11 Dec 2018
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Gig Review: ZM's Friday Night Jams @ Western Springs, Auckland - 18/11/2018

19 Nov 2018 // A review by Alex Moulton

Ten minutes before gates open and the entrance way to Western Springs is packed to the brim with excited fans wearing cardboard Burger King Crowns in the hopes of receiving a free upgrade to the BK Stage. With some scattered cloud, the day was humid, but ultimately much more manageable, providing some respite from the intense sun.

The site looked to have been setup and planned well, with the ticketing lanes separated by section, but ultimately you cannot change human nature and once the initial deluge of lined up fans entered, people began to jump into any lanes that looked shorter until they were denied entry and sent to the correct lanes.

Entering through the gates, you couldn’t help but be impressed with the amount of space in the non-concert area. Perhaps one would call it the “lobby” area, and it was vast and full of a great variety of food trucks; From Burger Fuel and Pita Pit, to mussel fritters, ice cream, and espressos, there was a great deal of variety to cater to any cuisine cravings and budgets.

There was an odd bit of tension early on when the gates to the stage and seating areas remained closed with security posted to prevent entry. Whether some unknown delays in production or setup were occurring, all of a sudden the people that had arrived early to get a good spot up front had been waiting for nothing as the people arriving an hour after doors open, were now in the same place waiting for the gates to open.

It was good for the catering services, though and ultimately for the fans, as they resorted to eating more, which would help to counteract the effects of alcohol consumption in high heat conditions. The staff on hand at the ZM tent did their best to keep the masses entertained, painting the faces and arms (and in some cases beards) with glitter, until the gates finally opened, and people could get in position for the show.

Security appeared to be under strict direction, and while most were great and no issue to be around, some were preventing people from getting a position close to the barrier, trying to send them to the furthest side of the area. Eventually, when a countdown displayed on a screen on stage announced the show starting in under a minute, security was told to allow the fans to take up position wherever they wanted, and everyone got ready for the show to commence.

According to the set times handed out when entering the venue, they were running 25 minutes late with opening act Kings taking the stage just before 4:15pm. Cranking out their top singles Don’t Worry Bout It, and We’ll Never Know, Kings took no exception to being the first act of the night. Humbled to be able to share the stage with the artists to come, they performed with energy and enthusiasm, for their short four-track set. Slightly off-key and out of time during the third track, the vitality of the performance more than made up for it in the eyes of the audience.

While they set up for Che Fu, Melbourne-based “International Party DJ” Yo! Mafia, kept the crowd amped up with a selection of hip-hop and R&B hits from the 90’s and early 2000’s. A really interesting choice to have these intermission acts, as their sets were often longer than the artists actually advertised on the bill. That being said, while there were some comments on how they wish there were more songs by the artists, you could not deny that the audience would go crazy when their favourite dance tracks were being played over the PA system.

Che Fu came out on stage with MC Hazaduz, and King Kapisi behind the decks, bringing together Hedlok and The Kratez. The broke out with the classic Chains, followed by Misty Frequencies. They too were not mucking around. Also hampered by a very short set list, they cranked out the most popular hits, then King Kapisi came out from the decks to perform Screems From Tha Old Plantation getting great engagement from the crowd singing out “Fai fai pea, fai fai pea” in the chorus.

Yo! Mafia came out for another inter-set performance, as the stage was set up for British rapper, Estelle. Her first time stepping on New Zealand soil, she came out on stage with two dancers, for a brilliant rendition of American Boy. There was confusion when she finished the track and said that she wanted to perform a longer set and would play one more song; but alas her entire set was only two songs!

American Hype man, Fatman Scoop took to the stage with some neon yellow pants and pulled up a group of women to dance on stage, having to physical push some away from him citing that he loves his big women and she’d have four kids by 2am. A short little interlude, that lasted no longer than a minute, but kept the crowd entertained as they waited for Ginuwine to take to the stage.

The crowd had been slowly building up by this time, and the food and bar areas were absolutely buzzing. While the food stalls were large in quantity and were quick to get their food out, resulting in minimal wait times, the same couldn’t be said for the bar. While the bar in the premium area was reasonable, the other bar had horrendously long lines, which even with 30+ staff working behind the counter, ended up being a 30+ minute wait, at which point the thirsty punters were alerted that the 4 drink limit had been reduced to 2 (and later reduced further to 1), with half of the items on the drink menu no longer available. While alcohol is not exactly a necessary item for a concert, having such a restricted limitation alongside a 40-minute wait was very poor, when you consider some of the artists performing only performed a couple of tracks.

Ginuwine came out on stage dressed all in white and lavished in the adoration of the crowd. As is part of his performance, he heaped the adoration back to the crowd, pleasing the women in the platinum section by wiping himself off with a towel before throwing it into the crowd, sharing a bouquet of roses with a several members of the audience, and even jumping don off stage to get up close with the fans (after removing all of his jewellery, of course). Crowd favourite came in the form of dance-club 1996 hit Pony.

