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Gig Review #1: Homegrown 2023 @ Wellington Waterfront - 18/03/2023

19 Mar 2023 // A review by Kev Rowland

I have been waiting for this festival for ages, well over 12 months in fact as last year’s had to be cancelled due to Covid, but finally it was here. I flew down to Wellington in the morning and caught up with the MNZ crew of Reef, River (read River's review here), Amanda, Garry, and Bevan for brunch: two reviewers and four photographers meant we were one of the largest media contingents at Homegrown 2023. As the name suggests, Homegrown only features local artists, over five stages which means there is plenty here for everyone. It also meant we had to pick and choose who we could cover. This meant I would be spending most of the day at the Rock Stage, what a surprise, aside from popping over to the City Stage to see a few acts there. Some steps records would be set today.

After watching some of Sir Dave Dobbyn’s soundcheck, we wandered over to the Rock Stage and I soon made myself at home in the Jim Beam VIP Sound Suite, with a perfect view of the stage, great sound, a table, power for my laptop (and possibly some Jim Beam as well!). I watched Devilskin do their soundcheck, and was blown away by Jennie’s vocals and their overall presence – if they were like that when no-one was there, what were they going to be like when there was an audience? Capital Theatre also managed to sneak in a soundcheck, and after a chat with them and the guys from Written By Wolves, it was time to settle back and listen to DJ Kane Hawkins set the scene. He can always be guaranteed to get everyone going, and going from Psycho Killer to N.I.B. was a touch of genius.

The first band of the day was Capital Theatre, whose debut album was #2 in my Top Ten last year, and are also one of my favourite live bands, so I was looking forward to this. Paul Reid (drums), Adam Stevenson (vocals, guitar) and Roy Oliver (guitar) have recently returned from the States, where they have been playing gigs. I know their second album is going to be out later this year, and they were going to be playing some new tracks for us. There was the introduction, and then they were straight off into Fait Accompli, accompanied by their digital backdrop. What a great way to start the afternoon, blasting commercial rock with two guitarists riffing hard and a drummer doing his very best to outshine them both.

It was obvious there were many people here who had no idea who these guys were, and just as many being blown away by what they were experiencing. The piano interlude in Time really allowed Adam to show off his voice and plenty of people were cheering along with him. The announcement of a brand-new song was greeted with some cheers, which ramped up when they cranked into Everlong which definitely had everyone singing along and clapping their hands in the air. Next up was the first play ever of Taste The Flame, which has a wonderfully hooky chorus while Adam also uses the opportunity to sing falsetto – I am so looking forward to the album already!

Fire was one of the singles from the album, and here Adam dispensed with the guitar and came upfront to really interact with the crowd. By now, people were dancing and having a blast, with the guys getting a very positive reaction indeed. The longer they played the more people were dancing and singing, with new song Underworld continuing the theme, people shouting “Hey” and punching the air. Second Skin is a much slower number, with Adam sat on the front of the stage accompanied just by piano and keyboards, then the bombast started with Paul and Roy coming in hard, and Adam living the story. It really is hard to describe just how powerful these guys are, commercial yet blasting at the same time, with hard-hitting drums combining with melodies, strong guitars and great vocals. The twin guitars were back for Long Way To Fall, and it did not take much encouragement for everyone to be soon clapping along and dancing. People was the epic it always is, and then we were into another newie, Exactly What You Want. The set ended with a monstrous version of Force to Fight (if you haven’t seen it already, check out the video), with the guys still rocking hard and vocals full on point. This was the best gig of theirs I have seen thus far, and today they made loads of new friends.

Just two days before the festival, Written By Wolves announced the departure of founder Bahador Borhani, while Oli is still on his honeymoon, so this was going to be quite a different line-up to what we all know. Mikey contacted Fish from Blindspott to step in, as not only was he in 5 Star Fallout with Mikey, but they were in the same high school band together and today he was helping out his old mate. The backing track started, and soon Karl was there, bashing the kit, and Davie and Fish were doing the same on drums set up at the front of the stage, Mikey took his place and Give em Hell was ripping the place a new one, and the crowd reacted, not able to quite believe was going on in front of them. The Jim Beam promo team up here were dancing as well, and the change in pace for Let It Burn was just right, allowing Mikey to show just how well he can sing, as well as being a top screamer. Fish was fitting right in, having as much fun as everyone else, and when they went into Papercut the place went wild, and everything bounced.

