A Thursday night at the new (to me) venue called the Urban Factory. A couple of hundred capacity roughly half full, matt black throughout, long bar with no queues, cheap beer, Mars Volta on the PA. Not bad start to the evening.
Cairo Knife Fight were first up. I knew absolutely nothing of these, other than they were a two piece. Duos are not generally a good sign though, not in rock and roll at least. That’s a duet, for fuck’s sake. Peters & Lee, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, Mulligan & O’Hare, I could go on. Anyway, they ambled onto the tiny stage to quite an enthusiastic reception, so evidently they had at least some sort of reputation. All dressed in black, hairy, beardy, be-bandana’d, they looked like a cross between Cheech Marin, Lemmy & Captain Jack Sparrow. As duos go though, they were pretty heavy – one of them with a guitar and the other behind the drums, a bit like an all-male, ugly, White Stripes. A White Stripes with a crucial difference though. They had obviously taken heed of the naysayers’ insistence that you can’t do rock without bass guitar, and added one, abeit in the form of a keyboard that the drummer thumped at with his left hand every now and again. He was quite a long way short of being Neil Peart or Rick Allen, but it kind of worked. The sound was really bizarre – long drawn out quasi space rock ramblings with mantra like muttering and droning over the top, mostly jammed and garbled and extremely loose but oddly, it worked. The guitarist broke his bottom E string half way through their final number and it didn’t actually seem to make any difference, that’s what a raucous noise it all was. Not bad. Not ‘alf bad.
So, to the ‘legendary’ Head Like A Hole. A kiwi institution, it would seem, and pounding the circuit since the early 90s. I knew just the one song, thanks to the heavy promotion of the new album ‘Blood Will Out’ on Hauraki Radio, but other than that, my knowledge of them was restricted to a little Wikipediazation the day before the gig. The Urban Factory is the sort of venue where there isn’t a proper backstage, so during the support act, the band were wandering back and forth to the bar and out the front for a smoke. They look like an ageing pub-rock band. ‘Booga’, the lead singer, is a short hairy affair with a feather in his hat and a pair of red leather gloves. Think Bill Oddie c1974. The rest of them are varying degrees of scruffiness, leather, tattoos, cowboy boots. You know the sort. And they all have beards! How rum. They just about carry off the look, just about convince me that it’s not largely affectation but it’s a close run thing. I presume the bottle of Jose Cuervo being passed round the stage inbetween songs isn’t filled with lemonade. I’m fairly certain that Mötörhead would kick their asses in a fight though.
Enough about the look though, what do they sound like? I hear you ask. Bizarrely enough, they sound almost as much like a pub-rock band as they look. It’s a dirty sort of scuzzy bluesy rock, very low down, mean and dirty, but pub-rock nevertheless. The problem with Booga is that he can’t sing, and I find that to be something of a disadvantage for singers. The mix is appalling too – they would sound a hell of a lot better if the guitars were louder and he considerably quieter. Guitarist nbr 1 (Nigel something or other) was ostensibly the lead, but the other one (Andrew something or other) more of a rhythm man, although they swapped roles occasionally. Considering they had been playing these songs for the best part of 20 years, they were astoundingly bad at playing them. I’m sorry to sound so cutting (I do cutting ever so well, n’est-ce pas?), but I really appreciate musicianship and there was precious little on show here. Both were utterly transfixed with their fretboards, unable to look away for more than a couple of seconds without losing their place, while displaying a repertoire of a scant few chords and painfully simplistic solos. However, the tunes were good, for the most part, and they really had the crowd going, which is the main thing. No idea what the lyrics were about, as I couldn’t hear a fucking word, but I would imagine, just from the names of the songs, that the writer, whoever that may be, has a kooky sense of humour. I’ve no idea if they played any of these, but their back catalogue includes such seminal titles as ‘Roland Goes Nuts’, ‘Stained And Piss Yellow’ and ‘Beige Overalls For The Tradesman’.
The crowd evidently appreciated Booga’s dedication of ‘Death of a friend’ to Ronnie James Dio, and it confirmed one of their obvious major influences. HLAH do good cranking rock and roll, a good mix of up and down tempo, a blend of Black Sabbath, The Hamsters, Masters of Reality and Zodiac Mindwarp. Every song was different, nothing intricate or in the slightest bit, er, fancy, but like AC/DC, they know how to grind out a good riff or two. The best song for me, and one of the most warmly received, was Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’, which sounds loads better their way (never a big fan of The Boss anyway). They played for a little over an hour, and came back on for three at the end, finishing with ‘Glory Glory’, the current single complete with annoyingly catchy chorus.
I’m sure if this had been London six years ago, I would have left long before the end, but given the (seemingly increasing) rarity with which anyone even remotely half-decent plays in this town, you has to takes what you can get. If I enjoyed it because I’m gig-starved, it doesn’t really matter, I still enjoyed it.
Oh, and apologies for the poor quality of the pictures, my usual gig camera shit itself so I had to settle for my phone.