The Chills at San Fran Bath House

The Chills5

New Photos from The Chills concert at San Fran Bath House (26 April 2017)

Originally published at:

The publicity for this upcoming tour read spectacularly well, like some long-lost lyrics from The Man Monster from the Id.  “Out on the tar sealed and gravelly roads this April and May, legendary Dunedin pop group The Chills have announced their embarkation on a vigorous and far-reaching New Zealand tour.”  And, that’s pretty much what they did.  Exactly what it says on the box. 

It’s still hard to believe this band, that started way back in 1980, can feel so comfortable – despite the many band member changes.  Of course, much of that is down to Martin Phillipps but it could also be that these songs, like well-designed clothes simply just wear well.  And like many in the audience, The Chills’ music, or rather Martin Phillips’ music, has become part of our DNA.  That’s certainly the case for me.

Initially I expected tonight’s audience to be older than San Fran’s usual young hipster crowd but when looking closer there was a mix of every generation – and that’s entirely understandable.  The Chills are a universal group.  The last time I saw them, they were wowing the kids at Laneway – and many of the touring acts, too.  After all they all cut their teeth on Chills’ tunes.  Prior to that, it was a black shirt and clean jeans affair at the International Festival of The Arts where they were hawking their latest Silver Bullets to the well-heeled Chardonnay crowd.  But in both cases, it was the classics that got most of the attention.

Tonight’s show kicked off with fellow Dunedinite and Silver Scroll/Taite Prize finalist Anthonie Tonnon, who’s current live show combines a performance art-inspired approach to stagecraft, home-soldered technology, and dance moves.

Dressed in a splendid blue suit he put on an even more splendid, but way too short, set of mainly keyboard/pedal loop & synth driven electronic lil’ tunes, punctuated by some clever and very ironic robot dancing.  Starting with an up-tempo ballad, Two Free Hands, he immediately wooed the audience with his soft charismatic voice.  And through Mt Cargill and Leave Love he showed us how to build the swoon.  But it was his infectious, but disturbing, Water Underground that won us all over.  Whether real or fake he used a problem with his guitar as an opportunity to provide backing vocals.  We all willingly obliged, singing heartedly at the tops of lungs.

After a drinks-break, the four men that currently call themselves The Chills took to the stage blasting out a number from Silver Bullets (I think) before rolling onto a classic (Wet Blanket) and another …Bullet song (Underwater Wasteland).  That’s the first time I’ve seen this one done live.  It works really well.

Martin Phillipps (Guitar/Vox) assumedly lead the very laid back James Dickson (Bass/Backing Vocals), the enigmatic Todd Knudson (Drums/Backing Vocals) and the quietly present Oli Wilson (Keyboards/Backing Vocals) through a sold set.  This was a tried and true set ready for another airing across the nation.

There’s the mandatory ones like Pink Frost; America Says Hello, a blistering, stadium sized I Love My Leather Jacket, a more mature version of Rolling Moon (the original always sounded like it was recorded in the student union building); and, of course Heavenly Pop Hit.  Plus, for the trainspotters, there is a new one (“never played on a stage anywhere”, Phillipps reckons) called In Harmony.  This is a wonderful little slice of Phillipps pop – nicely sludgy and strumming.

And there there’s “one we haven’t played live since 1985”: Satin Doll (Yes, the tune that started it all on the Dunedin Double).  This rendition is crisp and perfect.  No dust or scratches to be seen. He’s playing, as always, as if he’s giving birth.  Watching the way Knudson adds colour with the various pieces of his drum kit plus his over-accentuated facial expressions really brings the song to life.  Arms flailing, thrashing about and his facial muscles are on overdrive, too.  No wonder he needs first aid for excessive blisters!  In contrast, Phillipps barely moves much during the whole show.  But then, he never did.

Another couple of songs to watch out for will be the new (vinyl single), very grungy Rocket Science and its B-Side Lost In Space, which dates back to 1981 and has only recently been recorded and released as part of a special for International Record Store Day.  Overall, I think the nation will be happy with this set list – plus any extras that may get thrown into the mix.  Who knows, with a repertoire as big as The Chills it could change from night to night.

If there was one gripe, I wish they’d brought Erica Scally on tour.  I miss her quirky violin playing and the addition of some female vocals on a few tunes here and there would have really bolstered some of the classics to another level.  That’s not likely, though.  “Erica says ‘Hello’,” Phillips announced before ripping into America Says Hello, “And so does her new little boy, Oscar.”  See what he did there?