Mikey asked the crowd to jump when they kicked into Not Afraid To Die, and everyone obliged. When it comes to working a crowd there are few who do it as well as Mikey, and without his normal visual foil in Oli, he was doing it even more than normal, yet hitting every single note. It was just going off, and was only 3:00 in the afternoon! By now I was losing the plot as with sunshine, Jim Beam, and my favourite band blasting out Follow Me, what was there not to love? They are the perfect festival band as their music is immediate, and even if you have somehow never come across WBW before this, you will love them the first time you hear them, and how Mikey hit that scream I have no idea. He then told the crowd that everyone needs to talk about mental illness, and we were into Secrets – which has the most powerful video one can ever see. The reaction was insane, and the Jim Beam VIPs were very happy after I convinced them to stay and not go anywhere else.

The introduction to Elastic Heart got a strong reaction, but I am sure many of them had never heard it quite like this, and when the guys crunched, they hit hard, yet Mikey was also singing sweetly and getting the crowd to join in, while at others it was just a case of everyone bounce. Mikey also soon got everyone waving their arms in unison – the crowd were his. We were told it had all got way too serious, and suddenly the tempo had shifted and we were into Genius. That belter then took us into the mixed tempo and styles of Tell Me What You’re Running From, and the audience were still going crazy, and rightly so. The audience were now all asked to get down on the floor, and when Mikey finally allowed them to get up it went even more nuts. We were also then treated to another song from the new album, Misery, an up-tempo number which soon becomes another belter. They finished with the most insane take on Better Luck Next Time, their most vicious and nasty version ever, but then they stayed on to play another which was not on my list, Limp Bizkit’s Now I Know Why You Wanna Hate Me (Take A Look Around) with DJ Kane Hawkins joining in the fun, and they banged into Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle). What a set, no-one would have believed what the band have been through recently, but they absolutely nailed it.

At this point I had to leave the festival to go and check in to my hotel, which meant I missed quite a bit of Troy Kingi, but I was fortunate to get over to the City Stage to catch some of his set, which given I had missed his last show I was very pleased about. When someone is releasing music as much as he is, it doesn’t take much to cause issues with tours, and with all the lockdowns it became a problem for Troy so last year he was playing gigs for Black Sea Golden Ladder, with Years of the Ratbags and their Musty Songs just around the corner. It being a festival I could hear he was mixing it up, with a line-up which included two keyboards players (including one who provided additional vocals and trumpet), another trumpet player, drummer, percussionist and a bassist while of course he was on guitar and vocals.

The crowd were already moving and having fun, and I got there just in time for him to go into one of the songs from the new album, Paparazzo, before moving into Age Is Just Numerical. There appears to be no limits to what he can do, and there was no doubt that the audience were here for a party. He was kicking up a storm as he mixed soul with Eighties influences, but when he moved into Mighty Invader he took it to a whole new level. Holy Colony Burning Acres is one of the finest reggae albums one is ever likely to hear, with that tour being one of the most amazing I have ever attended, so to hear a song from it certainly made me smile. He finished the set with a funky version of Human League’s Don’t You Want Me Baby which had everyone singing along, setting the stage nicely for the next act.

That act was The Black Seeds, who started with a funky drum and bass, setting the groove until the rest of the band finally made their way onto the stage. They are an octet comprising percussion, drums, two guitarists, sax, trumpet, keyboards and bass, yet they are incredibly tight with twin lead vocals as they blended influences from big-beat funk, dub, soul and vintage roots-reggae to create something which immediately got the crowd moving. Turn It Around ensured that the audience were all moving and grooving, dancing on the spot, creating room to move.

They have a smooth sound, and everything is effortless, yet the groove is always there, almost as if they are puppet masters, getting the audience to do what they wished. Whatever they did, whatever genre was uppermost, they were creating the party, and people everywhere were responding. Game Over was powerful, while Love & Fire was just a solid groove from beginning to end. At this point I grabbed something to eat but fortunately the food trucks were within the City Stage area so even though I could not make any notes, I was able to stand there listening to some amazing sounds until it was time to make my way back to the Rock Stage. I may not have been able to see the full sets of either band, but they are incredibly good at what they do, and the crowd were dancing up a storm as I left.

