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Gig Review: Storm the Gates Festival @ Trusts Arena, Auckland, 17/03/2018

18 Mar 2018 // A review by butch181

Getting to the venue before doors open, already the black shirts and tattoos were beginning to gather in anticipation of the days' festivities. With a selection of stalls with games, merch, food, and cars, it was odd to have the doors open a mere 10 minutes before the first act was due to start. For those fans that want to be able to enjoy all of the fans, it didn’t give much time to enjoy the stalls without sacrificing the music. Perhaps future shows could have a DJ set to start to give everyone time to settle in.

The first act of the day was the punk rock group that won the local band competition, Minimal Silence. The three-piece performed to the few people that had made it into the gates that hadn’t been distracted by the stalls and did their best to warm up the crowd. With the VIP section split between the front of stage and the upstairs area and the GA section a full 20+ metres away from the stage, the crowd was very split. Credit to the band, they still gave it their all, even attempting to get the classic “deathwall” going. Four or five guys got into it, but the music lacked the meaty bass needed. Displaying a selection of punk, rock, and metal riffs, Vocalist Logan Anderson worked to prove that “bass players could be cool… if they sing as well”. Getting a good response from the crowd as they churned out their debut single House of Flies, they finished off their short set and made a hasty exit.

Up second were the established classic/blues rock duo Skinny Hobos. After a bit of a delay during the changeover of gear, the crowd was provided a great deep booming concoction of sound from the looping of Elvis’ guitar. A few technical issues prevented them from getting straight into their set, but they kept enough going on onstage that the general punters were happy enough to sit back and enjoy it. As always, it was a solid sound from the duo, but they looked very separated on the large stage at the Trusts Arena compared to their old home of the Kings Arms Tavern (RIP), nonetheless, Elvis made the most of the extra space, getting in some extra legwork. Merchant of Tirau proved a heavy hitter and got a good cheer from the crowd. Unfortunately, the delays in getting started meant the Hobos had to cut their set short (much to the obvious frustration of the band and the crowd), but before they left the stage, they brought out another guitarist for the final song, in the form of Cheshire Grimm’s Lora Thompson as a silent protest at the lack of women in the line-up.

With more people on stage to do the changeover of equipment, the switch happened much quicker this time around, and Written by Wolves soon took to the stage starting with their usual “4-way duelling toms” opener. Usually performing later in the evening, Written by Wolves couldn’t rely as much on their lighting show as the sunlight reduced the effectiveness quite considerably. One thing the early start couldn’t stop was those CO2 cannons. Each with a ring of coloured lights around them, when the four cannons lining the front of stage went off, you could feel the temperature drop, and see the photographers scrambling for a good shot. The crowd was still thin considering doors had been open for an hour, but Michael Murphy did his best to warm everyone up. Taking note of the headliner of the night, they forwent their usual My Chemical Romance cover in lieu of a Linkin Park’s One Step Closer, jumping straight into the heart of the breakdown, screaming his lungs out. A good performance, with the usual acrobatic movements and cyclical headbanging on stage from guitarist Bahador Borhani, Murphy made sure he didn’t leave the stage without chugging back a beer in true St Patrick’s Day style.

The final local band for the festival came to City Of Souls. Quickly garnering support from fans and promoters alike when they first hit the airwaves, they have been somewhat quiet for the last year as they work on getting their album released. Without any singles being released in the last year, they have had little play on the radio recently, and it shows in the crowd’s response. Beyond a few diehard fans and a few intoxicated individuals, the audience remained tranquil in the face of some great music. Granted the songs have been tweaked somewhat during the recording process, and vocalist Richie uses a mere fraction of the meaty growls that I have come to love from his previous project New Way Home, but the balance of the sound was off; with Steve Boag’s guitar’s being overpowered by the other guitars, and Trajan Schwencke’s backing vocals not audible at all. The strong point in their set came in the form of their cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. A good performance, but the mix really needed tweaking for the venue to get the full City Of Souls sound.

First international outfit for the day was Californian rock/hip-hop band Hed PE. All of a sudden, the VIP front of stage area, that had been barren up until then, was now teeming with people as vocalist Jared Gomes a.k.a. M.C.U.D stood front and centre with the pipe to a melodica dangling from his mouth. Known for their eclectic fusion of gangsta rap and punk music, Hed PE’s setlist was far more centred towards their reggae-fusion creations, adding in pieces from Bob Marley tracks to the excitement of the crowd. Switching from the light funky riffs to hardcore power chords and the audience jumping and moshing with every song. The energy turned up another notch as the band played some of their older heavier material, and the patrons in the GA floor started surging towards the front, with many people questioning how feasible it would be to literally “storm the gates” and combine the GA and VIP sections.

