Archive for Music Review

Neil Watson – Studies In Tubular (NW)

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First published at www.13thfloor.co.nz

Neil Watson works as an Artist Teacher at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music’s Albany Campus in 2013.  But after hours he likes to let off steam making serious New Orleans Boogaloo, 70’s Funk, Surf Rock and guitar based jazz.  Which is pretty much his template for this new 9 track album.

Born and raised in Auckland, Neil is one gun for hire you want in your studio.  He’s recorded on over twenty released albums as a session artist for The Finn Brothers, Randy Crawford, Sola Rosa, Elemenop, Caitlin Smith, The Sami Sisters and Mel Parsons.  Well known in the local jazz scene he has also worked with jazz masters Michael Brecker, Diane Shuur, cut his teeth at 18 with the Roger Fox Big band and has jammed with jazz legend Mike Nock. He’s also supported entertainers such as Des O’Conner, John Rowles and Lucy Lawless and worked with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2001 he released his debut album Unification from which the track The Guru was released on Kog Transmissions Dub Compilations 3.  Along with his various solo projects and sideman duties Neil has taught and lectured music at both the New Zealand School of Music and the University of Auckland’s Jazz and Popular Music Programs since 2003.  You can also catch him in a few high schools around teaching kids the passion.

On his third release Watson gives us a grab bag of styles and highlights from a two-day session in July 2011.  It was born of a project centred around his Masters and an exploration of what could be done playing open string notes.  The title comes from Neil’s wife who described of Hendrix’s sound as ‘tubular’ – which was very similar to what Neil is trying to emulate here.

In essence, we get a hybrid of past experiences wrapped up into 9 original tracks that showcases not only his talents but some of his wonderful friends too.  Mixed by Jeremy Toy (She’s So Rad, Leonard Charles) and recorded by Edmund Cake (Bressa Creeting Cake) it has a very clean, slightly academic and pitch perfect quality about it.  And therein lies my problem. Having recently heard him play live on RNZ his sound was much dirtier and grungy.  All the better for it.  Here the production focuses on getting everything just so.  Like hospital corners, accurate but a little too clinical.

One of the best tracks kicks in on the Coltrane styled banger Booga Gee, which is something of a free session jam based around the skimpiest of lines (as most good jazz tracks are) and fleshed out with juke-jumpin’ horns and big brassy moments, peppered with solos from Neil’s electric guitar and some deft baritone sax from the famous Roger Manins.  Playing with the well-loved Auckland ensemble The Doughboys Neil has made some good mates in the jazz community and they help him out here.  He’s also roped in drummer Ron Samsom (who appears on most of the Rattle Records’ Jazz albums) on drums and Oliver Right on upright bass plus Geoff Maddock (Golden Horse, BCC) to add some acoustic guitars to the nice and easy track Kerala.

By contrast you get a couple of dirty 50’s boogie tracks to get you on the dance floor, like D.A.E. 101 which swings like a Shadows number, fronted by Stevie Ray Vaughan. It totally rocks.  By far the best groove on this platter.

Elsewhere, Watson shows us his skills, as if it was his Curriculum Vitae: Jazz funk on the opener Metres Ahead (inspired by the 70’s funk group The Meters) and some competent but pedestrian blues power riffs on Wes De Money (a dedication to Wes Montgomery), which again sounds much better live and raw.  There’s something to be said for a tad of distortion and a wonky amp.

As you’ve probably figure Mr Neil Watson is a very competent virtuoso.  This album comes out next Friday – 11 February but I’d recommend that you catch him and his band in the flesh to truly get the full experience.

Tim Gruar

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Last Call For Wellington’s Bodega

Published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

Last Call For Wellington’s Bodega

On a quiet Friday afternoon music fanatic and long-time Bodega patron Tim Gruar popped up the road to have a beer with owner Murray (‘Mo’) Hepple (co-owner with Catherine Popert) to talk about his long career in the music industry, buying this magical venue and finally letting it go. 

Iconic Wellington venue Bar Bodega is due to close for the final time on 23rd December after nearly 25 years.  It was reported earlier in the year that Bodega owners Murray Hepple and co-owner Catherine Popert had tried to buy the building which houses the bar but lost out to a company owned by skincare queen Elizabeth Babalich.

Over its lifetime Bodega has hosted a huge number of Kiwi acts such as Ladyhawke and About The Deadlines Tim Finn, Fur Patrol, Gin Wigmore, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Hollie Smith, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Chills, Avalanche City, Opshop, and featured many bodega-poster-8internationals including The White Stripes, Steve Earle, Killing Joke, ASAP Ferg, Midge Ure (Ultravox), Tech N9ne, Bad Manners, The Melvins, Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Lloyd Cole, Roni Size, The Misfits, Ghostface Killah, Lydia Lunch, Nik Kershaw, Ace Frehley, The Fall, The Selecter, Earl Sweatshirt, Everclear, Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), The Beat, The Buzzcocks, to name but a few.  Some, including Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, KT Tunstall, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Pokey La Farge, and Wellington fav’s Kitty Daisy and Lewis, have returned repeatedly and list Bodega as one of their all-time top ten gigs.  It’s hard to imagine Wellington without such a venue. But there was a time, once.

