Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stone Temple Pilots, Vector Arena, 26 March 2011

It's fair to say that I went in with pretty low expectations for this gig. This was not helped by the sheer awesomeness that was the Foo Fighters' earthquake relief show last Tuesday night.

Depending on your point of view, the Stone Temple Pilots produced two or three very good albums, and went pretty much steadily downhill from there. At the time though, they did go a little against the grain. Putting Core to one side, most of their output was tightly constructed 3-4 minute rock songs. Sounds pretty par for the course now, but at the time their contemporaries (we're talking Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the like here) were fooling around with long songs, songs in funny time signatures (I'm looking at you Spoonman), and concept albums (even concept double-albums).

But if I was being blunt, I would have to say that I might have preferred another Army of Anyone or Velvet Revolver album as opposed to an STP reunion.

So yeah, I was basically at this show for the nostalgia trip, and didn't expect a lot else.

Speaking of nostalgia, it seemed apt that Head Like a Hole (AKA HLAH) played support. An iconic Kiwi band from the 90's who put together some pretty good songs (and a really good cover of the Beastie Boys' Lookin Down the Barrel of a Gun that I heard on bfm at the time but have never been able to find anywhere). I missed the start thanks to the incompetent promoter sending out an email three hours before the start advising that everyone was going to perform half an hour earlier than previously scheduled. Boo. Anyway HLAH were not half bad, lead singer Booga Beazley was his usual quirky, entertaining self, and although they played a bit too much 'new stuff', we still got a few classics - Hootenanny, Fish Across Face and their excellent cover of the Boss' I'm on Fire.

The crowd wasn't small but it wasn't huge either. The standard Vector Arena trick of 'pull the stage forward a bit and stick up curtains behind the seats' to make the venue feel a bit more full was applied.

Anyway, after a bit of a wait, out came the Pilots. My initial reaction was that Scott Weiland actually looks vaguely healthy for the first time in a long time. My second reaction was that I'm sure the megaphone he used on opening track Crackerman is the exact same megaphone that he used at this Velvet Revolver show in 2005. Don't ask me why I noticed that because I don't know.

Anyway, good choice of an opener. Especially followed by Wicked Garden and then Vasoline.

Especially Vasoline, which I think was the song that really got me into STP in the first place. It popped up on one of The Trip compilations - anyone remember them?! - and it was one of the first songs I can remember just wanting to play over and over and over and over and over. Even though I had to rewind the cassette. It's a tight, rocking track and I always loved the way the main riff spans across several bars so it feels like it's not quite in 4/4 time (even though it is).

It was also pretty evident at this point that - even though STP aren't prone to huge rock freakouts - the instrumental section of the band is extremely tight. Throughout the show I was really impressed with just what a unit the DeLeo brothers and Eric Kretz form, it was an impressive display of how to exhibit great musicianship - and bandship - without indulging in big flashy solos. Even though it was pretty clear to everyone that Dean DeLeo has some pretty mean blues chops.

And as for Scott Weiland, well he might be a bit aloof at times, but what a great singer. Even though I did find the lyrics from Between the Lines more than a little ironic ("... even when we used to take druuuugs").

The remainder of the show had a fairly even blend of material across their career - albeit with the total exclusion of Shangri La-dee-da (no great loss there) and the almost total exclusion of Tiny Music (surprisingly) until the encore.

The highlights were, undoubtedly, Plush and Big Empty. Plush, in particular.

Oh, and they threw in a cover of Led Zeppelin's Dancing Days as well - certainly showing their colours when it comes to musical influences. Although when it came to encore time, my mate Yuin actually wondered out loud if they had any songs left to play. As it was we got Dead and Bloated and Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart... but I think a third song may well have been a stretch.

So overall, an enjoyable show by a band that I think are well aware of what their strengths are - and they play to those strengths. The crowd was well up for it - in fact I'll admit to being surprised at the level of enthusiasm - and even if it was a bit of a nostalgia trip, it was certainly a memorable one.

Full setlist here.

Finally, this review of STP's Sydney show at the Hordern is well worth a read.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Foo Fighters, Auckland Town Hall, 22 March 2011

After a few busy days at work, I've finally found the time to write about what was a phenomenal Foo Fighters concert on Tuesday night.

