Flying Nun 40th Anniversary Party
Saturday, August 7
A couple of weeks after the Auckland party it was Wellington’s turn to help Flying Nun celebrate its 40th Birthday.
It was a solid line-up – and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was; the vibe, the flow and of course the music. I say this because I had fairly low expectations – a mate bought me a ticket and I had almost forgotten about it – gig-going took a major backseat, for everyone of course. And even though we’ve been enjoying shows (local shows, very good local shows) for over a year now (and fingers crossed that it may long continue) I’ve enjoyed the forced reprieve. I both saw far too much of a good thing and so very many bad things. I still love music – still love great live music – but the thrill isn’t quite gone, though definitely waning.
All of that faded very quickly as I got into the spirit of the night. Particularly when third act, Superette struck all the right chords for me – and a very merry, nostalgic audience.
Ahead of that, Purple Pilgrims was a good opening choice, low-key but with some fire. I first saw them a couple of years ago and they were good then but they’ve got a much more polished act now. It might seem like a backhanded compliment to call them great background music but that’s how it felt in their opening position. It worked. It was a slow start, but a nice start.
I still can’t get my head around Aldous Harding though. But I gave it another try. And I was probably the only one that didn’t like her. She had a full crowd hanging on her every fake-accented word. You could have heard a pin drop. Which would have been preferable actually. Plus I might have been able to use that pin to try prick the balloon of hype. Though I did try that once and it didn’t work out so well for me. So I just snuck out after a few songs and let her sing to her crowd. Fairplay.
Superette though. This is where the gig got going I think. Happy nostalgia. That Tiger album meant the world to me for a few years there. And I saw the band a few times back in the day, and once more recently at a semi-reunion thing up in Auckland. Which was okay, but not as good as tonight. Super impressed by their set, and by the sound – great vibe and feel to the foyer stage at the MFC – weird to say, but I think it might be the new great music venue in Wellington. It’s got the same shape and function as failed units like Shed 6 but none of the shit sound. It’s the perfect channelling of audience and music. You herd a bunch of people into a space and throw music at them. If they must, then they can stumble back a few paces and buy a drink without missing the music. That’s all Kiwis want right? Anyway, those songs sure stand up. And I loved it.
The Bats played in the main MFC room. And I’ve gotta say that I’ve never quite understood the appeal of this band. And any time I’ve seen them live I’ve thought they were mediocre at best. Boring as Bats Hits, basically. And their best song was already written early by Bryan Adams eh.
But, as with Aldous, I was in the minority. They had a dancing faithful up front, and they deserved to be there as a legacy act. Heritage being what it is.
Back to the foyer then for Voom.
And what a fucking set.
I loved Voom about 15 years ago. They released a killer album and then faded from view, popping up again now and then. I never forgot about them, but don’t reckon I had ever had the pleasure of seeing them live. What a great bunch of songs. Power-pop with slight slacker-psychedelic vibes. Some of the songs felt like what it would have been if John Lennon was forced to write a Paul McCartney tune on behalf. There was a Wayne Coyne vibe to the delivery, there was even shades of Cheap Trick when things really started to rock out. Happy, funny, silly anthems. And just a kickass delivery. Plus – bonus points: fucking funny banter. Welcome back Buzz.
It was a tough decision to have to cut short Reb Fountain’s set – to take in all of Voom – but I’ve seen Reb many times. And she’s always great. Glad I got to get there for the second half of her offerings on this night though. Because I honestly believe she gets better every time. She’s always had presence, and craft, and chops. Galore. But the songs are growing into the performance now. The songs are better. The band is incredible. And the shape of it all fits so snugly now, so perfect. Her final song was actual the tour-de-force performance of the night, arguably.
And if you had to argue against that you would say just two words: The Subliminals.
Holy cow. And yes. And fuckin’ A!
You talk heritage, legacy, etc. It was important to have a band like this on the bill. Overall the merging of new and old and mid-period (second wave) was actually very good. But The Subliminals felt like a sublime get. Because I bang on about not really feeling like a lot of the current crop of Flying Nun bands means anything much in terms of bringing that distinct Kiwi feel and flavour. Music’s always changing, trends morph and flow and are fleeting anyway, but there had to be something that summarised the existential dread and claustrophobia of when little ol’ Noisyland felt the tyranny of distance and also used it to its advantage to make secret power indie rock that worked hard for fandom and felt like a very special prize. You knew about bands like The Subliminals – or you didn’t. That was the line. And sand in the face of those that didn’t care. Clueless fucks. Cloven hoofed fucks.
The Subliminals rattled the cage – vestiges of The Clean and Bailterspace if you wanted to find a couple of other wishlist bands that couldn’t be here for various and possibly obvious reasons. But it just felt all the more special to see the Subs sweat and froth and work their frenzy over an audience there to have noise draped over them.
And The Chills got to sign off.
They are like a more professional Bats. Better songs. But still sometimes a bit boring. I love The Chills. But they have their good nights and their bad. I didn’t feel them fully firing tonight, but maybe that was me starting to fade a bit too. They started strong. The ended very strong (hard not to when you’ve got Pink Frost, Heavenly Pop Hit and Leather Jacket up your, erm, sleeve) but there was the sag in the middle. Some of the new songs are strong, but they felt a little too samey all in row.
Look it was in no way shit, and I like them very much. I’ve just heard them sound better. I think they’re a small room band, actually. I think The Chills work best in a bar – pub-rock with shimmery indie pop trimmings. Not a big sit down theatre gig.
Anyway, that’s how it was and how it played it – as reverential and underwhelming as Flying Nun has always been. Almost inarguably the perfect fit for the brand all up.
Happy 40th. I had a better time than I thought I might.