Wednesday, March 9
In 1982 The Dunedin Double was released, a double EP featuring the music of four Flying Nun groups, this year’s festival is celebrating that landmark recording with two of the bands from that compilation appearing across two evenings. The first night saw The Chills run through their pure pop, now it’s the turn of Verlaines. A different beast, gruntier, edgier, snottier, but still it’s about the vision (and writing) of the frontman. In this case, Graeme Downes. This version of the Verlaines features the trio from 30 years ago. Joining Downes once again it’s Jane Dodd on bass and Robbie Yeats on drums. And the setlist is drawn from the music created for the compilation album, Juvenilia and the original records, Hallelujah All The Way Home (1985) and Bird Dog (1987).
It’s a dream setlist – Pyromaniac, Crisis After Crisis, Joed Out, the Verlaines are tight but loose, sloppy in the right way, Downes stretches out on the guitar, channelling The Velvet Underground, Television and Neil Young, finding some cosmic common ground in fact. And if Yeats misses the odd cue it’s because these are songs that stretch and bend to make new time signatures, his drumming is part of the puzzle at any rate.
Where The Chills offered pop gem after pop gem this set from the Verlaines is more about primal energy. They hit the stage running…Take Good Care of It, Dippy’s Last Trip, Bird Dog, Icarus Missed, Downes is in a world of his own spitting out literature-stealing lyrics and making up spikey riffs that fuse the worlds of punk, lo-fi, no-frills and pop.
Once again we have the problem of venue – though it feels less pronounced. The audience is used to it perhaps, and the band doesn’t really care – there’s a snide comment from Downes towards the end, “nice lecture theatre” he sneers. But the job’s been done. Nostalgia served. And still seeming so vital.
The people standing to the sides, dancing, swaying, pogo-ing, have now spilled to fill the front of the stage. The encores are transcendent: Death and The Maiden and then Slow Sad Love Song. The Verlaines came, served, and conquered.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here