Fat Freddy's Drop

By Jake Ebdale

Artist: Fat Freddy's Drop

Date / Venue: Saturday January 14th, 2017 - Villa Maria Winery, Auckland

Fat Freddys Drop, the self-professed ‘seven-headed soul monster’, made a triumphant comeback and defiant statement on Saturday night. With the help of a strong bill (Team Dynamite, a stellar Ladi6 playing sweet new material) and a majestic venue in the Villa Maria Estate Winery, all 10,000 tickets were sold out by Thursday. That is some feat for a local act – but, then again, the Drop are world-class. They’ve headlined massive shows overseas at London’s Alexandra Palace and the Sydney Opera House. They are, for the most part, a banging live show and deserve every accolade.

Their last album, Bays, was another winning mix of soul, reggae and dance music, and the material is a great addition to their set. You get amazing, soaring singles like ‘Slings and Arrows’ and ’10 Feet Tall’ (Hauraki’s number-one song of 2016), as well as brooding jams like ‘Razor’. The venue, a beautiful vineyard that goes with green that goes on forever, was family-friendly. The crowd seemed well-behaved, with alcohol being cut off around 9.30, though some always shake their shiverman a bit looser than others. Off to the detox tent they go.

The set, just over two hours, was perfect, surely designed to please the big numbers and first-timers. The light show was frickin’ incredible. The jams were energetic, the horn section a stand-out that is surely the closest to a modern-day JBs or Africa 70. But as a huge Freddys fan - since ‘Midnight Marauders’, in fact – it was a bit too perfect. I’ve seen over a dozen shows, including their historic Mangawhai Tavern gigs, and was keen on a bit of variety this time around. With the band coming off the Bays tour, this set was nearly identical to the one they played a whole year ago at Cable Bay on Waiheke Island - from the ‘Waiting in Vain’ snippet, the brass breakdowns, and MC Slave’s ‘fiyah, fiyah’ in ‘Roady’.

Another comment I heard in passing, surely from a group of casual fans, is that the set can feel like three songs rather than 10. ‘Razor’, ‘Russia’ and the ’Ernie’ intro seem to blend into one – and maybe that’s intentional. But sometimes all you want is faithful renditions of ‘Wandering Eye’ or ‘Hope’, their perennial classics, to break up that sometimes-plodding beat (they did throw in the former as a tag-on snippet). They also have amazing acoustic-based songs like ‘Dark Days’, ‘Bones’ and ‘Grounded’ that never seem to get an airing. Small criticisms, though - ‘Shiverman’, always the high point of their set, was still brilliant. It’s hard to beat that euphoric release after 10 minute of build-up. Its favela-like pulse, the epic horn lines, plus the Hopepa booty shake are all classic Freddys.

Maybe this show will be the close of a chapter. Don’t get me wrong - I enjoyed every minute of this gig. But maybe it’s time to shake up the set-list and get a bit looser.