This tour will stop in at a bunch of major and minor centres around Godzone from Auckland to Whanganui to Paekakariki to Queenstown to Raglan to Invercargill. They’ll be nods to the old and a flash of the new.  The set will be a mix of favourites (and there are plenty) and a bunch of newer tracks.  I can’t promise the original line up will be there though, or the second, 14 or 20th.  There have been so many it’s probably only a Mastermind contestant that can name them all.  At least the current band has been together for a bit, though.  You can see they gel well and are all very comfortable in the Chills’ skin.

No doubt a central Wellington gig is different from a community hall in lil’ ol’ Paekakariki but I think the vibe will be the same.  Anyway, San Fran was originally a dance hall, so it has the right feel, I reckon.  It’s a brave move heading for the provinces but, if you think about it, this is where some of those ex-students now live – some on lifestyle blocks; some in the suburbs; a few in the trailer parks; one or two might have a farm now; or manage a run, a couple might be crashing at a beach side crib; and they’ll be a few behind the Cosi club bar or buttering up the asparagus rolls, too.  Wherever they are, here’s hoping they take the night off to relive their student days – and bring the young-uns, too.  It’ll be worth it.


My Top 100 Best Albums

thelastdogandponyshow-567x560Bob Mould – The Last Dog and Pony Show (RykoDisc)

1998’s The Last Dog And Pony Show was Mould’s ostensible farewell to his punk-rock past and guitar-hero persona. Demoralized by the whims and indignities of the music industry, Mould had decided (prematurely, it turns out) that he was finished. The premise is intriguing but ultimately too much of this material comes across as defeated rather than valedictory. On songs like opener “New #1” and “First Drag Of The Day” Mould’s approach feels perfunctory, as if not the work of the artist himself, but instead a highly lifelike simulation. It’s not a bad album, but one that ultimately seems a little bloodless.

For me, this is a very personal album.  I listened to it a lot when I was going through a break up.  It starts with Moving Trucks, a song about the end of a relationship, those final moments when you are standing at the doorway watching as your partner’s thing, and part of your life, if packaged up and shipped out.  The empty spaces it leaves are the voids you now must fill.  The album then travels through the inevitable stages of a breakup.  Sorrow, anger (Taking Everything, Who was Around? ); trying to move on (First Drag of The Day); self destruction (Skintrade – where the protagonist tries out prostitution to fill his longing); rebounding (Classifieds); and philosophy and acceptance (Reflecting Pool, Along the Way).  Yes you could argue that I’m overlaying my own experiences onto this album, that the themes and the intentions of the songs are different but that’s what makes this album so good.  It’s an ‘everyman’ effort for any situation.

Artist: Bob Mould
Release date: 25 August 1998
Producer: Bob Mould
Label: Rykodisc
Genre: Alternative rock

Tracks :
New #1 – 4:47
Moving Trucks – 3:30
Taking Everything – 3:26
First Drag of the Day – 4:29
Classifieds – 3:04
Who Was Around? – 4:08
Skintrade – 5:43
Vaporub – 4:05
Sweet Serene – 3:26
Megamanic – 3:39
Reflecting Pool -3:39
Along the Way – 4:21

My Top 100 Best Albums


Thurston Moore – The Best Day

It’s in Thurston Moore’s nature to provoke, antagonize, and push musical boundaries, and the results have rarely been anything short of thrilling over the course of his 30-plus-year career. He’s one of those guys of the rare Waits, Beefheart, and Zappa variety who have succeeded because of his flagrant disregard for pop music’s rigid rules, not in spite of it. Knowing that, it’s hard to get past the title of his latest solo effort without getting longtime Sonic Youth fans’ imaginations running and jumping to some understandable conclusions. The Best Day? Really? Doesn’t that sound a tad optimistic from a guy who’s given us 1,001 different ways to make a guitar scream for its life?

Sure, it’s just an album title, but it makes you think. Just 18 months ago, Moore, fresh off of the announcement of Sonic Youth’s hiatus and his much-publicized split with wife Kim Gordon, summoned all of his guitar guru strength and packed it into Chelsea Light Moving’s ferocious debut. But a record called The Best Day sounds like the work of someone finding calm after the storm. After all, he is 56, and even an ageless champion of rebellious guitar rock like Moore has to ease off the throttle eventually, right? Maybe, but while The Best Day certainly reins in the anger and tension that’s run wild on much of his past work, it’s not nearly as relaxed as its cozy name implies.

