Another day, another night out in Dunedin’s premier (pretty much by default) live music venue. I saw Phoenix Foundation last year at Microsoft Tech Ed and was suitably blown away, so there was no way I wasn’t going to see them at Chicks on a Saturday night. I even managed to persuade Mrs By-Tor to attend, by basically going on and on about it until she relented. She doesn’t get to many gigs (The Datsuns, 2008 being her most recent) and she made reasonably favourable noises when I played Fandango recently so I took a punt on two tickets ($30 each, now that’s a bargain, kids).
The local trio Bad Sav were roped in to provide support. I was well impressed by the 10 minutes I caught of their set before Sebadoh, so I was quite pleased to be able to see their entire performance this time. They really are quite something, Bad Sav. Clearly influenced by Joy Division, they also owe a big thanks to the early 90s shoegazers (although they possibly weren’t even born when Ride, Slowdive et al were around) and the ethereal noodling of Liz Fraser. One fuzzy, distorted, droneful guitar, solid if unadventurous bass, nice and high in the mix, and tuneful, ever so slightly angst-ridden vocals all underpinned by simple, unobtrusive drums. The guitarist/vocalist has some nice tricks, the odd bit of soloing although it’s all obscured under a wash of effects. She doesn’t exactly belt out the lyrics but it’s fairly wobble-free and she possesses quite a wide range. The bassist sticks to the simple things, and although she looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights, she’s bang on the money. I really enjoyed it, Bad Sav people. Part of my enthusiasm is possibly the novelty of a band from little old Dunedin making such a good noise but they do definitely have something going for them, and I hope they get to take their sound to bigger, further afield audiences.
No offence Chicks Hotel, you’re a cracking little venue, but you’re totally unsuited for bands that draw more than about a hundred punters. You’re not really the dream venue for bands with more than two members, either. I thought Sebadoh were a tight fit, but Phoenix Foundation are no less than a sextet, including two keyboard stations and a set of congas, so real estate is a real issue up there on the stage (or more accurately the area of floor cordoned off by some electrical cord strung between two mic stands). Probably half the punters can’t see the whole stage, but me and the missus were there early and got a prime position at the front. Tough shit to the shortarses that rock up late and expect to be able to see. More of that later.
After a brief delay caused by the temporary misplacement of the percussionist/occasional keyboardist, we are off (he was outside having a smoke, not normally a big deal but it’s a fairly major undertaking to leave the Chicks stage area and fight one’s way through the crowd to the exit to go look for errant band members).
Fuck, they sound good. The sound is just the house PA so it’s not blisteringly loud, and it’s mixed to perfection. You can hear every twang, strum, squeak and tinkle. Every note is crystal clear and perfectly placed in the mix, and because these boys have been playing together for 15 years, metronomically exquisite too. This tour was to promote the recently released Tom’s Lunch EP, which I think they played pretty much in its entirety, but the previous albums were also well represented. The highlight of the new material was actually a sneak preview of the next album, a bizarre jazzy instrumental called Brunch Davidian, complete with complicated Rush-like time signature, executed with Rush-like precision. A bit of a departure from plain old progressive indie rock, and not to everyone’s taste I’m sure, but it’s refreshing to see someone fusing Rush and Weather Report. Isn’t it? Pogonophobes should steer clear though, as the Phoenix Foundation give ZZ Top a run for their money (although it’s quantity rather than quality).
Dalston Junction is the new one that everyone seems to be waiting for, it’s a sort of light hearted West End Girls meets Park Life sort of an affair and it goes down a storm, although we have to wait for the encore to hear it. I guess the free download on Facebook would have helped its popularity. The set is a wide selection spanning four or five albums, but Black Mould and Bright Grey are the standout numbers for me though, the latter in particular – they are simply epic slices of progressive indie pop, played by a very competent bunch of musicians. Awesome gig, dudes, I think TPF are my new fave Kiwi band, knocking The Datsuns off the pedestal by virtue of writing good new material.
Even the drunken bogan muppet that tried to pick a fight with me for ‘being a tall cunt’ didn’t spoil my enjoyment.