20 Dec 2018
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Gig Review: Jim Beam Homegrown @ TSB Arena, Wellington - 04/03/2017

07 Mar 2017 // A review by Alex Moulton

For the tenth year, Homegrown has graced the Wellington waterfront providing punters with a glut of musical acts from around the country. This year, 45 Kiwi groups graced the six various stages performing to another sold out crowd on what turned out to be a beautiful day, both musically and weather-wise. With musical tastes as narrow as mine are, I made my way to the TSB Arena, and got myself into position, front and centre at the barrier of the Rock Stage.

A trend I have begun to notice, is that New Zealand looses its large rock acts faster than we are creating them. When it comes to putting together an annual display of purely homegrown rock acts, repetition is inevitable, but we end up with the same headliners popping up. While they are guaranteed to put on a great show, eventually you will see a decline in the numbers that they bring in. Before doors had opened, there was a noticeable lack of people lining up ready to get to the front of stage. In fact, after for much of the afternoon I was still able to leave my spot, go to the bar, and still make my way back to the same spot. Great for getting drinks, but saddening to see less support for the bands on show. It is important to say that the Homegrown organisers did a great job keeping things on schedule. Everything ran as smoothly as could be expected with very minimal downtime during band changeovers (usually about 15 minutes).

The first band came on stage on time; Christchurch band Decades. Fronted by vocalist and guitarist Emma Cameron, they belted out several tracks, including a double rendition of their latest single I Was With Him (to allow the photographers and videographers enough opportunity to film for the band’s upcoming music video). Emma came out dressed more feminine than usual; ditching the expected long rock shirt, and in its place an eye-catching red dress. Perhaps for the benefit of the music video, but she still rocked out as hard as always, belting out aggressive, angsty vocals mixed with sultry, deep tones. The band looked small on the stage of the TSB Arena, and were slightly out of place, with limited movement from most members, who were spread far and wide across the space. The were no technical issues of note, and the songs were well played, and with energy. Ending the set on their breakout single Terrified, they ended on a high note, and the crowd applauded as they waited for the next band to take to the stage.

Second on stage were the latest up-and-comers in the rock scene; City of Souls (pictured). Last year they were the opening band at Homegrown, and have since completed several tours with the likes of Villainy, Devilskin, and Halestorm, recently opening for UK group Bring Me The Horizon. Erupting on the stage with force and power that they have become known for, they went straight into their set, track to track, belting out their debut single Sleep early on to bring in the crowd, and ending their 10 song set list with their latest singles Water and Long Gone. Harking from a rich heritage of rock and metal Kiwi bands (see Blacklistt, 8 Foot Sativa, In Dread Response and Solstate) each member has their own distinct performing style, and it is an experience to watch them do so together.

Like a Storm (pictured) were a surprise when the 2nd line-up announcement was made last year. The Kiwi band have spent years touring the United States and Europe, but hadn’t actually performed in New Zealand as far as I could tell. Visually, they had the grizzled look of a band that does music full time, and tours extensively. Despite somewhat limited airplay in New Zealand, the crowd got into the tracks relishing their cover of Gangster’s Paradise, and their hits such as Love The Way You Hate Me and Become The Enemy. With stage props, smoke cannons, and didgeridoos, there was no debate surrounding the experience of the band, and the crowd continued to grow.

The Feelers have always been an odd choice for the Homegrown Rock Stage. Their style of rock has always leaned towards the light-hearted popular side, rather than grungy or heavy. But there they site in the middle of the line-up. On the other side of the coin however, they are a well-established band that have a large discography of well-known singles. So the audience are very easy to please when they can sing along with nearly every track, whether it’s Fishing For Lisa, Communicate, As Good As It Gets, or the Rugby World Cup theme song Right Here, Right Now. Undeniably, The Feelers are one of the more static bands, garnering support from their anthem style vocals, rather than through musical technicalities. But the crowd loved it, and begrudgingly I do have to admit I was also singing along.

Elemeno P was the shocker for me. Reuniting for their first concert in 4 years, they surprisingly held the largest crowd of all the rock bands (apart from headliners Shihad) This was the point where the crowd really started to get boisterous, almost doubling in size as the band took to the stage, and shoving to get to the front. I had been sceptical that they would draw a crowd, but the nostalgia and their popularity in the early 2000’s drew in thousands of people, as they played through the hits from Love & Disrespect, through to the self-titled Elemeno P album. Age looked like it was catching up to the members but they performed with vigour and an energy that mirrored their performances a decade ago. Scotty Pearson still went hard on the drums, Dave Gibson still jumped up on every surface he could reach, Lani Purkis could still bend backwards almost horizontally as she continued to play without error.

I Am Giant (pictured) was a mixed bag. Largely silent on the radio waves they recently released Dead Flower, their first track in around two years, and are working on a third album, but on the social networks have been absent. Perhaps due to the issues with finding a consistent vocalist, and the fact that all mainstay members live in different countries, their set was more troubled than the rest. They opened their set with Russian Doll a single that has a heaviness that got the crowd excited. The new vocalist Aja Timu (who coincidentally sung his first show with them at Homegrown 2016) has had time to learn his lyrics, and figure out the limits to his vocal styles, adjusting as needed. It was unfortunately clear, however, that they still need more time together to properly gel as a unit and practice. Aja as vocalist was exciting to watch, with heavy screaming input into the existing songs, but still forgot several lyrics, and was plagued with microphone technical issues. Shelton Woolright had similar issues with his drums, with at least two other staff on stage for the entire performance trying to work out the kinks, and keep all of the instruments on stage and working. Also using Homegrown as a music video opportunity, they played through a new track twice, but no other new material was provided from the band hoping to have a release ready for mid-2017.

Blacklistt have always been a personal favourite of mine, having followed them since back when they were originally called Blindspott. Surprisingly, most of the band wasn’t present, With Steve Boag on double duty from City of Souls, filling in on the bass guitar, and no sign of Karl Vilisini on the turntables/mixer. Damian Alexander’s vocals were a little bit off this time around, but it was a non-issue for the fans up front, as they pushed, shoved, and sang over the top of the microphone, screaming at the highest volume their lungs would allow. It was at this point that I needed to make my escape from the front row, as the friendly jovial crowd began to get more aggressive. As is to be expected from Damian, he took several opportunities to hop down from the stage and mingle with the crowd mid-song, but the rest of the band looked like they lacked energy. They played well, with no errors that I could fathom, but their usual energy and movements about the stage were lulled and restrained. While they haven’t released any new music for 4 years now, the crowds still show up, and they still sing along, because of the emotion that goes behind the words. Hopefully, they will never lose that spark.

Shihad are headliners for a reason. Being in the music business for 29 years, they are the grandfathers of kiwi rock, and are fully capable of putting on a brilliant live show any time every time. With loads of energy, they broke out on stage with the first single So Think You’re So Free from their latest album FVEY, sending a clear message to the crowd of what to expect. With a mix of new and old songs, they had something for everyone, whether it was classics like Mind Sedate and Home Again, or the newer tracks like Sleepeater. Always a favourite when performed is the track Cheap As, as the crowds love every opportunity to swear explicitly in unison. While they stayed on stage for their performance, Jon Toogood still went out of his way to climb on every speaker and platform that he could. Always the performer, and a great way to end the night.

 

Other Reviews By Alex Moulton

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