Listener Au NZ tour poster

Live Review & Photos: Listener at Valhalla, Wellington

Listener

w/ Yor Cronies and New Age Leper

Valhalla, Wellington

Wednesday 3 October 2018

In typical fashion, I missed the opening set tonight because I was ordering food [burgers that took an hour to come after we’d ordered, and were disappointingly inadequate – thanks Bristol!] So I cannot report on Yor Cronies’ set. I can, however comment on New Age Leper.

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In short, they were great. Hard rocking, drawing on a mix of styles, they impressed with their intense, wah-heavy jams. They collectively picked on Bjorn the singer, making jokes at his expense. All four members were fun to watch, but the best was seeing the lanky tumbleweed on guitar and synths, whose ‘fro bobbed up and down with his every movement. If they tighten up their set a bit by rehearsing more and cutting down on the time spent tuning between songs, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Listener at Valhalla

Pre-show huddle

Listener precluded their set with a small pre-show ritual, the four of them gathering in front of the drums for a pep-talk to get into the right frame of mind. I’ve heard that on their rider, they request a personalised note of encouragement from each venue, which is so endearingly wholesome. It shows how much they value positivity.

They started off the set strong, with two of the heavier songs from recent album Being Empty: Being FilledNow I am a fan of Listeners early work, but this recent album really upped the ante, bringing the music to the forefront to match frontman Dan Smith’s impassioned vocals.

The quartet were firing on all cylinders, bringing such visceral energy to the foray that I was surprised at how big of an impact they made.

Listener at Valhalla

Dan Smith

Smith stood front and centre, barefoot and playing bass guitar. I see his poetic lyricism as one of the major factors that draw you into Listener’s music, and thankfully the mix was clear enough that we could hear most of his vocals. He stood half a foot back from the microphone, eyes closed and passionately swaying his head side to side as he sang.

Smith’s equally mustache-blessed partner Kris Rochelle injected life into the music from the drums. He was a wonder to watch, reaching up to hit cymbals set so high that they threatened to tip with every strike against them. I noticed that many songs featured steady continued beats on the bass drum, giving a throbbing urgency to the music that I hadn’t picked up on before. Apparently Rochelle recorded all the music of the recent album himself, so hats off to him not only for his drumming performance, but for his multi-talented musical abilities.

Tim Stickrod and Jon Terrey stood on either side, both on guitar. They helped to fill out the sound, be it frenzied, intense rock, or more sombre numbers.

Listener at Valhalla

Jon (L) and Kris (R)

After a few songs Smith stopped to thank us for the applause, before opening the floor for a Q&A sessions. Turns out Smith’s favourite colour is black – yes it is a colour – (I thought October was his favourite colour?), but no-one had decent questions worth addressing so the band delved back into their set.

Valhalla is traditionally Wellington’s venue for metal music, so it seemed like an odd choice for Listener to play. But on the night it seemed ideal. Size wise, it felt intimate for the 60-odd people present. The sound mix was great. And Listener rocked out more than I had anticipated, making them feel more suited to this heavy venue.

I was loving it. And looking around the crowd, others were gaining something special from the night as well. I noticed a few people mouthing along to Smiths busy dialogue for Wooden Heart era songs, clearly feeling a connection.

The set drew from new and old, heavy and mellow. I was certainly moving along to some of the more rocky songs, and completely immersed in the stories of the more solemn songs. Songs like “Seatbelt Hands” are real tearjerkers, but “It Will All Happen the Way It Should” took the pain and rawness to the next level . And when Smith brought his trumpet out for a few songs it felt so perfect.

Listener at Valhalla

Fantastic music, riveting performance, immersive showmanship. You can tell that these guys have paid their dues gaining experience on the road. There were no encores; Listener are not a band of pretense. But they were extremely gracious, and happily gave their time to all who chose to linger around to chat to the band after the show. I had a total blast and feel more enriched for having attended.

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Words and photos by Joseph James

Listener - Being Empty : Being Filled

Album Review: Listener – Being Empty : Being Filled

Listener are a polarising band. Intensely poetic – with strong focus on vocal delivery – they either draw you in with their rich lyrically constructed worlds, or push you away with the non-conventional vocals. Maybe you’re already familiar with Listener. If you like other acts like La Dispute and mewithoutyou you should really check them out.

