Date / Venue: Friday June 23rd, 2017 - Kings Arms, Auckland
This is the first time I’ve been back to the Kings Arms since it was sold. The posters outside advertising Lionel Ritchie and Queen with Adam Lambert disguise the intimate rock venue inside. The gilt edged architraves and antique chandeliers battle for attention with band posters for Sticky Filth, Calexico, The Chills and dozens of other bands who have performed here, all leaving a piece of their sound to haunt the halls. The small stage, crowded by equipment, is backed by a blue velvet curtain and overlooks the long thin dance floor which contains pockets of pure darkness.
The building has good bones and needs them. Tonight, like many other nights it will be shaken to its core by a raucous wall of sound, a joyous noise celebrating optimistic punk pop that owes something to the Ramones and something to the Buzzcocks.
After a sound check in which ‘More guitar’ is demanded by Dirty Sweets, Mikey Havoc does the DJ thing. He knows exactly how to get a crowd on its feet, understands the vibe and pumps up the punters with big noisy alternative punk rock. It’s like a trip back to when tripping was popular, and Squid ruled with thrashing guitars and a throbbing base.
Continuing the theme of full loud guitar music, The Dirty Sweets have thrust themselves firmly and unapologetically into the rock genre. Paul Edwards has been chewing gravel to mature his voice since he was in Freak Power, forcing rasps and even a primal scream or two from his protesting throat. He tells us the Dirty Sweets are honoured to be playing support for The Hard Ons, and it shows, they give it their all and hold nothing back. This is long haired rock and roll, a bit dirty, but sweet as. There’s plenty of head banging to be had and you sure can dance to it. All play like solid rock hits, with one inexplicably sounding like the Arctic Monkeys had snuck in.
On rip snorty down and dirty guitar, founding member Dee Dee Taylor is crash hot and not messing about. Looking like the bastard son of Lemmy, the drummer is full on and full of energy and the bass player is skilled and fast. I’m guessing they are respectively Chris and Doug, but their Facebook page is strangely cagey on the subject of names.
The drums are thumping and the bass is kicking, but neither is angry. There’s a sense of ambient happiness that pervades the scene, and all together The Dirty Sweets combine to start a wall of noise that will be built upon by each band brick by noisy brick until it’s a veritable fortress of sound.
If it moves I want it to go faster and Fireshark obliged. A Fireshark sounds exciting and they really are. The kind of music you can jump up and down to. From the new school of punk and heavily influenced by Green Day, the loud, thrashy, energetic, and enthusiastic three piece comprised of Ryan Sykes, Daryl Curruthers and Samuel Icke had the crowd leaping around. The relentless rhythm provided a driving force where the whole is greater than its parts. Many a song contained inspired lyrics. My favourite song of the night chorused counting down to zero and a lament about never finding your bones.
It was back to the hard rock wall of noise with metal overtones when the more laid back Illicit Wah Wahz played. A surprisingly full sound showed the three piece was doing the work of five or more, with plenty of pedal shifting, echoing reverb on the vocals and screaming frequency stealing guitar. I could hear the last swan song of the high notes before I would hear them no more and the ringing set in.
The Kings Arms isn’t an arena, but the speakers didn’t care. They blasted ear-wrecking bedlam in all directions, which to be fair is the sort of thing the fans expect from boisterous punk, but I noticed I wasn’t the only one who found some ear plugs, a necessity if this wasn’t to be the last concert I was able to review.
The main event, The Hard-Ons, are at the top of the Australian alternative rock charts and are heralded as the most commercially successful of alternative Australian bands.
They’ve gone through a few permutations since their first incarnation in 1981 as a school band, swapping band members and instruments. Currently they are billed as Keish de Silva (lead singer), Ray Ahn (bass and vocals), Peter Black (guitar, vocals), and Murray Ruse (drums).
Keish strutted like a young Mick Jagger, but the rest was pure Ramones. With lyrics like ‘I'm so glad to be with you, the sunshine lasts the whole day through,’ that pop-punk animation that saturated the gig was apparent in the upbeat exuberance of The Hard Ons’ sound. The singer was more controlled, which at times came across as holding back, but at others he threw himself into the songs as readily as Ray Ahn threw his bass around. While Peter Black’s guitar shrieked and wailed eating all the high frequencies available, the unrelenting drums showcased Murray Ruse’s ability to just keep going like a meth fuelled energiser bunny.
There were a few jokes from the band, and some call outs from a couple of drunken kiwi fans, mostly about rugby, which gave me a severe case of cultural cringe. But the show wasn’t about the banter.
The Hard-Ons gave exactly what they promised on the label. Catchy punk dance songs which strip down rock and roll to its bare essentials, occasionally delivering surprise elements of thrash, metal and hardcore. It’s big dumb punk rock, exactly as it should be, as fresh and vital as the day Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy made it famous.
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