This Will Destroy You has had a strange year-and-a-half. Gone are long time bassist Donovan Jones whose work on bass and keys elevated TWDY’s already sonorous sound to next levels, and drummer Alex Bhore, a talent that made me believe in drums again. The band has since been able to fill this void with Jesse Kees and Robbi Gonzalez, two talents in their own right.
While TWDY fans eagerly await a new record and see what, exactly, these new additions bring to the table in a songwriting sense, This Will Destroy You hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Tasked with creating a soundscape for Chef Jordan Kahn’s new experimental restaurant experience Vespertine, the Austin based band would appear to be the perfect fit. Eschewing the more vanilla restaurant event that a lot of us are used to, Vespertine hopes to throw everything you’ve ever learned about the dining experience on its ear. It’s part art project, part gastronomical experiment. As with most higher end restaurants Chef Jordan Kahn wants to create an atmosphere. Enter This Will Destroy You, a band that eschewed the more traditional limitations of instrumental rock to create their own atmosphere.
Magic Bullet Records released “Kitchen” to the public on October 13th. “Kitchen” is the first track you’ll hear upon entering the restaurant. It is the tip of the spear so to speak and sets the stage for your dining experience. The band’s last two records saw them shed the mantle of everyday-post-rock and set out to create something they could call their own. Over the last two albums the band’s tracks have become darker and dripping with post-apocalyptica. “Kitchen” is in direct contrast to the mushroom cloud melodies and discordant yet controlled chaos of Tunnel Blanket and Another Language. This newest track is the silver lining. It’s the sun breaking through a blanket of purple clouds in a last ditch effort to hang on to the day. It’s a beautiful piece that hearkens back the band’s earlier days. “Kitchen” is full of hope and retribution, but there’s tragic despair there as well.
The opening notes hold on forever and act as the curtain slowly drawing back for the big reveal. Small layers of guitar are gently added on, careful not to tip the balance. The tones are soft, warm and cloyingly inviting. Everything swells languidly and every note seems to be just at the tip of your tongue. Eventually, a tiptoeing pizzicato emerges as if it’s crawling out of the dark. It’s the perfect amount of movement in a song that moves like quicksand. The way it all comes together evokes the imagery of soft colors dancing on the floor as light pierces a stained glass window. You’re filled with billowy joy, but there’s a ghostly edge there just out of reach that also fills you with the uneasy feeling that the stained glass window could come shattering to the ground at any moment.
I’ll probably never be able to visit Vespertine, but if “Kitchen” is any indication you’re in for one hell of a night. The track is subtle and invitatory, which is perfect as it’s the sonic set piece for your evening at the restaurant. We may be a long way off from a new full length from TWDY, but “Kitchen” does a magnificent job of sating any hunger pangs for new material.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
w/ sleepmakeswaves (Sydney, Australia) and Spook The Horses (Wellington)
San Fran, Wellington
Sunday 7 June 2015
Image: Fergus Cunningham
Local act Spook The Horse started the night off strong with their searing post-hardcore set. At stages heavy with roaring, and other times calm and contemplative, with plenty of tambourine shaking in between. They ensured that those who arrived early were rewarded for their attendance.
Sydney post-rock quartet sleepmakeswaves were outstanding. This show was towards the end of a long tour (22 countries over a three-month period), but they showed no signs of waning, clearly loving every moment onstage. Most bands who play this kind of music stand there solemnly in the dark as they play, but the lads from SMW were jumping around all over the place having the time of their life. I swear I didn’t see the drummer’s face once, hidden behind his shaggy mop of hair. The music was upbeat and positive, accompanied by quirky electronic samples. It was such a good set that I could have quite happily called it a night then.
Image: Fergus Cunningham
After sleepmakeswaves’ energetic set, This Will Destroy You didn’t seem nearly as exciting. It was late on a Sunday night and the music was so slow that I could hear my bed calling me. Guitarist Jeremy Galindo was seated for the whole set and even commented that he was ready for bed too. I’m glad I didn’t answer the call though, because I was soon swept up in the music.
TWDY had one of the most intricate set-ups that I’ve seen. Transformers to help compensate for the electrical system differences between NZ and USA. Pedals upon pedals upon pedals. Keyboards and dials and switches, all draped in an assortment of wires. A spaghetti monstrosity of cables laying claim to most of the stage.
And all this equipment was used to create the music. Swells and hums and intricate layers of sound. Spaced drumming with washy cymbals. Sparse keyboard notes on top of haunting white noise. Even though the music was slow and the set lasted almost two hours, it certainly didn’t feel like it. Time didn’t drag its heels, but instead flew past sooner than I realised. And when my eyelids would start to feel heavy the band would launch into an electrifying overdriven segment to wake me up again. TWDY didn’t have the same stage presence of the previous two bands: they let their music do the talking.
Image: Fergus Cunningham
Not only were we treated to seeing This Will Destroy You, but they also brought another stellar international band with them as support. And sleepmakeswaves actually put on the best performance of the night. It was a relatively small turn out, something that I can only attribute to the fact that it was a Sunday night. And it did go late, until around 12.20am. But once the sleep deprivation wears off, I don’t think anyone in attendance would say they regret having gone.