I made sure I was back at Rock Stage in time for Villainy, as they are always guaranteed to put on a great show and are not to be missed, and even the introductory tape got the crowd going. Finally, Neill Fraser (vocals, guitar), Dave Johnston (drums, backing vocals), James Dylan (bass) and Thomas Watts (guitar) where there and when they kicked into Raised In The Dark the crowd reacted in kind. There is something incredibly infectious about their melodic hard rock, which contains a pop element without ever losing any of its majesty and power. Safe Passage is far more staccato, with a hard crunching riff and beat with Neill powering over the top. He is a singer who can be sweet when he wants to be, and a screamer when the time is right with a real edge. The guys always have loads of fun together, and when they kicked into the infectious Beggar, people weren’t sure if they were supposed to headbang or dance as it mixes different styles together. No such confusion over their last single though, as The Launch is a belter from beginning to end, with a chorus to die for, taken at breakneck speed and the crowd were moving at pace.

They slowed things down with Cut, but it had become heavier, and as it had got darker the lights started to be utilised, and when the crowd were more than happy to sing along when given the opportunity. When Neill is singing, he is stuck behind the microphone although he never stops moving, but James and Thomas never stop either throwing shapes or moving around as they are having just as much fun as the crowd. While Neill was sorting out his guitar for the next number, they were playing some filthy distorted riffs which had people close to me calling out for War Pigs, but when the guys instead kicked into their sublime and ridiculous Tiny Little Island, they lost their minds. Neill then launched himself off the stage in a rubber dinghy and everyone kept singing, as he undertook a quick tour of the audience, microphone in hand as the crowd pushed the dinghy over their heads. The crowd needed no encouragement to sing the chorus at the top of their voices with just a hi-hat to keep time, as by now everyone was having a blast (and, I may be wrong, but I don’t think everyone was as sober as they were a few hours earlier). Another Time is one of their older numbers, starting with U2-style riffs, soon becoming the anthem it has always been, perfect for settings like this one where so many people knew the words and were singing them as loud as they could.

Alligator Skin has a drum and bass introduction, and Neill and Thomas soon had the crowd clapping along, and then the song took off, and we were into the belter we all know and love, Neill pouring on the aggression while James actually stood in the pit to get closer to the audience and get them going even more. When James and Thomas both played their instruments behind their heads I had a massive smile on my face as that is not something you often see, and certainly not with a bass! The rest of the guys now left the stage, Neill strapped on an acoustic and played Saturdays, which always gets people joining on the chorus for some strange reason. Everyone was back for Dreams, and I was having issues writing the review as the floor was bouncing, and then the balls were out! This was pure festival, a cracking band, immense songs, an audience really up for it, and plenty of massive white balls (with ‘Villainy’ in black) being bounced into the air. They finished with IFXS, turning it up another notch in terms of heaviness and speed, one last time, and the crowd happily went down to the ground as they were asked to.

What is there to say about Devilskin which has not already been said? Nic has been playing drums professionally since a stupidly young age, his father Paul may be bassist here but has been singer and guitarist in other bands, Nail is a monster on guitar and then at the front is one of the finest singers one will ever come across, Jennie Skulander. They started with The Horror, and the place went nuts, as they really could do no wrong, with Jennie striding the stage like a goddess, either singing sweetly or growling like a demon while the rest of the guys created the metallic foundation she needed. They were the heaviest band so far, and the crowd were certainly reacting in kind. The place was going nuts, and it did not seem to matter if the guys were playing old or new material as there is no doubt this was who most of the audience had come to see. Nic stands like a colossus, planted into the stage, Nail is throwing shapes, Paul is hitting through the kit, and then there is Jennie who is just immense.

I was so taken by what I was seeing in front of me that I realised I had written hardly anything about the actual gig itself! How many times do you see a metal guitarist with a twin neck, but that is what Nail was playing during Voices. They ramped up the tempo for Never See The Light, crunching hard and the crowd reacted in kind, high energy and loads of fun. Do You See Birds had the guys continuing to punch hard, showing why they have been at the top of the metal heap for so long in Aotearoa, and surely it can only be a matter of time before they become recognised in other places outside of this part of the world. This was just immense, a real coming together of metallic majesty with incredible songs and stage presence.

Homegrown 2023 – insane from beginning to end. When is the next one??


Photo Credits:
Capital Theatre / Villainy / Devilskin - Bevan Triebels / Triebels Photography
Written by Wolves - Amanda Hodge / It's The Little Things

Troy Kingi / The Black Seeds - Reef Reid / RADAR Photography

 

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