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  • Apollo SteamTrain - Gig Review: Apollo SteamTrain @ Ding Dong Lounge, Auckland 24/03/2018

Apollo SteamTrain - Gig Review: Apollo SteamTrain @ Ding Dong Lounge, Auckland 24/03/2018

30 Mar 2018 // A review by butch181

Apollo SteamTrain were coming from Tauranga for their first Auckland show (headlining, nonetheless), and the Auckland weather gods decided to do what it always does and give us a lot of rain throughout the day and into the evening. As the season moves further and further away from summer, the rain is icy cold, but it doesn’t stop Aucklanders from getting out on the town. The Ding Dong Lounge was quiet for a Saturday night, with many of their usual clientele at the fetish and taboo show down the road.

That didn’t stop the upstairs bar from gaining a good crowd, however, as the first of three bands on the bill got up on stage to perform. Subscond, are a six-piece rock band from Hamilton, apparently comprised of 4 astrophysicists, a retail worker, and whatever it is their new vocalist's occupation happens to be. Starting their set with Condescension, their sound comes off like a lackadaisical version of the Offspring, with good vibes, if not the cleanest performance. Not happy with their playthrough of the track, vocalist Marcos laughed off the first song as a “soundcheck”, and they carried on with Blew You Away

The band start off very static, with Marcos unsure what to do with himself on stage when he sings, and bassist Logan hoping his light up kilt distracts from the angry expression he has for the majority of his performance. Jim on the drums and Vishal on lead guitar looks most at home on stage, all smiles and really getting into their performances, Vishal trying his best to add his own backing vocals without a mic. Sound for the night wasn’t ideal, with vocals greatly overshadowed by the instruments, and consistent issues with the kick-drum mic. With constant technical issues, and accidentally switching on effects pedals, Subscond had more than their fair share of standing around waiting to perform, which led to awkward silences, and an off-colour joke from the bassist highlighting the bands need to work on their banter. 

They did in fact play through Condescension again, and it was a vast improvement on their first playthrough, the band more than warmed up by this point, becoming less static, and relaxing as the crowd cheers them on. Performing Macho, they got ex-frontman and current rhythm guitarist, Nash, back on the main vocals for the track, which had a good sound, along the lines of Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out. Despite the technical difficulties, they were allowed to finish their set in full, Vishal was the standout member of the band, showcasing great balance in his solos, choosing styles and speeds that fitted well with the style of the songs. Marcos has a bit of work to do with his vocals, struggling to hit some notes when not forcefully projecting at the edges of his range, but there is definitely a lot of potential.

Second up for the night was Auckland punk/folk band Ocean Beach. The three-piece are instantly beset with technical issues of their own, not just the malfunctioning kick mic, but also a cable or amp that is letting out a hell of a crackle, but that issue soon abates and they get to it. First things first though, and singer/guitarist Gary Dalhousie calls out Subscond’s bassist on his off-colour joke and reiterates that “it’s not okay”. Respect +1, for these guys. 

Their sound comes across almost post-rock in style, with great instrumental sounds. In fact, many of their songs have either minimal or no vocals at all, instead, letting the variable guitar effects pedals do the talking instead. Watching them live, they almost come across as shoegazers with such focus on the effects changes, but the changeover between effects is still a little obvious, and they could work on a smoother transition. In general, their songs were very enjoyable to listen to, crescending and undulating with rhythm, they varied enough to keep the interest, and the tracks could have easily gone on a few minutes longer without a complaint; they left the audience wanting more. Each track does feel to have their own independent influences, some channelling the styles of Tadpole’s Condition Chronic, other influences to the likes of David Bowie’s Heroes, and Pluto’s Long White Cross

Criticism’s where due, Dalhousie’s strength’s in vocal lies with his singing voice, not so much the lower “talking” style, and he will do well to either capitalise on his great singing style. Troy Stanton-Kerr did well on the drums, switching sticks when needed to provide the exact sound needed for each track, and was consistent with his performance. With only 302 followers on their Facebook page, Ocean Beach are an underrated band, that are due to a following if they get some releases going.

Allowing both of their opening acts to have 45-50 minute sets, it was near 11:15pm before headliners Apollo SteamTrain had it to the stage, and what a stark contrast it was compared to when they performed at the Tauranga Totara Street Rockfest last year. Despite driving up from Tauranga earlier that day and having to battle through Auckland traffic, in rainy weather, before an Ed Sheeran concert, through roadworks on the motorway, Apollo SteamTrain were energetic and lively and looked genuinely excited to play their first show in Auckland as a foursome. As has been the theme of the night, the set was plagued with some equipment issues, with a crackling amp that was struggling with its role for the night.

With the switch to a foursome, Les Robinson has been changed to guitarist and backing vocalist to make room for James Bos on the drums. The switch has allowed frontman Brendan McCarthy to focus more on his vocals without the responsibility of being the only guitar. With the back-up from Robinson, McCarthy is livelier on stage and is able to move a lot more, providing a better performance. Ian Clark has always been a powerhouse on bass, and nothing has changed here, providing some backing vocals, and looking the part on stage. Bos is impressive with his stint on the drums, performing his set without any issues, and taking on any fills that were put in place with ease. He looks like he has cemented his place in the band (as per his request, I rate Bos 10/10 Les Robinsons). The extra guitar does add that extra layer and breadth to the music, fleshing out their sound, but McCarthy still has a lot to do himself, it would be good to see him be able to shed even more of that on to Robinson in the future.

Apollo SteamTrain have a great sound, with the extra guitar, they have the vibe of a combination of the Eagles and Crowded House; peaceful pop rock with light intricacy when called for. Bringing out the acoustic guitar for extra effect, the atmosphere was soured by the return of the crackling amp before guitar cut out entirely, and McCarthy had to carry on with just vocals for the remainder of the track. Performing their latest single Brain Bell Jangler, it looked like they were on form for a short set, and much of the crowd began to file out during their big track, but the set was not over. They continued on for two more tracks, finishing on a brilliant cover of Stereophonics Dakota. A fun night with a great mix of pop and post-rock. Just a pity that Ding Dong was plagued by so many technical issues. A great night for techs and roadies to gain experience dealing with live equipment failures, but a detriment to the bands on stage.

Review written by Alex Moulton


About Apollo SteamTrain

Apollo SteamTrain is a musical platform to host the continuing projects of singer/songwriter Brendan McCarthy from Tauranga, New Zealand.

Brendan has a deal in place with Songbroker which has seen his tracks synced on several high profile TV shows including Shortland Street and Filthy Rich.

Brendan has worked with several procucers including internationally renowned Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers, OpShop, Catatonia, The Feelers, Six60), recording 2 tracks at Neil Finn's Round Head Studios.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Apollo SteamTrain


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