Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year: The Big Drop Off (Wellington 2007/08)

It's 3.00p.m on 1 January 2008.  I'm sitting here on the sofa, barely awake, with a very dead cat asleep on my lap.  I've had six hours' sleep, but it feels like two.  Yes, last night was epic.  

We arrived at The Big Drop Off at around 10.00p.m, just as the hoards started to pour in.  We stood in a queue for around 10 to 15 minutes, shivering in the cold Southerly and laughing with the people huddling together around us.  Every now and then loud catcalls would echo down the line, signalling yet another clutch of cute young, skimpily dressed girls on their way to try their luck with the bouncers at the head of the queue.  Most were turned away, at which point they would begin chatting up similarly aged boys as close the entrance as possible, with the aim of jumping in.  A few were successful, others had to suffer the humiliation of the long walk to the back.  Oh well, at least it wasn't raining.  

Inside, Shed 1 was decked out.  Geishas served tequila, vodka and Red Bull from a bar flanked by large inflatable angel wings at the back of the room.  A large parasol overhead and a few Japanese lanterns played on the theme.  There were two other bars, one near the entrance, and one in a small outdoor area, next to a pizza bar, enroute to the portaloos.  Thick black drapes provided some acoustic improvement, and a couple of large sculptural lamps hung in the large space.  Two video screens were hung on the left and right-hand walls, halfway down the hall.  However the only real centre of attention was the stage, with black curtains that later pulled back to reveal the full-length video screen behind.  Obviously the video screens caught our attention, but neither Hamish nor I were overly concerned with adornment.  Word was that our $100 entry fees had been spent on sound. Big, stupidly expensive sound.  

A quick scout confirmed the absence of any party pill vendors, and a sign advertised that there were to be no pass outs.  The scantilly clad kiddy brigade were already staggering around the shed.  Things had the potential to get very messy.  I quickly bumped into a random acquaintance from work, and into another gym bunny.  The latter was working 'undercover', providing security for some diplomat's teenagers, the aim being to 'prevent them from appearing on the front page of the Dom in the morning'.  Nice work if you can get it.  We started off the evening with a rather dry and odd tequila cocktail, which sounded good on paper, but didn't really work in reality.  Still, the tequila put me in my happy place, and I stayed there all evening.  

Ladi6 started some time after
10.30.  They're not really my thing, but they put on a good performance.  We 
moved to the sweet spot, just in front of the sound desk and almost between the two screens, and stayed there all evening.  Coincidentally we ended up next to the two 
guys I'd met up with earlier, and the rest of the people around us were all lovely as well.
Hamish bought us the first of our two Vodka Red Bulls of the evening, and I was away.

Fat Freddy's came on at 11.30.  I'm sorry, but this won't be a detailed examination of 
their set list.  I can remember snatches of songs, and everything I can remember was good, but don't ask me to tell you what they actually played (although I can tell you that they didn't play Midnight Marauders, which is no bad thing as it's kinda their 'Don't Dream it's Over' equivalent now).  This is a review about general impressions.  As the band started the place started to fill up, really fill up.  Standing where we were people tended to try to get past on their way to the front, the bar or the toilets.  Oh, and this was a sold-out gig.  Let's just say things got a little crazy for a while there.  Struggling to stay upright as yet another large guy tried to squeeze his way between me and the guy in front of me, I started to tip sideways, put my arm out, and ended up groping the rather cute young, muscly guy next to me.  Not that he minded, in fact he told me a couple of hours later that he loved me.  By that point I wasn't going to argue!  

Oh, but the sound.  Full credit to the sound crew, the sound was excellent.  Waves and waves of beautiful music surged around us, clear at both ends of the spectrum.  And then the bass kicked in.  Now that's where our money went!  Friendly people, good sound, Fat Freddy's, a stage high enough that I could see them, and two video screens either side of me projecting close-ups.  I was riding high on vodka and Red Bull and I was happy!  Enthusiastic swaying within the close confines of my little square foot of dance floor ensued.  The first track segwayed into an almost Little Bushmen-like psychadelic riff, going places I haven't heard this band go before.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  

It seems like a long time ago now that Hamish and I first danced to a large band on a small 
stage at the Grey Lynn festival.  We had no idea who they were, but their music sounded like 
a revolution. This is a different band now.  Back then they were laidback and slightly shambolic - a bunch of guys 
up there having a good time and cruising along on a wing and a prayer.  By the time we saw 
them at the next Splore they'd expanded somewhat in sound, but they were still obviously just
jamming it, albeit with a familiar, well-rehearsed riff and considerable joy.  

