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Gig Review #2: Homegrown 2023 @ Wellington Waterfront - 18/03/2023

21 Mar 2023 // A review by River Tucker

The weather gods must really love live music because they fully turned it on for the Jim Beam Homegrown music festival in Wellington last Saturday. Not only were the tunes absolutely fantastic, the crystal clear blue sky followed by a twinkling starry night set a magical scene for thousands of beautiful party people to enjoy some of New Zealand’s biggest bands performing across five stages on the capital’s spectacular waterfront.

Auckland-based band Masaya were the first group to light up the City Stage with a blend of laid-back soul and upbeat reggae. They even threw in some tasty funk inspired licks, especially in their catchy song Soda Dreams, which was a real treat for old and new fans alike. Frontman Reiki Ruawai’s silky vocals, particularly in Tales of the Moonshine, combined with a super tight rhythm section including his sister on drums, warmed up an enthusiastic crowd who were super keen to get their groove on.

No strangers to live performance founders and siblings Reiki and Kaea Ruawai honed their skills within their parents band Cornerstone Roots, which has provided Masaya with a fair amount of not so quiet confidence, a trait that is required for successful shows at large events like Homegrown. It was well worth catching Masaya live before they head off to Australia for a whirlwind tour playing with Summer Thieves in support of L.A.B.

Most of the growing audience was already feeling pretty euphoric by the time seasoned professionals Che Fu & The Kratez jumped on the City Stage to lay down a set largely consisting of songs from the multi-award winning album, Navigator.

The peerless Che Fu is still innovating with a combination of old school and newer hip-hop styles, even to the extent that he and his three accompanying vocalists at times merged their substantive hip-hop abilities with some superlative gospel inspired melodies. Delivering a positive message while controlling the power inherent in reality rap is no mean feat, but Che has mastered this distinctive rapping technique, essentially the cornerstone of his sound, putting him a clear step above the competition.

Although a horn section would have been nice, songs such as The Natural and Fade Away were skillfully embellished with a precise skanking backbeat that got everyone up and dancing. The standout had to be Chains, which was performed with every bit of clinical precision as DLT’s original recording. The indomitable Che Fu & The Kratez closed out their awe-inspiring performance with Waka from Che’s critically acclaimed first album, 2 B S.Pacific, leaving the audience veritably buzzing and ready for more.

More great music was of course only a short distance away down the Jim Beam Homegrown walkways that were spread out over Wellington’s glistening waterfront. Access to most stages was along bridges over the water but not to worry, a dedicated group of lifesavers on rescue boat and jet skis were ever-present just in case anybody fell in. The security crews were similarly well organised with surveillance drones in the air to ensure people’s safety, meaning the police presence could be kept to a minimum.

The officers who were in attendance didn’t deter Katchafire from giving some much-appreciated shout-outs to the marijuana smokers in the audience during their massive bass-heavy roots reggae set on the Park Stage. The nine-piece delivered a masterclass of phat rhythms and juicy melodies, especially the tight two-piece horn section who were notably cooking during Sensimillia and Seriously.

Drawing the biggest crowd of the night, Katchafire also drew on a significant back catalogue of reggae hits to deliver a set of much loved sing along favourites, chief amongst them a cover of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. A chorus of thousands singing ‘Baby don’t worry, about a thing, cause every little thing, is gonna be all right’ uplifted spirits and created some precious optimism that was a high point for many willing participants. Everybody was feeling irie by the end of Katchafire’s epic set largely due to the band’s infectious energy.

Almost playing the exact same slot as they did during the first ever Homegrown in 2008, The Feelers set about owning the Rock Stage and the hearts and minds of the audience with a pleasant musical stroll down memory lane. There’s something very comfortable and familiar about The Feelers, who delighted a capacity crowd with a great selection of their much-loved classics taken from almost three decades of musical releases.

Despite his casual appearance, frontman James Reid with his beautiful Gibson LP guitar was nothing but the consummate performer on stage, which he fully owned for the entirety of The Feelers hour-long show. Eliciting some great singing from a very eager audience, especially during the very heart felt rendition of The Fear, James ensured that everybody was having a good time, even those imbibing in the VIP and drinks areas towards the back of the venue.

The Feelers have developed a slightly grungier sound over the last few years, an almost imperceptible stylistic change that was primarily evident during Beautiful Feeling and closing song, Pressure Man. Their expertly crafted rock-solid set was the perfect choice for organizer’s to lead into the events heavier hitters Villainy, Devilskin and Shihad. You can read more about some these acts in this excellent Muzic.net.nz review by Kev Rowland.

