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Gig Review: Small Stage, Big Sound @ Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland 15/06/2018

22 Jun 2018 // A review by butch181

I’ve not been in the Ellen Melville Centre before, but it is a really good small-medium sized venue (even if it is a little awkward to find the entrance to). With 10 minutes before the show was set to start there was a feeling of trepidation as I looked around and counted only 20 people are here all lined up against the wall like a high school dance. But as the first band takes to the stage and the first sounds start coming from the PA system, a deluge of under 18 patrons, and a few of their parents flood in to the venue.

The first band for the night (with seven bands on the bill) is the Alt-Rock four-piece, Maurice and the Men, which coincidentally are the only band tonight that I have not seen live before. First thoughts of the group are that they are incredibly young, but they are also incredibly talented. Straight off the bat they get the crowd dancing with a brilliant cover of The Strokes Reptilian. Not just instrumentally, but the vocalist matches really well with that of Julian Casablancas, so their choice of cover was impeccable; a really strong start. Performing a mix of originals (Frank and Billy) and covers (they also performed Gold on The Ceiling by The Black Keys), 

Maurice and the Men provided some good bass driven melodies, variation in their drum fills, and some very confident clear vocals; a rare thing to find in someone that age. Billy is the track they need to work on and was the weakest part of their performance; it had a nice hard-hitting chorus, but the verse lacked the conviction the rest of their set had. Looking forward to seeing what else is to come from them. With seven bands to watch in the night, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Maurice and the Men only got to do a set of four songs, but they made a great impact as the opener.

Second on the list was Rock/Blues trio Violet Highway; the only group representing non-male artists in the line-up. Very much moving into the surf rock genre instrumentally, Jacqui’s vocal style has influences of The Cranberries’ Dolores O'Riordan, Alanis Morrisette, and Gwen Stefani. Nice bass-driven melodies, though the mix at the sound desk had the guitar over-powered. The drumming had some nice pace in the drum rolls, but otherwise was very simple, which suited the style of music well. Performing tracks from their EP BREATHE, such as Separate WaysCharlotte, and Friday Nite, Violet Highway have a refreshing spunky positive vibe to their performance. Unfortunately, due to seem technical issues, they had to find a new bass guitar to use, luckily Quinn the Human were gracious enough to let them borrow theirs. First song choice with the new bass was a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Fire, which had some great complementary vocals from bassist Ant, and got a good response from the crowd. Would love to hear a bit more smoothness in the picking of the guitar solos, but Jacqui’s vocal style could easily fill a niche that has been lacking in modern rock.  

Quinn the Human followed their bass guitar and were the next group to perform on the small stage of the Ellen Melville Centre. The five-piece were rather pressed for space, but plenty of shows at Ding Dong Lounge had clearly prepared them for such situations and they were still able to move about with ease. I don’t know whether it came down to the different venue, the sound technician, or their sound being limited to ensure the headliners weren’t outplayed, but Quinn the Human did not sound up to their usual quality. 

They were potentially the band that had the most trouble getting the crowd moving; even their 2016 banger Gutterfingers or the quirky Desert/Disco was unsuccessful in getting a good reaction. Following in the footsteps of the earlier bands, they performed a full cover song of the Ghostbusters theme song. Any interesting choice to perform for a crowd that was predominantly under the age of 18. They certainly gave 100% in their performance, but their sound was off, and the eclectic Queens of the Stone Age-esque style just didn’t jive with the audience on this occasion.

Midway through the evening and fourth band to hit the stage were young up-and-comers Dead Beat Boys. Prevalent in the band competitions, Dead Beat Boys have hit their stride, and figured out exactly what sound they are going for. With that knowledge the confidence in their performances has increased dramatically since I last saw them live. Frequent performers around the Auckland circuit, their performance has moved far beyond the music into an almost interactive experience with the audience. 