In the late 80’s/early 90’s Wellington was something of a cultural wasteland for a student DJ like myself.  As music fanatics, we hover around record shops like The Soul Mine in Kilbernie, Colin Morris in Willis Street and sometimes raided the Wellington Public Library’s bizarre and eclectic collection of vinyl records.  We spent long hours, late into the night playing our choice cuts on Radio Active’s Death to Dawn all night radio show, and we ate pizza ordered the-original-bodeg-willis-stfrom the Thorndon Squash Club – the very site that would eventually spawn the first Hell’s Pizza. When Dawn finally broke and the first bleary eyed Sunday morning DJ finally slumped up the hill to do their show we collected our beer bottles up and responsibly deposited them in the glass recycle bin on campus and headed down the hill to the only café open at that time of the morning.  Bodega.  Apart from Midnight Espresso there were no decent café’s in the city – and apart from Geoff Marsland’s products, there was definitely no decent coffee, either.

Bodega, thank the gods, made Havana coffee, and the best eggs Benedict – perfect for soaking up the dregs of too many Waikato droughts from the night before.  Bodega, the cafe was located up in Willis St, 2 up from the famous White House Restaurant and 2 down from an infamous protester’s ‘mansion’ that proudly displayed an exotic range of anti-nuclear banners. There was a big bay window, a leftover from its days as a butchery, where we could all sit in the morning sun and feel the rays on our back whilst we watched the faithful scramble to get to service at the Christian Science building, with its intentionally ‘wonky’ Doric pillars, designed by iconic architect Ian Athfield.

Sometime around 1991, although facts differ on this, a bar and live space was opened up in in the original ‘sawdust room’ at the back of the café.  This was a small room, barely big enough to fit 50 people.  The bar’s snake bites made with beer and cider were legendary.  The space was accesses down a tight, dingy alley on the side of the café that also admitted the long suffering tenants in the flats above.  It was like sneaking off to a secret world that only a select few knew about.

At Bodega Bar, bands crammed on to a stage barely big enough to fit a drum kit, let alone a whole crew. Over my time as a punter there, I saw everything from an eight piece Afro-funk crew to comedy festival gigs and an endless supply of earnest singer song writers armed bodega-poster-7with a guitar and foot pedals.  It was also the favourite haunt of many of us students, various vagabonds from Aro St and wanna-be musicians.  Over its 11 years at the Willis St site – now a six-lane intersection –  the bar hosted nearly 1000 bands including Detroit’s White Stripes in 2000 who played to a room of 150 people.  I still have the scuffs on my cherry coloured Doc Martins from that night.

At that time Bar Bodega was owned by Fergus McInnes.  In 2002, the shadow of the motorway by-pass loomed to large and he relocated to a building in upper Ghuznee Street, just down the road a bit.  Settling in under the former location of Brasserie Flipp, a notorious venue for mid 80’s excess, frequented by stockbrokers and financial giants of the moment, it was the perfect alternative. Rock vs. Money!

I can still remember watching the procession as the Bodega’s horseshoe shaped wooded bar was lovingly carried on foot down the road from its old spot on Willis St to the new Ghuznee St site in September 2002.  I can also remember getting one of the last tickets to see Lee Scratch Perry in 2002 and only managing to peep over a huge sea of dreads to get a glimpse at the master in action while the room heaved to the beat of bodies bathed in the aroma of second hand gunja.

murray-hepple-1In 2007 Mo took over the bar.  But before being a bar owner, he was a tour manager for some of the biggest and well known bands on the planet.  Over the years he’s been on tour with AC/DC, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Leonard Cohen; and KT Tunstall.  How a kid from Godzone got to do all that is more fluke than planning, he says.  “It’s not what you know but who you know really.”

“I grew up here.  I’d originally trained as an engineer at the Lower Hutt Railway yards.  I did my time and moved on.  In ‘84 I headed for the Northern Hemisphere.  A mate of mine had been working with this merchandising company in the UK.  He’d come back and said when you get there, look these people up.  Then this guy owed me money when I was backpacking.  Well, I should write him a letter to say that 50 quid I lent him but never got back was the best money I ever spent because it meant I was broke.  So I ended up I looking up that merchandising company and going to this house with these people on the Friday night.  And by the Sunday night I was off to Sweden with the Monsters of Rock Tour with ACDC, Van Halen and Motley Crüe.”

bodea-poster-4“Then they sent me out with Frank Zappa doing merchandise, again. And then Lou Reed.  And it just exploded from there!  But then, because I’m an engineer – a fitter and turner by trade – I was keen to get into the technical side of the music trade.  So I was doing drums.  I was a back line tech with Leonard Cohen.  I also did backline for Simply Red when they were in the USA on tour and a few other bands and then about 1990 I started being a tour manager, and the rest is history.”