Beefing up the PA with a few more dB the sound engineers at the Park Stage tweaked their Midas desk to provide Kora with that absolutely thumping bottom end their music demands. Wearing white jumpsuits the seven-piece supergroup, who are masters of the downbeat, soon had the audience jumping and once they were there, Kora didn’t let up one bit.

Could Kora get anymore in the groove with songs such as Skankenstein, Weekend (Spell Remix) and Burning? Probably not! But that hasn’t stopped them from searching and finding that perfect combination of genres to make people feel exceptionally good. Interchanging between their low-down funk selections like Story Ain't Over and more upbeat slightly disco offerings such as Secret Lover, Kora delivered a combination that kept people energized and on their feet dancing throughout their thrilling and commanding performance. The experience of seeing Kora play live is one not to be missed.

Over at the City Stage, Gin Wigmore’s pulling power caused an enormous crush of people to push forward to see her perform up close and in person, but thankfully not to the extent where security needed to intervene. The L.A.-based, NZ-born musician who once toured with Jimmy Barnes had the entire amphitheatre packed with fans belting out her numerous hits mostly selected from Platinum selling albums Holy Smoke and Gravel & Wine. Gin also gifted attendees with a fantastic performance of her latest single, Someone’s Gonna Die Tonight and a lovely solo acoustic version of her new song Tip of My Tongue.

The effervescent Gin didn’t let a slight bit of audio spilling over from the neighbouring stage dampen her infallible style. Instead, she made sure to deliver her songs so that they resonated perfectly back from a highly engaged audience who were feeling very much alive. What bothered Gin and her band however was some guy, appropriately dubbed a ‘fucking cocksucker!’ by Gin, throwing a bottle of water that spilled all over the stage and their equipment. Despite that small hiccup Gin was unfazed and carried on to play some of the biggest crowd pleasers of the night, Black Sheep and Oh My at the end of her scintillating set.

Leading nicely into Sir Dave Dobbyn’s performance was DJ Aunty El spinning oldies-but-goodies Blue Lady and Are You Old Enough?.

Of course the good Sir needed no introduction but he got one anyway from the More FM hosts to raucous applause from a packed audience who had been waiting patiently with a high degree of anticipation. Having lost none of that indefatigable energy displayed while fronting bands such as Th' Dudes and DD Smash, Dave launched into a set of Kiwi classics that span over 40 years of musical history, a back catalogue of hits that largely speak for themselves.

It only took the first few chords of opening song Outlook For Thursday for the audience to become completely captivated and by the time Dave had poignantly played through a few more songs including Whaling and Loyal (the latter seeing hard working trumpeter Jack Thirtle and saxophonist Jimmy Garden take a well-deserved break) the audience was entirely under his spell. Nobody minded a few stray notes or that the City Stage lights went down for half a song. They were all too busy singing their hearts out to Dave’s much-loved national anthems.

Punctuated by uplifting songs such as Be Mine Tonight and Love You Like I Should the second half of Dave’s set picked up the tempo slightly helping to ensure an excellent level of audience participation. Slice of Heaven was so good that Dave and band entirely dropped out to let the crowd fully take over with a chorus that is part of our DNA. Most Kiwi’s know the lyrics to these songs by heart providing for an almost pitch-perfect performance from Dave’s thousands of adoring fans.

The salt of the earth, New Zealand Order of Merit winner, was mischievously disarming while introducing his fantastic group of musicians. Hailing from all corners of New Zealand, Victoria Girling-Butcher on guitar, Jo Barus on bass, Ross Burge on drums and Adam Fuhr on keyboards have perhaps been influenced by some of the reggae performers on the bill who they’ve gigged beside on numerous occasions. A delicate skank and musically demanding key change in Slice Of Heaven was a beautiful embellishment and testament to the bands significant musical talents.

It looked like Dave Dobbyn was going to close out his prodigious set with a version of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, until the entire audience chanting for ‘one more song’ drew Dave and the band back on stage for what was a unbeatable performance of Welcome Home. With top-notch shows like this, its little wonder Jim Beam Homegrown 2023 was completely sold out.

Now into its fifteenth (non-consecutive) year Homegrown has proven itself to be one of, if not the best, one-day music festivals in Aotearoa. Make sure you get your tickets early for what will undoubtedly be an equally impressive show next year.


Photo Credits:
Che Fu - Garry Thomas Photos

The Feelers - Bevan Triebels / Triebels Photography

Gin Wigmore / Sir Dave Dobbyn - Amanda Hodge / It's The Little Things

Masaya / Katchafire - Reef Reid / RADAR Photography

 

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