From New Zealand’s biggest band selling out Western Springs to a landmark moment for Pasifika women onstage, these are the live events that shaped New Zealand this decade.
An anchor in the middle of the deep blue sea: Daffodils, 2014
“Daffodils should play all over the country. It should play all over the world. It resonates so strongly as a piece of our own mixed-up, precious culture, it should be our new national flag.”
So says Simon Wilson’s review in Metro of the surprise theatre hit of 2014. I was lucky enough to be in the same opening night crowd as Wilson, even the same row as him, and at the time I couldn’t agree more. I saw Daffodils another six times, across many return seasons and in at least two countries.
The show, written by Rochelle Bright, shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise hit as it was. It was a musical, and marketed as “a play with songs”, generally anathema to those who like either plays or songs. The leads weren’t huge celebrities. It was from a completely new, unproven company. It was a simple, tragic story of a couple who fell in love under slightly suspect circumstances, and whose insecurities and inability to communicate tore them apart. Swap out a few nouns, and it’s the story of basically any relationship that doesn’t work. But it was the jukebox nature of the show that hooked people – songs from the Finn Brothers, Bic Runga, The Mint Chicks – and the two titanic performances by Colleen Davis and Todd Emerson that got them coming back.
The impact of the show has dimmed a bit in recent years, with a film adaptation that quietly came and went with kind-but-not-rapturous reviews, but there’s been few shows this decade that captured audience’s devotions quite like this one yet. And even better, it captured a not-often-interrogated part of our psyche, that colonially inherited upper lip, in a way that showed the inevitable, heartbreaking consequences of repression. I remember the show perfectly well – it’d be hard not to after seeing it six times – but I remember the conversations it started among me and my friends even more. / Sam Brooks
The sun in the middle of the stars: Lorde at Spark Arena, 2013
Every now and then you get the chance to be at an event where you feel the world changing right in front of your eyes. At the edge, sun with the universe pivoting around you, that sort of thing. It’s the feeling of seeing yourself from the future, Marty McFly-style, reaching and tapping you on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey. You’re in a moment now. Buck your ideas up.” Lorde’s Spark Arena concert was one of those moments.
At the time, a free concert at Vector Arena (RIP Vector Arena, long live Spark Arena) by a then-promising, yet-to-be-super-pop-star was a cool prospect, but it didn’t quite feel like it. That venue has doomed acts before – acts who can’t fill the space with either songs or presence. But after her captivating set, there was no question that Lorde was the real deal. Even more than that, she was the realest deal – the hooks, that towering voice, the offbeat charisma. An hour later, there was no need to compare her to anybody. Every teen pop star who came after would now be compared to her, and they have been. / SB
The Spinoff’s Decade in Review is presented in partnership with Lindauer Free*, the perfect accompaniment to end-of-decade celebrations for those looking to moderate their alcohol content (*contains no more than 0.5% alc/vol).
A star is (re)born: Rose Matafeo’s Finally Dead, 2015
Is there any comedian that had a better decade than Rose Matafeo? Like, in the world? She’s gone from doing shows at the Basement Theatre to winning pretty much every local comedy award to winning the big award at Edinburgh Fringe and is closing it out with a confirmed HBO special. That, as the homosexuals would say, is a slay.
No, Finally Dead isn’t the show that won Matafeo the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Award, but Finally Dead is what feels like Matafeo’s coming out and stepping up moment. A riotous hour of comedy that started with Matafeo in a coffin and ended with her triumphantly on top of a car outside the Basement Theatre. The high concept, her charisma, and every bit worked in concert with each other. She was always a star, and a must-see at every comedy festival, but this felt like the first time she owned it. After Finally Dead, all she had to wait for was for the world to pay attention. And lord, did it ever? / SB
Out not with a bang, but a press release: The final Big Day Out, 2014
New Zealand’s annual one-day festival didn’t even get the dignity of a final festival before having the plug pulled. There was no funeral, no wake, no party – it happened via press release in the middle of the year. It was a sad but not surprising end to a festival that had slowly dwindled in social relevance and commercial viability. The shift to Western Springs as a venue helped, but the very public and outrage-inflaming cancellations of Kanye West in 2012 and Blur in 2014 were just a few more shovelfuls of dirt dug from that particular grave.
