27 Jan 2022

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Gig Review: The Biggest Pub Gig In The World @ Spark Arena, Auckland - 11/12/2020

13 Dec 2020 // A review by Kev Rowland

On Friday evening Spark Arena took us all back in time, to a period when many of the punters there that night were going out and having a blast. When I picked up my tickets, I was a little surprised to see they were General Admission, and then as we made our way inside, we had our wrists stamped (with a little guitar). We walked into the arena, and our jaws just dropped. All around the outside of the standing area were names I recognised, as for one night only the likes of Windsor Castle and The Gluepot were again serving beer (in plastic glasses of course), there were barrels on which to place drinks and even some sofas and standard lights! At the rear was The White Lady serving food, and all around the sides were old photos and posters. We made our way up to the seating, sat down and were just in awe of what had been done to the place which no longer looked like an unfriendly and sterile venue. It had been advertised as The Biggest Pub Gig In The World and it truly was, all that was missing was a compere and a meat raffle!

Nik Brown soon made his presence felt, giving away CDs and t-shirts, and also informing us that whenever anyone bought a drink from one of the bars inside the arena, they would be given a raffle ticket, and that a draw would be made before each act that night (all prizes to be collected from the box office after the show) as there really was a meat raffle taking place! Nik has been around the Auckland music scene forever, and tonight he did his best to take us back to the heady days of the Seventies, when it was all about pub rock. He had plenty of anecdotes and was talking to the audience between acts as if they were old friends, and indeed some of them were which led to more stories. It all felt very warm and convivial, with the feeling that tonight really was going to be a one-off, something very special to mark the end of an era. Due to five bands being on tonight, all of whom having a reasonable amount of time, it meant that the first act was coming onstage at 7:15, and there is no doubt that some punters hadn’t realised that and missed out.

Nik was there to make the stage announcement, reminding us all that the man about to come on was the founder of the mighty Seventies band Street Talk, and then the night really started, as on walked Hammond Gamble. The top screen showed an old advert for Hammond throughout the set, reminding us we were going back in time. No sign of an acoustic tonight, as Hammond was here to provide us with electric blues rock, which he did with panache and style. The band sits on the foundation of the rhythm section, which then allowed himself and long-time keyboard player Stephen Small to bounce ideas and styles off each other. Jess Is Just A Fooler started the evening, a strong blues number which allowed the musicians to stretch and warm into the set, with Hammond’s clear and emotional vocals still as strong and vibrant as ever. At times, the set was rough and raw, with his vocals on Bring It On Home being especially poignant and powerful, and the guitar interplay with piano sparkling and full of life. At times he was quite staccato in his playing, others more drawn out and relaxed, with Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out being a fine example of a more restrained style. The set was grunty and fun, and way too soon it was over, and the band was leaving the stage. I would have loved to have heard more, but tonight there just wasn’t the time.

Since the sad passing of Graham Brazier in 2015, there has been no Hello Sailor as although a decision was made to continue, they did so as The Remnants which feature founder member Harry Lyon (guitar and vocals), drummer Rick Ball (who joined in 1976 and has played on every Hello Sailor release), Paul Woolright (who is the band’s longest-serving bassist, having joined in the early 2000’s) and newbie guitarist Jimmy Taylor who joined after the band made the decision to keep going. Tonight they were back as Hello Sailor, came onto the stage, checked everyone was set, and then launched into New Tattoo and immediately the energy went up a notch. It has been some years since I last saw Hello Sailor, and I had forgotten just how much of a rock band these guys really are. If anyone only thinks of them as being the band behind the iconic Blue Lady, then you have a lot to learn, as tonight they showed that pub rock was really just classic hard rock played in pubs. The harmony guitars were locked in, Harry’s vocals were as powerful as ever, and tonight they were going to take us back in time. Stephen Small joined them after the first song, and stayed there for the rest of the set, as the guys shifted and moved styles to take us on a journey, going from the laid-back Lying In The Sand to the use of mandolin on Billy Bold. They brought on Andy Dixon (sax) for Watch Ya Back, and by the time they had moved onto the good time rock and roll of Please Tease Me the crowd was filling out and many were dancing. Gutter Black was the first number of the night to get everyone singing, while Blue Lady was nothing short of triumphant. Graham may no longer be with us, but he was kept alive tonight with Harry often talking about him. Again, they had to leave the stage far too soon, but hopefully I will catch these guys again for a longer set in the near future, as this was really impressive.

I must confess to having never even hearing of Citizen Band prior to seeing the line-up of the gig, but when I did some research, I was surprised to see that they are sometimes credited as being possibly New Zealand’s first ever supergroup, being formed by two members of Split Enz and two members of Space Waltz. When I came to New Zealand 14 years ago, I immersed myself in classic NZ bands, but somehow these guys passed me by. They started with Good Morning Citizen, and it soon became apparent it wasn’t coming together quite as it should be, which made me wonder how much rehearsal time they had been able to put in. Dig That Tex was one of the highlights, really quite new wave and incredibly evocative of Toy Dolls with its vocal style and aggressive guitar but unlike the acts before them, and indeed those after, there was little or no engagement with the audience, no talking or sharing of stories and often not even introducing the next song. Julia was musically effective, much slower in fashion, but it really dampened the atmosphere they had been building and was possibly not right to be included tonight, but they got things back on track with I Feel Good which was a powerful rocking number to which the crowd reacted really positively. They ended with Rust In My Car which got another very positive reaction, but I did feel that from my perspective they and Hello Sailor should have swapped positions in the line-up.

