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Review: Bad Religion, Nofx, and Pour Habit, Auckland Town Hall, 04/10/09 by underground

New Zealand doesn’t get too many bands visit from overseas, let alone two heavy-weights at one single show. So when news broke earlier this year that Bad Religion and Nofx would play the Auckland Town Hall together, the punk scene was stoked.

Name any modern punk band and either Bad Religion or Nofx influenced their sound or gave them their break. Both bands born in the earlier 1980s, they have led the way for countless other bands, and are still going strong as Nofx surpasses 25 years and 30 years beckon for Bad Religion.

One of the hordes of bands who owe a lot to these pioneers is Pour Habit, a recent Fat Wreck Chords signing, who opened the Town Hall show. Hailing from Compton, CA, Pour Habit is really unlike most punk bands we see on our shores. Soundwise, the vocalist, an acrobatic African American, reminds me of early Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), and the band is heavy, with souring Strung Out-esque guitar solos and thunderous drumming.

Considering punk is usually about equality, acceptance and (sometimes) inclusiveness, it is a shame the scene isn’t more diverse. Hopefully Pour Habit will break more stereotypes and entice more non-whiteys away from rap and RnB and towards punk.

On to the main show, and the self-proclaimed “Sultans of Slander” took to the stage. Well known as a band who talk a lot between songs Nofx did not stray from convention, with more talk than Muammar al-Gaddafi at the United Nations before they’d even played a note, with Fat Mike quipping the instruments were “props”. Apart from a few exceptions the band played a very different setlist than previous visits, which would have pleased those who had seen them before, but likely disappointed new-comers to the band. Nonetheless the band played with enthusiasm and got nothing less from the packed crowd, with mayhem on the floor and the balconies.

With all the banter and a few rubbish songs performed, Nofx could have thrown in The Decline or a few other crowd pleasers, but with Nofx, fans should understand to expect no more than 70 or so percent.

Bad Religion took up their positions on the stage and got right into Los Angeles is Burning. They sounded flat and unenthusiastic. The single was followed by much debate and a hasty sound check. The crowd got restless but the work was worth it, as the sound was greatly improved as was the attitude of the band. Bad Religion came to please and so wanted the best sound possible. Many songs were made heavier, with the guitars producing the heaviest-sounding palm-muting imaginable, which gave the songs extra fury. Drummer Brooks Wackerman was a marvel, beyond describable. Surprisingly Bad Religion only played one track of their latest album New Maps of Hell (2007), instead playing several from Recipe for Hate, the Grey Race and many from the early 1980s.

Next year should see a new album from the world’s greatest band, and if we’re lucky, having found a shores for the first time in only 2007, Bad Religion will be back. If they do, don’t miss it for the world, as they are one hell of a fine live band.



Review: Rancid – Let the Dominoes Fall by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , ,

Barring an exception release over the remaining months of 2009, Rancid’s Let the Dominoes Fall is the album of the year. After a six year hiatus, Rancid have come back with a new drummer and an album worthy of their fine back catalogue.

Rancid do something few bands their age have. Each album, apart from perhaps their first two, differs greatly from their others. This means the band do not sound tired and are able to take inspiration from different genres without losing their core sound or fans.  Let the Dominoes Fall has the rough rock n roll feel of their early sound, the radio friendly song writing and style of Out Come the Wolves, the reggae and ska infusion of Life Won’t Wait,  the energy, grit and passion of Rancid 2000 and the soul and hip hop attitude of Indestructible.

Tim and Lars give Matt Freeman another chance on vocals in several songs and his voice never sounded so good, or rather appropriate, especially on LA River. The band’s ode to New Orleans is fantastic, but this really is an album of many highlights and few, if any, fillers. Typical to form the album has 19 tracks, so there is a lot of listening to be done.

If you haven’t already bought this album, make sure to purchase the special edition with acoustic bonus track. Sceptical of how well Rancid songs could make the switch to unplugged, I was surprised about how listenable the 12 track bonus CD is. Great for road trips through the countryside!

Definitely worth the wait.



Review: NOFX – Coaster by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , ,

The first NOFX album I bought was Pump up the Valium. I couldn’t stand it. I was just getting into punk, having moved on from the Blink 182s and Green Days, but NOFX was not for me. Where’s the intro, verse, chorus, verse, etc. formula? After a few listens I gave up on NOFX.

NOFX was an acquired taste for me that I eventually became addicted to. I picked up their back catalogue and eagerly awaited new releases. Their latest, Coaster, has left me wondering whether they are past it though.

It’s not that musically it isn’t good. El Hefe and Melvin’s trademark licks and palm muted riffs are there in abundance. Fat Mike can play the bass like few in the business and Smelly is still a killer drummer.

It’s just a bit same old, same old.

Fat Mike is still singing about drinking and hating on religion. Sometimes it works; I am an Alcoholic and Blasphemy (the Victimless Crime), sometimes it doesn’t; First Call and Best God in Show. These songs aren’t bad; they’re just not that good. Mediocore – if you will.

The highlight is My Orphan Year. Unfortunately all too little really stands out as exceptional.

Coaster is the first NOFX album since Valium I have put in stereo, listened to for half a dozen times and then left in its case on the rack for several months.

I have on several occasions rewritten this review. It appears the album is slowly growing on me…



Review: Anti-Flag – The People or the Gun by underground
August 14, 2009, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , ,

As a fan of this band for many years I may be something of an exception in their older fanbase. When The People of the Gun was released, while many older fans heralded the Pittsburgh four-piece’s return to a minor label and to their earlier sound, I was mourning a lost opportunity for the band.

