One of my all-time favourite venues. Once of Wellington’s best chances to keep that great music happening…
First the venues started dropping like flies. And then COVID did the rest.
But at The James Cab, a sweatbox, no windows, and in a residential space – so no all-nighters – you would always think back to the other gigs you saw there. All while standing and soaking up a great new show.
It had that one thing almost no other venue in Wellington had going for it – it was a dedicated performance space. The drinking was secondary. This was never a bar hoping to house a few acts on the side. Drinking was actually a pain in the arse at this venue. Shitty bar space, long queues. You gave up and focussed in on that great stage that hit your eyes as soon as you crossed through the doorway.
You’d see any kind of thing there: poetry, comedy, theatre, book launches, talks, lectures, solo performers and bands across every genre. I saw festival shows, I saw legendary names and the biggest local acts. I saw one-offs, and repeat performers.
The sound was usually excellent.
I can’t remember the first gig I saw at the James Cabaret – but I saw some rippers. In fact I’m not sure I’ve even – ever – seen what I could call a bad gig there. Well, there was probably one…
That amazing set from the Finn brothers in support of that wonderful Finn album; still just about the best thing either of them has done.
The best of the wave of reunion/comeback shows from Head Like A Hole (perhaps because it was closest in spirit to the band’s back-in-the-day peak?)
I saw Tony Joe White there a couple of times, the first time was one of my favourite concert experiences. It wasn’t packed but it was well-enough attended…and, from memory, Barry Saunders was the opening act. A great opening act too I should say. And most of the crowd was just parked up on the carpet, sitting, sprawling, relaxed. When the Swamp Fox sauntered to the stage a few people started to stand – he recommended we stay seated. He took requests right from the opening number, improvising a blues about flying into Wellington and then just taking the show from there…that drawl, that snake of guitar, big, big drums in back of him.
And I saw The Angels there – because I won a ticket in a phone-in competition back in the days of Pirate FM (R.I.P you mad, brilliant loon). I wasn’t any kind of massive Angels fan but damn that was a good show. Even pinched the setlist as I was right up the front, one of my first times heading along to a gig on my own.
One time at the James Cabaret I saw Tanya Donnelly finish her set with a spot-on cover of Time of The Season by The Zombies.
Another time I sat, mouth agape, watching two sets by The Necks. They’ve been one of my favourite bands ever since. I was front row. Nothing else in the world mattered but the sound those three musicians made. And in some ways I’ve been chasing after that sound ever since.
And Suzi Ibarra, whose playing just blows me away whenever I hear her – ever since I got hooked on The David S. Ware Quartet album, Wisdom of Uncertainty – played a set with her Electric Kulingtang project.
Back when The Black Keys actually mattered they were at their very best that night at the James Cab.
It was a great place to experience hip-hop too. In its final run, in particular, I saw Nas play his classic Illmatic in its entirety. I saw Earl Sweatshirt and Run The Jewels. These were wonderful show. Because there were so many great gigs there.
(And also one by Steve Smith and Vital Information).
Some days I just really miss that place.