. There’s still that omniscient bass tone from Kippenburger, but there’s a lot more treble in the guitars, and the song exudes vibes of hope.

“Empire Falling” is also one of the better tracks, with interesting palm-muted rhythmic strumming and a lighter feeling chorus. It’s about how Toogood is kept awake at night worrying about raising his children in a world dominated by so many bigots.

Maybe I’m being a bit dismissive, but some of the themes in FVEY came across as overly paranoid. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the government needs to be held to account more than they are. But naming the album after a collection of spy agencies gives of vibes of conspiracy theories. I leveled the same criticism at Killing Joke in my review of their last record. There’s distrusting authority figures and then there’s going full-blown antivaxer. Head too far down the conspiracy route and people just aren’t going to take you seriously.

I’m trying to say is that the themes of Old Gods seem more realistic than they did in FVEY. Complaining about governments spying on us sounds a bit too James Bond-fantasy. But it’s harder to deny racism when we’ve recently witnessed extreme nationalism under Trump, Brexit, #blacklivesmatter, mosque shootings and so on… And I think that makes more sense given Toogood’s personal situation. But Toogood has a Sudanese wife and two bi-racial children and now he’s witnessing forms of discrimination such as racism in a different light. Suddenly the message seems a bit more targeted than ‘sticking it to The Man’.

In an 2014 interview with NZ Musician, drummer Tom Larkin discussed the impact of Green Day’s American Idiot, and how it was a vehicle for getting planting dissenting ideas in the mind of a demographic of Americans who may not have otherwise been questioning the status quo. Lead guitarist Phil Knight namedropped Rage Against the Machine as a big influence on the new album in a Guitar World profile too.

I’m not sure how much I buy into the whole message. I’m not opposed to the message of fighting the bankers and the politicians, but it seems a bit futile. “Eat the Rich” is a great sentiment (Motorhead and Aerosmith both have songs with that name), but not sure it’s so great in practice. Look at America, where the last president organised an attack on his own government. Nothing appeared to changed for the better or worse.

Voting doesn’t appear to make much of a difference – neither of the two big political parties in NZ appear interested in making changes to improve the lives of their citizens. And governments have refused to acknowledge what the people have voted for in a majority of the referendums we’ve had over the past few decades. Maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe we need more bands like Shihad spreading the fire of discontent so that the population don’t become as jaded as I am.

Final verdict?

I went through Shihad’s albums earlier and explained how the band have continually evolved throughout the years, changing their sound as they progressed. Each record had a unique sound. This has earned them accusations of selling out every step of the way, but it has also meant that they’ve never felt stale.

Interesting then, that after their longest break between releases, Shihad haven’t altered their sound. In many ways, Old Gods feels like an updated version of FVEY. I’d argue that the topics seem more relevant with this album, but the sound and themes are very similar. The gang vocals outro of “Kill! These! Old! Gods!” may as well take the place of the “GCSB!” cry from the previous album.

Remember how I said I got a bit tired of FVEY being so chug-heavy? It does feel a bit more like more of the same. It’s weird, I would have found the premise of an album’s worth of “My Mind Sedate” very exciting as a teen. But I’ve since learnt that too much heavy riffing gets old. Variety and dynamics go a long way. Old Gods is a good record, but could use a few more tracks like “Feel the Fire” .

I’ve got a ticket to see Shihad play next month. It was originally going to be in November but had to be postposed. I just hope that the concert actually takes place, because I could sure use something to make me feel amped up for once.

 

Joseph James

Live Review: Shihad at Shed 6, Wellington

Shihad 30 Tour Poster
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Shihad 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Villainy and Beastwars
Shed 6, Wellington
Saturday 20 October 2018

The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the middle-aged men dancing at the front. I teach toddlers for a living, but not even three-year-olds rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack could match the levels of uninhibited dancing I saw during Villainy’s set.

I mean, these guys were really giving it their all. There’s something truly wondrous about seeing man with grey hair prancing around playing air guitar and enjoying themselves so much. In fact, a good portion of the crowd were lapping up Villainy’s show.

I’ve never paid much attention to Villainy. I know I’ve seen them play a bunch of times but I couldn’t say when. Sad to hear from a music reviewer, I know, but I’ve always dismissed them as one of the many generic radio-rock bands that New Zealand pumps out. But they played well, and maybe I need to reconsider my opinion on them. The final song was a real crowd pleaser, with a melody lifted from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”.