So, this concert was announced at very short notice last week as a fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake Relief appeal. The Foos were to come down here and play a one-off show at the Auckland Town Hall, and they would donate all the proceeds to the appeal.

Just to put this in perspective, the Town Hall is 2,300 capacity. I mean, it's a fantastic venue, possibly my favourite. But this is a band that sold out Vector Arena twice (that's about 20,000 punters). So yeah, tickets were going to be in high demand... but seeing one of my favourite bands at a fantastic, intimate venue... well I had to. And I was stoked when I did get tickets - although that's a long and convoluted story in itself (unsurprisingly, it sold out VERY fast).

I have been, and continue to be, a big Foos fan. This was the fifth time I've seen them live - the others being at the Auckland Town Hall in 1998 (on the back of the Colour and the Shape!), Big Day Out 2002, The Mt. Smart Supertop in 2005, and Vector Arena in 2009. They are my most-seen band that isn't Shihad (NZ icons that they are).

And they've been great every time, a consistently excellent live act. Something about their blend of rock and melody just seems to make them a very potent live force, more so than on record. But this show, this was something really special. A one-off, unique piece of rock history. Not part of a tour, a special show for a special cause.

And it was sensational, every bit as good as I expected. Walking out to (predictably) rapturous applause, the Foos were surrounded by fans on all four sides. Even the area behind the stage (which has rows of steps leading up to the organ) had people seated there - which was pretty cool. Dave announced that they were going to start with the new album - which personally I thought was pretty cool. Not many bands have the guts to start a show by playing 11 new songs in a row - but I guess it was a good chance to road-test the material. Highlights here included first single Rope, the brash White Limo (which is a total throwback to Wattershed and The Colour and the Shape), Arlandria, and Walk.

But I was impressed - the whole thing sounded good. If I had a criticism of the Foos, it would be that they haven't produced a great album in quite some time. Every album from There is Nothing Left to Lose onwards starts strong and tapers off in the second half - in fact, aside from the new album there were only two songs in the set that appear on the second half of an album. But this album... well it could change that. I'll reserve judgment until I can properly sit down and listen to it, but I'm optimistic. And bonus points also for the fact that already, they're jamming around with some of these songs, notwithstanding they've barely played them live yet - the Rope outro got a nice little power-chord kicker.

Then it was basically into a greatest hits setlist, with a few extras, starting with the particularly grunty live favourite All My Life.

Dave still has that affecting habit of replacing the occasional lyric with a howl or a 'fuck yeah' when things are going particularly well - we got a lot of that. Lucky the crowd all knew the words.

The crowd erupted into a full-blown singalong on My Hero which the band specifically dedicated to Christchurch - one of the highlights of the evening.

Up in Arms
was unexpected but cool - and reflecting on how the drum part to the quieter opening section was about the only Will Goldsmith drum part that Dave Grohl didn't overdub on The Colour and the Shape made me reflect on the current line-up - which I think makes it pretty apparent that there are at least three essential members of the band now: Grohl, Nate Mendel and Taylor Hawkins. Mendel has been there from the start and his basslines contain clever and often underappreciated counter-melodies. Dave referred to Taylor as "the greatest rock drummer in the world"... maybe that's Dave being humble, but Taylor is pretty essential to the band's sound now.

Anyway, I digress again. Cold Day in the Sun saw Taylor singing while playing drums - often him and Dave swap instruments for this song.

And then the biggest highlight of the show: Stacked Actors. I picked it as soon as he changed guitars (which actually didn't happen a lot). There is this distinctive blue guitar Dave uses for this track live - I recall it from the 08 show. Of course the second hint was Dave's intro: "this is a fucking rad song". Because it is a fucking rad song. It might be the best song the Foos have ever written. And it went off. The bridge section had a big improv jam as it normally does these days. The twist was that Dave ran around the entire upper circle of the Town Hall while doing it. At one point he was just a couple of metres away from me - and that was very cool. There was this one great sequence of call and response guitar duels between Dave and Chris Shiflett. Which doesn't sound that unusual - except they were on opposite sides of the venue! There were a couple of minders who had a pretty miserable time chasing Dave around the circle, that was funny too. Eventually he made it back to conclude the song (and complain about being groped on his little expedition).

The video below is not great but gives you some idea of the awesomeness.

They wrapped up the main set with a huge three song blast from TCATS: Monkey Wrench, Hey, Johnny Park!, and Everlong.