The Fat Freddy's I heard last night are a different affair all together.  While some of their concerts post the release of their album felt a little tired, they seem to have responded by
lifting their game.  This is a professional gig, a group of talented musicians who somehow manage to combine a polished performance with the original spontaneity that we loved.  The new material reflected this new-found (and very positive) slickness. And Dallas is still completely the man.  

I guess a little bit of me will still miss the former almost random meandering from one track to another, the unexpected reprise of a song played an hour ago in the middle of a completely unrelated number (heck, the tracks that lasted an hour).  However this feels like a band remaining true to its artistic values whilst finding itself a bigger, more commercial audience. That's not a criticism, it's a tribute to their greatness.  

New Years came and went, Fat Freddy's wrapped it up.  No encores, just thank yous and departures.  Hamish disappeared off to the bar, and didn't return for over half an hour.  I started talking to a friendly visitor from Taupo.  The music started.  Shed 1 turned into one giant mosh pit.  I got elbowed, I got stood on.  I elbowed, I stood on people.  I jumped up and down, I got lifted up and down.  I danced with a big huge grin on my face.  I waved my arms in the air.  I wooped loudly.  And the bass, that thick band of sound that I could almost reach out and touch as it surged overhead?  It seems the sound engineers had been holding out on us.  

Let's say that I'm not a fan of Drum and Bass in general.  However I love that particularly melodic New Zealand form typified by Shapeshifter (and Concord Dawn).  At that same Splore that we listened to Fat Freddy's in a geodesic dome, I waited in a queue in darkness to get our car into the event.  Hamish had taken our bags and walked on ahead to pitch our tent.  Unfortunately he had also taken my torch, and, having never been to the site before, I had no idea where to find him.  Walking blindly along bush-lined paths, past coffee and food stands and dance floors, I discovered a path leading gently upwards, lined with chains of multi-coloured lights.  Half-way up the opening bars of Shapeshifters' Tapestry wafted out into the night air.  I felt like I was going somewhere, and obviously in the right direction.  At the top of the path there was a huge stage in the middle of a big field, and there was Hamish right in the middle.  The first Shapeshifter track of any gig has always meant arrival for me ever since, both literally and figuratively.  Last night was no different.  No other music gets me so up and ready to dance.  

As I write this now, all I can remember is stomping and waving my arms ever more frantically as Shapeshifter told us all that we shone so bright.  I've already said last night was epic right? I don't really need to write about how tight Shapeshifter were, because 
they always have been.  However the little vocal rootsy number towards the end of the set was 
a nice surprise, and the way in which they picked the pace up again afterwards revelationary.  

Which took us to about 3.30a.m, by which point my feet were finally starting to hurt in my high-heeled boots (a girl's got to have her small vanities) .  Five hours at approximately $20 per hour, excellent value. Three drinks each at $10 a pop, not so much (but not unexpected).  The entertainment continued in DJ form, but Hamish and I were done and out of 
there. Hugs and kisses all around, to both old and new friends, and we were back out onto the 
Welly waterfront.  

While we were dancing the wind had died away.  It was still cold, but it was a stunning evening.  
We walked to the  new sculptures outside Te Papa - three separate installations of trees and 
grasses made from fencing wire.  In the white white light of the spotlights they still gave off a 
sense of being blown by some absent Wellington gale.  The night was eerily still and quiet, and 
stayed  that way until we turned the corner into the zoo that is Courtney Place.  We dropped in on Paul and Siobhan at Vespa for half an hour or so, then it was home for a chilli and cheese pie and dawn over our mountains.  We went to sleep to the sound of the dawn chorus at 5.30 a.m.  

Not bad for two oldies in their mid 30's!  Thanks Wellington for a fantastic New Year.  Welcome 2008!


Stephen said...

You have wrapped this gig up to a T. It was amazing. My experance my have been a little differnt as i sounded a bit drunker and i was on the very front rail all night. Even only a meter from both of my two favorite Kiwi bands everyone was friendly. Dancing and singing to our little slice of paradise (at the top of our lungs lol) with no pushing, not even a stray elbow. Best new years ever

Bruce said...

Sounds like Welly still knows how to have a good party. All the best for 08.