Mo tells me several stories about touring with bands around the time they broke into the mainstream.  He’s worked with KT Tunstall, around the time she appeared on Later with Jools Holland.  He’s also worked with the Rollins Band.  “Henry is an amazing work-aholic.  And I think I was my most buff and fit during that tour.  He was always in the gym, so I was too.  We worked out.  He’d write books and his scripts for his spoken word shows and all sorts of other projects all at the same time, when he was on the road. Most bands would just drink and goof off after a show but Henry would just go to work.  Not him.  Amazing energy, that guy.”

He also toured The Butthole Surfers; The Smithereens; Orbital; The Crystal Method; Craig David, the list goes on as he recounts each band with affection and the kind of ownership that only a tour manager could have.  He tells me story after story about touring bands.  Such as rescuing Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers) from the circling drug dealer vultures who attacked multiple times whilst on tour.  He also remembers the night Sonic Youth’s Support band “smashed stuff up for fun” backstage after a gig in Holland.  “Two months later that band, Nirvana, broke with that huge hit (Smells Like Teen Spirit). Before the Promoter was raving on about costs and worried about what the venue owner might think.  Two months on they were begging to get them back, no matter what.”

bodega-poster-9“I was freelance, really, going from tour to tour. But then I met my wife in the UK, my children, Connor and Emily, were born over there (in the UK) and I hunkered to come back to New Zealand.   It just got to the point – it was nearly 20 years touring – and touring is not conducive to family life, you know?”

Ok, fair enough.  But I’m a dad, too, I say.  I understand what you’re saying.  Yet when you come back, you choose to buy a bar.  Well, if that was me I’d never see my children, I suggest.  Mo, just laughs.  “I know. What was I thinking?  Talk about jumping out of the pan into the fire.  I always said I wanted to come back here.  Taking this place on was more of a shock.”

“I met a friend of mine, Ray, whose since past away.  He introduced me to Bodega.  I actually came into this place (Bodega) looking for some production work.  He told me that this is where the production-type people hang out,” he says waving his hand around the room.  “And looking for that work I met Fraser McInnes (the previous owner), who was selling the place.  I thought: “That’d be a good idea – I’ll buy a bar!”  That was a brilliant idea!”  He hesitates and continues.  “It’s been hard graft.  But you know, Tim, it’s been a journey and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here.”

murray-hepple-2“At the time of the sale, Fraser was looking to the development of the Tuatara Brewery, which was taking off, the live gig scene had worn him down.”  Mo has a great admiration for Bodega’s former owner.  “I think Fraser was a maverick.  He was doing live music at a time no one else was interested.  The guy needs to be commended for that.  He did a great job of giving bands the opportunity to stand up in front of an audience.  Wellington was a wasteland (live scene) when I returned.”

“I can remember Wellington had a vibrant scene when I left:  The Terminus in Newtown (home of the infamous Terminals and Whazo Ghoti and The Spines), The 1860 (which had Hogsnort Rupert and Blerta); The Clyde Quay; and Quinn’s Post out in Trentham.  Heaps more, too.  There was quite a big live scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s.”

Mo is quick to point out that the live venue is almost essential to the development of a band.  As a former tour manager, he should know.  “People always talk about great bands, great gigs but the truth is the venues are as important as the bands.  And Fraser provided that outlet when bands came through Wellington and local bands, too.”

bodega-posterMo well remembers the first night after he’d bought Bodega.  “I went to dinner with my wife and a friend at Scopa (a local Italian Restaurant, ironically owned by the Bresolin Brothers of Il Casino fame and later owners of the original Bodega location up Willis St).  I think it was November 2007.  And Wellington was packed, town was ‘pumping’.  And we walked in and there was some gawd-awful heavy metal band playing to a handful of people and Fraser was at the bar drunk and I’ll never forget the look on my wife and friend’s faces – their expression was “What the f***k have you done?  I thought the very same thing.”

Mo managed to rally support from his connections and slowly built up the business growing the international line-ups in particular.  One of the first was KT Tunstall, who was out here on her honeymoon – she found time to pop in and play.  That followed a string of bigger acts, mixed with Kiwi icons like the Chills, Gin Wigmore and The Verlaines.

bodega-interior-1Reflecting back, Mo notes that it is harder these days to run a live venue in part because of choice.  “Looking back, that’s what we did.  We didn’t have all the distractions you have now.  TV, Netflix, games, etc.  We went to see live bands.  And people grow up.  I know many people who were massive live music fans but as they grow older, they can’t commit as much time – with kids and houses, etc.”  “The first period was a bit of a struggle, to get that confidence and support.  It took time to pick up.  Wellington acts were initially luke-warm.  My international contacts finally came through – and we got a lot of big acts like Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke), Pete Murphy (Bauhaus), The Selector, The Beat.”

