It’s May in New Zealand. That means another summer’s worth of gigs is over. Since moving to this country five years ago, standout gigs have been few and far between – we’re a little off the beaten track for international acts – but this summer has yielded many, many fruit.
It makes sense for international acts to tour here during the summer. It means they have the best of both worlds. They get to tour Europe and the US during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and then they take a trip over the equator and make the most of our summer while touring here and Australia. Nice work – if you can find it!
Summer kicked off in January with a nostalgia trip back to 1994. Weezer were in town, playing the Vector Arena. I love Weezer’s debut album – the Blue Album. It’s always remained a favourite over the years, and even though I haven’t really appreciated anything else they’ve done – aside from the sublime Hash Pipe – the promise of that first album played in its entirety was just too much.
Local support band U.M.O. (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) have been receiving many plaudits over the past few months with the release of their second album, so I was looking forward to catching them. I wish I hadn’t. Whether they were plagued by bad sound, or whether they just can’t play live, I was disappointed to see them. A tuneless dirge.
A quick catch-up with some old friends, and then Weezer appeared to play their first set, a greatest hits set. I didn’t recognise half of the songs, but it didn’t matter. On his way around the arena – ‘connecting’ with the fans – I got to high-five Rivers Cuomo. That’s not something I get to do every day.
The intermission, before they came back on to play The Blue Album, provided a nice touch. The lights remained down, and a slideshow of early band photographs was shown on the big screen behind the stage. Narrated by a member of the road crew, it showed the band in their early days, in their respective bands before Weezer, through to the recording and subsequent promotion of their first album.
I haven’t seen any of the tours in the last decade or so where a band play one of their classic albums in its entirety. I always thought I’d see one by accident – at a festival or something like that – so I was glad that the first one I would see would be an album I love. It was great to see.
Highlight: Say It Ain’t So
A month later I saw a Beatle in the same venue. I’ve seen McCartney play before, but this was my chance to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. I’m a card-carrying Beatles obsessive but this was just the most bizarre mishmash of popular culture imaginable. This version of Ringo’s band included Steve Lukather (from Toto), Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie (from Santana) and Richard Page (from Mr. Mister).
Aside from the inevitable Beatles songs associated with Ringo which, yes, sounded just as bad as they do on record, we were ‘treated’ to a couple of songs from his new album (2012). It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re faced with lyrics of such elegance as ‘This is an anthem, for peace and love / We’ve gotta keep trying, we can’t give up’.
The rest of the show was taken up with cover versions of the band member’s hits from their respective bands. So we had the likes of Rosanna, Africa and Hold The Line (courtesy of Steve Lukather), Broken Wings (courtesy of Richard Page) and Black Magic Woman (courtesy of Gregg Rolie). Thankfully, Ringo left the vocals to his bandmates for these ones. Bless him.
Highlight: I Saw The Light
A month later we saw Sixto Rodriguez come back from the dead at the ASB Showgrounds. The last time I was there, I was watching two porn stars jelly-wrestling. There wasn’ any jelly-wrestling this time, thankfully, but it was great to see Rodriguez after finally watching Searching For Sugar Man last year. Given his condition (he had to be led out to the microphone as his eyesight isn’t the best), I don’t think I’ll get the chance to see this frail old man perform again.
Note to self: avoid gigs at the ASB Showgrounds in the future. It’s not a great venue for music with some seats at an almost 90° angle to the edge of the stage, and pillars blocking the view from some. I might go back for the jelly-wrestling though.
Highlight: Sugar Man
Four days after Rodriguez, I went to see Fred Wesley and the JBs at The Powerstation. It’s almost impossible to not get a good view of the band in The Powerstation, and this makes it my favourite Auckland venue hands-down. Being able to see the band is especially important when seeing Fred Wesley and his band, if only to see the looks on their faces when they glance around the stage. It looks as if they’ve just smelled something truly awful, as though they’re accusing each other of farting, but they’re simply congratulating each other for playing something unbelievably funky.
After dancing for two hours, I was absolutely shattered so on my way out, despite seeing Fred make a beeline for the merchandise booth (presumably to sign autographs), I went straight home. I regret that massively.
Highlight: Pass The Peas
Another regret came a few weeks later when we saw Robert Plant (supported by The Blind Boys Of Alabama), back in Vector Arena. I don’t regret seeing Plant – for the third time, after catching him twice at Glastonbury over the years – but I regret not paying more for my ticket. We were sat right at the back of the arena, next to the sound desk, and although we enjoyed the fantastic sound from being sat there, I should have bought better tickets. If tickets had been released earlier, I maybe would have bought premium seats, but as it was, it was one of the last shows announced for the summer, so funds had to stretch accordingly.