Don’t get me wrong – I love their older stuff. But after the fairly experimental Bright Lights of America, which was a bit hit and miss (many songs were perhaps too long), I was excited to see where the band would go. Instead of pushing the punk envelope, Anti-Flag opted to revert back to their sound of old, which fails for me, because their bratty and sometimes naive protest songs just don’t seem to apply to a band that should have matured. If I want to hear something off Underground Network, Die for the Government, or Mobilize, I’ll put on those albums.

The People and the Gun is a quality record, although there are a few low lights and even fewer highlights. Some of the album is painful, such as the lyrically pathetic The Economy is Suffering – Let it Die, but there are glimpses of brilliance. The Gre(A)t Depression is refreshing on the album for its creativity, while still possessing the Anti-Flag singalong typical of their back catalogue, and When all the Lights go out could fit in on any of their previous albums such is it the quintessential Anti-Flag song.



Review: Rise Against at the Powerstation 31/03/09 by underground

Previously of the Chicago hardcore underground scene, Rise Against is no longer under the radar. Their latest album, Appeal to Reason, made it all the way to number three on the Billboard 200 in the States, and their latest single Audience of one is played on even the most commercial pop radio station. Punk elite may slate the band as sell outs, but when seen live it is evident that the passion and grit evident in their first album, The Unravelling, remains.

Having seen RA a couple of times before, I knew what to expect before their Powerstation show in Auckland. However, the crowd at the latest show was very different to their previous shows, with many dressed as though they were going clubbing as opposed to a punk show, indictive of how much this band had connected to a different audience of recent years, or even just months. Accordingly, their new songs were greated with cheers from the fashionably attired, whereas the earlier tracks were met with some bewilderment. From their first album, Stainglass and Marble bought the diehard old fans charging forward to scream the song in unison, whereas Re-education, Audience of One and others from Appeal to Reason got the younger fans singing along.

While some bands fail to take their songs from the studio to the stage, RA has no such problem. Vocalist Tim McIlrath’s voice never fails, replicating even the persistant, yet audio, scream of State of the Union as capably as on the original recording. After a lengthy set, the band left the stage, before returning with acoustic guitars to perform the awesome Hero of War, and the crowd favourite Swing Life Away. The volume picks up for three more encore songs, ending on the passionate Prayer of the Refugee, before the band depart and the house lights herald the end of an entertaining Tuesday night.

Sales of the band’s first four albums must have increased after that show, after the punkrock virgins got their first taste of what real live music sounds and looks like.



Review: Where underpants come from by underground

Writer Joe Bennett’s energy and enthusiasm is legendary, captured not only in his regular television appearances but also in his newspaper columns. His sentences race wildly like a high speed chase, weaving through ideas, from one thought to the next, ceasing abruptly with a bizarre observation. It is his ability to describe scenes and experiences which I love, as he will use the most inappropriate words to most aptly convey what he means. It is truly a wonder how he does it.

Where underpants come from follows Bennett’s exploration through China, as he searches for the raw materials that constitute his $8.59 underwear  purchased from the Warehouse. The underwear serve as the vehicle for Bennett’s investigation into globalisation and China’s evergrowing role in the world, as well as the country’s social, historical, political, religious and economic makeup.

His energy and enthusiasm are what makes his quest possible, as he convinces firstly the Warehouse, and then their numerous suppliers, to allow him to see how his cotton undies got from the cotton fields of China to the shelves of New Zealand. What to some may sound like a boring story, Bennett ensures is anything but, with typically bright descriptions bringing his observations to life. For example, a maitresse ‘d at a Shanghai restaurant is described as “wearing what looks like the uniform of a London parking warden and her hair is tied back in a manner that the Soviet Union’s champion woman tractor driver of 1956 would have found just a little severe”. From then on she is referred to as the “tractor-driving champ”. Genius.

I’ll be hunting down Bennett’s numerous other books to give me more late night laughs.



Review: Elemeno P & Supergroove at the Coroglen 03/01/09 by underground
January 4, 2009, 9:57 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Initially I thought $55 to see two Kiwi bands at the Coroglen Tavern was really steep. Following Elemeno P’s set I was still feeling a little ripped off. An hour later I knew I had got my money’s worth.

When I was 10 I listened to whatever my dad listened to. Whilst I was listening to Cat Stevens and Meatloaf, the rest of the kids in my standard 4 class were listening to Supergroove. Eventually I caught up, hearing their hit songs on the radio, but by then they had broken up.

Recently reformed, Supergroove play their famous songs like it was the early nineties. Che Fu has an incredible voice which is accompanied well live by the large enthusiastic and talented band. The energy which flowed throughout their diverse set was topped of by a band member climbing onto the rafters during scorpio girl. It was bedlam.

Elemeno P were good, but I found them lacking. Sometimes I think this band doesn’t really know what genre they should be playing and they do none well. Apart from the well known radio songs, and including some of them, I found them a bit boring, until they lifted the tempo. Many of their slower songs do not come across well live and they didn’t have the energy I expected. When followed up by Supergroove this was really exposed.

With a mix of old and new, hits and solo Che Fu, the crowd were treated to everything Supergroove had to offer. The crowd was as diverse as the songs played, from those who had probably seen them the first time round to those who had only discovered them this millenium.

It might be Crowded House or the Exponents who you hear at the cricket or every waterfront bar in the country, but Supergroove is the quintessential Kiwi band. Missing them is a greater cost than any ticket price.