And of course there was an encore - in fact there was a 5 song encore. At the start of the night Dave promised to play 30 songs - and they fucking did! First up was The Pretender. This was pretty cool, because the Town Hall has a big-ass pipe organ at the back - which Rami Jaffee used for the song's intro. It was kinda Phantom of the Opera, and very cool.

Then we got Aurora and Breakout - neither of which I expected (but bear in mind I'd assumed a 3-song encore), and the latter was an especially cool surprise.

The last two songs came as no surprise to anyone - Best of You (again, a big singalong) and then they "took us back to where it all began" by finishing with the original Foos single This is a Call. I can still remember hearing this on the radio, at a mate's place, when I was in high school. We thought the line "fingernails are pretty... fingernails are good" was hilarious then. It still is - and that song just always takes me back to those happy, carefree days.

And that was that - barely ten minutes shy of the midnight curfew. We got thirty songs, three hours, and one truly awesome show - thanks in part to an incredibly enthusiastic audience (but hey, we did all pay at least $175 to be there!).

I'll admit to feeling a little guilty that I only got the privilege of going to this show because of the earthquake in Christchurch. But I'll wear my t-shirt from the show ("The power of Christchurch compels you") proudly and I hope the funds raised make a difference to the people down there who have been hit pretty hard.

Full setlist:

Bridge Burning
Dear Rosemary
White Limo
These Days
Back & Forth
A Matter of Time
Miss The Misery
I Should Have Known
All My Life
Times Like These
Learn To Fly
My Hero
Up in Arms
Long Road to Ruin
Big Me
Cold Day in the Sun
Stacked Actors
Skin and Bones
Monkey Wrench
Hey, Johnny Park!

The Pretender
Best of You
This is a Call

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Soundwave = Awesome

So, I am finally back at work after an epic four day weekend in Sydney. I got to see Iron Maiden on Thursday night, but this blog is all about Soundwave Festival at the Sydney Showgrounds on Sunday 27/2.

First things first, it was nice that it got moved to the Showgrounds because they're walking distance from my friend James' house. Which was awfully considerate given that this year's Soundwave was kind-of James' 30th birthday party (and that another mate and I flew over from New Zealand for the show). Anyway, the Showgrounds has several big advantages over Eastern Creek:
1. More shade and water (although I'm told this is being worked on for Eastern Creek next year)
2. There are no designated bar areas, i.e. if you buy a beer you can drink it where you like
3. Everything is closer (although this makes it more crowded)
4. It's much easier to get to
Don't get me wrong, Eastern Creek has its advantages (chiefly - no sound restrictions), but it is out the back of beyond.

The first act on our agenda for the day was The Sword (12:10-12:40, Stage 4A). Not only do these guys sound like they crawled out of the 70's, they actually look just that way too. They played a decent set split across their three albums, although the highlight was their breakthrough track Freya which elicited the first genuine headbang of the day. They were enthusiastic, they sounded good, a great way to start the day.

We had strategically positioned ourself in a good position for Sevendust (12:40-1:20, Stage 4) who were up next on the adjacent stage. I wasn't just excited about seeing the 7D, I was seriously, seriously pumped. I've been a fan since the late 90's, and they're one of a small number of bands that are still on my 'list of bands I must see before I die'.

Honestly, I have never seen a band dominate any stage in quite the way Sevendust did. They were every bit as good as I had hoped and then some - and that is saying something considering they only had time for six songs. They were brutal and beautiful - opening with Splinter and ripping through a crushingly heavy set that included Black, Driven, Pieces and Praise before closing with Face to Face. It really seemed like they came out with the mindset of 'let's play really heavy songs and just completely kick ass' and I couldn't fault them on the execution - and nor could the rest of the crowd, who were captivated from start to finish. It's hard not to be when a band has quite that much sheer presence on stage - and this is despite Clint Lowery having food poisoning. My only hope now is that I get to see them again some time (and I am incredibly jealous of my friends Antony and Amy who were there also, and who saw 7D at a club show in Europe a year or two ago). Unquestionably the highlight of what was an outstanding day of music.

