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Dimmer - Album Review: Live At The Hollywood

09 Nov 2023 // A review by roger.bowie

Wow, not very often that we see alive album these days, an unusual beast, but that’s we have, a 14-track monster from Dimmer, recorded from last year’s sold-out trilogy at the Hollywood Avondale. Which, if you didn’t get to go last year, you can still see on December 2nd at the Powerstation, unless, like me, you are going instead to The War on Drugs.

Bugger, but thank God there’s a live album I can hear at home.

Shayne P Carter fell out of love with rock by the time Dimmer became a recording thing, and in 2001 released I Believe You Are A Star, a darker, electronic journey largely created at home using the new technologies and a drum machine. But in another reinventive moment, he then gorged on Thelonius Monk, and brought the impro of jazz back to the rock theatre, before completing the circle after a reunion tour with Straitjacket Fits. The subsequent two Dimmer albums reverted to a rockier standard before Shayne folded the band in 2012.

And so it came to pass that Shayne P Carter found guitar hero redemption supporting Don McGlashan, at least that’s how it sounded to me, before announcing a 20-year anniversary tour celebrating I Believe You Are A Star, which was subject to Covid delay until last year.

A brief history of time to provide context to the joy that for the most part prevailed Live At The Hollywood or probably did prevail if you were there and only marginally compromised by the distance between the actual and the recorded. Plus, the 14 songs have been selected from over the three night’s performances and do not reflect the setlist order, which I understand followed the album order and presumably threw in the songs from subsequent albums towards the end. So, this is a live record which sets out to create a new experience from the original one.

Which means you are Getting What You Give from the outset, a most un-Dimmer song from sophomore album You’ve Got to Hear The Music, but a fantastic opening track which almost puts a cabaret context to what follows, not unlike the way Marlon Williams opened at the Hollywood a few years back. Cool, jazz funk soul groove to set the scene. 

Drop You Off begins a seven-song extract from the Star album, and the sound is more familiar, dreamy and spare but the real drumming from Gary Sullivan is Miles Davis better, less electronica, more jazz-rock. I Believe You Are A Star (the song) is also better, with real bass from James Duncan, and stuttering psych guitar chords which brings lefty Shayne into the Jimi realm. 

Pendulum, Drift and Smoke. The sound intensifies. Exquisite harmonies from Louise Nicklin and Neive Strang. The sound of birdsong. Live At The Hollywood Aviary. All leading up to Seed, a 10 minute plus blockbuster of a Canadian drone grunge journey which crosses between Neil Young's Crazy Horse and an American Woman from Guess Who? 10 minute-plus songs these days risk getting labelled indulgent, but not in a live context, and certainly not this one.

You know what? During my preparation for this review, I pulled out the original album and played it, and I can’t help myself from saying, right now, this album is so much better. What’s worse, I now remember when I contemplated buying tickets for last year’s gig (postponed from the year before, when I did have one) and dipping into the 2001 version and going yeah, nah, don’t fancy this type of music anymore. What a bloody idiot. I should have trusted Don McGlashan’s judgement.

Ok, mea culpa over, let’s carry on. Under The Light continues the transformation from garage tools to big band arena and then we have a Scrapbook rendition from 2006’s There My Dear. The Doors meet the Cure with driving Hawkwind rhythms. Hold on to your head. The songs are getting longer as befits the build of a live gig, although the final two selections from Star, All The Way To Her and Evolution are short. The discordant intro to What’s A Few Tears To The Ocean, which is a beautiful title for a song, gives us a break from the relentless and a time to dream and sway (even at home). It’s a Searching Time from 2004 with questioning power chord permutations and a reminder that there are not one but two, maybe three guitar heroes in this band as well as Durham Fenwick on keys. 

And finally, the crystallization of all that has gone before, and is now presented in glorious vinyl on Crystalator records, as this remarkable record closes out, as it must do live, with the very first Dimmer recording, back in 1994: Crystalator, a rollicking ramshackle of unhinged guitar histrionics which is now staple Dimmer diet.

Shayne P Carter, I believe you are a star. Which will not Dimmer. 

 

About Dimmer

Dimmer was the name under which New Zealand musician Shayne P Carter (formerly of Straitjacket Fits, The DoubleHappys and Bored Games) recorded and played music from 1994. It began as an umbrella name for jam sessions and short-lived band line-ups, then home recordings, then an ensemble with various members and guests. This evolution led to more settled four-piece rock band (especially from 2006–10, when only the bassist changed). At least 41 musicians have been acknowledged as playing a part in Dimmer over 18 years, with Carter the only permanent fixture.

The last Dimmer recordings were made in 2009, with the band playing live shows through 2010. A short farewell tour announced the end of the band in 2012, and Carter began recording under his own name after that. Reformed and reformatted versions of Dimmer have occasionally played live shows, drawing on all four Dimmer albums, since 2018.

All four of Dimmer's albums were admired by critics, and all earned multiple New Zealand Music Award nominations. Non-album singles were released in 1995 and 1996, with debut album I Believe You Are A Star not following until 2001. In 2004 You've Got To Hear The Music was named New Zealand's Best Rock Album for the year, and Dimmer named Best Group. There My Dear saw Carter return to playing and recording with a live rock band in 2006, and return to the national album charts. Final album Degrees of Existence (2009) was recorded by the longest-lasting version of the band.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Dimmer

Releases

Live At The Hollywood
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Degrees Of Existence
Year: 2009
Type: Album
There My Dear
Year: 2006
Type: Album
It All Looks The Same At Night
Year: 2006
Type: Album
You've Got To Hear The Music
Year: 2004
Type: Album
I Believe You Are A Star
Year: 2001
Type: Album
Crystalator
Year: 1995
Type: EP

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