Hell, the final Big Day Out had a line-up so limp that I didn’t even bother to attend; the vacuum of Blur seemed to suck all the energy out of the room. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t out the front of a house on Old Mill Road right behind Western Springs, getting absolutely wild to Major Lazer’s ‘Pon de Floor’ as cars milled around us, trying to escape from the maw of suburban Auckland. The festival will always have a legacy in the brains of New Zealanders of a certain age and it’s one of the sad marks on this decade that it didn’t go out with a bang, a drop, or a mosh pit, but a goddamned press release. / SB
When Pasifika women get loud: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, 2019
There’s no one aspect of Silo Theatre’s Wild Dogs Under My Skirt to point to and highlight its greatness. Everything had to be just right to work, and it was. The poems it was based on had to be some of the best in recent history, and Tusiata Avia provided. The actors had to be phenomenal, an inevitable outcome with a legend like Anapela Polata’ivao leading the cast while also directing. And the performances had to feel authentic. It couldn’t feel like a caricature of a Sāmoan woman, or a Sāmoan woman as seen through the eyes of an other. It had to be real. And it was, with its timidness, its raunchy humour, and beneath it all, the barely contained rage. Anyone wondering what life for a Sāmoan woman might be like would find out by watching Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, but it wouldn’t be a comfortable lesson. That’s what set it apart.
Perhaps the one downside is that, given the usual demographic of the theatre community, those who would’ve benefitted most from seeing Wild Dogs Under My Skirt – the women, young and old, who could compare their own experiences to those playing out on stage – were nowhere to be seen among the Q Theatre audiences. / Madeleine Chapman
The man of the decade, easily: Kendrick Lamar at the Powerstation, 2012
When Kendrick Lamar, one of the most gifted rappers of his generation, arrived in Auckland, his album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City had been heating up speakers for just under two months. His ascent had been rapid, and the idea of seeing him perform in a thousand-person-capacity room seemed like a dream. On stage, Lamar was as revelatory as his recordings. Rapping with perfect microphone control and a rare charisma, he took us on a journey from his early mixtape cuts to his thunderous radio singles. I swear over half of the audience have dropped a mixtape since then, or at least thought about it. Kendrick’s performance inspired a whole movement in New Zealand. Ask around, you’ll see. / Martyn Pepperell
Two lawless shows: Chicago and Pleasuredome, 2013 and 2017
The two musical phenomenons of the decade linked by two people: director Michael Hurst and star Lucy Lawless.
Other than that, these things couldn’t be any more different. Chicago was Auckland Theatre Company’s best show of the decade – one that took all the resources our country’s splashiest theatre company could manage for a Lucy Lawless-led, deconstructed version of the Kander and Ebb musical. It tore the show to shreds and filled it with spectacle, nuts choreography and arrangements that were aimed at one thing: more. From the show’s epic opening blackout, to a roof-burning rendition of ‘When You’re Good to Mama’, to the sad, tapped-out conclusion, it was easily the best musical I saw in this country this decade. It sold out, extended, and sold out again. I’m sure that if we had the infrastructure to handle it, it’d still be running.
On the other hand, Pleasuredome was a lycra-clad Icarus that flew too close to the fake Avondale sun. Ambitions were high for this immersive-ish musical that took place on the set of Evil Dead, repurposed to be some kind of alternate-universe 80s vision of New York. It had spectacle, but no skeleton to hang it on. It had the songs, but none of their original heart. It had a star who inspires endless devotion from her fans. Sadly, rather than being a nostalgic crowd-pleaser, it ended up catering largely to bewildered and boozed-up Christmas work parties. Reviews were gleefully cruel and, when the show closed, it did so with nary another mention.
Less than two years later, it sits in the hall of fame of high-profile theatrical flops, right next to Once Were Warriors: The Musical. Long may it rest in its neon coffin. / SB
Bring it to the runway, again, and again: Femslick, 2017, and the rise of the FAFSWAG Collective
“Seeing a show like this at the Basement Theatre studio right in the middle of the unofficial theatre precinct is radical. Not only is it a world-class show that could be translated into any experimental space in New York or Edinburgh without a single note being given, but it is a show that feels no need to compromise or compartmentalise its otherness.”
I’m quoting myself, and my review of FAFSWAG’s Femslick on the Pantograph Punch two and a half years ago, here. It remains one of the most enervating and bone-shaking experiences I’ve had in the theatre – an achingly personal, vulnerable and wildly entertaining explosion of otherness. And really, this is a hat tip for that show, as strong a mainstream (or alt-mainstream, depending on how you view Basement Theatre) debut as I’ve seen this decade.