He also says that today we have much more choice when it comes to seeing both international acts and locals.  But he’s also wary that the appetite to discover new talent isn’t as strong as previously.  This is a problem the music industry has been grappling with for some time, with live venues simply being at the tail end of it, he reckons.
bodega-poster-2The very first international act Mo booked came via local promoter Brent Eccles.  Aussie rockers Airbourne weren’t quite right for his Winery Tours, which featured acts like Bic Runga.  “I must say Brent was really helpful.  He put a lot of shows my way.  Helped me get on my feet.”

“I can remember that night, when Airbourne played.  Full on rock!  On the bar we just got slammed!  We had so many people.  We weren’t used to it.  It was a real learning curve on how to deal with bigger groups.  And I’d never run a venue before.  I’d been on the other side, as the promoter and tour manager.  I was used to getting my way with the venues, not providing what they needed”

The Mission at Bodega
The Mission at Bodega

Mo puts the success of Bodega down to the audio, the acoustics – which he credits Fraser with installing – and the lighting.  He also notes that the relationship between the stage and the audience is vital.  “The stage could be a little higher at Bodega”, he reckons, “but when you are putting on a show you gotta have some clearance between the roof and the stage, for the lighting to be effective, so I think it still works well.  You need a bit of distance, which is why, when done well it really looks good.  We’ve had many international acts comment on the quality of the sound and the lighting.”

“I have some great moments here.  KT Tunstall was a seminal show – such a great performer.  Because I managed her she’s known my kids since they were two.  Even had them up on the stage.  Killing Joke was a spiritual moment, such a wall of sound.  Totally blew me away!  Because there’s been so many acts, operating a bar that has live music most nights, it’s hard to pick the really great moments.  Peter Hook, the Buzzcocks were great.  I’ve been fortunate to have great people working with me, who love music.  The people I have now are fucking fantastic.  The bands are appreciative of all they do. My staff genuinely love being here.  I’ve enjoyed working with them, too.”

Midge Ure at Bar Bodega
Midge Ure at Bar Bodega

Mo says moving out will be hard.  Last Sunday was an auction of many of the bar’s chattels and rock memorabilia.  But it’s the memories that can’t be erased or sold on.  “My kids have grown up here, so it will be hard for them.  My son has even worked on the hat check a few times.  They’ve always been part of this place.  Actually, there’s a lot of people who are gonna be lost.  This place has been such a hub for them.”

Mo is keen to do something with music post retirement from Bodega.  He’ll be looking at some opportunities to promote some new acts.  “Watch this space,” he says.

“I think, over all, what we’ve done here is important.  You know people won’t necessarily remember some bar down Courtney Place that’s there for 2 years but I think 25 years they’ll remember coming to a gig here, at Bodega.  They’ll remember seeing that band, being with those friends, being here!”

Ladyhawke at Bodega 22.7.2016
Ladyhawke at Bodega 22.7.2016

To send Bodega out in style Mo has invited his staff to choose the bands for the final gig on 23rd December.  So far the line-up will involve ‘real’ locals, capturing the essence of the bar’s early roots.  Ash Broke of the band Oneroof is a favourite around town and a Bodega regular.  Sea Mouse is fronted by Seamus Johnson, formerly part of Elston Gun and Papersicissors.  Another Bodega regular, he’ll bring his filthy grunge blues rock to the party.  The Spines go way back to the earliest days of Bodega and possibly before, having hovered around the Wellington scene for over 35 years.  It seems only fitting to see them back for one last time in the big black room.  The line-up is changing and morphing every day.  Check Bodega’s facebook page for the latest.

 

Amelie Hepple, KT Tunstall, Connor Hepple; KT Tunstall (from UK) at Bar Bodega, Wellington
Amelie Hepple, KT Tunstall, Connor Hepple; KT Tunstall (from UK) at Bar Bodega, Wellington

I started this article by mentioning my own personal connection with Bodega and the Wellington music scene it’s been part of.  There will be many, many more stories that aren’t included here.  But no matter what there’s no doubt there will be a huge hole to fill now.  That can’t be denied.  So long Bodega, may you Rock in Peace!

Many thanks to the following for helping me with this article: Murray Hepple, Steve Cochrane and Michel Rowland (for the posters), Wendy Collings (for the photos), stuff.co.nz, NZ Archives & www.te ara.govt.nz.

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

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Troy Kingi & The Electric Haka Boogie – Guitar Party At Uncle’s Bach (Lyttelton)

Published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

 

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Musician-actor Troy Kingi, is probably best known for playing the role of TK the selfish dad in Taika Waititi’s blockbuster Hunt for the Wilderpeople, although he’s also done a stint in the movie Pa Boys and Mt Zion, where he actually played a musician.  Upon listening to his new double-album Guitar Party at Uncle’s Bach, you can’t help wondering how much of those experiences rubbed off.