With an impressive band (The Sensational Space Shifters), including one of the guys from Massive Attack shaping the overall sound, Plant shone across nine Zeppelin songs. Some of them were ‘re-imaginings’ but the more acoustic ones like Going To California and show-opener Friends, from Led Zeppelin III, were right on the money.
I returned to Vector Arena nine days later to see something I thought I’d never see in person: a reformed Black Sabbath. Unfortunately Bill Ward wasn’t present, but it was still great to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer; and the drummer they brought with them – Tommy Clufetos – was fantastic.
I had celebrated Record Store Day earlier that day by buying Shihad’s debut record, Churn, on vinyl for the very first time, and so it was great to see them support Sabbath. I’ve always admired Shihad from afar, and it was interesting to see them play such a heavy set, in contrast to the more radio-friendly set I saw them play when they supported AC/CD at Western Springs a couple of years ago.
Sabbath were every kind of awesome. Just hearing Ozzy’s voice for the first time while the stage was still shrouded in darkness was unbelievable. He might not be the best singer in the world, but his voice is unreal. I read somewhere recently that in the entire lyrics of the first Sabbath album, there are only two or three words that are longer than two syllables. Thankfully the guitar riffs are where it’s at with this band, rather than the wordplay, and it was really Tony Iommi who was the star of the show.
Highlight: War Pigs
A few days later, I flew down to Dunedin on my own (leaving a heavily pregnant wife at home with our 16-month old) to see Aerosmith. I don’t think I ever thought they would play in New Zealand, so I was ecstatic when I heard they’d announced a show, but then equally dismayed that their one and only show was to be in a city in the deep south of the country.
A cheap flight with Jetstar, and some cheap accommodation meant the trip wasn’t too expensive, but I didn’t account for how wilfully backwards they are down there. The airport is about half an hour’s drive out of the city, and there’s no public transport from one to the other. So the choice was a $70 taxi ride or a $30 shuttle minibus. Somebody is getting very rich off this arrangement.
It hardly stopped raining in Dunedin all the time I was down there. As soon as I reached my accommodation, I braved the rain to walk down to the local supermarket (going down the same hill that the steepest street in the world is on, just a few streets away). I instantly regretted my choice of footwear – a pair of old Adidas with a hole in one of the soles. Grr. I had to spend the next couple of days with plastic bags lining my right foot to keep it dry – to various shades of success.
There’s a couple of rumours why Aerosmith chose to play somewhere so isolated. Either the promoter offered them big bucks to play there (and there only) – or the other thing I’ve heard is that Auckland doesn’t have an indoor venue big enough for one show (the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin has a roof, which my right foot was very thankful of) and they didn’t want to risk an outdoor show because of the weather at this time of year. I think the former seems the more likely. Elton John did exactly the same thing a couple of years ago, and avoided both Auckland and Wellington to play down there.
The thing is, Aerosmith undersold. The stadium’s capacity is 40,000 but they only sold 20,000 tickets – and according to some bloke from the Dunedin Hotel and Motel association, all the accommodation was booked up. So I don’t know where they expected people to stay the night, if the show had sold out?
Still, I’ll take the opportunity. My favourite band, and all that.
Some of the support bands left a lot to be desired. Local try-hards Diva Demolition kicked things off with a short set – short on melody. They were followed by arrogant cocks Head Like A Hole, whose only saving grace was a great cover of El Bosso’s I’m On Fire. The next band up was The Dead Daisies – whose truly awful name was rivalled only by their truly awful middle-of-the-road Dad rock.
Finally, Wolfmother saved the day. I’d been a fan of their first album, but then they sort of drifted off my radar over the last couple of years. They bounced onto the stage like puppies with their huge hair, and played a set that really warmed the stadium up. Apparently this was to be the last Wolfmother show, with lead singer Andrew Stockdale intending to tour and release work under his own name going forward.
Highlight: Joker & The Thief
Half an hour later, Aerosmith took the stage. This was the fifth time I’ve seen them, and again the set was very different to the last time I saw them, indicating that they’re getting more and more comfortable playing their older material. The set list seemed to alternate between old songs and new (Geffen onwards) songs, which was nice to hear after the Geffen heavy sets they played the first three times I saw them.
The highlight for me was No More No More, one of my favourite songs from Toys In The Attic, which I’d never seen them play live before; and their version of Come Together – again a song that I’ve never seen them play live, but know like the back of my hand from listening to their studio version countless times.
Highlight: Being this f**king close!
I walked back to my accommodation in the rain, with a wet right foot, a new Aerosmith t-shirt and ringing in my ears. Here’s to next summer!