w/ No Life and Crooked Royals
Monday 17 October 2022
I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say it has been a rough year. Personally, I had a lot of amazing plans that got cancelled. I was planning on traveling throughout Europe, seeing the world, touring with my dear friends Ranges and attending festivals such as dunk!festival and ArcTanGent. Then a pesky virus spread around the globe and put an end to all of that. Admittedly we’ve got it pretty good here in New Zealand. We had five weeks of national lockdown around Easter time, and certainly a lot of gigs were cancelled or at reduced capacity, but we’ve still had live music for a lot of this year, which is an absolute blessing.
Even so, I’ve found it hard for a multitude of reasons. I decided to retire from running the blog earlier in the year. But I have some spare time now that I’m on holiday and I enjoy writing these end-of-year summaries, so I’m back in action for this one last article for the year.
As I mentioned, New Zealand has still been able to have concerts and gatherings for a lot of the year, so this has allowed a lot of NZ artists to stand out a bit more on the world stage. Benee is an example of one artist who has garnered international attention and success. The Beths are another group who have gone from strength to strength. Many of us fell in love with their self-deprecating powerpop with debut album Future Me Hates Me, and follow up record Jump Rope Gazers is just as brilliant. It’s more of a slow burner than FMHM, but still proves just as irresistible and catchy after a few listens, and an easy pick for my top album of 2020. The Beths are also great live and I was delighted to catch them live again this year after a number of postponements. They’re in such demand that they played 5 packed out shows over three days in Wellington, and I imagine they could have even pulled enough of a crowd to play a few more shows too.
Caspian’s last album Dust and Disquiet is phenomenal. They blew my mind playing that material at dunk!fest in 2018 and I was so upset that I couldn’t see them play again this year after my travels were cancelled. On Circles may not quiet measure up to Dust and Disquiet, but it’s still a solid album, just in it’s own way. It’s a more reserved offering, but this seems somehow appropriate for the times. There’s two songs with singing – Kyle Dufrey of Pianos Become The Teeth lends his voice to one track, and Phil Jamieson’s singing on the titular track is sublime and soul restoring. Something else I love about this album is the interesting tones and timbres they’ve gone for. Maybe they’re in alternate tunings, maybe it’s effect pedals, I really have no idea. But these tones, coupled with some cello and violin on a few tracks, make for unusual yet enticing listening.
Regular readers won’t be at all surprised by this inclusion. It’s no secret that I’m a big IIOI fan. They were the first act that I flew overseas to see live. And the last album, Standards, was a great. Figure is a logical continuation of Standards. Brilliant songwriting, great playing. The drumming is complementary and they’ve continued their exploration into interesting tones.
Again, this should come as no surprise; Biffy Clyro have been my favourite band since I was a teenager. I almost slept on this one though – I pre-ordered the vinyl record and due to covid related complications it still hasn’t shown up. Warner said they’d send a digital download but never did (same case with their last record Ellipsis too, up your game Warner!) After a few months of waiting I figured that maybe I should do some hunting. I eventually got a copy of the album downloaded and I’m glad I did because it’s been on steady repeat ever since. Biffy have always trodden a fine line, making a point of being weird and alternative (at times inaccessible even, especially during the earlier albums), yet at the same time playing stadium rock and writing songs that earn mainstream radio play (more so overseas). And somehow they’ve managed to continue down this path with success. There’s less of the bland radio fodder that featured heavily on Ellipsis, and they’ve managed to evolve and push their style whilst style true to their distinctive Biffy sound.
Sam Butler released two great solo EPs this year. I reviewed the first EP, over time.
A side-project from Spencer of Tides of Man, lullabies for his newborn.
A great lost b-side from the post-rock titans.
Lakes released my favourite album of 2019, and dropped a few remixes, covers and other tracks this year. This 7″ is my pick of their 2020 offerings.
