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Pencarrow - Gig Review: Pencarrow @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 01/05/2021

02 May 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

I have lost count of how many times I have been to Ding Dong in the last year, I think it is somewhere between “lots” and “loads”, so consequently it is starting to feel very much like a place where every barman knows my name (and what I drink). I have been looking forward to catching Pencarrow since I came across their debut album Growth In The Absence of Light which was released last year. It is unusual for me to give an album 5 *’s but I felt that one richly deserved it, and is one I enjoy playing. Tonight, was going to be an evening of post rock, with some proggy elements thrown in, and I knew it was going to be fun although I was somewhat unaware of just how late this was going to run – I should have had a nap in the afternoon!

There were some issues with the set up for Gravity Road, the first band on, so Sora Shima decided to go on without a soundcheck at all and work it out as they go. I was looking at one of the guys hanging around beforehand, and noticed he had on a green wristband which meant he was playing, and the tectonic plates of my mind slowly shifted. I approached and asked who he was playing with, and what instrument. He said he was guesting with Sora Shima and played violin, why? With that I laughed and said Shepherds of Cassini! This was none other than Felix Lun, who was in that band, and I reviewed their debut album back in 2014, and saw them play a few times and even took photos at one of their gigs at The King’s Arms (RIP) back in 2015, which we were soon looking at on my phone and reminiscing. Rather worryingly he could remember what I said in the review all those years ago! I asked what had happened to the band, as they were an incredible live act, and apparently bassist Vitesh Bava had gone to Canada to study. Later in the evening I bumped into drummer Omar Al-Hashimi who told me that Vitesh is currently back, and they are looking to do a reunion show with guitarist Brendan Zwaan, and that will be something quite special indeed.

By now I was looking at the stage, especially down by guitarist Nathan’s feet as he was using a significant amount of pedalboards. I also noticed that drummer Dave is every sound engineer’s nightmare, a Lefty, which meant the kit would need to be totally switched around for the next band. I had a long chat with bassist Pete beforehand as well – it always pays to become pally with the local sales representative for Cassels beer, whose Milk Stout is surely the nectar of the gods?

Finally, Gravity Road started, or at least some of them did, with Nathan and Dave building the atmosphere with Nathan creating a real soundscape as a backdrop. Singer/guitarist Llew was quite patient, looking around, and then eventually Pete made it to the stage, and received a rapturous round of applause for his troubles, and it was all on.

They kicked off with Land of Trees, and early on they really captured my attention as not only are they post rock but there is a great deal going on in all areas. Dave switches between sticks and mallets, always changing the rhythm approach, Pete uses loads of different styles including finger popping (no pick, which allows him to play multiple notes at once) and hitting chords, while Nathan is permanently coaxing different sounds and styles from the multitude of effects he has at his feet (literally), so much so that when he plays straight it is an effect in itself. Then at the front we have Llew, who not only provides rhythm guitar, but is an incredibly powerful singer. What impressed me immensely was that he can sing with real passion, driving out the words, then can easily switch into falsetto, moving between the different singing styles as the needs arises. This really allows him to break through the soundscape, while Pete’s strong striking and pulling of the bass also gave very different dynamics.

They slowed it down, and pulled the music into a different area, yet always brought the heaviness back in controlled use of dynamics and contrast. There were times when they reminded me of Spook The Horses, and I can see fans of that band also getting a lot out of hearing these guys. The instrumental passages were very good but being a post rock band, they of course did not speak to the audience at all, not even to announce the songs. That’s fine, but it might be an idea to at least tell people the name of the band… They ended with Silent Sky, a song containing Neurosis-style heaviness, and I found myself immensely impressed. I look forward to seeing them again.

After a somewhat extended changeover, it was time for Hamilton band Sora Shima. The band were highly active after they formed in 2006, releasing some EP’s and an album, but from 2014 became dormant until 2019 when the original quartet reformed for a festival. Tonight saw the band as a trio with founder members Jason Lurman (guitar) and Gavin McDermott (drums) with bassist Mitchell Currin who joined last year. The trio were also joined on some songs by Felix Lun (violin) and guest guitarist Matt, but they started with Drone as a three-piece, with loads of guitar effects and a backing track which was a voiceover, making it sound as if we were listening to the beginning of a film as opposed to being at a gig.

Gradually the momentum started to build, and the band really kicked in, hard. This was incredibly heavy instrumental post rock, but they moved around the sound, slowing it down and becoming more atmospheric before tearing it up again. Their use of dynamics is highly effective indeed. Matt and Felix came onstage for Tornado Vs Trailerpark, from their 2007 demo EP Spinetingler, and just having a second guitar allowed them to bring in different effects. Then over the top of all of this was Felix, who was immediately adding another level. Anyone who had seen Shepherds will remember what an innovative band they were, and he was in his element here, adding additional elements to an already rich tapestry of sound.

It was by now that I realised what their music reminded me of, the crashing of waves on the shore. It is violent and heavy before retreating back into quietness before the sound comes back again. Mitchell was playing chords, everyone was incredibly heavy, and Felix somehow managed to add some top end. Here Be Dragons from 2008’s Destroy Electronica was another to get the quintet treatment, with Felix’s violin adding a fragile beauty to the dark atmospheric landscape. But there were also plenty of times when Jason was diving hard, and there was no room at all for fragility as it was a full-on onslaught. It was back for a trio with the unreleased Hext, and finally it was done. This was quite a performance, and everyone was drained by the sheer intensity of what they had witnessed.

Both bands had played lengthy sets, and I was somewhat surprised to see that the time was now past 11:30pm and we had yet to have the headline! Thankfully, it did not take too long for the band to set up, and while there was a pedalboard it was somewhat smaller than what had been used previously, probably because Pencarrow have a keyboard player in Anthony Rose. The rest of the band are Todd Thompson (5-string bass), Justin Chorley (drums) and Tonnie ten Hove (guitar, vocals) and even though it was now way past my bedtime, I was definitely going to enjoy this.

While all three bands who were playing tonight could be considered to be post rock, Pencarrow are far more overtly proggy as well, and move between loads of different styles. Tonight, we were to be treated to pretty much the whole album, in order, although they did end with the lengthy At Last, Omniscience from their 2016 debut. So we kicked off with In Medias Res and it was immediately obvious that Pencarrow are quite different to what had gone before. The guitar was more structured and complex, with sounds which were far more like Andy Latimer or David Gilmour, adding complexity against the backdrop. Through the course of the set the rhythm section kept everything tight, which allowed guitar and keyboards to play against each other, with the guitar often in overall control, but there were others when the keyboards were by far the dominant, switching from synth sounds to piano, and even combining in frenetic duels.

Their music contains far more in the way of dynamics, and the switching between songs and instrumentals is really effective. The first time I played the album I was somewhat surprised when vocals arrived as I had already made the decision it must be instrumental, such is their power. Although the sound was somewhat cleaner than what had gone before, that did not reduce any of the power and there were times when they were incredibly heavy and Tonnie took the opportunity to drop into some serious shredding. They pushed in and out of prog metal, and the overall effect was mesmerising.

When they finished their set, it was nearly 1am, the latest gig I have attended for quite some time, but certainly worth it. All these bands are worth checking out and well worth catching if they are playing in your area.

Photo Credits Kev Rowland


About Pencarrow

Pencarrow is a four-piece prog band from Wellington, New Zealand, combining diverse musical backgrounds and influences to create adventurous and thought provoking music.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Pencarrow


Live At San Fran
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Growth In The Absence of Light
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Dawn Simulation
Year: 2016
Type: Album

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