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Gig Review: Crushfest @ The Tuning Fork, Auckland - 07/07/2023

07 Jul 2023 // A review by Kev Rowland

So it was down to Tuning Fork for the first night of the second Crushfest festival. Tonight was going to be Wellington and Auckland bands, and then some of the same will be playing at the second night in Wellington next month. Sadly, there was a late drop out with Venom Dolls being unable to appear due to sickness, so instead of the five bands we were expecting, instead we would just be having four. But seeing as how I have seen everyone play previously, I knew we were still on for a great night. A decision was made to keep the set lengths the same due to what people had been rehearsing, so tonight we were going to get four 25-minute sets, with a 15-minute changeover between them.

First up were Crying Club from Wellington, a band I first came across a few years back when I reviewed a single of theirs. Featuring Datu Beech (vocals, guitar), Isaac Lundy (guitar), Chrissy Pantelakis (bass) and Sean Beales (drums) they are a high-energy emo band who often get compared to the likes of The Used, La Dispute and Sum 41. They were not only the opening act, but the first of three who were at the same event and venue last year (it would have been four if Venom Dolls had been here). Tonight they kicked off with the bass-led belter which is Taxi Man, the single which introduced me to them back in 2021. This is now far rougher around the edges with Sean throwing in some coarse rawness while at times the twin guitar melodies were very Maiden-esque indeed.

Crying Club followed this with Tripping in the Garage and I was already impressed at just how tight the guys are these days, as they have stepped it up quite a bit since I saw them last. The rhythm section sets the platform, with the drums driving hard, the bass setting the melody, and then the guitars over the top – they manage to deliver driving emo pop punk while also having plenty of space within the arrangements. Litterbug followed from their excellent Big Water Bottle EP which came out earlier this year. Christmas with a K is also from the EP, kicking off with a hard-hitting riff before the guitars disappear for the verse, coming back for the chorus, with Louis now taking the central vocals in a very different direction indeed. Munchies is one of their more structured songs, and then they followed it up with A Year From Now which again has plenty of space but also is fairly brutal and uncompromising at times with some really nice contrast so the loud felt really loud. They finished with How to Say from their recent EP, again taken in a far more powering and dramatic fashion than the recorded, as they pushed hard. I came away mightily impressed with Crying Club tonight, and given the way the crowd were reacting and dancing I know I was not the only one.

Red, the lead singer of Finger Tight, who are playing at the second night, then made his appearance, telling me all about their gigs with the wonderful Coridian so I am now waiting to see if he will be spending as much time in the air at gigs in the future as Dity.

Next up were Blindr, a band I saw for the first time at the end of May when they were on the Stray Dogs bill at Aux. The first local band tonight, they comprise Bill Caldwell (vocals, guitar), Blake Woodfield (lead guitar), Jack Power (bass) and Charlie McCracken (drums). Tonight they kicked off with Lover.Fighter, which is quite bass led, with the drums driving from the back, and the guitars setting up quite a Seventies groove. Bill is one of those guys who puts everything into what he is doing, whether he is singing or just riffing hard, while Blake puts leads over the top and Charlie and Jack really drive it along. Letdown has a slow and quite dramatic introduction which does make one wonder just what is going to happen and then the infectious punk kicks in, with plenty of Blink 182 influences: there were certainly plenty of people happily pogoing in the audience.

Charlie provides the introduction to the next song, which was the first cover of the night, their version of All Time Low's cover of Rihanna's Umbrella, which soon became a nice driving number. The longer this went on the heavier it seemed to become, with everyone in the audience having a load of fun. We then had Break, which is somewhat slower but way more dramatic than what had gone before with plenty of depth and passion, demonstrating they are much more than just a high-octane outfit. We were then told the next song was the best one they had ever put out on Spotify, of course it is the only song they have ever put out on the platform, Outrageous. Although I only saw them play about six weeks ago they already seem to be growing in confidence which is having an impact on their performance as here was another band in a quite different space to last time, and the crowd were certainly along for the ride. Plenty of pop elements in this, stacks of emo, and not too much punk, making for an interesting and quite commercial hybrid. They ended the night with another All Time Low cover, Dear Maria, Count Me In, and even though they told the crowd the real bands were on next there is no doubt Blindr were here solidly on merit, and I am sure I will be seeing them again soon.

Now we had Stray Dogs, who were celebrating as it is release day for their new self-titled single and video, which means the album is not too far away which I am eagerly awaiting. Josh Pinho (vocals), Cameron Brookes (guitar), Grant Kirkpatrick (drums) and Steve Shyu (bass) are one of the finest bands on the Auckland circuit, and their gig in May at Aux was a triumph. Tonight was going to be a heavily truncated set, but one the crowd were eagerly looking forward to. Their version of melodic pop punk was on show right from the off with the banging Life of the Party, with Cam, Grant and Steve locked in tight and then Josh showing why he is regarded so highly as a frontman. Not only is he a great singer but he never stops moving, and the simple approach of bringing some small step stools allows him to keep rising up when he wants to make a bigger impact. Ko Koe has more depth, and Josh was already warmed up while Steve and Grant provided the platform for Cam to riff hard.

