1 Feb 2023

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  • Gig Review: Ding Dong Bands Competition Semi-Final 1 @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 18/11/2022

Gig Review: Ding Dong Bands Competition Semi-Final 1 @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 18/11/2022

18 Nov 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

Back down to Dead Witch for the next round of their Battle of the Bands competition. They had some fine bands the last time this was held, with the title eventually being taken by White Noise Mafia. Of the bands playing tonight the only ones I knew was Channeled who I have seen a few times but for some reason have not seen play in more than a year, and The Bulls Rush who played at the one heat I was able to attend.

All bands were given 30 minutes to show what they could do, and first we had Offside who comprise Jed Jackson on lead guitar, Sam Mangij on drums, Aidan Curtis-Johnson on bass and Ethan Shepherd on vocals and rhythm guitar. Kicking off with Hitlist, I was immediately taken with their melodic hard rock sound, which also features many different styles and tones care of Jed. While everyone else is keeping it tight and direct, he is using a massive pedal board to create multiple effects that worked incredibly well. They slowed it right down with the next number, Rats to Riches, which included huge elements of soul and funk. What I found interesting is the way they can change tempo and allow something to be dynamic while at the same time having massively complex bass runs and drum patterns. Ethan also has confidence his vocals, finishing the song acapella, repeating the chorus until it drifted into nothingness. Scars saw him dispense with his guitar altogether, solidly into the music with one hand in his pocket, eyes often shut, as yet again the band weaved together threads of complexity that supported but never overwhelmed the vocals. All the guys are working extremely hard, no-one sitting back, but instead adding loads of complexity on a song which developed in its intensity both musically and vocally. Ethan’s rough and raw delivery is packed full of emotion, yet the songs ended with us drifting away on some delicate guitar.

When they first came onstage, I felt they were going to be a melodic hard rock band, and while that is true there are also many other elements going on in their music which makes it somewhat harder to define. There is often a groove in what they are doing, and the songs are built on a solid foundation of great bass and drums, Jed is often the sole guitarist who can be playing straight or with numerous effects, and then at the front there is a great singer. The combination of the four of them produces music which had me surprised that this was the first I had heard of them. If this was the first band on what were the rest going to be like? There is no doubt there were a lot of people in the audience enjoying them, with lots of cheering and shouts for more.  Push and Pull was more straightforward and in your face with some jagged riffs and loads of emotion combined with a nice edge. They finished with Execute IV, their heaviest song of the night with some powering kick drums, and a break in the middle which made it seemed like it had ended. Personally, I would have preferred to have heard more of the heavier styles, but there is no doubt that their varied approach got a wonderful reaction from the crowd. The song ended with a pummelling assault and then they stopped, dead.

Next up were The Bulls Rush, who impressed me when I saw them play last time. Comprising Tereora (vocals, guitar), Matt (lead guitar), Ollie (drums) and Cameron (bass) they started with Tereroa getting feedback from his guitar, and then we were off into the hard kicking Enough Is Enough.  What I like about these guys is they know what they are doing, and just get on with it, driving hard rock which has a groove and intensity with a frontman who is out to have fun and ensuring the crowd are along for the ride. One would never imagine this was just their third ever gig, and before the next song Tereroa started playing the intro to I Got You which certainly got the crowds attention and just when everyone wondered if they were really going to play that Kiwi classic they launched into the belting Natives instead, where the crowd was warned not to dance… I was glad I wasn’t judging tonight, as just two songs in there is no doubt these guys were giving the openers a run for their money. They also were out to show they had variety, with False Gods having a repetitive synth backing track, yet somehow, they turned it into their heaviest song yet as they moved more into metal before falling back into Eighties pop rock, quite a mix. There are some strong commercial hooks on this, yet they also bring in doom and some nu-metal which is an interesting mash up and works incredibly well.

Like a Bullet had the band playing the same chord repetitively during the verse, relying on the bass to mix it up, and with the two guitars locked in it was very powerful indeed. Yet again they broke it into multiple sections and styles with some great drumming in some places and a break in others, which certainly had an impact. A shout of “Samoa” from the audience was the perfect introduction to the high energy Come Back Fighting which is designed to get people moving and certainly had the desired effect. They finished the set with Aloud (which is a tribute to Hinewehi Mohi singing in Te Reo at Twickenham in the 1999 Rugby World Cup). This was one of their slower numbers, with plenty of space within, yet it still contains that core strength one has come to expect from them. The bridge just had a riffing guitar, then the bass joined in, and then we were back in the main song. They ooze confidence and put on a great show.

