Wednesday, December 11
Swamp Thing is a trio comprised of Grant Haua (guitar/vocals) and Michael Barker (drums/keys/vocals) and Smoke Machine (smoke machine). They appeared on NZ’s Got Talent. I never saw that show but I’m sure they were the most talented people to appear on the program. Let me clarify, instantly, I’m not trying to pay them a compliment.
Swamp Thing – an absurd name, particularly given the band’s music sounds nothing like the swamp-rock sound that it is presumably attempting to evoke – are essentially date-raping the blues. But to make sure that the swamp in the title is evoked Smoke Machine regularly chugs out a puff of gas.
Barker is a skilled percussionist and in this line-up he plays mostly one-handed while adding keyboard-bass lines but you get the feeling that if someone told him the band would stand even more of a chance if he would just juggle dinner plates while drumming then his practice room would be a sea of broken china. And shattered dreams.
Shards of what possibly were once songs or had at least thought about one day trying to become a song were left on the stage at Meow. But the crowd loved it. And when I say loved it, it was like a freaky séance, some sort of bureaucrat’s voodoo was circling the room. The band – very good showmen, actually (a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed really) – handed out shakers and cowbells to dorky couples and herky-jerky dancers. At one point a dude appeared with his own steel drum – now just how many jam-nights has he lugged that to and gone home disappointed? – and joined in whether the band actually wanted him to or not.
It was the strangest gig I think I’ve ever seen.
At times Haua’s voice made me think the band would be better served by the name Hootie And The Bluesfish. At times the songs felt like half of Pearl Jam had turned up and decided to give the gig a go anyway. At times the songs sounded like ones Tom Jones wouldn’t piss on. At times the songs seemed to take their cue, somewhat oddly, from Blood, Sweat & Tears. I don’t remember any of them making me feel so very happy.
But all the while bad dancers rejoiced – flooding the room with a strange, nervous energy, possibly because these guys had been on TV, mostly because they never attend any other gigs ever.
At least seven of the songs sounded like Hard To Handle. Several more were just hard to handle.
A sort of theft of Tony Joe White’s troll who loves rock’n’roll was presented as a Taniwha in the lyrics. It was really quite fucking silly. And then playing with the Taniwha idea the song morphed into an actual cover of Dirty Creature. So I guess I can tick Frankie Stevens Sings Split Enz off the ole Fucket-List now. Or whatever…
Haua and Barker are decent musicians, they can play – it would be churlish to suggest they cannot. But between Haua’s generic Rock Shop guitar tone and personality-less playing and Barker’s What Do You Mean? I’m Playing As Loud As I Can-idea of dynamics these two only met musical taste the one time and they were both seen to be dry-humping its leg.
And there were more drum solos than that time I Googled: Buddy Rich – Highlight Reel.
If they’re not signed – instantly – to Jack White’s label or snapped up by a travelling circus then I predict they’ll be one of New Zealand’s most popular bar bands, comfortably making a living by playing provincial hell-holes week in week out, the kinds of places with those “really funny” signs above the door that say Liquor In The Front, Poker In The Rear.
I’m glad I got to see this gig – because it was the strangest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. I was going to say the strangest thing involving music – but then I can’t be sure that it ever did.
Perhaps I’ll follow this band on the road, go to all their gigs. I’ll stand outside like the Bad Gig Angel offering Dr. John CDs to everyone as they leave. I’ll be sure of course to put unmarked CD-Rs of the good doctor’s best work in a cover that says SWAMP THING: As Seen On TV.