There are some docile moments here to be sure. The opening notes of Speak to the Wild sound hopeful, touched by the idea that something good can be made of what lies ahead. Even when the track starts to hunker down in the low register, Moore insists that there’s reason to look on the bright side. “Don’t let the dark get you lost,” he speak-sings, and he sounds legitimately eager to heed his own advice. Later on, Grace Lake and Germs Burn both punch along at a foot-tapping mid-tempo, but there’s a brightness that hovers warmly above them like sunlight trying to puncture the gray.

If you’re worried that Moore’s gone all butterflies and dandelions on us, don’t be. Even if he’s taken on a comparatively subdued approach this time around, he’s still too much of a teenage rebel at heart to totally go soft. “Here’s a man with a lust for life,” he sings on the record’s blues-influenced title track. “He lives for now on the edge of a knife, and you know he doesn’t like to be cut.” Dark, edgy, and more than a little cryptic, that’s a cerebral piece of Sonic Youth gutter poetry if there ever was one. Elsewhere, he blankets the record with cranky layers of his musical hallmarks. There are sprawling tunes that play like an endless test of the listener’s endurance (Speak to the Wild and Forevermore, the record’s opening two tracks, which clock in just shy of 20 minutes) and acoustic numbers that would have fit nicely on his 2007 solo effort, Trees Outside the Academy (Tape), all threaded together by a mischievous art rock undercurrent.

The eight songs that make up The Best Day represent a more measured and balanced record than fans might expect from Moore, but that shouldn’t be taken as a compromise of his irritable guitar rock instincts. He picks his spots carefully rather than instinctively going for the jugular. The songs move between straightforward melodic rockers and Moore’s signature envelope-pushers, sometimes within the same song. He might not be throwing down as hard as he did on landmark noise anthems like Goo, Sister, or even Sonic Youth’s 2009 swan song, The Eternal, but his latest is a nice reminder that his blood can run a few degrees shy of white hot when he wants it to, and that the results can still be rewarding when he prioritizes melody over bold experimentation. The Best Day? Not quite, but Moore’s clearly got a lot left in his creative tank, and that’s something to smile and feel good about.

From Consequence of Sound;

Groove Book Report: Tell Me My Name – Bill Manhire riddles; Norman Meehan music; Hannah Griffin song; Peter Peryer photographs – Published by Victoria University Press (Poetry + photographs + music CD)

Tell Me My Name Cover
Recently, I found myself caught up in the great Nobel Literacy Prize debate over whether Bob Dylan should have been awarded it or not. The arguments came from many sides but it all came down to this: Are lyrics poetry? That is, what makes lyrics suitable to be read; or recited; or sung or quoted; or used in a wedding speech; or a eulogy; or put on a pedestal and displayed around a Harbour walkway? Or anywhere? Do lyrics need music. Is that that what defines them or determines them from poetry? I guess the Nobel panel of judges decided that lyrics could stand alone as a legitimate branch of poetry – and QED a legitimate literacy work. That begs another question, too. Does a great literacy work must be in a published book? Have any text or SMS works ever been nominated? Or even Kindle only editions. And, of course, one could easily argue that Rap is poetry – set to music or just recited. It doesn’t need Hip Hop to sell it, but it helps. Don’t let’s get started on that one.

The debate will rage, no doubt. In the meantime, here in New Zealand, there’s a world-famous poet whose writings often end up set to music, although he doesn’t intentionally set out this way. In the case of poet and National Treasure Bill Manhire, it was poetry. Or more to the point the poetry of Riddles. Manhire should know a thing or two about poetry, as founded the International Institute of Modern Letters, which is home to New Zealand’s leading creative writing program. He is now Emeritus Professor of English and Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington. Riddling entered Manhire’s life when he was very small child. In the introduction to his new collection Tell Me My Name, he reveals the first riddle his mother ever sang to him. He might not have really understood then what the nonsense all meant but it created a strong memory and he sings it still.

“A wee wee man
In a red red coat Staff in my hand
And a stone in my throat.”
(Answer: a cherry)
From the traditional English Riddle, The Cherry Song.