The hormones started ramping up in the crowd as American musical trio, Next, took to the stage. Two of the trio coming out in All Black jerseys and wasted no time in moving to the front of the stage and dirty dancing to their hearts content. Gradually stripping off their shirts and singlets, they threw their sweaty clothing into the screaming crowd, as the audience sang along to Wifey and Too Close. The cameras followed them as they descended down the stairs, making contact with the fans on the barrier, getting their clothes stretched, jewellery fondled, and their own bodies being felt and groped as they moved past.

Taio Cruz was next up on stage and looked more than happy on stage taking over T-Pain’s spot. With hits like Break Your Heart and Dynamite, the crowd were at times more vocal than the artist, and the Gold, Silver, and Bronze sections were getting much noisier as time went on, cheering and singing along, putting the energy from the Premium and Platinum areas to shame. Also added into the set was a track that Taio Cruz had featured in; David Guetta’s Little Bad Girl, which got a rapturous applause from the crowd. As we move into the second half of the evening, Eve took to the stage with a large group of back up dancers in neon colours. A fun performance that was quite exciting choreography to watch.

Australian DJ Horizon has taken over for Yo! Mafia for the inter-set shows, and starts with top R&B rankings, and trying to see which songs the crowd know the words to. A simple process, with shortened clips of songs that works well to keep the crowd paying attention to what is going on on-stage, and keep the excitement levels high, until Fatman Scoop returns to the stage doing everything he can to get the crowd energised and jumping, before introducing Slugga the Bear and Naughty By Nature.

Coming out to Queen’s We Will Rock You and The Jackson 5’s ABC, the audience were instantly enamoured with the trio as they jumped straight into O.P.P. They appeared well warmed up for the evening with Treach sauntering on stage, a bottle of champagne on hand that he was determined to open on stage. Perhaps a little too comfortable on stage, or a little too intoxicated, the crowd watched as Treach proceeded to spend a good 30-40 seconds trying to get his shirt off, pausing every once in a while to spout off his lyrics while his top remained firmly affixed around his head. Their attitude was infectious, however, and the audience loved their varied personalities on stage. The mix of brash cockiness and confidence worked well, and the nostalgia trip had the audience up in arms (in a good way).

As the sun started to dip below the horizon, the final opening act for the night came on stage, in the form of Salt N Pepa. Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Deidra “Dj Spinderella” Roper, celebrating 32 years as a group, and performed with a sense of attitude that shows they are far from calling it quits. Their performance is the complete opposite of the likes of Ginuwine, taking delight in the raunchier aspects of their performances, and in providing eye candy for the crowd. Spunky and on point with their flow and melodies, their performance was one of the highlights of the evening alongside Taio Cruz.

The sun well and truly gone, the audience waited in anticipation for the headliners to head on stage. Co-headlining the night were Usher and Lil Jon, though that really doesn’t say much about the balance. Lil Jon’s presence was largely relegated to hype man for Usher, only performing 2-3 songs of his own throughout the entire headlining set. That being said when he performed Get Low, the crowd erupted with a large majority of the crowd pointing “to the window” and “to the wall”. The track had the most resonation with the audience and was heard being sung after the show ended all over the place; almost as good as Turn Down For What.

But most people were there for Usher, and he delivered a top-notch visual display. With more costume changes than an early Lady Gaga concert, and more shirts stripped and ripped off than the average Chippendales show, the cameramen were kept busy trying to keep track of Usher and his fast-paced dance moves. Breaking the ice with Love In This Club, the screens that surrounded the stage had some great visual effects going on, but the cameras were so focused on Usher, and shot so tight, that so much of the visual performance was lost. One of the biggest aspects of Usher's shows, is the visual aspect, and not being able to see the choreography with his multiple dancers and how it all coordinates together means a lot of that magic is lost.

His to and fro with the red headed leather-bound woman during U Got It Bad, was a delightful viewing, and very passionate, but unless you had a physical line of sight, the video footage left a lot to be desired. With a set list that very nearly beats all other artists combined, the performance was broken into sections, with DJ IZ and Lil Jon taking turns to test the audience's knowledge of Usher songs during the breaks. With gas cannons, pyrotechnics, and even some backyard fireworks, the visual display was brilliant, but it lacked the energy to keep me entertained. I felt like I was just listening to the radio, not really immersed in the performance, and that left the headlining act feeling lacklustre. Usher did manage to get some good rapport with the audience, and while there was a huge applause at the start and end of every song, the audience lacked the energy that they had had earlier in the day for the 'smaller artists'.

Usher played through a veritable medley of tracks from his back catalogue, including OMG and Let It Burn (which he ended with an acapella). The show didn’t end there though. Usher continued to talk about his time in New Zealand, the gifts he has received and how thankful he was for the opportunity. While nice to see an artist remaining humble and trying to take in aspects of the New Zealand culture, the audience was already starting to depart, many missing the final epilogue track, DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love sung over the music to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean

As much as everyone loved Usher's music, the standout performances came from Lil Jon, Taio Cruz, and Salt N Pepa. Hopefully future iterations will create a better balance with respects to set lengths, intermission lengths, and starting on time, but all-in-all it was a brilliant evening that was enjoyed by all.

 

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