Suicidal Tendencies were up next and when you look at their backdrop, you expect something dark, and extreme, but what you get instead is actually what is potentially some of the most wholesome thrash metal created. Surrounded by some great technical guitarwork from Dean Pleasants and Jeff Pogan, Suicidal Tendencies has a very strong metal background in their back catalogue, with current and former members from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Bad Religion, Avenged Sevenfold, and Slayer. Vocalist Mike “Cyco Miko” Muir shows no sign of slowing down nearly 40 years after the bands' inception, and all three standing musicians run in circles on stage, leading to some of the most intense “Cyco” pits I have seen with my own two eyes. Frequently setting up circle pits and deathwall's foe songs like Possessed to Skate, Muir had the crowd in the palm of his hand and has an infectious energy. Despite the heavy nature of the music, each track came with an uplifting speech, whether it be to not let people get you down, or “fall over as many times as you want as long as you get back up one more time”. In what was definitely the most energetic act for the evening, Muir invited half the VIP crowd to join them on stage for the final song Pledge Your Allegiance, to chant “ST” along with him as they finish for the night

The crowd started to relax for the evening, as they prepared for Sublime with Rome to take the stage. Even with only one remaining member of Sublime involved (bassist Eric Wilson), Rome Ramirez took to the stage with a smile and showed everyone why he was chosen to sing after the passing of Bradley Nowell in 1996 with a great rendition of Date Rape. In addition to guitar drums and bass, we had turntables and a trombonist on hand to add some authenticity and remove the need for backing tracks. While the lighting was horrific, bathing the band in solid red for most of their set (presumably so you couldn’t see the red in their eyes), they created a relaxed atmosphere and gave the crowd a well-needed break from the constant barrage of fast-paced sets that they had been subjected too. Performing Sublime classics such as Wrong Way and What I Got, the crowd switched from pushing and moshing, to singing and swaying, even out-singing Rome on the song that whether you love it or hate it, you still know all the words, Santeria. Whatever banter that Rome did provide, it all related to the green, whether he could get it, whether it was legal, and it carried on as such until someone brought some out to him on stage, but they still kept the crowd happy for the whole set, with a security guard even seen taking selfies and videos of himself singing along to the songs.

Last up was the headliner for the festival; a band that hasn’t visited the country in over 16 years, Limp Bizkit. Throughout the evening the number of red baseball caps in the arena had been steadily growing, and you could see them all rushing towards the front. Barriers between the VIP and GA sections were being pushed together as the VIP patrons all decided to leave the bar and come to the front of stage. The security guards were suddenly on double duties, having given up on trying to prevent circle pits, now trying to keep the barriers in place and passing out water to the crowd (really, they should have been doing this from the start, why wait over 5 hours?). Losing the Storm the Gates banner, they revealed an evil cartoonish clown backdrop hovering over the stage, and the crowd continued to wait with bated breath. The cheering and screams from the crowd were not a surprise but will impressive as Wes Borland took to the stage, dressed all in black, including all visible skin and hair. What wasn’t expected was the presence of DJ Lethal, who hasn’t performed with the group since 2012 (Yes we got to hear Durst say “DJ Lethal bring it on” and “John Otto, take ‘em to the Matthews Bridge”). With the exception of bassist Sam Rivers who wasn’t present, the original line-up from the Three Dollar Bill Y'all was finally back together and the crowd was amped. In place of Sam Rivers, Limp Bizkit had brought in Tsuzumi Okai from Japan (the only other female to perform on stage that evening). 

Coming out to the intro to Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, Fred Durst came out with his trademark look and got the show started. By the time they finished Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle), you couldn’t see any red hats in the crowd anymore, as they were whipped into a frenzy, but it all started to go downhill from there. Durst seemed conflicted as to whether he was enjoying himself or not, frequently trying to get the crowd to participate more in choosing the set despite it seeming like the set was already decided, extending the bridges and breakdowns in each and every song effectively doubling the length of each track for no purpose. Even Borland seemed to tire of the shenanigans and would start playing completely unrelated songs by other bands with Okai and drummer John Otto, as they waited for Durst to get back to playing their songs. The crowd went along with it reasonably well and still loved singing along with My Generation, My Way, and Nookie, but after reaching the breakdown and the crowd singing it three or four times alone, people started to switch off, and people started to leave, or just sitting down on the floor; a far different crowd reaction to when Suicidal Tendencies were performing earlier. Even going as far as to perform two cover songs of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana, the short setlist got worse. When they played they played well, and the crowd loved it, but the constant interruptions killed the vibe, and they lost nearly a quarter of the crowd before the encore performance of Take A Look Around.

A great day, that unfortunately ended on a sour note. An amazing effort for the inaugural year from Storm the Gates, and I look forward to seeing what they have next on the cards.

Review written by Alex Moulton


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