You may know Hause as the singer of punk band The Loved Ones. It’s almost a cliche how punk singers start solo projects along these lines (Think The Revival Tour). Kick is a great album, hopeful and defiant in the face of oppression. It’s in the vein of singer-songwriter, even country styles, something a bit more chilled out, but still with rock roots.
I have no idea how I came across this album but it just hit the spot. A perfect blend of ambient and electronica. I’ve needed more calming music like this a lot this year.
I’m terrified of the ongoing implications of what will happen to the music scene as a result of this pandemic. Musicians who rely on touring and selling merch for a living suddenly don’t have an income. Venues can’t get by because people aren’t allowed to attend gatherings. No venues means no places for bands to play. And it doesn’t just affect musicians, there’s the roadies and drivers and lighting techs and sound engineers and a whole industry suddenly without work.
Many musicians are resorting to livestreaming performances. [Here’s one that my friends in Ranges did for WherePostRockDwells]. Some people have been able to monetise livestreaming these performances. We will see if this becomes comomonplace in the future.
We all know that streaming is not really the answer forward. Sure, it is a revenue stream, but they pay such a pittance per stream that it’s a joke. Bandcamp have stepped up with Bandcamp Fridays, monthly events that they choose not to take their cut on any music and merch sold in order to help the musicians and labels who need the income so badly now. And it appears to have worked, with millions of dollars worth of transactions happening every Bandcamp Friday.
Thankfully we still have live music here in NZ for the time being. I’ve been paying to a Patreon for our local venue Valhalla because I know that without venues, we won’t have a live music scene.
I didn’t see many international acts this year, for obvious reasons. I did see Queen at the stadium (it was a bit of a spectacle but I’m glad I didn’t pay much), I saw Yawning Man at Valhalla, and a few metal bands at Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt. My own band also opened for Sebadoh at a sold out show at San Fran in Feb, which was pretty awesome.
My best gig of the year was The Wellington Sea Shanty Society at Breaker Bay Hall. It’s exactly what it sounds like. I drank a lot of rum and sang pirate songs. My friends and I all agree that it was our collective best night out since The Beards.
Newtown Festival was one highlight. I spent most of the day there taking photos at the Ferguson St Stage for The Mousai.
Some of my favourite Wellington bands at the moment are Happy Valley, Planet Hunter and Adoneye, and I managed to see them all play a few times.
It’s a real shame that Spook The Horses had their European tour cancelled, but I was stoked that they asked my band to open at their album release and they killed it. They livestreamed the night if you want to go back and watch it.
A real indication of how much things have changed is when I went to see local speed metallers Stälker recently. It was packed. Certainly a big change from reduced capacity shows that I’d been going to a few months earlier. The mosh pit was pumping and you couldn’t move because everyone was squeezed together so tightly. I used to live for nights like that, but it felt so uncomfortable after avoiding being too close to others for most of the year.
It’s hard to say what next year holds for us. Guns n Roses have announced a stadium tour in NZ. Is that too ambitious? Only time will tell. Hopefully the covid vaccine is effective.
Beastwars have held an Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt over the past few years and it’s been successful. I’ve heard rumours about the potential lineup for 2021 and I’m excited about that. I’m not holding my breath about seeing any acts from overseas anytime soon though.
In terms of releases, I’m looking forward to a new Amy Shark album, and hopefully Adoneye release their debut (bass player Jesse is recovering from wrist surgery). There may also be a live DVD from Opium Eater (Jesse’s other band) and Glassblower are dropping their debut grindcore album. My own band Secrets of the Sun will have an album out at some stage early next year too. Sora Shima are coming back so I’m hoping to see them again, and fingers crossed for some new music.
What are your favourite albums of 2020? What are your predictions for 2021? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!