Vocalist James bounds with energy as he clambers up and down the stage, wrapping the mic cord around his throat as he writhes on the floor. Theatrics like this add to the excitement of the music and swept up the audience. Among the set list was their latest single Bland which was released in November of 2017 (It’s about time for an EP, boys). Their sound has converged into something that is reminiscent of The D4 and The Datsuns in its mix of energy, guitar riffs and vocal style. Ending their set with their 2015 single 2, they prompted a massive sing-a-long with the audience, selecting fans to join them up on stage to dance and sing alongside the band.

Coridian were next to take the stage. Forgoing the usual opening backing track of Birth of Symmetry, they jumped straight into Nonetheless with reckless abandon. Coridian have been tweaking their performance with each show and they make use of every space on stage; even guitarist, Mike, unintentionally using the stage lighting to cast his silhouette on the wall behind them. Coridian have been working on new material since the release of their EP Caldera in October last year, and the fans have already come to expect Dunes, but two more new tracks were being tested out on the Auckland audience, Seed Part 2 (which was performed before Seed (Part 1)) and Good for Nothing. Both tracks show a movement towards the heavier side of their style, and vocalist, Dity, is expanding on the vocal melodies he uses with the Raven brothers, which is great to see.

The PA system was smaller than usual and did struggle with the level of sound being created, leading to a bit of distortion, but the raw enthusiasm of the group is infectious and got the crowd active, joining in with Dity’s pogo moshing. Hoping to see Birth of Symmetry reintroduced into the set list at some point, perhaps rather than a backing track, being performed as the penultimate track in the set. I can’t wait to see what comes from these new songs, with word of the band working on a debut album in the not too far future, Coridian have a bright future if they can keep their momentum going.

Five bands down, two to go, and Silence the City take to the stage. They have been rather absent from the music scene this year considering they dropped their debut album Resilience earlier in the year. Despite this, they get straight into their set with the professionalism of a band that never stopped practising. Being winter, colds are prevalent, and vocalist, Justin, did sound like he was holding back on his vocals for the first few songs. But as they worked their way into their set the vocals improved considerably and held strong for the remainder of their performance. 

When it comes to replicating the sound from their studio album, they did a brilliant job. The mix was perfect, and the band looked like they were having fun, as they contorted themselves on stage the harder they thrashed the guitars. They played their heavy hitters Brave, Go It Alone, Identity, The Missing, and ended with their 2013 single Closer. Again, the PA did struggle to handle the level of fuzz in Silence The City’s sound, but it wasn’t too noticeable.

The final headliner for the night was the Skinny Hobos. Having come straight back from a show in Tauranga with Coridian the previous night, they were surprisingly full of pep. Being in the middle of a nationwide tour, they could be forgiven if they were holding back, or sounding a little worse for wear, but their sound was on point. Opening with their slow-burner Sevenatenine, they built their sound up with precision. In spite of the smaller PA, the duo kept their levels in check to prevent distortion (which was probably helped by the reduction in band members on stage at one time. 

In their usual style, their set combined a mix of their hits from their debut self-titled album with a generous helping of banter. As was to be expected in a show with seven bands and six changes of equipment, the Skinny Hobos had to deal with the issue of their cut-off time coming up before they had finished their set. After a quick consult with the event organiser mid-performance, they decided to play through the cut-off time, but cutting the set list slightly, making sure not to cut out the bangers. Coridian’s Dity could be spotted moshing in the crowd when he suddenly leapt up on stage to sing vocals on Jacked Like the Ripper, before the Hobos carved out Merchant of Tirau and closing off the night.

All ages gigs have a history of not selling that well in the rock genre despite there being a lot of highly passionate young fans that can't come to the R18 shows because they are in bars. Small Stage, Big Sound was a great idea (not mention all proceeds being donated to the New Zealand Music Foundation) to combine many artists together to increase the appeal; like a mini festival. In a central city location, with security personnel present, and no alcohol sold on site. I hope to see the popularity in such events increase in the future and receive support from parents and young fans alike.

Review written by Alex Moulton


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