Half the fun is interpreting the lyrics. Both descriptive and cryptic, they can rip your heart apart or restore your faith in humanity. It all revolves around frontman Dan Smith’s impassioned delivery. His voice cracks with intensity. You can picture him on the cusp of collapsing into a teary mess. But he also has the ability to tenderly pick you up and tell direct truths that demonstrate beauty and hope.

Being Empty : Being Filled is Listener’s fourth record, a concept album that explores the lives of notable inventors. The songs were released over an eight month period across a series of 7 inch vinyl EPs and Youtube videos.

Listener delve into the lives of the inventors. Who are these people who the songs centre around? Maybe we know what they are famous for, but do we know about the lives that they lived? It is a fascinating concept. I wouldn’t even say Listener necessarily chose inventors that they look up to and admire. But no matter how useful the invention (ranging from cryogenics to denim jeans), each inventor still has a story.

The figures in focus range from groundbreaking scientists like Robert Oppenheimer (The Father of the Atom Bomb) and Nikola Tesla; to others who may seem mediocre by comparison, but are no less essential (such as Levi Strauss, and Moms and Dads). Good to see that they included some female inventors in their selection too (Stephanie Kwolek – known for kevlar, and Marie Curie – who studied radioactivity).

Listener

Dan Smith’s solo Still Life EP (2015) – the last Listener-affiliated release – was a stripped back affair. By comparison, Being Empty : Being Filled is a full sounding rock record. I was actually shocked by the opening chords of the album. It sounds surprisingly full, considering how in the past the music has taken a backseat to allow the vocals a chance to shine.

Smith’s vocals don’t take up so much of the spotlight this time, but he is still compelling. Energy, emotion and dynamic delivery are three critical factors that help us relate to music, and Smith offers it all in spades. He bellows cryptic lines with accusatory tones, maybe not in condemnation, but with enough passion to invite interest. Take this lyric, for example: “October is my favorite color”. What does that mean?

The brilliant music help to add gravitas to these stories of struggle and success. Victorious trumpets support Levi Strauss’ triumphant work ethic.  Sparse, lingering notes recount the forlorn tale of Rudolph Diesel, who managed to create his engine, but separated himself from his loved ones in the process. In “Plague Doctor” screeching feedback and frenzied distortion transforms into electrifying, foreboding doom.

Layers of emotion and intensity overlap as the music syncs with the stories. I wouldn’t even say that the tone of the music matches the tone of the stories. I would attach feelings of hope and wonder with conceiving and raising a child, but dense, distorted chugging creates a sense of desperation in ” Little Folded Fingers”. And during “Manhattan Projects”, when we hear Robert Oppenheimer’s immortal line (“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”) the melody is light and wondrous – followed soon by guitar chugging that mimics dropping bombs – but then offset by a lovely trumpet tune. But my interpretation of themes are subjective, and whether the messages and musical moods marry or not, they both offer engaging and compelling listening.

Being Empty : Being Filled is vastly different from Listener’s previous output because it feels more fleshed out. The music is intense and dynamic enough to match the vocals. Enough riffs to rock out to, enough intrigue to pique interest, enough poetic lyrics to keep you thinking, and enough pathos to make the album feel like an experience. I’ll award bonus points for exploring such a compelling concept as well. This album has motivated me to research some of the figures who Listener pay homage to with these songs.

Admittedly, I was already a Listener fan before this record came out, but I find it a vast improvement upon their previous output. Give it a listen. Even if you don’t like it, I’m sure you can admire the originality and creativity injected into it.

Listener links:

Website: http://iamlistener.com/

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

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/iamlistener

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/listenerproject

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/listenerfamilyband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/listener


LISTENER 2018 AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND TOUR (Tickets link)

Listener are coming to Australia and New Zealand thanks to Reverse K and Valhalla Touring.

Listener Au NZ tour poster

Review written by Joseph James. Come say hi if you see me at the Wellington show.