Picture – if you will – a venn diagram. This diagram represents most live musical acts. In one circle there are technically proficient bands that you’d see because you can appreciate how well they play (such as an orchestra); and in the other are bands that you wouldn’t usually listen to, but you know they’d put on an awesome show. An example for the latter category is German metallers Rammstein. They sounded damn awful when I saw them play, but their notorious live spectacle of pyrotechnics and stage theatrics makes them an unmissable act.
Obviously there is crossover within this diagram – bands who play well and put on a great show (Iron Maiden being the finest example I’ve come across in both respects), but given the choice, I’ll take the option of a wild spectacle anyday.
Which is why I missed notable punk band Propagandhi last night to see some backwards sounding novelty act from Arizona.
Opening the night was Labretta Suede & The Motel 6, an NZ band who have made the shift to the States in recent years. Fronted by the larger-than-life Mrs Suede, they offer an entertaining mix that I’d compare to a rockabilly B-52s. Boosting a recent line-up change with a fresh rhythm section, they played a fun set that got the mostly-full venue grooving.
Labretta herself was the centre of attention. She wore a bra and some high waisted shorts that did little to cover much, with a large flower in her hair. She gyrated about the stage, contorting into crazy positions and standing upon the stage rail above the crowd. To her right was her hubby, Johnny Moondog, on guitar, with long hair, sunglasses and a tassled sleeveless shirt. And to her left was the young guitarist, Tweedy Bird – a muscly hulk in a tank top. He copped a lot of flack for being the young one, who hadn’t played in any bands before, but looked like he deserved his spot – experienced or not. Visually, Boots the drummer (of Sticky Filth fame) didn’t appear to fit in with the odd band, but his beats and grooves show that looks can be deceiving.
And then we had the main attraction – Mr Bob Log III.
He waltzed in from the the rear door of the venue, dressed in a sparkly zip-up onepiece – think Elvis impersonator. His identity was a mystery because his face was covered by a motorbike helmet with an old telephone receiver attached [let’s just ignore the fact that we saw him setting up sans-costume before his set, and revel in the mystery]. Throughout the night he complained about his lack of vision due to a dark visor blocking his view, but the reason he wore the helmet is because the telephone worked as a hands-free microphone set up.
He let loose with a rough-and-ready blues number. The sound was a bit murky – probably because some idiot was perched in front of the speakers to take photographs, blocking the sound. [Full disclosure: I’m the idiot]. And the heavy distortion didn’t help. But we didn’t come here for articulate guitar virtuosity, we came to party!
After an introductory song, Log handed out a packet of balloons and asked the audience to inflate them for him. The next song involved him popping said balloons by stomping on them to punctuate points in the song.
And the interactions didn’t stop there. He crowdsurfed in an inflatable dinghy, shouting “FEET FIRST!” as the audience pushed him back onto stage the wrong way. He generously offered everyone free champagne, using a dogbowl and an inflatable duck as drinking vessels.
In a stroke of marketing genius, he invited people up onstage to sit on his knee and take selfies with him to send to their mums as he played. Way to go viral! One oblivious drunk lady came onstage and stepped all over his pedals, interrupting the song. But that just added to the wild charm of the set.
I’ll be honest: virtually all the songs sounded the same. At the start of his set he demonstrated his 8 sounds: the kick drum, tambourine, high chords, low chords, and a few other triggered pedals. The songs all revolved around filthy blue riffs with a slide, heavily muffled vocals, and looped drums that he played through the use of the pedals at his feet.
Log actually changed guitars half way through the set, and I have no idea why. Usually guitarists switch up because they need to change tunings, but he had been tuning his other guitar already, and this one looked exactly the same.
Truth be told, the sound wasn’t amazing. It was hard to tell the songs apart. But it didn’t matter. The place was alive. Everyone was dancing and drinking and hollering and choosing to ignore the fact that it was late on a Thursday night. Bob Log III promised a party, and he sure delivered.
Words and photos by Joseph James
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.
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 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 Filled. Now 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.
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.
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.
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.
Words and photos by Joseph James
Photos by Joseph James