15 Apr 2021
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Dragon - Gig Review: Dragon @ The Tuning Fork, Auckland - 3/02/21

04 Feb 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

When The Biggest Pub Gig In The World took place at the end of last year, I truly felt there was a band missing from the bill who would have made the line-up complete, Dragon. Not only are they an  iconic New Zealand band, with countless hit singles and songs to their name, but they have been a solid gigging unit since their rebirth around bassist Todd Hunter in 2006. This gig was only announced a week prior to it taking place, and I relished the opportunity to cross another icon off my bucket list (just Split Enz to go now, please guys?). Then the icing on the cake was announced, in that the support would be Outside In, one of my very favourite bands from Auckland, but what would the audience think of a young progressive band playing songs they probably had not previously come across?

The doors opened at 7pm, and Outside In were on stage promptly at 7:30pm, playing a highly compacted six-song set. There was no announcement, they just went straight into Bridges, with Jonnie Barnard and Joe Park creating their signature twin-guitar soundscapes. The last time the band played was actually at the same venue when they supported City of Souls, but that night Joe was unable to perform so they had a stand-in guitarist who fitted in well but gave the sound a different vibe, but tonight they were back to full strength. In Adam Tobeck (drums) and Elliott Seung Il Park (bass, backing vocals) they have one of the strongest rhythm sections around, and tonight the sound balance was really good with Adam’s snare cutting through the wall of sound being created by the guitars, while Elliott was revelling on being given more space than normal and literally twisting himself in knots while playing complex runs on his five-string bass, then at the front is Mikey. Resplendent as normal in his blue dressing gown, which only lasted half the set due the heat in the venue, he is a wonderful front man who lives the music being performed, with a clear voice which rings through. He also utilises two microphones, one of which is clean and one with slight distortion, which allows him to provide some different dynamics.

Although the band were really delivering on the stage, it was obvious that the vast majority of the crowd were there to see the headline and were not too interested in what else was going on, talking through most of the first number. But as the sound continued to swell, and they continued to display just how tight a band they are, there is no doubt that people started to pay more attention. The talking gradually died away and while there only a few cheers to great the end of each song, there was at least appreciative applause. Tonight, The Garden of Light was one of the highlights, where Jonnie switched to seven-string which assisted in providing a very different feel. The guitars seem to fill all available sound so there would be no room for keyboards, yet there is also clear differentiation, and the use of space provides clarity and dynamics. It was obvious they were on a time limit tonight, and there was very little of the normal banter and talking as they pushed through the set. This was a real shame as it was not really a fair indication of how they normally perform, and I was disappointed they made the late decision to drop Mushrooms, but they finished  with a job well done, although it was somewhat of a surprise for them to walk outside and see it was still daylight.

The reason for Outside In finishing so early became apparent when Dragon came onstage before 8:30. I must confess it is a very long time since I saw a headline start their set at that time, but it made a pleasant change indeed. Although the Dragon of 2021 bears little resemblance to the one formed back in 1972, Todd Hunter is of course still there, and the line-up has stayed the same since he reformed the band in 2006, being joined by Mark Williams (vocals, guitar), Bruce Reid (guitar), and Pete Drummond (drums). Again, there was no announcement, they just walked onto the stage, picked up their instruments and said “hello”. Everyone’s attention was on Mark, who is a wonderfully gregarious and inviting frontman, and as soon as they kicked into Still In Love With You it was obvious this was going to be a singalong event. Dragon are a band who can perform for 90 minutes and just play hit after anthemic hit, and that was exactly what we were in for tonight. Todd may sit on a stool these days, but his bass playing is as dynamic as ever, while Bruce has a fine line in sharp riffs and hats, and then at the back is Pete. As well as being a fine drummer, Pete also provides an important vocal element to the band and while all the guys provide vocals, he also had solo spot later in the set.

There was no warming up the crowd, they were red hot from the start, and it just did not seem to matter what song was played, everyone knew all the words and was singing them as loud as they could. Speak No Evil, Dreams of Ordinary Men, they came and went with everyone having a blast, both on and off the stage. The four musicians have been playing these songs together for the best part of fifteen years, and there is a relaxation and confidence which comes with time spent onstage, and Mark was nailing all the vocals with ease, seemingly always with a massive smile on his face. The only time the set lulled for me was when Pete was given the opportunity for a reasonably lengthy drum solo. I had to wrack my brains to try and think of the last time I saw one, and it has to be at least 30 years, as while they were popular in the Seventies they have definitely gone out of fashion, for good reason. There is no doubt he is an amazing drummer, and the crowd certainly applauded everything he did, but just not for me.

This Time, Ramona, the hits just kept coming with the crowd reacting so strongly to what was being played that Mark just let them get on with it during Young Years. Mark also provided some solo numbers, accompanying himself with his acoustic, showing again just what a confident performer he is as he always had the crowd in the palm of his hand. The rest of the band came back for Sunshine, and then Bruce kicked off the riffs so many had been waiting for, and we were all singing April Sun In Cuba. From there it was another party romp through Celebration before they ended the set with Rain. I was somewhat surprised they hadn’t kept it back for the encore, but no-one was complaining as we all attempted to lift the roof off The Tuning Fork. Needless to say, that wasn’t the real end, so they came back and finally finished with Are You Old Enough, where Mark again let the crowd sing most of the words.

I have been missing out on Dragon for some years, and I am so pleased to have finally been able to catch them in concert, as they really know how to deliver and are guaranteed to provide a great night out.

 

Images © Steve Bone

View the Outside In gallery here

View the Dragon gallery here

Please do not crop or use any of these photos for other purposes without written permission by the photographer.

 

About Dragon

Dragon was one of Australasia’s top groups from the mid 70's to mid 80's. After two moderately successful albums for Polygram NZ, Dragon moved to Australia in 1975 and by 1978 had conquered that country also with smash singles like April Sun in Cuba, Are you Old Enough and Still in Love With You.

The classic line-up from 1975 – 1979 consisted of Marc Hunter, Todd Hunter, Paul Hewson, Robert Taylor and various drummers. In 1998 Raven via EMI released two compilations of Dragon recordings; a single disc greatest hits called Snake Eyes on the Paradise and a double album called Tales From the Dark Side which included the greatest hits plus a disc of collectable items including Marc Hunter solo material.

Dragon are an important part of Kiwi music history, Dragon was known world-wide. Formed in the 70's, they are known best for their hits April Sun in Cuba and Are You Old Enough.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Dragon

Releases

The Very Best Of Dragon
Year: 2010
Type: Album
Universal Radio
Year: 2009
Type: Album
The Essential Dragon
Year: 2007
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Sunshine To Rain
Year: 2006
Type: Album
The Great Dragon
Year: 2004
Type: Album
Incarnations
Year: 1995
Type: Album
Cuts From The Tough Times
Year: 1990
Type: Album
Bondi Road
Year: 1989
Type: Album
Their Classic Collection
Year: 1988
Type: Album
Dreams Of Ordinary Men
Year: 1986
Type: Album
Live One
Year: 1985
Type: Album
Body And The Beat
Year: 1984
Type: Album
Power Play
Year: 1979
Type: Album
Greatest Hits Volume 1
Year: 1979
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
O Zambesi
Year: 1978
Type: Album
Running Free
Year: 1977
Type: Album
Sunshine
Year: 1977
Type: Album
Scented Gardens For The Blind
Year: 1975
Type: Album
Universal Radio
Year: 1974
Type: Album

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