It was time now for Are We Dead Yet who are John (vocals, bass), Kyle (guitar) and Ash (drums). With Kyle sporting a Jackson guitar and Ash a Misfits shirt I was sure we were in for something heavy, and I was not to be disappointed. They kicked off with the riff monster which is Chow Chow, following it up with Tunnel Vision, and it was all incredibly tight and although John lost his bass for part of the second song, he did not let it phase him at all. He provides the solidity and foundation while Kyle is all over the place providing fast riffs and then there is Ash. I imagine the kit he normally plays is much bigger as he is constantly driving, throwing in different patterns, and hitting the kit incredibly hard. He also has his snare tuned very tight indeed, so when he strikes there is a cut through of the wall of sound being created in front of him – it also helps that as they are a trio the other two are stage left and right which makes him a very visual performer. He is certainly active (reminding me of everyone’s favourite muppet).

It was just as well that John managed to sort his bass out as he provided the introduction to The Fall, and while they are a metal band, they are mixing influences from thrash through hardcore and punk to give them a real crossover sound and appeal. One can certainly imagine them being on the same bill as full-on death and groove metal acts while also having a load of fun at hardcore gigs. There may be less finesse than what had gone previously, but there was still a good use of dynamics to provide contrast. By now there was serious head twirling taking place at the front of the stage (some people were going to have sore necks in the morning), and during Rise Again, Ash was even more animated than before, but somehow, he was still keeping it tight and putting in many different styles and sections. It slowed down to allow John to provide some emotional vocals with Kyle taking a back seat, but after a few gentle renditions of the chorus it was powered up with the vocals being forced out as if under extreme pressure. For A New World ended with some screams and extended instrumental, and then we were into the last song of the set, Raise The Banners, which upped the tempo with some dynamic double kick drums.

The last band of the night were Channeled, who made the finals the last time this competition was held in 2020 and I had already had someone come to me and say they had heard they were the band to beat. In drummer Branden Pritchard there is also the strange situation of him also being in the other semi-final as part of The Boondocks so if both bands made it through then they would be competing against each other. The rest of the band is of course Ben Ruegg (vocals, guitar), Matt Garratt (guitar) and Michelle Anderton (bass) and I realised from looking at the setlist that I knew very little of the material so was looking forward to this. They kicked off with one of my favourite songs, Isolation, and as soon as the crunching riffs kicked in there were people pushing forward to start dancing. Ben has a knack for writing songs with powerful hooks and different sections and dynamics, while everyone in the band are totally confident in their own abilities and those of their bandmates. The three people out front are all music teachers, while Branden is an ex-pupil who is one of the most exciting young drummers around, and together they have been playing live (apart from Covid) for a few years now and it shows.

The Gap Between Thoughts is new to me, and it shows the more thoughtful side of Ben, with Branden bashing around the kit, and they ended with a drum pattern which allowed both guitarists to retune and then they were into Deeper which has a real groove and allows Ben to show some real emotion. Michelle has a wonderfully fluid and warm touch on the bass, tying in with the more dramatic Branden and providing the link to the guitars where Matt adds the lead touches and licks over the top of Ben’s. This is powerful stuff, and it is easy to see that they have gigged far more than the others as there is an extra level of confidence and polish. Inside The Light is from the time two years ago when Ben collapsed at home and had to be rushed to hospital which meant they had to cancel the album launch show. He went through a lot of soul searching after that event, and one can hear that in this song which for the most part is slower and far more dramatic, but then it builds and allows Matt the opportunity to put out a cracking solo. It is full of the passion and emotion which Ben must have been going through at a time which was very dark for him.

Of course, having taken the mood right down the only thing to do now was to ramp it right up again with Prophets & Media, which got everyone moving as they upped the tempo and ferocity and then just stopped before ending with another old favourite, Where Did It All Go Wrong? Ben creates songs which not only have great hooks but also contain lyrics which are worth studying, and this is one of those, and he even got the crowd singing while throwing out a lengthy scream.

That was it, all over, just time for the judges to make their decision. All four bands tonight were great, and I would happily see any of them again, but for me the two going through were The Bulls Rush and Channeled, but would the judges agree?

Their decision was Channeled and Are We Dead Yet, which just goes to show I can’t be right all the time.

All we have to do now is come back again tomorrow and do it all over again.

Photo Credit: Kev Rowland


Other Reviews By Kev Rowland

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It is some 18 months since I last reviewed a recording by Crying Club, which was the single Taxi Man, but I did see them at EmoFest last year where three of the songs on this five-track thirteen-minute-long EP were played. While their music is solidly rooted in the indie scene, they manage to also bring in other genres as they cross genres, bringing rock and metal quite strongly into their poppy mix.
Gig Review: Midnight Green & Kazia @ The Thirsty Dog, Auckland - 21/01/2022
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After being blasted the previous night at Dead Witch, tonight I was at The Thirsty for what promised to be a very different affair indeed, with two soul/jazz/pop bands. Beforehand I was talking to the bar manager who told me that soon they will be closing for renovations, after which they will open up with the stage in a different place, and it promises to be much improved, so I am really looking forward to seeing the end results.
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Gig Review: Music In Parks - Helensville @ Helensville River Reserve, Auckland - 15/01/2023
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