Since the band changed their name they have been pushing hard and not only are they one of the most exciting bands to go and see, they have great songs which demand the audience not only dance and groove but also sing along, they are that infectious. We were told our feet had to leave the floor during the next song and to sing, and if we did not know the words then to make up our own and we were off into Smile. Stray Dogs have the presence and passion of a band who have been around for years, with the confidence which only comes from many hours spent onstage, yet still with the sense of fun as if they are all back in their teens in their first band.

Steve spent most of the gig with a massive smile on his face as he is having a blast, Cam is solidly in the groove, Grant is attempting to drive through the kit, while Josh is simply in his element. He then announced to everyone that the new album would be out on September 15th and then we went into some of the songs from that, starting with Back to Before, which is somewhat slower but packed full of drama, with multiple different threads at play which somehow combine to create something quite special. They followed this with Brand New Bloom, another punk jump-up-and-down number which is simply a load of fun, and gave Josh the opportunity to pogo across the stage. There is a nice key change near the end of this, and a line which Josh sings unaccompanied, very powerful.

We were then treated to the single released earlier today, Stray Dogs, one of their most out and out pop punk party numbers which deserves to be a massive hit as it is just so infectious and way too much fun. It is impossible not to move during this, as it just hits straight out of the traps – if you have yet to see these guys in concert then you need to check this out as it is pure enjoyment from beginning to end. The problem with the sets being so short is that we were now already at the end of the set, and here was the last number, Loser, which had the fastest introduction of any song so far tonight before turning into yet another song daring people not to go completely crazy. What a band.     

Now it was time for the only trio of the night, Wellington's Holloway. Louis Valentine (vocals), Taylor Criscuola (drums) and Max Long (guitar) have been coming up to Auckland quite regularly since their appearance at the same event last year and are always guaranteed to be a good time as they apparently have no idea on how to have a poor gig. The stage was in darkness and the introduction to Crush started through the speakers, and with all the lights off people started making their way to the stage. There was a cheer when it was realised the guys were setting up and then were off in the way which Holloway do so very well. Taylor is nothing short of a phenomenon (no rubber mask tonight though), Max is the backbone, riffing hard and then at the front is Louis who is mild-mannered and one of the politest people you will ever meet offstage, but is a total rock god diva on it. He is a star, and knows it, throwing shapes and living the dream. Hot Pink Paralysis is sheer attitude, with the keyboards adding a strong element to the band as Louis dispensed with his guitar for Here Come Glitterboy, leaving it to Max to crunch, and for Taylor to not only smash his way around the kit but be over dramatic and visible while doing it which also makes him a focal point, which is somewhat unusual for a drummer.

The crowd were invited to get really close to the stage before the next number, which was the My Chemical Romance inspired The Freak Show, which also had Taylor don his mask for a while (rather him than me, I hate to think what that smells like inside). We then had a brand-new number which has been heard by hardly anyone outside the band, Bury Me (With a Copy of the First Fall Out Boy Record), which has plenty of space within it and also allows Louis to show he can provide some stream of consciousness style lyrics when the time is right. Date All My Friends is the next single (and nice shirt which they also had for sale tonight), and shows the different sides of the band, commercial and full of space and hooks but also powerful and rocking and shows just what everyone is missing if they have yet to come across these guys as it is a blast from beginning to end.

Violet is another with a huge number of words in the verse and a highly infectious chorus, with the two guitars riffing along. We Are Young is a cover of the Fun song, with Louis being accompanied just by Taylor, and then Max was there and they were blasting yet again. This soon became a beck and call with the audience more than happy to sing as instructed. It was back to the riffs with If What I Think Is Happening It Better Not Be (Holloway certainly have some great song titles), Louis throwing his voice until it cracked and broke, plenty of emotion. A short, but effective, monologue led us into Please Hold (An Operator Will Be With You Indefinitely) and we were again moving rapidly to the end of the set. They finished with the mighty Dead! (My Chemical Romance) and the place went nuts one last time. Of course, they were not going to be allowed to leave so they finished up with Panic! At The Disco's I Write Sins Not Tragedies, and then we were done.

It may have only been the four bands instead of the expected five, but this was still a great show, with the second night to be held in Wellington next month. Well done to Holloway for putting on a great night and having some wonderful bands with them to celebrate.


Photo Credit: Ginny C Photography

 

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