The Spinoff (or a sizeable chunk of it) went to Auckland City Limits on Saturday. Here’s our collective review.
Head Like A Hole
I’ve never seen a hard rock band perform at 1 pm. I’ve also definitely never seen a hard rock band do an energetic, spot-on and intermittently impressive cover of ‘Immigrant Song’ at 1 pm. Well done, Head Like A Hole. / Sam Brooks
I’m now convinced that SWIDT, the “most electrifying rap group in entertainment” (as they not inaccurately call themselves), could work on any stage, including an under-attended mainstage just after lunch. I felt for them. When we turned up, the crowd was a little thin everywhere (still prime pre-loading time, I guess), but of those who were there at around 1:30, few had made the short hike over the hill to the biggest stage but every single one of them seemed to love everything SWIDT were throwing down from bangers (‘Ric Flair’ and ‘Little Did She Know’ deserve stadiums full of people jumping up and down) to banter about the size of their nuts (apparently they’re the biggest). / Henry Oliver
Auckland City Limits is the last time you’re ever going to see Sigrid play at 2 pm. Mark my words. She’s the latest in a long-line of Scandanavian popstars who are making pop music better and better. She opened with should’ve-been-huge ‘Plot Twist’ (with its refrain of ‘shots fired!’) and ran through the rest of her impressive catalogue in a quick hourlong set. Even her ballad, the natural downer of any pop set, was uplifting and engaging. It helps that she’s tremendously charismatic, engaging and relatable as a performer. In cut-off jeans and what could’ve been a plain AS Colour t-shirt, you could practically see her walking straight from one of the blessedly short lines at the festival straight on stage and then straight back off stage to go mingle with the other festival goers. She seemed genuinely stoked to be there, and her enthusiasm radiated throughout her performance. It was the kind of set that should’ve happened at 6pm – scheduling her this early is a bit nuts, and even though she provided the necessary energy to kick off the day, Sigrid’s a big enough name at this point, after winning BBC Sound of 2017, to have her name written on festival posters a few sizes bigger. / SB
The Golden Dawn stage was an intimate shaded haven full of great local artists that felt a world away from the rest of the festival. When I arrived Disasteradio was going nuts. First off came the trainers, then off came the socks, to allow for full stomping around the stage. Eventually, he had to take off his glasses he was rocking out so hard. His diverse range of synths, hilarious use of vocoder, and unmatched energy for a one-man show was just so much fun. It was a great way to shift gear as the sun got a little lower. / Simon Day
Auckland Kiddie Limits
The idea of taking your children to the Big Day Out was genuinely frightening. You prepared them as if for war, then passed wasted corpses all day, from the way in to the walk home. That was on the occasions when you weren’t one of the bodies yourself. Auckland City Limits is essentially the same team that ran the Big Day, only with a lot more control. They’ve used it to make a really excellent festival for adults – the grass, the flow, the food, the lineup – but it might be even better for kids. I brought along Vivienne (4) and Robyn (8), along with Spinoff music editor Henry and his eldest Mae (4) and we had an absolute blast.
It starts with the wristbands with your name and number on them – a simple solution to lost child fears. You get in and there are kids everywhere, which helps, and the volume fills the fields without feeling like you’re killing their ears. We watched SWIDT, who drew a tiny but passionate crowd and played ‘Little Did She Know’ with the kind of energy which says they should be already playing to much bigger ones.
We then got iceblocks and watched Sigrid, who had a far bigger crowd. It was impossible to miss the parallels with Robyn in ‘06 – the enunciation, the dress sense, the liquid choruses. I mean I was in heaven, but the kids were kinda uninterested and fading from the heat.
We drifted through a fairground which cruelly denied the youngest pair rides based on their being all of an inch shorter than the prescribed minimum, before arriving at Auckland Kiddie Limits. It’s housed in a corner of MOTAT, a functionless institution I genuinely think should be shut down and made into high-density housing (please @ me). For the first time in years, it was put to good use, becoming a little sanctuary of fun shit for kids to do. Ours painted and got tattoos and listened to the piratical music and generally had the meanest time. All folded into the price of your ticket.
An hour or so later we headed for the exit, having never for a second felt like bringing pre-schoolers to a music festival was anything but a great idea. It’s truly a testament to how far we’ve come from the chaos and vomit of the BDO (which I also loved) that this is not just plausible, but perfectly realised. We were part of a slow drift of parents away, just as the bigger crowds were coming in, heading home to recharge, before returning without little humans at our sides. But it’s entirely possible that the best part of the festival had already run. / Duncan Greive
P Money & Scribe
They were destined to disappoint, almost set up for failure. You might be New Zealand’s greatest hip-hop DJ/rapper act, but being the ring-in to replace a global superstar is a tough ask. But that still doesn’t explain why, during an already short set, we got 15 minutes of P Money DJing that mostly sounded like he prepared it for touring The Crusader in 2003.
When Scribe appeared he was great. He’s still New Zealand’s second greatest rapper ever. And his live MC skills are still on point. But as he acknowledged, (“I’m nearly 40!”) he’s getting old, and after the opening with ‘Not Many’ – which had great crowd engagement – he was desperately requesting a glass of water. But nothing arrived. It was kind of sad.
