Tuesday morning started with breakfast TV and radio lamenting the NZ High Court decision to overturn a Youth Court ruling to make the family of a teenage crime enthusiast pay his victims back, sparking all sorts of hell/handbasket commentary and tender eulogies for dear old common sense. By Tuesday night, it seemed to me that the freshly buried hand of Mr Sense, Snr had thrust itself back through the soil next to its headstone, and was ready to bust out the Thriller dance. For I was at the King’s Arms in Newton, Auckland, and the marvellous garden bar recently rhapsodised over in these very pages as a great place for an al fresco Lion Red pre-, between and post-bands had a whopping great stage in it. The KA has been around for a long time (their website says 1880 and who’d lie about something online?), but in the last few years has fallen foul of the residents of newly built apartment blocks in the nearby streets, who really wanted to live in the city so they could be part of the crackling atmosphere, but can you please turn the band down at the pub that created that atmosphere and long pre-dates my poxy leaky home? So to placate the council, who evidently decided the apartment grinches held right of way, the KA stuck a couple of shipping containers in their carpark to deaden the noise, and a year or two later replaced them with a hefty second wall. Given that the shows that caused the complaints were inside, it seemed to me that a garage rock (I can’t remember what Pitchfork wants me to call it these days) triple bill on a school night in the garden bar might be asking for trouble. But tonight Zombie Common Sense, with maggots crawling out of the holes in his sensible shoes, was lurching about groaning for brains, and if the best rnr venue in town wanted to put three loud bands on in its garden bar, then consequences and torpedoes would be damned.
When the Bellrays hit the stage at the very civilised time of 8pm, another possibility emerged. Maybe Mr & Mrs John Q Apartment couldn’t get a ticket, and had given the KA a heads-up that they didn’t want to miss the fun. Sometimes you come across a concept that seems so obviously a good idea it’s just amazing that no-one’s done it before, or at least that no-one does it more often. A couple of these hit at once: outdoor gigs on late summer evenings are a bloody good idea; and a singer with a juggernaut soul voice and a mighty afro fronting a tight, white nerdy rock band isn’t far behind in the simple genius stakes. It was 10 out of 10 until the sun set around 6 songs in, and too many slower numbers almost derailed things, but a few old chestnuts from Soul Revue 101 got hammered home again before the end: if in doubt, wear black; stage presence is table stakes; the more time your drummer’s mouth is grotesquely contorted, the better he is; and if there’s not a hummable hook, don’t bother. Sometimes we all need reminding.
The Dirtbombs were last here about four years ago, and while the word incendiary is fairly high up on the Words That Make You Look Like A Dick When Writing About Music list, they may well have been the reason Mr Apartment first got on the blower to his MP. In the same why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-before vein as outdoor gigs and the Bellrays, doubling up your bottom end is hardly rocket science, but four-ish years is long enough to forget just how cool two drum kits look side by side. And while saying so may amount to sacrilege on a site named after a Brighten the Corners lyric, if you’ve got two drummers, the second one oughta do a little more on stage than make toast. Like pound them really hard, just like the dude next door, while two basses, one clean and one running through the devil’s own effects pedal, get a fair old hammering. Four years is also long enough to forget what a hulking big guy Mick Collins seems on stage, more like Man of the Year Jerry Collins, even if his stature is slightly exaggerated by placement next to the fun-size hell-fuzz player. Mr Collins is also lucky enough to be one of the approximately 32 people on the planet who can wear dark glasses at night without looking like an idiot, and takes good advantage of this fact. If you’ve found you’re way to this blog, and you’re still reading, chances are you’re either a) really, really bored at work, b) my mum, or c) someone who doesn’t need me to tell them how excellent the Dirtbombs are live. And they were, although not quite as great as I remembered or expected: maybe it was the nagging feeling that they’re only at their very best as a covers band (albeit arguably the finest one around); or maybe I was just having a little sulk that they didn’t play “Cedar Point ‘76”.
The Datsuns have had a funny old life: from smallish town outsider obscurity in Cambridge to minor league student radio success in NZ; to all sorts of glorious, and gloriously ridiculous, hyperbole in the NME; to a critically panned sophomore slump (that’s actually pretty darn good in the main); to the low-key release of a mixed bag third record and relocation to the less fickle rock scene in Germany; then back to headline a high class triple bill at a great, but in the scheme of things, pretty small, venue back home. Full disclosure: I really rather like the Datsuns. I can’t claim to have been there from the very start, but I saw them play a fair few times in my varsity years, before the British press hailed them as Ritchie Blackmore’s illegitimate heirs and it all went a bit crazy. Along with the much-missed D4, they soundtracked some of the best bits of a really fun part of my life, and I have several crystal clear memories: the first time I saw them live, a bunch of Waikato longhairs throwing nutbar guitar solo shapes on top of picnic tables in the quad; buying the 7” “MF From Hell”/”Lady” from the band after a Shadows show and being highly stoked by the free badge; playing said record to my mum, prompting her to bring out Deep Purple in Rock for the first time in umpteen years; a horribly hungover (mine, not theirs) bFM Summer Series show in Albert Park where “Hong Kong Fury” did what two Panadol could not; and a few years later, making a three hour round trip in the dark and rain to see a Datsuns/D4 double header in Whangamata. You’ll have a band like this in your past too: insert “I saw them back before they were…” story above. So much for objective journalism, but I was pretty keen to hear how the Smoke and Mirrors tracks held up live, and the presence of newbies from the latest European recordings was strongly rumoured. First impressions weren’t great: namely, turn it up; get rid of the stupid beard, Dolf, you look like Jared Leto; and the filler tracks from the third record aren’t much better in 3D. As with all good friends who’ve been away for a while though, sometimes you just need time to get used to each other again. “Harmonic Generator” helped, as did its weird militant cousin “System Overload”. “Waiting For Your Time to Come”, fairly leaden Zeppelin on record, made a lot more sense in person, while “Stuck Here for Days”, another tune that fairly obviously fell off the back of a truck called LZIII, was given a life of its own by Christian Datsun’s Ginsu-2000 slide lines. Anyone left reading will be pleased to note that the noobs turned out well too: a couple of ragged, pacy numbers; a keyboard-driven oddity called “Paranoid People”; the clearly Guitar Hero Aotearoa-bound “Your Bones”; and best of all a big doomy Sabbath-covering-The Verve style number right at the end. To be honest though, nothing sounded as good as the early songs, even if “Maximum Heartbreak” does a pretty close approximation. Putting “MF From Hell” after Smoke and Mirrors’ average “Emperor’s New Clothes” is a bit like following The Ladykillers with No Country for Old Men: when you remind people how much you rule, your C+s don’t stand the comparison too well.
The night ended with a gentle reminder to Zombie Common Sense (you know, that guy I introduced about eight million words of waffle ago) that there are a few people lurking about with the zombie equivalents of silver bullets, wooden stakes and garlic (horrible duets with Paul McCartney made worse by Will.I.Am perhaps?). Dolf had promised one more oldie to close the night, but the band got the nod that curfew was up and they had to down tools. There were still forty minutes before the zombie became a pumpkin, but when you’ve had three solid performances by three great bands under a cloudless, starlit sky, even the undead know that sometimes you should just quit while you’re ahead.
(Reposted at http://www.undertheradar.co.nz