In the three years since, FAFSWAG have proven themselves as an essential part of the arts ecosystem of not just Auckland, but New Zealand. This is a community-driven, artist-led, unashamedly queer and POC collective that have made bigger inroads to cultural relevance and shaking down the foundations of the house than most of our mainstream theatres have. If it was all those things, it’d be great, of course. But on top of that, the work FAFSWAG are making is fresh, boundary-testing and just straight-up excellent.
Put simply: people of all ages and colours, from all points along any binary you can name, are excited about the next FAFSWAG show. They’re booking tickets, they’re saving the dates in their phones, they’re planning outfits. In contrast, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone get genuinely excited about the next Auckland Theatre Company show. Maybe next decade. / SB
Our biggest band rises up and wins big: Six60 sell out Western Springs, 2018
Duncan Greive wrote in 2018: Six60 announce a show at “Western Springs, an outdoor stadium in Auckland’s inner city suburbs. If it doesn’t necessarily ring a bell, that’s probably because it’s not in particularly common usage. There are very few artists anywhere in the world capable of filling it.
Over the past few years that has included The Police, Guns N’ Roses and Bruce Springsteen. Heritage megastars deep into their careers, often playing long-awaited reunions. At 49,000, capacity is just too big for all but the very biggest.
For New Zealand artists, it’s not even really an Everest – it’s just not something they would ever contemplate. You might as well talk about planning a show on the moon. Even with Six60’s immensely popular live show and dominance of streaming and radio, it remained a huge risk – a show without data points to safely predict outcomes. To put it in perspective, only one other New Zealand artist has ever headlined a show there, and that was over half a century ago in 1966, when Larry Morris pulled 18,000, according to Six60’s promoter, industry legend Brent Eccles.”
They sold it out. Then, in 2019, they did it again. Six60 and “a choir of 50,000” looks like it’s a summer perennial now, utterly unbelievable but also not nearly enough for the most nakedly ambitious band in our history. / Duncan Greive
Emblematic of a decade: Lady Gaga collapsing at Vector Arena, 2010
This one was definitely a “had-to-be-there” moment, but such is the beauty of live events. It popped up in headlines and tweets the day after, and then seemed to fade from people’s memories. But for me, it’s emblematic of the decade as a whole.
To set the scene: it’s the last song, post-encore, of Lady Gaga’s first gig returning to New Zealand since she opened for the Pussycat Dolls, on the ridiculously lavish Monster Ball Tour. It’s a stinkingly hot night, and for whatever reason, the air conditioning isn’t on in Vector Arena. She’s been playing for a good hour and a half at full energy. People in the front rows of the mosh pit have been carried over the barriers to hydrated safety.
Her final song? ‘Bad Romance’, where she starts off inside a giant gyroscope that is spinning around her.
Gaga seems a bit low energy and a bit dazed, sitting down before even getting to the first chorus. She gets a few lyrics wrong. The back-up dancers keep going, even though something is clearly wrong. Halfway through the chorus she gets to her feet, but eventually sits back down again, and then lies down.
She takes her big silver helmet off, slurring her way through the song. She is a sweaty, overheated, bewigged mess. She does the entire second verse on her back, moving onto her hands and knees for the pre-chorus, and then finally: she gets back up.
Then, the bridge. The fucking bridge. She does the choreography, walking down the catwalk to the second stage. “Walk, walk, fashion baby. Work it move that bitch like crazy.” (I’ll be the first to admit that Gaga’s lyrics do, uh, not translate well to actual text). She squats down, clearly exhausted once more. But with one last push, she shoves herself back to a standing position. She half-steps through her choreography. She finishes the song, at full, triumphant voice.
She does the fucking job. (By witness/fan accounts, what actually happened is she hit her head prior to getting onstage.)
It was a rough decade for us all, fam. To quote Blur’s ‘Song 2’: You get knocked down, you get up again, ‘cause it’s never gonna bring you down. We’ve got through elections, we’ve lived through more tweet-cycles than our ancestors did plagues, and for the most part, we’re still here. We might have worms in our brains from the internet, and we might be progressively getting hotter each summer and colder each winter, but we get back up and we sing whatever our ‘Bad Romance’ is, whatever our best self does, and we keep going. / SB