And while the set had energy, and it offered a degree of nostalgia for this relatively older writer, hip-hop has moved on. Young Thug is one of the most important artists working today. He’s a significant part of the reason that hip-hop and R&B have become the most popular music in the world. The 18-year-olds pressed against the front fence, although excited to be hearing some rap music (and, surprisingly, to sing along in full voice to Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’), hadn’t come to see Scribe. Young Thug’s absence was palpable – but I guess that wasn’t Scribe or P-Money’s fault. / SD
Music festivals are a time to see some of your favourite artists perform right after each other on the same day. But sometimes – and there’s always at least one hour when this happens – you don’t want to hear anyone. That’s exactly what happened to me after Scribe & P-Money finished their set and I had over an hour to kill before Grace Jones. So I ate a hotdog, ate some fries, realised I wasn’t about to become a D4 fan, and went to the main stage because it sounded quieter. There, I heard Tash Sultana for the first time. She was incredible. Before I’d even heard a full song I knew that her live performance far exceeds any recording because of the sheer workload involved. Like Ed Sheeran if Ed Sheeran was cool, Sultana is a 22-year-old one-woman band who plays and loops multiple instruments to create what I can only describe as extremely groovy music. I don’t know the technicalities but I do know that her set – completely unknown to me before Sunday – was one of my favourites. / Madeleine Chapman
I had no idea what to expect from Grace Jones. One, because it was 7:45 pm and I was already very tired. Two, because my fellow Spinoffers and I were the youngest people in a 50 metres radius. Three, because I had no idea what the 69 (nice) year-old performer was going to do. Was she going to stand there and belt out the hits? Was she going to go full avant-garde? Somewhere in between?
What we got was a kind of religious experience. She made us wait, like any good Second Coming. Then she came out in a full-on tight body suit, belted out a range of songs from her hits, with a costume change for every single song (from ‘William’s Blood’ to ‘Love is the Drug’) and a completely different concept. No other artist I saw at the festival crossed genres like she did, from disco to a full-on rock breakdown, and no other artist playing had as much weight placed on them as Jones did. This was Grace fucking Jones.
The highlight of the set, and therefore the entire festival, was Jones getting the entire audience to sing along to ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ as she strutted down the steps from the stage on what must have been eight-inch heels, mingled with the front-row commoners, and finished by strutting off as lackadaisically as she’d arrived. She was a goddess and a warrior queen, and I would’ve been happy to see her play for two more hours if that’s what festivals let people do. / SB
The plan was to catch half of Grace Jones’ set and then head off to see Justice. But seeing as Ms Jones was 15 minutes late, my festival companion and I had to reluctantly peel ourselves away from the crowd just two songs in, which left me thinking: this better be worth it. And thankfully, it was. Flanking the French duo on either side were two domineering walls of light-up Marshall amps, which were kind of reminiscent of what the Katayanagi Twins had in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I also felt like I’d reverted back to Christianity at some point, partly because of the number of times the cross flashed on-screen (it’s Justice’s dominant visual motif/title of their debut album FYI) and partly because of the audio-visual intensity of the whole thing. Best act of the night in my opinion – only just knocking Phoenix off my top spot (by a slither). / Jihee Junn
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Phoenix’s third album, is a near perfect pop record. I listened to two of Beck’s songs, was supremely bored, and left to catch the start of Phoenix’s act on the small stage. Incredibly, though I arrived only five minutes early, I was very near the front. Maybe Phoenix wasn’t as popular as I thought they were. Frontman Thomas Mars wasted no time, even telling the crowd he couldn’t talk “because we have to get through six albums in one hour”. Their set was one of the best festival performances I’ve ever seen and actually suited the smaller stage somehow. With the actual band being some of the best musicians of the festival, everything was just that little bit crisper. Finishing with ‘1901’, an absolute banger, and then crowd surfing to top it off, Phoenix ended ACL on a high that made me wonder why the whole festival wasn’t just them and Grace Jones alternating. / MC
One of most disappointing laws of physics is that you can’t physically be in two places at once. So, given the restrictions of existence as we know it, plus having to leave the festival for a few hours to, among other things, interview Beck (which I’ll write up soon), I missed the first half of Beck’s set which Twitter tells me included many of the most nostalgic hits of his oeuvre (y’know, like ‘Devil’s Haircut’ and ‘The New Pollution’) plus a cover of Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ which looked both good and kinda chill. So the half that I saw was centred around songs from his new album: ‘Colours’, ‘Up All Night’, ‘I’m So Free’, all of which were played with an energy and exuberance of an artist much younger than Beck. He was running around in his black leather jacket, running on the spot when he had nowhere to go.
When he played ‘I’m So Free’, a modern-production update of a kind of ’90s alt-rock Beck didn’t really make when he was making music in the ’90s, I thought about the time I saw Sonic Youth play Daydream Nation at the Bruce Mason a few years ago. They played their all-time great album in full, which was great, and then came back on and played a set of songs from their last few albums. And while the songs weren’t game-changing in the way, say, ‘Teenage Riot’ had been, they played with an earnest excitement it may be hard to muster for songs that were written 30 years ago. All of which is to say, fuck nostalgia. It’s boring and ruining music. Keep your memories where they belong – to yourself or in the CD wallet still kicking around in the boot of your car. Give me something new, something with conviction. Give me ‘Up All Night’ over ‘Loser’ any day. / HO
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