Anyway, then we rushed off to catch the remainder of Monster Magnet's set (1:15-2:00, Stage 1). Originally they basically clashed completely with Sevendust, but when Saxon pulled out the reschedule really worked to our favour. I was disappointed to discover I had missed (possibly my favourite MM song), Tractor, but we arrived in time to catch the end of Dopes to Infinity, and the last 5 songs of their set, which for the most part was geared towards their early to mid-90's material and their most recent album Mastermind (which, for the record, is thoroughly kick-ass). I enjoy MM not just for their sound, but also for Dave Wyndorf's voice, and he was in good form - with the rest of the band showing plenty of enthusiasm too. The best moment was the closing double-punch of Look to Your Orb for the Warning (AKA Matrix song), and Space Lord.

It was then time for a brief break - after 2 hours of solid rocking - which included a hot dog, a Powerade, and much further singing of "Space Lord Mother Fucker".

Next up was Stone Sour (2:45-3:30, Stage 2). I enjoy Stone Sour but I wouldn't describe myself as a serious fan. Still, I enjoyed their set which had a good mix of louder and quieter songs, although which probably could've done without Corey Taylor prattling on about the length of his hair.

We then had a slightly difficult toss-up between Primus (3:30-4:15, Stage 2), and High on Fire (4:00-4:30, Stage 4A). We opted for the latter, although not without some regret after hearing the start of Primus' set (and admiring Les Claypool's hilariously eccentric outfit). Anyway we got slightly waylaid with a merch tent stop and missed the start of High on Fire's set. We did, however, get to see the funniest moment of the day, which was the band blowing the sound not once - but twice - after the opening 20 seconds of the excellent Frost Hammer. Anyway, everyone kinda laughed about it - including the band - and then it was third-time lucky when they raced through a savage rendition of my personal favourite HoF track.

Next stop on the tour was Slash (4:50-5:20, Stage 1) - although we were fortunate enough to catch the end of Primus also (Tommy the Cat!). I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Slash - given that his set was really likely to be him and what amounted to a covers band playing a selection of songs by GnR, Slash's Snakepit, and Slash himself. But he was good - as was his band. The guy just has a phenomenal presence on stage - to the point where it really overpowered most of the rest of the band aside from singer Myles Kennedy. But that presence allowed him and the band to pull off a very enjoyable show - and I'd go so far as to say that I really preferred Sweet Child O' Mine, Night Train and Paradise City as performed by Slash, Myles and co. to the renditions of Axl and Co. (AKA Guns N Roses) that I heard a couple of years ago. Probably because Slash is somewhat less of a douche than Axl - and there's no denying that the guy really plays with a lot of feeling.

A dinner break ensued, complete with hot dogs and some particularly enjoyable chili cheese fries, before it was off to catch bits of both One Day As A Lion (6:30 -6:55pm, Stage 1) and Kylesa (6:30-7pm, Stage 4A). Actually I was stoked that we managed to get to Kylesa just in time to hear Scapegoat - what a great track. Apparently Slayer cancelled because one of them was hospitalised - honestly what is it with Slayer and illness/injury? Their band has basically been a casualty ward on the last couple of trips down under. I doubt the punters were thrilled either.

Anyway, I managed to score a good spot for Rob Zombie (7:00-7:50pm, Stage 4) - who was probably the second highlight of the day after Sevendust. This was a tricky choice due to the direct clash with Queens of the Stone Age - but I saw them last Monday anyway so Rob won (although I was REALLY FUCKED OFF to discover that Queens finished on Song for the Dead, which they didn't play on Monday). Anyway, never mind that the flash-looking screens behind the stage crapped out and didn't start working until half-way through the set - Rob Zombie has a ton of charisma, and coupled with a well-chosen set, he was able to put on a fine show irrespective of shit not working. And More Human Than Human, Superbeast, and Dragula were particularly great.

It was then off to Iron Maiden (8:00-10:00pm, Stage 1) for the final act of the day. I knew they were going to play the same set as they had at the Entertainment Centre three nights earlier - but I still really enjoyed it. Bruce Dickinson has more energy than a lot of front-men half his age and there are few - if any - vocalists in the same league as him for sheer quality. But you know, by this stage, an incredible day of music was starting to take its toll (on me, not Maiden), so we took it pretty easy for this last moment of the day.

A brief stumble home, and that was the end of it. Soundwave 2011 was hands-down the best music festival I've been to - an incredible day of music from some incredible artists. My neck isn't sore any more, the hang-over is gone, and my ears have stopped ringing, but I ain't never gonna forget one awesome day of music.