Estere Meow Wellington

Live Review and Photos: The Adults at Meow, Wellington

The Adults Wellington Meow banner

The Adults’ second album, Haja, is one of the better albums to come out in recent months. Vivacious and upbeat, it combines energetic Sudanese percussion with emerging New Zealand pop and hip-hop talent.

I was wondering how they would pull it off in a live context, purely because the album featured a lot of contributors from around New Zealand and Sudan. Many songs on the record revolve around Sudanese Aghani-Al-Banat music, and the women who laid down those beats were unlikely to come all the way to Aotearoa for a few Adults shows. I also wondered what material they would play, seeing as there are two Adults records to draw material from.

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

Raiza Biza opened the night with some smooth hip-hop. He looked familiar, and then I realised that I recognised him from one of David Dallas’ Hood Country Club album release shows last year. He had a great chilled out style, and his backing music was musical – as opposed to just beats – with horns and all.

After a handful of songs Biza looked over to the door to the green room. “Jon, are you ready? Should I do another song?” he enquired, unsure of how long he should play.

“Keep playing, we want more!” a lady behind me yelled. Biza shrugged, signaled the DJ to start another song, and played a few more

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

The rest of the band came on after Biza’s set. Trinity Root’s Ben Lemi on drums, Steve Bremner on percussion, Emily Browning on guitar and vocals, Estere on roto toms, percussion, vocals and synth, and the main man himself, Jon Toogood on bass and vocals. A fairly star-studded line-up.

Biza stayed on for a few songs, taking on the rapping parts that he and Kings had laid down on Haja. Toogood was clearly stoked to have him on as part of the team.

The Adults Meow Wellington

I was pleased to hear the group faithfully recreate the Sudanese beats. Bremner and Lemi showed off their obvious proficiency on drums and percussion, with Estere adding roto toms, tambourine and maracas to the mix at times. Toogood complemented this by laying down thick bass, which came through loud and strong.

The mostly instrumental tracks “Haja” and “Like The Moon” were standout. They were able to mess around with the songs – due to the lack of verse/chorus structure – giving them the feel of fun extended jams.

The Adults Meow Wellington

Another highlight was lead single “Bloodlines”. “Oh, this is a good one!” a lady shouted as Toogood announced it.

“I hope so,” Toogood replied, “I thought it was good too. That’s why I’m here to play it.”

He appeared in a good mood – perhaps feeling slightly flustered and under-prepared for the first live performance of this material – but also clearly having fun, judging from his dancing as he immersed himself in the music. He joked along with the crowd as they shouted out, and made sure to direct positive attention to his colleagues.

The Adults is a supergroup, of sorts, and each member tonight proved themself a worthy addition to the band. Browning sounded great on guitar and could sing well, although could have used a volume boost. And Estere was the star of the night, spreading her talent across multiple instruments and leading most of the singing. She took on the parts written by Aaradhna and Ladi6 with ease.

Estere Meow Wellington

They played the all eight songs from Haja, followed by “Nothing To Lose”, the lead single from the original Adults record. This was a brilliant way to end, with everyone dancing along to the strong, bouncing bassline.

A short break was followed by one encore, “Short Change” – a b-side I didn’t recognise that Toogood had co-written with Shayne Carter. Bremner played drums this time, freeing Lemi to come up to play lead guitar.

All up it was a fantastic gig. Lots of talent, lots of energy, and plenty of opportunities to dance. It didn’t feel fully polished – being the first performance of new material – but it didn’t feel lacking either. I would have loved to hear more, but they did play the entire album, so I can’t exactly feel cheated. If you get the chance to see the Adults play any of the rest of the dates as they tour New Zealand of Australia then I recommend you head along and have some fun.

