Tag Archives: Crowded House

Rocks In The Attic #794: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Tusk’ (1979)

RITA#794Fleetwood Mac recently played five nights in New Zealand – four of which in Auckland. They usually play one or two nights when they reach our shores, but this time they had a Kiwi among their ranks and all the proud New Zealanders wanted to see him.

The current touring line-up of the Mac was established when the band fired Lindsey Buckingham, apparently for not getting into the spirit of the band’s 50th anniversary and refusing to play material prior to his tenure with the band. Out went Buckingham, and brought in to replace him were Split Enz / Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, and Tom Petty sideman Mike Campbell. It’s a measure of how strong Buckingham was on both vocals and guitar, that the band split his responsibilities across two people (lead guitar work could easily have been handled by their touring guitarist, Neale Heywood).

RITA#794aSo, with a bit of new blood in the ranks, Fleetwood House and The Heartbreaker hit Auckland’s Spark Arena. Strangely, they opted to play exactly the same setlist for each of those nights – an odd choice for a band with such a wealth of material. The Peter Green-era material promised for their half-century anniversary was well received, and great to see. I already knew they were playing Man Of The World, and Black Magic Woman seemed an obvious choice, but it was the inclusion of Oh Well – my favourite single from that era of the band – that really put a smile on my face. This proved to be Mike Campbell’s showcase, and he played it perfectly. Given how the Buckingham / Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac are so very different to that original blues explosion version, I never thought I’d see any incarnation of the band play Oh Well.

After a shaky start – particularly in respect to Christine McVie’s voice – the band settled down and they eventually sounded almost as good as ever. I’m a huge fan of Lindsey Buckingham, and I think there’s an urgent, blind-corner aspect to his presence and his playing that was still missing. The subs still did a great job though.

RITA#794bIt almost seemed like a given that Neil Finn would be given the opportunity to perform Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over – which he did on an acoustic, with organ accompaniment from Ricky Peterson, to a rousing Kiwi chorus – but I was surprised to see the whole band back Finn on a cover of Split Enz’s I Got You. Finn’s introduction to song also explained that when the song would play on MTV in the 1980’s, Stevie Nicks would add her own background harmony, which she added during the night’s performance.

The encore started with the band’s tribute to Tom Petty – a cover of Free Fallin’ – complete with a photo montage of Campbell playing with Petty through the years, and Petty’s many appearances with Nicks. A lady behind me in the seats, probably unaware of Campbell’s credentials, saw one of the photos of Petty laughing with Nicks, and asked ‘Did she date him?’ I laughed at this typically Kiwi question – given reality TV’s stranglehold on Kiwi culture – but they did have a long and enduring friendship at least.

Obviously, with a Tom Petty song, a Crowded House song, a Split Enz song and three Peter Green-era songs, something had to move aside and unfortunately despite playing four songs from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, and seven songs from Rumours, the band neglected to play any material from 1979’s Tusk, my second-favourite of the Buckingham/Nicks albums (after its diamond-selling predecessor).

The thing I love the most about Tusk, aside from its rousing title track, is the band’s decision to hold back and do something a little more experimental and home-made after the success (and marital strife) of Rumours. Influenced by the post-punk movement out of New York’s C.B.G.B. scene (particularly Talking Heads), Buckingham’s back-to-basics approach to songwriting, and home-studio recording, gives the album a measure of charm that goes against the usual sheen of their albums.

It’s a record I always enjoy pulling off the shelf, even if I always think I have it on the wrong speed, when Christine’s Over & Over lumbers out of the speakers. Fingers crossed the band will give the album the love it deserves when they next visit New Zealand, hopefully with Buckingham in tow, licking his wounds.

Hit: Tusk

Hidden Gem: The Ledge

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Rocks In The Attic #703: Split Enz – ‘True Colours’ (1980)

RITA#703Every country has their local heroes, the ones who are winners back home but never even compete overseas. A third of the WTF With Marc Maron podcast is frequented by American comedians nobody has heard of outside the United States. There are bands in London that don’t translate well outside the capital, let alone across its country’s borders.

It’s the Wakanda Curse. Some artists just struggle to get noticed through the cultural cloaking device that prevents other countries from taking them seriously. Black Panther could have been kicking arse for decades, but nobody noticed. His solo material just wasn’t up to snuff.

New Zealand has its fair share of parochial examples. There are comedians, such as the 7 Days crew, who don’t dare gig internationally. Better to roll out the same tired jokes on TV, week in, week out, than be faced with the fact that, compared to international comics, they’re just not very good. They must really shit themselves when the International Comedy Festival hits the country. But hang on, half of the ‘international’ comedians that come over here are just as unwanted in their native countries, like a really shit student-exchange programme where your homestay parents don’t understand any of your cultural references.

And New Zealand music? The most successful band on a global stage seems to be Crowded House, and even they seem to have been appropriated by the Australians. First pavlova, then our middle-of-the-road rock bands!

The problem is that most Kiwis don’t ever leave our shores, so they don’t know any different. They probably think Dave Dobbyn is a mainstay of British and American singles charts. The Nature’s Best collection is a great retrospective of New Zealand anthems, but nobody’s singing these songs past our passport control point.

And shame on you if you do succeed internationally. Lorde? Aldous Harding? How dare you play overseas festivals! How dare you play Later With Jools Holland. This isn’t good old fashioned Kiwi music. It doesn’t sound anything like that one song by Dragon, or Hello Sailor’s horrific cod-reggae song.

Split Enz are a great band though, and deserve way more worldwide recognition than they got. This, their fifth studio album, is widely regarded as their first commercial success. File next to the Police, Blondie and Talking Heads.