Hearing Beastwars announced as a support slot was a great surprise. I thought that the show they played at San Fran in July was the last Wellington show planned for some time, if not for good. Beastwars went on hiatus a while back after releasing their last album for a variety of reasons: infighting during the recording process, frontman Matt Hyde battling cancer, and drummer Nathan Hickey emigrating to Europe. They’d only ever planned on releasing a trilogy of albums, so with their planned output completed, there was no guarantee that the band would continue. But thankfully they are back – or at least for this Shihad tour and a few upcoming dates in Oz.

As always, watching Beastwars play was an immersive experience. Hearing the distinctive chugging of “Damn The Sky” (my favourite Beastwars song) made me cry out in joy as they started their set, and they didn’t relent with their offerings until finished. In some ways, they’re New Zealand’s answer to Killing Joke. They draw you in with oppressive riffs and primal drumming, creating a captivating ritual. Hyde summons up God-knows-what and uses the process to purge himself of demons.

As great as it was to see Beastwars unleash the riff again, they were no match for Shihad. This tour marks 30 years since Shihad formed as teenagers, and their experience shows. They’re seasoned veterans of the stage who have refined their art of rocking to perfection.

30 years to hone their abilities. Tom Larkin, as always, is a monster behind the kit. He always sounds amazing, whether whipping out thrash-metal blast beats or just holding down a groove. His backing vocals were more noticeable than usual tonight, as he sung into his gooseneck microphone. Karl Kippenberger helps with the groove, always looking effortlessly cool. And Phil Knight lets his playing do the talking, bringing the riffs and the solos.

Shihad have nine studio albums out now. I can think of a few times that I’ve seen them play a set spanning their whole career,picking a track or two from each record, and playing through them chronologically. It’s a smart move, ensuing that they please fans old and new.

This time they’ve taken the same idea and reversed it. They commenced with “Think You’re So Free”, from latest album FVEY, and worked their way backwards, playing a song or two from each record. “Think You’re So Free” is venomous and powerful, as is “FVEY” – both tracks a commentary on society, and protest against the then-government and world powers who control our lives.

Love Is The New Hate’s “Alive” felt slightly jarring after the throbbing dance-beat of “Sleepeater” and poppiness of “One Will Hear The Other”, but “All The Young Fascists” signaled that we were approaching Shihad’s golden era that balanced commercial appeal with a heavier rock edge.

I saw Jon Toogood front The Adults at Meow recently, and it was obvious how at home he feels on stage these days. He acted slightly different in this context though. The Adults show felt more intimate and relaxed, whereas here he seemed more professional. That is, if you could consider someone encouraging the crowd to shout swear words “professional”. You can never tell if an artist is just paying lip service or not when they say how great the audience is, but I would suggest that he was genuinely touched at seeing a sold-out venue full of die-hard fans in his hometown.

He gave a special shout-out to a young boy sat upon his Dad’s shoulders and wearing an AC/DC shirt. “This is the future of rock and roll!” Toogood announced, “Kid, one day you’re going to be up here doing my job. Just don’t become a fuckin’ DJ!”

Pacifier was a contentious time for the band, when they changed their name in an attempt to break into the American market. Some people hate it, but it has some great tracks on it. The two that got played tonight were “Comfort Me”, and the anthemic “Run”

Next up was The General Electric. TGE came out 20 years ago, so Shihad have just remastered it and released it on vinyl for the first time. To celebrate, they played about a third of the record.

I’ve seen Shihad play all of TGE live on two occasions (at San Fran in 2010, and at Big Day Out the following year) and, tell you what – this time was just as great. The band went backstage for a breather while Toogood serenaded us with the synth-ballad “Brightest Star”, before coming back in force with the furious “My Mind’s Sedate”.

If you’ve ever seen the band play “The General Electric” and “Wait and See”, then you’ll understand with songs from this album always dominate Shihad sets. They’re energetic, dynamic. They make you want to move and jump about. Clearly Toogood got swept up in the excitement too, finishing “Wait and See” with a stage dive, before accidentally dropping his microphone, and sheepishly waiting while a tech fetched it back for him from under the drum riser.

Toogood encouraged everyone to pull out their phones and lighters to wave them in the air for the classic ballad “Pacifier”. The stage lights dimmed, unneeded due to the glow emitted from the hundreds of screens.