What can you say about Jordan Luck that hasn’t already been said? Tonight, he was here with The Jordan Luck Band, and out of all the bands playing this was the one I had seen most times before, and he delivered in exactly the fashion I expected, over the top, in your face, and a real good time. They came on to a backing track, and then launched into Without You. There is no excuse at all for not seeing these guys play live in a normal year, and with guitarists Bryan Bell and Joe Walsh both also in Ekko Park, they are road ready and know just what to deliver. At the centre of it all is Jordan, a young Rod Stewart who knows he is a rock god, and acts like one. It was like there had been a huge step change within the arena, and that all the bands prior to this really were just the warm-up. Just because he wasn’t the headline tonight didn’t mean that Jordan wasn’t going to act like he was, and with a band around him who were all younger than anyone else playing that night, they were just going to rip it up. He is a showman, driving the band and audience on, and Here I Am was so much heavier and powerful than anything else that had gone before.

But like others playing tonight here is someone with incredible classic NZ numbers to his name, and the biggest reaction of the night to date came when he said they were going to play a cover version. He explained it was a number by a promising new band called Dance Exponents, and he had been told by the singer that it was written about his landlady. Of course, this could only mean Victoria, and the place went crazy. There was no way they were going to lose the momentum, and they followed it up with a genuine cover in The MockersTuesday Morning and then back into Who Loves Who The Most. Everyone was singing, bouncing, dancing and generally going nuts. They eventually came to the end of the set, everyone was a sweaty mess with smiles on their faces, and then they launched into Why Does Love Do This To Me? and again everyone was on their feet, singing the words with all their might.

If it had been a normal night, a normal event, the crowd would have left the venue at that point, musically satiated. But this wasn’t a normal night, as it was going to be the last ever gig of one of New Zealand’s most iconic bands, Th’ Dudes. The band were only in existence for a few years, some 40 years ago, had just one Top 20 album and no Top 20 singles, yet during their existence they released songs which have taken on iconic status. Tonight was their night, their last night. The line-up was of course Dave Dobbyn (vocals, guitars), Peter Urlich (vocals), Lez White (bass) and Bruce Hambling (drums). Ian Morris sadly died in 2010, but his place was taken by his brother Rikki Morris on guitar/vocals, and the band also added the only ever Dudette (Peter’s words), Victoria Girling-Butcher (guitar, vocals).

What had appeared to be speakers at the rear of the stage were actually video screens, and now they were used to full effect as the band came onstage. Urlich told the audience if they gave 100% then the band would give 100% and then they launched into Right First Time and everyone went nuts. Urlich never stopped working the stage, giving his all, while Dave seemed incredibly relaxed, enjoying his role of sideman which has been somewhat unusual for him over the last 40 years. Lez was his normal self, just knocking out the bass lines from the back of the stage with a quiet grin, moving forward for the odd moment and then going back again, while Rikki was obviously emotional as to the whole experience and Victoria stayed almost rooted behind her microphone and music stand, much as she is when performing with Dave.

On The Rox, On Sunday, the old numbers kept coming and then Urlich announced they were going to perform The Game of Love, a #1 hit for Ian Morris as Tex Pistol. During this song videos were played showing Ian’s life: he may not have been on the stage tonight, but his mates ensured he would not be forgotten. Highlights were now coming thick and fast, and when they played That Look In Your Eyes, we were even treated to excerpts of the original video being played on the screens behind them. This was very much their night, with people singing, swaying, and dancing, all here for a good time. Urlich was getting even more animated, grabbing the microphone stand and living every word, and in some ways, it felt we were all being driven towards a climax, and then they launched into Walking In Light and whatever emotion and passion had been in the arena before that moved into a whole new level. But then it was stepped up again as they went into Be Mine Tonight and the place was just heaving.

Everyone took a breath as the guitar tech came onto the stage and gave Dave the guitar for the next number. Dave then told everyone it was called Excalibur and it was given to him by the Lady of the Lake, and that when he put it on, he felt that it was full of power, and the only thing to do was play a power chord. This he did, and while it was still reverberating, he launched into Bliss. It is impossible to put into words what it was like to be part of the audience at the last ever gig by Th’ Dudes while they were playing one of the most important NZ songs of all time, so I won’t even try to attempt it. I will just say you had to be there. They left the stage, came back for a pumping version of Iggy Pop’s The Passenger and then it was done, it was over. Rikki made a point of hugging everyone onstage and was full of emotion, and there were more than a few tears being shed, not only by the band.

What a night, what an experience, and as we walked out on a floor littered with broken plastic glasses and sticky from spilled beer, it made me think again that we really had been at a pub gig. During the show Urlich said a few times that the audience would be able to say they were at the last ever gig by Th’ Dudes. It was an honour to see some amazing bands, and not a gig I will ever forget. The band may have finally left the stage, but their legacy will live on.

Photos courtesy of Morgan Creative


Other Reviews By Kev Rowland

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