Music and acting has been a constant for Troy since as his boarding school days where he picked up the guitar as part of Te Aute College’s kapa haka group.  In between raising his four children in Kingi has been a dive instructor, jobbing actor and mentored prison inmates in the final season of Maori Television’s Songs From The Inside.  Which may explain why it’s taken eight years to write and record this album.

The music might be inspired by Kingi’s love of guitar singalongs at family gatherings, and recorded in Lyttelton at Ben Edwards’ Sitting Room studio but the music feels much more sophisticated than just a jam around the Hangi.  Sure, it starts with sample from a New Year’s party countdown but then it breaks into some very col psychedelic guitar fuzz mixed with perfect dread beats on Leg Space.  Harmonies from Mara TK, who helps out on the album are all too clear.  There’s a bit of Otis Redding old Skool soul on Cold Steel, delivered so well I think Holly Smith might wanna call up and ask if she can do a duet on this one.  The flavours mix again into big 70’s riffs on Coke Lines, with the wah-wah pedals in full force.  This tune i s very catchy and a real party groover.

Here and there Kingi shows of his blues skills like on You In A Nutshell, which is so close I had to check it wasn’t an out take from some lost Stevie Ray Vaughan album.  The album moves around between blues, rock soul and reggae but occasionally gets very delicate.  Such a moment is Man From Mercury, a slow soul bearing contemplation that principally hangs together with a few simple piano lines, punctuated by swelling rock chords from the band.

One of my favourites is a very funky number called Can’t Help Feeling Strange.  It’s a slow burner in the style of Marvin Gaye, especially around the time of What’s Goin’ On?  Again, you here Kingi’s sweet, sweet vocals and harmonies with Mara TK, offset by an understated groove cadence and the perfect Motown template.

Oil Spill is a more heavy grungy number, revealing Kingi’s love of Hendrix and possibly Deep Purple.  It certainly belongs on that playlist.  With distorted vocals and a deep, spindly, jangly guitar riff it completes Tahi (The first disc).

Rua (The second disc) begins with Moko, a more simple track that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Fly My Pretties set.  There’s an old surf tune crying to get out of Kingi’s amp.  It’s clear when you hear Clean Sea Air, which mixes up all those great elements of summer BBQ dance music with a tad of consciousness and play it all back through a funnel of delicious distortion.  You get more 60’s garage rock on Under Ledges, which also is heavily bathed in distortion and vibrant tremolos.  Another turn at psychedelia and reggae come on the oddly labelled Bats n Vampire Squid.

I must admit I’ve only just scratched the surface of this collection, which feels more like a retrospective box set than a first release.  Clocking in at 22 tracks, its ambitious, but I can’t say there was ever a time I was bored or felt the need to fast forward.  Given the sheer weight of this body of work it can be a little over whelming to take in all at once.  More like the opposite.  I need to spend more time re-listening to these songs.  Good thing the summer holidays are coming up.

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Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox – Shed 6 Wellington September 2, 2016

Originally featured at http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=73352

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When I was a kid, variety shows were all the rage on the telly. It seemed that TVNZ had unlimited green to waste on The Billy T Show, Howard Morrison specials and endless features with Prince Tui Teka and Ray Wolf. I hated them, mainly because most of the material tended to lean toward Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. I was more into punk at that point. Poor TV show band knock-offs were definitely uncool.

Of course those fading entertainers once had great careers in show bands like the Howard Morrison Quartet or the Volcanics, and if you care to look up their archives you’ll find some stunning performances – mainly covers of current top hits but all done in their own style, with just a hint of local flavour.

In exactly the same mould, but with a heapin’ helpin’ of New York chutzpah, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox project redoes the contemporary repertoire with vintage flair. Once again they return to our shores with an audience positively brimming over with glee and excitement to have them back. The last time this Youtube sensation played in the Capital was 12 months ago at the Bodega, essentially a harsh concrete box more suited to hard rock acts than an American-style orchestra playing 1920’s rag time, swing and Lounge versions of the top forty. But the word has spread wide across Wellington’s hip community and they have booked out the town’s premium seated festival space Shed 6. There was a fair amount of respect in the room with many punters decked out in Betty Page dresses, bouffants and 1940’s hairdos, fox furs, blazers and porkpie hats, and plenty of tweed and cheese cutters. Clearly, these people were here to party. And what a jam. PMJ are first and foremost a SHOW BAND, baby!

MC’d by the charismatic and super talented LaVance Colley the ensemble rattle through a radical mix. Any other time a covers band tried this they fall flat on their tushies. But not PMJ. When you hear Creep done as a Kurt Veil torch song or Casey Abrams delivering Sweet Child O’ Mine performed like a Joe Cocker impression performed by Andrew Strong you know this is different. Even Colley’s own interpretation of Celine Dion’s abomination My Heart Will Go On works when its rearranged as Motown soul song. Who knew?