Hit: I Got You

Hidden Gem: The Choral Sea

Rocks In The Attic #682: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Alternate Mirage’ (1982)

RITA#682It’s Record Store Day tomorrow. Independent record stores around the world get to increase their coffers as thousands of casual music fans race in for an extremely limited picture-disc of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing in the shape of Mark Knopfler’s sweaty headband.

Among the many reasons to visit participating stores on RSD – giveaways, food and drink, in-house performances by local bands – are the exclusive releases themselves. These range from the unbelievably awesome (such as the rare Foo Fighters’ Laundry Room EP from a few years ago, featuring demos from their great first record) to the unbelievably gimmicky (such as last year’s reissue of Nilsson Schmilsson, pressed on split yellow / white vinyl – yours for only $80).

I’ve learnt over the last 10 years or so to steer away from the gimmicky cash-in releases (I had my eyes on that Nilsson Schmilsson record last year, as I didn’t have the album in my collection at the time, but found a nice second-hand copy in the wild just a few weeks later for $2). These days, I look at the list, spot one or two releases and look for them online. Yes, it defeats the purpose of the day – getting people in-store – but it’s not really a day for diehard record collectors, who prop up these shops the other 51 weekends of the year.

Some of my favourite releases over the last couple of years have been the alternate Fleetwood Mac records. Lifted from the material previously available on the Super Deluxe box sets, these exclusive RSD releases present demos and alternate takes for each album, with the songs presented in the same running order.

Record Store Day in 2016 gave us The Alternate Tusk, 2017 gave us this, Alternate Mirage (strangely without the definite article), and this year the release is The Alternate Tango In The Night. I’m really looking forward to hearing alternate takes of what is probably their polished, over-produced album.

With Lindsey Buckingham (reportedly) fired from the band, and replaced by Crowded House’s Neil Finn, and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, the alternate Fleetwood Mac will be touring the world later this year.

Hit: Gypsy

Hidden Gem: Can’t Go Back

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Rocks In The Attic #349 Bob Dylan – ‘Another Side Of Bob Dylan’ (1964)

RITA#349I like this stage of Dylan’s back catalogue: completely solo, pre-electric, and just before his fame got in the way. But Another Side is probably my least favourite of his first four albums. To me, it’s his Beatles For Sale – he sounds stuck in a rut with nothing particularly innovative on offer. A change of direction is on the horizon, but not just yet. Well, at least he didn’t resort to rewriting children’s nursery rhymes like Lennon and McCartney did in their desperation to get an album together in time for Christmas 1964.

I’ve just watched the latest Coen brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis – about a struggling folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s. As well as a perfect of the time novelty song – Please Mr. Kennedy – which I laughed at more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, I really enjoyed the ending of the film where (SPOILER ALERT!) Dylan is glanced at, just as the film’s titular protagonist is about to give it all up and missing out while folk explodes into mainstream America.

There’s an element of openness to the ending that I liked. You don’t get to fully find out whether Davis calls it a day. In the final scene, he gets a beating for heckling a performer the night before, and that might be enough for some people to think twice about their options. But Davis’ character was loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Dylan’s, who did go on to have a career in the folk boom of the mid- to late-‘60s, although nowhere nearly as successful.

I like to think that Davis didn’t quit – but maybe that’s the muso optimist in me. In the past I’ve had to quit a few things as a guitarist – some bands, some partnerships. Sometimes you just have to. The regretful thing is that I feel by moving to New Zealand, I’ve quit being a musician completely. I looked into joining / starting a band when I first moved here, but I could never find any other like-minded people. Everybody just wanted to play New Zealand music. Musicians here are blinded by a parochial mindset that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

There is good Kiwi music out there, but it’s few and far between. That’s why nobody outside of New Zealand has ever heard of Dave Dobbyn or Anika Moa. Even Shihad are at best a whisper of a memory in the minds of overseas rock fans. World famous in New Zealand is just that – it’s mean to be an amusing way of embracing the country’s size and limitations, but it ends up being Kiwi music’s epitaph. And why would that ever change? The most successful musical export of this country was Crowded House – a band so to blame for putting New Zealand into the artistic middle-of-the-road, that it’s not surprising that foreign drivers have so much difficulty remembering to drive on the left when they get here. Even tall poppies like Lorde are derided by Kiwi music critics, because her music is so typically un-Kiwi, and how dare she achieve worldwide fame without playing barbeque reggae or singing about Dominion Road.

Still…Slice Of Heaven, what a tune!

Hit: It Ain’t Me Babe

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

Rocks In The Attic #280: Shihad – ‘Churn’ (1993)

RITA#280Before I came to New Zealand, there were only two New Zealand bands I had heard of – Crowded House, obviously, and Shihad. In fact, I didn’t even know Shihad were a Kiwi band. I’d heard some of their material and thought they were American, which isn’t a difficult mistake to make. But I had heard of them nevertheless.

Since living in the country, I’ve come to understand that they’re a national institution – a national treasure, if you will – which is odd considering that they started their career as a metal band, and a pretty heavy one too. Churn, their debut album from 1993 is a very heavy album, and doesn’t sound too much like the radio-friendly band that they would evolve into over the next twenty years.

My contact with Shihad in the five years I’ve been living in New Zealand has been with them fulfilling one of their key roles – that of New Zealand’s most prominent support band. It seems if there’s a big hard rock / metal band touring in New Zealand, you can almost bet Shihad will be supporting. I saw them play a radio-friendly set, supporting AC/DC in 2010, and earlier this year I saw them support a reformed Black Sabbath. Their set supporting Sabbath couldn’t have been any more different to the AC/DC slot – they drew heavily from this album, which had been re-released on vinyl for the first time that day – Record Store Day – to celebrate the album’s 20th year; and they were obviously playing to the more hardcore metal fans who had turned out to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer.

Hit: Stations

Hidden Gem: Factory