The self-titled album – referred to as The Fish Album by some, gave us “Home Again” – one of the bands most enduring songs – and “La La Land”. Killjoy offered the immersive synth drenched “Deb’s Night Out”, and the vitriolic accusing “You Again”.

Which brings us to the début album Churn. The industrial-meets-speed-metal record that first came out back in 1994. “Factory” is an intricate song filled with malice. I imagine that they rehearsed this one a lot, because it would be incredibly unforgiving if they weren’t absolutely in sync with each other.

Yesterday Shihad played in Christchurch, and put up a poll on Facebook so the fans could vote on which song they wanted to hear for an encore [it was “Bitter”]. Tonight the band chose to play “Cheap As” – Toogood’s favourite riff, he revealed. It was a neat way to highlight the band’s evolution, playing the first track from their début album, and then the last song from their latest album. Both are crushingly heavy, abrasive and politically charged. And in between those two songs we had ballads and anthems, tastes of pop and metal, synth-backed dance tunes, somber love songs, and hard hitting rock numbers.

30 years. Nine albums. A sold-out hometown show. It’s one hell of a legacy, but it’s not even close to over. Shihad have been one of my favourite bands since I was a teenager, and they reaffirm why I love them so much every time I see them play.

 

Joseph James

3 Gigs, 1 Day for NZ Music Month: Shihad live at Meow, Wellington

Shihad NZMM tour Meow Wellington
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Shihad

Meow, Wellington

Sunday 1 May 2016

News about this show left me both excited and nervous. Like Shihad’s live FVEY debut at Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena, this gig was ballot only, meaning that if you don’t manage to win a ticket, you don’t go. Opportunistic gig-goers could try their luck by entering the draw through iHeartRadio and 2degrees websites, but that was the only way to get a ticket. It’s an interesting promotion, because it means that there is a risk of alienating the true fans who would be willing to pay for admission if they had the chance. But then again, if you are lucky enough to win, then you get to attend for free.

Thankfully, I did score some tickets to the gig. Again, my heart sank when I realised that I wasn’t able to get to the office in Wellington central to pick up my tickets within the specified time. But I emailed iHeartRadio and they understood, and were able to sort something that meant that I wouldn’t miss out on receiving my allocated tickets. And luckily for any other diehard fans who had missed out, Shihad released an extra allocation the day before.

Shihad were to play three gigs in three centres on May 1st to promote New Zealand Music Month. It must have been a tight schedule. I know they were pushing it fine to make it to the Wellington show because I was on the same flight as them. Thankfully they didn’t hit any unexpected delays.

Funnily enough, one of the last acts I saw at Meow had also done something similar and played another show in the South Island on the same day. Meow was an interesting choice of venue. I would have expected San Fran or Valhalla as the venue of choice for a heavy band of this stature. Usually Meow is not suitable for a rock gig because it’s full of tables, chairs and empty beer kegs. Thankfully they’d cleared enough floor space to make it manageable, like when Frank Turner played there last. Maybe frontman Jon Toogood thought highly enough of Meow to return, after playing there on his solo tour late last year.

Last time Shihad played in Wellington they opened for their heroes AC/DC. It was great, but it seemed wasteful having such talent play a daytime slot when the crowd still wasn’t full. This time was far better, packed intimately into a small bar, squashed in with a hundred or so die hard sweaty fans. The band members were all dressed fully in black, with only white lights shining upon them for most of the set, which made for a sharp and simple looking show.

Shihad have recently re-released their eponymous “Fish Album on vinyl, along with a ten inch pressing of the Blue Light Disco EP. The band decided that to celebrate this, along with the 20th anniversary of Fish, the had better play some songs off the album. The four songs from Fish, and two songs from Blue Light, were welcome appearances. Shihad have been drawing predominantly from FVEY for their sets over the past few years over the past few years, so it was nice to hear some older material that wasn’t so chug-heavy. In fact, I think it may be the first time I’ve seen Shihad play a bunch of those tracks. And just so we wouldn’t think that they were going too soft, they finished off with four FVEY songs, which left everyone gasping for breath.

I had initially held reservations, wondering if the band would need to hold back and pace themselves in order to last three sets in a day. I needn’t have worried. Sure, the set was short, but it was intense. Shihad are simply one of the best live acts around –  on both local and international scales. Their intense energy and quality songs made for a vivacious homecoming gig.