As a university student he was introduced to Old English and Norse languages and Anglo Saxon riddle poems. “Objects like a cloud, a swan, an iceberg, would be described in slightly oblique, misleading ways.” This has affected the way he writes this new collection. Oblique but ultimately transparent references are important to this sequence of thirteen riddles. To add another dimension jazz scholar Norman Meehan has composer and plays some very atmospheric piano accompanied by Jazz vocalist Hannah Griffin. What’s interesting about the compositions is that none of them give any clues as to the answers to these riddles but they are revealing once you do know the answers. There’s one about ice that Manhire has peppered with tiny cluesin the lyrics. But musically Meehan gives little away save for the opening few notes of a melancholy violin, slowly groaning like and iceberg.

“I am the land without a stone I am silence on her throne I am water turned to bone”

Manhire’s worked with Meehan and Griffin before, on Buddhist Rain, Small Holes in the Silence (Rattle Records), These Rough Notes (VUP) and the acclaimed Making Baby Float – poems written by Manhire about growing up in 1950’s New Zealand. Griffin’s voice is just as lush and warm on this new CD as it was on that earlier project. It’s almost a maternal angelic presence. Calming and soothing. She could sing the phone book or the US presidential results and still make the world seem alright. What’s abundant here is the space between lyrics and music. Like Manhire’s reading voice, it is slow, relaxed and measured. It is also slightly monotonic, with Griffin holding fast her course. Again giving away little but surprisingly it’s still seductive and enticing. You want to solve these. Or at least try.

The little hardback book that comes with the CD includes the full texts and eight photographs by celebrated artist Peter Peryer – none of which truly give the game away, either. They’re actually red herrings – images that provocatively lure you one way, and then another but ultimately have little obvious connections to the subject of the riddle. This is yet another layer of playfulness. I approached this as a CD review but it’s as much a book review – or a poetry review – as well. Upon my first reading, I looked at the ‘riddleness’ of each poem – what lies within the rhyme. I was looking for the word-smithing and the echoes, the enigma, and because of the rhymes the sweetly crafted melody. As poems, along there is an openness, as if you are walking through a wide-open paddock – endless green stretching to the horizon to meet the blue skies. No wind. Calm. Slow. Sensually sun kissed skin. A vast plain that could generate both movement and stillness. This is a bit of a trade mark for Manhire. He likes to leave the doors open and for the poem to breath. You can hear his soft, gentle voice in these lines. With him, it’s always what he doesn’t say that is important. Take this poem. Simply numbered ‘1’. I won’t spoil it by telling you the subject of the riddle but if you put yourself in the mind of the speaker you will travel with him to the destination:

The road goes by the house
the wind sings in the tree
we sing the travelling worlds
we sing quietly
(we sing quietly)

All of these poems have cryptic clues awaiting their own individual ‘Eureka!’ moments where there is a Ha! at arrival which is good but not as good as the travel). Sure, you can look to the back page to discover the answers or are they? Perhaps a bridge; an ocean; an echo; a family tree; a watermelon; a muddy puddle; ice; Christmas fairy lights; the dark; longitude and latitude. I’ve added one in, can you guess. Best not. And why puncture the delight of solving these riddles, or better still the bliss of not really ever knowing. In a world of big data, secrets and lies, and a pursuit of truth – fake or otherwise, is there ever a time when we can just ponder without conclusion? Perhaps that is the real pleasure here. The following example may shed some light. Or not.

I’m always at the cinema
I’m always at the beach
I’m waiting in that secret place
that lovers try to reach

from poem number ‘5’

Next month these poems will be performed as stage production at Wanaka’s Festival of Colour adding yet another dimension. There are rumours that the show may tour the country, too. As a ‘literary’ piece it will jump of the page, into the strings and keys of the piano and drift across the auditorium, floating on the vocal chords of a singer. Will this be poetry or lyrics that you are experiencing. Does it matter? Like the riddles themselves, we need to let them be – un-categorized, a pleasure as they are.

I’ll leave you with more to travel on, navigate it wisely:
I’m made of where you’re going
I’m made of north and south
I’m made of possibility
I’m made of somewhere else

From Poem ‘4’

Tell Me My Name is published simultaneously with Bill Manhire’s new poetry collection Some Things to Place in a Coffin.