Sometimes, in New Zealand, it seems we go months on end without any decent gigs. That's somewhat understandable, I guess - we've got a small population, and two of the three main centres don't really have a decent large-sized concert venue. Bands really have to want to come here.
Historically we used to get a lot of shows off the back of Australian tours, but even some of those have started to dry up a bit lately - maybe it's the strength of the NZ dollar, or maybe it's because for many large bands (e.g. Muse), the only place with a world-class venue is Auckland and one stop just doesn't make economic sense. Of course, when bands do make it down here, the shows tend to go off because the audience is generally well and truly up for it - we're not spoilt like certain Northern hemisphere cities which get great gigs on a weekly basis.
Big Day Out was the first concert I'd been to since Tool in May last year - at 8 months, that's a fairly decent drought even by the usual NZ standards. However, looking at the line-up for the next six weeks, it would fair to say the drought is emphatically over. It's quite possibly the best line-up of gigs in a short period of time that I've ever had. Admittedly not all of them are in New Zealand, but hey, a line-up like this something to seriously get excited about. Here's the agenda...
Wednesday 19 February: Westfest, Vector Arena, Auckland (Rob Zombie, Megadeth, Five Finger Death Punch, Eagles of Death Metal)
So, some random guy basically did what most NZ rock and metal fans had been hoping someone would do for ages and set up a mini-Soundwave Festival, bringing over a selection of bands from the SW lineup before the first leg of the festival in Brisbane and Sydney. I'm not so fussed about the second night, but the first night has some big draw cards.
It's also a great opportunity to mitigate the inevitable clashes that will happen at Soundwave itself - you don't feel so disappointed missing a band when you've seen them a few days beforehand.
Rob Zombie was great when he last appeared at Soundwave back in 2011. Despite some technical hitches he put on a great early evening set - the Zombie blend of great riffs and big choruses makes for a great live experience. On the back of last year's Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (allegedly a concept album that actually makes no sense to anyone except Rob Zombie himself), he looks to have hit some great form too - and is probably the closest thing we've got to a modern day Alice Cooper. Hell, as long as he plays More Human Than Human, I'll walk away happy.
Although I'm a big fan of Megadeth, I'm a little iffy about how they'll go live. They were great when I saw them on the Endgame tour back in 2007, but since then their studio output has been pretty mixed, and they've resorted to tuning everything down half a step live to match Dave Mustaine's increasingly croaky vocals. Their recent set lists are pretty solid though, and the current iteration of Megadeth - Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover is probably the most musically talented they've ever had (which is certainly something for a band that counts Marty Friedman, Nick Mensa and Chris Poland amongst its alumni).
Then there's also Five Finger Death Punch - I'm still not totally convinced but a mate is a huge fan - and Eagles of Death Metal.
Thursday 20 February: Clutch, The Metro Theatre, Sydney
The greatest band in the world, touring on the back of one of their best albums yet. Although they're also at Soundwave a few days later, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Clutch live again. Given tight scheduling, there was no opportunity for a repeat of their blistering 2011 Kings Arms gig, and given we were going to Sydney for Soundwave anyways, going a couple of days early to catch Maryland's finest was a no-brainer.
Although I'm looking forward to hearing some of the great tracks off Earth Rocker - especially DC Sound Attack, The Wolfman Kindly Requests... and Crucial Velocity, I'm also hoping they chuck in a few real old-school classics like A Shogun Named Marcus, The Elephant Riders and Texan Book of the Dead. Which, based on recent set lists, looks entirely likely.
Sunday 22 February: Soundwave Festival, Olympic Park, Sydney (Testament, Down, Alice in Chains, Clutch, Alter Bridge, Mastodon, Megadeth, Rob Zombie, Filter, Graveyard, Five Finger Death Punch, Living Colour, Walking Papers and a whole bunch more)
Once again, Soundwave has come up with an astounding line-up. I was disappointed that Sevendust pulled out, but the reality is that there are still a phenomenal number of great bands in one place, on one day.
