First off, I have to admit that yes, this is a corporate gig. A corporate gig of the most corporate kind. It’s Microsoft, FFS. The kudos for playing this type of event is pretty much zero. Equivalent to playing the Annual Sales Conference of the National Association of Double Glazing Salesmen, held in the Linton Travel Tavern. In the States or the UK, a band with any kind of aspiration to coolness could not play this sort of gig. It just would not happen, right?
Well, here in NZ, a gig is a gig is a gig. Presumably the bands must have been given a decent wedge, plus an Xbox or two to sweeten the deal. Fair play to them all – putting on a show in front of several hundred (almost exclusively male) IT geeks that didn’t pay to see them, and looking like they’re actually enjoying it is no mean feat for a band that want to be on the cover of the NME, right?
The Viaduct Events Centre is bedecked in Wild West themed nonsense, complete with bucking bronco and whip cracking, the staff are all wearing cowboy hats and there are a lot of people saying ‘yee-hah’. It is a very big office party, at the end of the day. Importantly though, the free beer is flowing extremely freely. No band would object to this.
After some uninspiring C&W pub-rock fodder, The Adults take to the stage. The Adults are apparently a supergroup. Comprising members of NZ rock stalwarts Shihad, Dunedin Scene darlings Straightjacket Fits, scuzz-rock hairballs Cairo Knife Fight, post-punk fuggers The Mint Chicks and a bunch of other bands I’ve mostly never heard of, their collective credentials are pretty sound. Singer and guitarist Jon Toogod (Shihad) is an able frontman, playing the (at first) disinterested corporate crowd with good grace. It must be hard to put your all into a performance when you know that none of the people the other side of the barrier have paid to see you, many of them probably don’t know you, and most of those that do know you are likely hanging out for a Shihad number. They make a sort of downbeat post-punk sound, really quite reminiscent of early Public Image Ltd. Aaron Knife Fight’s rumbling dubby bass underpins Toogood’s ethereal droning guitar lines, with the odd Numanesque synth line over the top. Think Spacemen 3 without the LSD, or maybe Levitation. Anyway, this is easily better than anything Shihad have ever done. Some of the songs are really quite complex, and the writing credits are shared out between some quite diverse (albeit non-live performing) talents. The number penned by Ladi6 was a particular highlight (no idea what it was called, or anything about her). Other contributors include Anika Moa and Tiki Taane, and this all lends itself to quite an eclectic sound. However, if they were to enter a ‘everyone play just their own instrument and don’t swap with other band members’ competition though, they would fare none too well.
The headline act was Phoenix Foundation, from Wellington. I have heard the name around for a few years, but I’ve never knowingly heard one of their tracks until last week, when Mikey Havoc played something on the radio and my ears pricked up, knowing I was going to be seeing them. Fuck, it was good, and I was really glad to find that they were the main act. They are a 5 piece of late 20s geek-chic indie boys, skinny trousers and turn ups all round. And a high beard-count. Fuck though, could they play? Three guitars on pretty much every song. That’s quite a lot of guitars. Not three guitars like rhythm-and-twin-lead sort of three guitars, but tasteful-and-restrained-layers-of-sound sort of three guitars. There was a lot of Peter Buck style fiddly arpeggiated lead from one, over the top of dreamy layered slabs of effects-washed noise from the other two. At points the simple lead line was played by two guitars for extra phatness. The main singer (for there were two gentlemen on vocal duties) was wearing a Pixies T-shirt, but there was no obvious rip-off which is nice to see. Hear. Whatever. The vocal style reminded me of Barney Sumner meets Mumford & Sons, but gentler and not so fucking annoying, with a smattering of 60s West Coast/MGMT/Django Django psychedelic harmonies. The whole sound, to a much greater extent than The Adults before them, is intricate to the point of being Prog. Lots of unexpected key-changes and unannounced gear shifts. Prog-Indie-Pop, shall we say?
Special mention must go to the drummer, who played the gig with one broken arm in a sling, following a fall earlier in the week. He didn’t employ loads of electronic kit and extra foot pedals like Rick Allen, he just played with two sticks in one hand. That is rock and roll, that is. To be fair, he doesn’t exactly need to be Lars Ulrich for this sort of music, but still.
Fuck it, special mention must go to Phoenix Foundation for not crying off the gig, I mean, that’s a pretty good excuse to can it. Microsoft must pay pretty well, is all I can say. They played for well over an hour, and certainly looked like they were enjoying it. The crowd certainly enjoyed it – there were probably 3-400 drunken Developers, DBAs, SysAdmins and sundry other IT geeks watching by the end, and the reception was rousing to say the least.
I will definitely see Phoenix Foundation again if I get the chance.
Post script: Whilst ‘researching’ Phoenix Foundation’s back catalog on the interweb, a second Phoenix Foundation was discovered. From Finland, no less. A more punk-pop sort of affair. Confusing.