Colley has the sweetest voice, reminding you instantly of Ceelo Green, of whom he pays homage to by wiping the floor with him on a very righteous interpretation of Forget You. He also nails Rhianna’s Halo, which definitely works better with the Barry White treatment.

The PMJ ‘family’ now boasts over 70 singers and players who jump in and out of the bill depending on commitments so you never know you are gonna get. This time interchanging between songs is done by Robyn Adele Anderson, Melinda Doolittle, and Christina Gatti who blow the cobwebs off a slew of numbers once claimed by Katie Perry (Roar), Queen (Another One Bites The Dust), Rhianna, Miley Cyrus (We Can’t Stop), Macklemore (Thrift Shop) – all ripping with more attitude and sass than Jessica Rabbit, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and China Phillips put together. Doolittle’s awesome vocals on the Radiohead number, in particular, stopped traffic for sure. But you can’t discount Anderson’s class or Gatti’s stylish burlesque reworking of Ms Spears’ Toxic and or her remake of Womanizer as a vintage Peggy Lee platter.

There are of course some brilliant moments of theatre like tap dance king Alex MacDonald breaking out a tattoo of Vanilla Ice’s famous number, or saxophonist Stephen Spencer killing Careless Whisper or his trombone sidekick wandering off into the Flintstones theme rethought as a Glenn Miller tune. Or drummer Chip Thomas playing ragtime versions of hip hop beats on demand and then there’s a magical Liberace performance from the band’s Scott Bradlee stand-in on piano. Completing the line-up musical director Adam Kuboto get in on the action when he shares his bass with Casey Abrams during a frantic version of Meghan Trainor’s All about The Bass. It’s yet another moment of pure entertainment. Shame that wasn’t a feature of those crappy TV knock offs I sat through in the 80’s.

The whole thing wraps up with another song I detest but somehow it just works – a Broadway take on Sorry, without the bombastic DJ noodlings and the Beib’s syrupy vocals. It works a treat, proving once again that with the right arrangement anything might just fly. Assuming the band has the stuff to pull it off, of course! My only regret: Puddles the Clown couldn’t make it so Lorde’s Royals is left off the set list. Probably best, considering. Tonight had a touch of class and oozed style and real talent. No wonder the all ages audience found their way in. They know a good night. And that’s a fact.

Note: one of my photos featured in the Melbourne Morning Papers: https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/32686943/no-scott-bradlee-but-his-postmodern-jukebox-still-spins-the-hits/

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Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph)

First published on 13thfloor.co.nz

Descendents Cover

There’s a couple of well read publications that feature on the shelves of my local supermarket sporting CDs of recent released material and endless rehashes of classic rock era bands.  My daughter calls those mags ‘Dad Rock”.  “How many articles about The Smiths, The Doors and Pink Floyd do I really need?” she asks and compares my own obsessions with her mum’s dedication to watching schmaltz dramas like Grey’s Anatomy.

At the heart, she’s referring to the default position we all head to as we get older, to finding our own cultural comfort food.  And it’s a common thing.  Recently Simon Reynolds wrote Retromania, to explain the phenomenon of endless bands reforming, ‘getting back together’, touring their ‘classic lineups’ despite their initial limited appeal.  It explains the endless Fleetwood Mac tours and why Atomic Kitten have reformed.

Someone out their needs that fix one more time.  So it’s no surprise that Californian punk band The Descendents should want to get in on the act, too.  And no doubt I won’t be the first to realise this.  Fighting the ‘Man’, sticking it to society, morality, the church, what ever.  Same old tired messages but they’re always in vogue. It’s there plain and simple in the lyrics of  We Got to Defeat: “Yeah, the world got to kick my ass a gain the new is the same as it always ways again”. The whole song’s only 57 seconds long but it’s effective. Just unoriginal.  A simple piece of aural click bait with a simple message – Fight the power. Play, repeat.  Play, repeat.  Yawn.  Big deal. So what.

Over the years the band’s managed to get by trading on their passive aggressive humour through many albums, coasting around the airwaves, narrowly missing the sale bin relegations. To call them punks is probably a bit rich, not that they’ve ever really welcomed the title either.

The band once ironically tried to pass the baton on that label with their own ironically labeled song I’m Not a Punk.   “Show me the way to conformity Try to be different but it’s always the same.”  But whilst they’ve managed to outlast many of their peers they can’t help acknowledging that this whole thing is really a youngster’s game.  After all, nobody wants to watch a bunch of overweight 50’s blokes singing about isolation and rejection.  Oh, hang on?  Wasn’t that the Buzzcocks show?

Rumours of new Descendents material track way back to a 2010 reunion show but at the time singer Milo Aukerman claimed that these gigs were mere one-off’s, a holiday break from his day job as a biologist.  But eventually he put academia on the back bunsen-burner when the quartet returned to the stage and studio last year.