I saw both Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath play this weekend, and although both were incredible, I found myself enjoying the Shihad gig more. Toogood actually mentioned that Maiden are one of the reasons he decided to start a band, and Sabbath are obviously influences because Shihad covered their song “The Wizard” on their debut Devolve EP. Shihad have taken the best aspects of their influences and distilled them into something more accessible for the next generation. Take the song “The Living Dead“, for example. It could easily pass for a Killing Joke song, but is easier to listen to than most KJ songs.

I have nothing to complain about. The venue worked well, Shihad were devastatingly good, and the show was free. It was a treat to hear them play some really old material that doesn’t often arise, and I honestly think it was the most enjoyable gig of the weekend.

2015 in Review – Live Music at Will Not Fade

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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.

Image: Fergus Cunningham

This Will Destroy You. Image: Fergus Cunningham

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).

The set that Shihad played both nights. They also played the song "Pacifier" for the encore on Sunday.

The set that Shihad played both nights of Homegrown. They also played the song “Pacifier” for the encore on Sunday.

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.

Disappointments

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.

Faith No More playing at Westfest in Auckland. Photo taken from Faith No More's Facebook page

Faith No More playing at Westfest in Auckland. Photo taken from Faith No More’s Facebook page

Wellington venues

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.

Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

Mogwai at James Cabaret. Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

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.

Westfest16

The future of Westfest 16 is up in the air. NOFX have confirmed that they will not be coming.

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

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.

Iron Maiden Book of Souls tour

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?

 

Joseph James

Live Review: AC/DC at Westpac Stadium, Wellington

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AC/DC Rock or Bust World Tour

w/ Villainy and Shihad

Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Saturday 12 December

Shihad

Shihad have played the same set the past three times I’ve seen them play (Riwaka, and twice at Homegrown), drawing extensively from their latest album, FVEYIt was refreshing to see them play a more varied set this time, playing the more well known hits from throughout their catalogue. Although it was only half an hour long, there was no filler, and the crowd welcomed their boys home accordingly.

I remember on one drunken night during my teenage years I bumped into Shihad’s Jon Toogood in Courtney Place and began fangirling because he fronted one of my favourite bands. I remember asking what it was like opening for bands like Faith No More and AC/DC, with Toogood gushing about how it was such a surreal experience.

From how he was carrying on tonight, nothing has changed. He and drummer Tom Larkin had been suspended back in school for writing “AC/DC Rules!”graffiti in the school bathroom. And over two decades later, he still stands by that statement.

And the statement appeared to ring true from the moment the Aussie rock veterans came onstage. There was a cool animation on the screens showing astronauts landing on the moon, before an explosion sends a meteor through space. The crashing of the meteor and some pyrotechnics cued the start of the set, with the rockers kicking things off by playing title track “Rock or Bust”.

Technical Issues

Unfortunately things did go bust. The sound was pretty bad, and they actually stopped altogether to work out the difficulties after the second song. It wasn’t explained exactly what was happening, but we were left to wait in the cold wind and rain for over half an hour. Presumably some rain had affected the electrics? Frontman Brian Johnson explained that they didn’t want to proceed without things being perfect, but the wait was excessive. People even started booing.

Back in Black, back on track

Finally, after a very long and wet wait, the band came back onstage to play their set. It’s hard to tell if the set was shortened due to the delays, but they covered nearly all the big hits that I expected them to play.

The show was as grand as you’d hope. The large devil-horned stage had neon scaffolding, screens on either side, and a wall of Marshall amps set up behind the band. Although they were used sparingly, the pyrotechnics added a great explosive touch, complemented by the many lights on and around the stage. Even the crowd supplied lights, because in the swaying sea of drunken bogans were thousands of flashing red devil horn headbands. The stage props also added to the fun. First a large bell was lowered for “Hells Bells”. Next we had a large inflatable Rosie, suggestively dressed and shaking to her song. But the best was the many cannons rolled out for the encore of “For Those About To Rock”, firing when Johnson ordered for a salute.

AC/DC is the band that has released the same album twenty something times, so you know what to expect. We had Angus hopping around in a schoolboy uniform, and Johnson screeching into the mic. The drums were basic but effective, and as much focus was placed on the showmanship as on the musicianship. Cannons were fired and solos were played. Fireworks and pyrotechnics added to the fun, and at the end of the day, despite the technical delays, we got the extravaganza that we’d come for.

Joseph James