Words and photos by Joseph James

The Adults Meow Wellington  Ben Lemi Meow Wellington Steve Bremner Meow Wellington Emily Browning Meow WellingtonThe Adults Meow Wellington The Adults set list Meow Wellington

The Adults Haja cover

Album Review: The Adults – Haja

It was obvious from the first single that Jon Toogood’s new The Adults album possessed something different. The African influence and feminist leanings made the video look like it’d been lifted directly from the recent Black Panther movie. “Bloodlines” is a banger of a track, with raw primal energy, incredible percussion, powerful themes and a hip-hop direction. One listen and Toogood had my attention. I needed to hear the rest of the album!

Toogood released the début eponymous album by The Adults back in 2011. A collaborative project that involved inviting some of NZ’s première musicians to help write and record songs that didn’t fit the Shihad mould. Seven years later, Haja is a follow-up that loosely follows the same set up, but with far different results.

The story behind Haja is neat. When Toogood married his wife in Sudan he became enraptured with the traditional music played at the ceremony: Aghani-Al-Banat – which roughly translates as “girl’s music”. He asked the band to play with him for the new record, and then asked NZ musicians he admired to add their touches.

Now this isn’t exactly low-fi quality, but many of the tracks originate from phone recordings. Not that you’d know. They sound great, brimming with liveliness. Kudos to sound engineer Devin Abrams for creating something so good from what he had.

Opening track “Boomtown” lets us know from the first bar that we’re in for some fun, with pulsating bass, a beat you need to move to, and infectious African background vocals. Chelsea Jade’s cooed singing and hooks contrasts against Raiza Biza’s rapped verse, and both artists add authenticity to the track, having been born in African nations and immigrated to New Zealand. “Boomtown” is a strong, vibrant start to the album.

Title track “Haja” – an Arabic title of respect that means older/experienced woman – blends music from various cultures beautifully. The traditional Sudanise Aghani-Al-Banat music of vibrant drumming and chanting carried by bass lines. Two thirds into the track guitar comes to the forefront, which adds a light boogie feel to an already dance-able song [it reminds me a lot of “Plot A Course” by Barouche].

It wouldn’t be fair to say that “Take It On The Chin” drags, but within the context of the album it certainly lacks the energy of many of the other tracks. That said, it can’t be faulted when judged on its own merits. A lazy bass line, smooth flow courtesy of Kings, and some catchy hooks come together to culminate in a chilled yet triumphant track.

Likewise, “Because of You” is fine, but feels flat stacked against most of the other tracks. The vibrant Aghani-Al-Banat beats that provide a basis for most of the album colour those tracks so brightly that the songs without African drumming struggle to stand out. Toogood’s bass playing is a strongpoint throughout the album, and really carries this track, along with shimmery pads and synthetic sounding metronome that provide momentum.

“That Gold” feels like a throwback to the original The Adults album, with a Police-esque beat and bassline. Raiza Biza makes a second appearance; and Aaradhna’s soulful singing, Biza’s rapping, and Sudanese chanting overlap beautifully to offer complex vocal layers.

Album closer “Gisma” (the name of the leader of the Aghani-Al-Banat band) ventures into The Cure territory, with some introspective lyrics sung as a love letter from Toogood to his wife. It’s a tender side of Toogood that we don’t often see with his main band. I’m reminded of Shihad deep cut, “Lightbulb” from the Beautiful Machine bonus disc, or the acoustic Pacifier sessions they recorded at Radio New Zealand’s Helen Young Studios.

Shihad are one of my favourite bands, and by extension Toogood is one of my favourite singers. So I find it interesting that he has put out a record that you hardly hear him sing on. You could question why a New Zealand male is writing Sudanese music for girls [loosely paraphrased], or why a rocker is making a hip-hop album. But it works. It’s a great record. Maybe it’s wrong to consider it a Toogood record – because he’s not the star, but more the string that ties all these estranged influences together. Of course, this could explain why he chose to put this release out as The Adults, and not under his own name.

Haja is a short yet powerful record, carefully cultivated and packed with infectious energy. I can’t say I expected African feminist hip-hop from the singer of one of my fave hard-rock bands, but here you have it. Give it a listen and let the rhythms sweep you away.


The Adults links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theadultsnz/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheAdultsNZ
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/theadults

 

Joseph James