Hypercaffium Spazzinate is the is the band’s first LP in over 12 years  and like all their material it relies on the same humour, honesty, and personal experience that has always powered their music. Back in the late ‘70s tense four guys from Manhattan Beach were cool, playing cheeky hardcore about caffine highs, girl crushes, and a mandatory hate of parents’, authority.  They were kind of cousins to the more commercially successful Offspring and the way more intense and aggressive bands like Black Flag, TSOL, Soundgarden and Fear.  I always hated Milo Aukerman’s whining vocal style, You’ve got to admire his wit and survival acumen.

Musically, every thing on this album is quick and decisive.  All 16 tracks bound along at pace, with staccato beats and fast, furious guitars but avoid any over-aggression or extensive political chatter.  And I found this particularly disappointing, given how ripe for critique Donald Trump and the whole presidential election climate is right now.  For a band that is so capable of clever ironic lyrics and cutting remarks nothing on this album offers anything of relevance or benefit.  It’s all well played lame duck” Dad Rock”.

Mostly the band keeps to the topics of their earliest days the spastic hardcore of their Milo Goes to College concept and after over thirty years of caffeine-induced shouting and belittling the punk elite Aukerman is still peddling their wares.   So this album picks up where they left off with a continued on food, friends, family, and everything else besides with, perhaps the added perspectives of maturity Informed by inevitable experiences of ageing, fatherhood, death, and responsibility.  But again.  So what?

No Fat Burger Is like part two for 1981’s I Like Foodmusic’s answer to Food Television’s Man Vs Food show.  The 80’s number was primarily focussed on “juicy burgers, greasy fries, turkey legs,” but the new song is like the aftermath of that blue plat special challenge: “Can’t have no m0re juicy burgers/Can’t have no more greasy fries/Doctor took my lipid profile/He told me I’m barely alive.” Morbid stuff, indeed.

I mentioned Retromania earlier and I think I found the theme song. Limiter is saturated in nostalgic  references accenting an ongoing yet tired laments about society’s mounting tendencies to treat conditions like ADHD with drugs and pills (or “limiters,”) instead of proper care: “Whatever happened to drug-free youth?/ What’s to become of our sons, what can we do?” Images from mid-90’s heavy metal videos featuring over crazed teens in straight jackets come to mind.

Elsewhere there’s more of the same – self-hatred (Fighting Myself), toxic masculinity (Testosterone) and the inevitable intolerant Bible Bashers (Shameless Halo).  Sorry folks, move along.  Nothing to see here.

Ok, so the band do pain like they enjoy it.  But again, again.  So what?  Wrapping up hard edges in irony and sugar pop on acid is all very nice but just so tired. Stephen Egerton makes sure  his guitar riffs stay are jagged but melodic, buoyed by Karl Alvarez’s staccato bass beats and Bill Stevenson’s machine gun drumming which switches between cruising 4/4 beats and double time artillery bursts in order to drive home the band’s carefully calculated fury.  But there’s nothing new in all of this.

The album’s closing tune, Beyond the Music is supposed to be a manifesto to timeless friendship of the band rather than a career prospect: “Frustrato-rock or chainsaw pop/or whatever it is we play/This is our family/And it will always be this way.” It can only be read as some sort of preemptive eulogy or a statement for why they refuse to change or experiment with anything new or creative.  So what?  “We ain’t changing, that’s what.”  Shame really.  If you are planning on making a comeback, whether to get more more money, break out of the rut you’ve fallen into lately or just to see if anybody still remembers you, then bring some new material and some new ideas.  Otherwise release a Greatest Hits album and tour that endlessly and live of the royalties like every other has been outfit.  Punk’s Not Dead.  Nah.

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Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

First published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

Irish multi-instrumentalist singer Lisa Hannigan initially found her feet playing with Damien Rice.  That was back a bit when she was but knee high to a grass hopper.  Now older and wiser (she’s 35), with two confident solo albums (the double-platinum, Mercury-nominated debut Sea Sew and Irish #1 Passenger) under her belt her sound is mature and confident way beyond her years.

With producer Aaron Dessner (The National) at the knobs her third effort is exceptional, and explicitly beguiling.  It’s a bewitching slice of gothic folk poetry that has a distinctive European film noir atmosphere to it and I love it.

Having no clue who she was before the moment the simply constructed Fall seeped out of my headphones, I was utterly distracted.  Hannigan’s voice is not especially unique but her slightly smoky Gaelic lilt is incredibly seductive as it transverse deliciously simple chords and strings.  It hints those we’ve encountered previously, such as Karin Bergquist (Over The Rhine), kd lang or the Unthank Sisters.

The first single is Prayer For The Dying inspired by the death of a friend’s parent passing of a friend’s parent after an extended is beautifully haunting, almost as if Kristin Hersh, in her Your Ghost-era had gifted the song.  It’s like an old Patsy Cline lament mixed with Throwing Muses and some Over The Rhine front room swagger.  The reverberating, shimmering chorus (“Your heart, my heart”) sends tingles down the spine.