I'm particularly keen for Testament, a band I've only really gotten into in the past year, but who are absolute titans of thrash metal - great songs, and a great band. Based on the quality of their output, from classic albums like The New Order to 2012 standout Dark Roots of Earth, these guys deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the so-called Big Four - if not above certain of the less consistent members of that group. The current line-up are basically all legends in their own right, and I'm incredibly excited to be able to catch them live - especially if they play Disciples of the Watch and True American Hate.
The reality is the bands I've listed above that I'm particularly interested in are only about a third of the line-up - there's a ton more bands too and I'm looking forward to checking out some new acts, time permitting. However, that won't include the headliners, who are way below the standards set by the likes of Iron Maiden, Faith No More, Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails in previous years... this year we instead get the horrendously over-rated Avenged Sevenfold, and Green Day, who produced a great album about 20 years ago (Dookie) and have essentially spent most of the time since then rehashing it. But I'm cool with that - history shows that bands playing against the headliners can often produce amazing sets (Machine Head at SW2012, Deftones at Big Day Out 14), and I sure won't be watching the so-called headliners.
Thursday 6 March: Down, The Powerstation, Auckland
I was looking forward to seeing Down at Soundwave. When they announced they were coming after Soundwave to do a show in Auckland, I was a lot more excited. If their live album Diary of a Mad Band is anything to go by, between improv jams, and Phil Anselmo going off on entertaining rants, they average around 7 minutes per song. In a festival set, that doesn't make for a lot of songs!
But at their own show, well that could be something great from this New Orleans supergroup. Aside from being responsible for some of the best interviews I've ever read, singer Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Phillip K. Anselmo and the Illegals) is one of the talents of his generation and guitarist Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) is incredibly under-rated both as a musician and a songwriter.
I was introduced to them when I got a free review copy of 2002's Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow - I was just blown away by the riffs, the songs and the sheer edge of their sound. For me, Down became a gateway to a whole lot of hard rock and metal acts. Along with Testament, they're the two true bucket-list bands in this epic concert line-up (Clutch, Alice in Chains, Alter Bridge and Megadeth would also qualify but I've already seen them live).
Imagine a setlist containing Ghosts Along the Mississippi, Rehab, Lifer, Stone the Crow, Lysergik Funeral Procession, On March the Saints, Witchtripper... well that could be something to behold. What would be even more awesome would be if they repeated some of their antics at Hellfest 2013. A family emergency caused Clutch to have to make a late-minute cancellation, so instead the punters were treated to a second set from Down to close the night, with them throwing in covers of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and all sorts of gems that you just wouldn't normally get.
Wednesday 19 March: Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age, Vector Arena, Auckland
Firstly, you have a reformed, revitalised Nine Inch Nails, who have been playing some great shows off the back of last year's Hesitation Marks and doing all sorts of cool, crazy reinterpretations of older tracks. For sheer live intensity, they're a rare phenomenon - I can recall seeing them in Sydney at the Hordern Pavilion in 2007 and it was just an absolutely blistering performance. It helped that we got almost all of The Downward Spiral at that show, too.
When Trent Reznor talked about reinventing the concept of NIN as a live act, I didn't quite know what to make of it - but watch the opening of some of the sets they played at the likes of Lollapalooza last year and you totally get what he's on about.
And then you have Queens of the Stone Age, who not only reinvented themselves musically on last year's standout ...Like Clockwork, but they've also added a mind-boggling visual set-up utilising the insane artwork of Bonehead that featured extensively online in the lead-up to the album's release. There are very few great front-men to have emerged in the past 15 years - I'd count Josh Homme as one of the few (along with Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy). With any luck, I might finally get to hear them play (You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A) Millionaire too.
Wednesday 26 March: Jurassic 5, The Powerstation, Auckland
One of these things is not like the other ones. I'm not a huge hip-hop fan but I definitely enjoy Jurassic 5, and was lucky enough to catch them back in 2007 at the St James - shortly before they split up and the St James closed. No doubt, they're a talented group of guys and they certainly showcased their skills that night with a stunning set spanning their studio output and with all sorts of other little gems thrown in too - it's a gig that would probably still rate in my top 10.
So it was great to hear news of their reformation last year, with original member Cut Chemist also back in the fold, and even better when they recently announced a couple of NZ shows.
And after all of that... well let's just hope it's not another patch of 8 months and no gigs.