In contrast, Snow is more upbeat but still simple, mainly guitars and piano.  Between the lyrics, the mood and beat you can imagine a winter’s train ride through a large, vast open plain, with only memories to comfort (“Song like treasure” … “heading from city to sea, we watch the cities go by”).  Its hook-laden, stealthily creeping up on you.

Given all this, Hannigan sounds like she’s at the top of her game.  But after playing in support of Passenger for nearly two years, she hit the wall, enduring writer’s block.  Plus a new relationship meant that she was dividing her time between Dublin and London.  Adrift and lost, she threw herself into distraction instead.  She voiced a mermaid in the Oscar-nominated animation Song Of The Sea, undertook some soundtrack work for the Fargo TV show and contributed to the Oscar-winning score for the film Gravity.  And, to add further procrastinations started up the popular Soundings podcasts which put Hannigan in the interviewer/host’s seat interviewing guests such as Harry Shearer, Sharon Horgan and David Arnold.

It was only an email from Dessner, scouting for work, that got her back into the studio.  Hannigan was missing the collaboration spirit of her earlier Dublin days.  Initially, they exchanged ideas by email and iPhone but the full album only came together when both finally met up in Denmark.

Later, the full recording took place in a church in Hudson, New York, during a furious seven-day stint.  The echoes you hear on songs like We The Drowned and the homely a capella of Anahorish are from the resonance of the wooden rafters and stone walls.   In some ways it has the same magical dust as Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, minus the menacing undertow.

The resulting album, inevitably, is about homesickness, isolation, death and consolation but move profoundly, it’s above the love we receive during these times.

Throughout you can’t escape the metaphors of a career and a soul lost-at-sea.  Only the slight tango of Tender refuses to show any vulnerabilities in the cold water of a strong current.

But despite all these morbid references this is not a morose album.  It’s surprisingly uplifting.  Songs like closer Barton, with its Sunday morning organ rally gives you a sense that Hannigan has struck her claim on a distant island, standing strong like Anna in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, out on the causeway, defying the buffering waves (“I’ll be on my own a while smiling like a crocodile”, you can see for miles….”).

So by the end it’s clear that Hannigan is strong enough to swim any straits.  She’s not only treading water again but can easily reach the shore and moreover, she’s beginning to enjoy the dip.  This is, I think her strongest work.  It’s confident, it shows vulnerability and it show cases a wonderful natural voice, whilst referencing all the alt-country music I love.  A great effort.

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Ladyhawke – Bodega, Wellington – 22 July 2016

Ladyhawke

Photo by Alexander Hallag – Themusicistalking.com

Although it may be rooted in the sweet soul pop and glam of the early 1990’s Pip Brown’s music and stage performance remains a crisper, more economical version those glamorous disco idols like Michael Jackson and Donna Summer.   As we’ve come to expect, Brown appears without fanfare on Bodega’s small but perfectly formed stage to deliver a packed room of all ages, genders and persuasions to her snappy 14 song set.

We all know about Pip’s stage anxieties, so getting a Hollywood style performance was never on the cards, but I gotta admit there was a certain confidence and comfort that I’ve not seen before.  There was even a little bit of chat, with an acknowledgement of Bodega’s upcoming closing and some thanks, too.  Pip’s early career was built on this stage and she was keen to let us know.

Dressed in sweatshirt and baseball cap and flanked by a guitarist, bass played and drummer, plus a few simple digi-toys like a MPC unit and laptop, Brown launches into The River, Golden Girl from the new album, Wild Things bookended by Another Runaway and Manipulating Woman, from her debut.  If anything, it showed how consistent Brown’s writing is, and how over three albums her style has remained constant – sweet pop with wistful hints of disco and the occasional dark tones.

There are a few slightly rockier moments, especially Professional Suicide, which Pip finished strongly belting out the vocals with intention and conviction.  Likewise, she carried off Love Don’t Live here and Dusk Till Dawn, one of her first singles will similar aplomb.  Given her recent release of a new disc it was rather surprising how many songs came from her debut – 9 in all, with only 5 from Wild Things.  A bit disappointing.

Bassist ‘Tom’, drummer ‘Matt’ and ‘Nick’, on “other stuff” (they don’t reveal their surnames publicly) provided the energy and stage presence playing well as a team and genuinely seeming to have fun.

This is the second of a three date whirlwind tour across three major cities, so sadly the provinces won’t get to hear her new single A Love Song, or the closing number Paris is Burning and the ‘one and only’ encore Delirium.  All were, as they say, short but perfectly formed.  It is great to see Pip back on the road, and on her ‘hometown’ stage.  She’s often said that the reason there were such large gaps between her three albums was that, as a perfectionist, she’s never content to release substandard work.  With this new album being slightly more funky than her last and the return of her appetite for the stage, let’s hope we see more of her in the future.

Originally published at 13thfloor.co.nz

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