Faith No More play live in a small club (not Vilagrad Wines) in the early 1990s. (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty)
Faith No More play live in a small club (not Vilagrad Wines) in the early 1990s. (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty)

Pop CultureJune 25, 2018

An oral history of the night Faith No More played a tiny bar in Queenstown

Faith No More play live in a small club (not Vilagrad Wines) in the early 1990s. (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty)
Faith No More play live in a small club (not Vilagrad Wines) in the early 1990s. (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty)

In May 1993 alt-metal weirdos Faith No More were cast adrift in New Zealand with nothing to do. And so Don Rowe’s dad booked them to open his nightclub, a tiny room in a very different Queenstown. 

Almost a year to the day before I was born my parents made a decision that I maintain ruined my life. Back in the country after touring the United States with New Zealand blues icon Midge Marsden, they headed to Queenstown with a stack of cash intent on buying lakefront property in the still-burgeoning hamlet. Instead they bought a nightclub, a disastrous event that led directly to me spending an unconscionable amount of my teens not as a millionaire jet boating around the pristine waters of Lake Wakatipu, but as a miserable serf at the McDonald’s on Hamilton’s greasy mile.

It didn’t have to be like this. There was time to get out before the club went bust. But on opening night in 1993 it might have seemed like their best move yet. After all, the first band to play Vilagrad Wines was at that time one of the most famous rock groups in the world, Faith No More. This is the story of how it happened, as told by my dad, a promoter named Manolo, and New Zealand’s longest serving mayor Tim Shadbolt.

The Queenstown bar where Faith No More played: Vilagrad Wines, early 1990s

Jim Rowe: We’d just come home from a tour in the States with Midge Marsden and thrown a music festival in Raglan. We pulled it off, had about 10,000 people come through the gate, and went to Queenstown with a pocket full of money. I’d just come off managing When The Cat’s Away and we were looking to buy a house that we could also turn into a recording studio. We looked at a whole lot of places, and one of the biggest regrets of my life is that we didn’t actually buy one. Instead we bought a fucking nightclub. The place we were going to buy would be worth like $3 million now.

Anyway, there was a concert in Malaysia, I don’t recall if it was Guns n Roses or the Stones or what, but a few people died and [Faith No More] pulled the pin on the show. The promoter there got cold feet or something and the band were at a loose end with time on their hands before their next gig. I got a phone call from a Kiwi promoter named Manolo Echave, he said ‘I know you’re opening a club, do you want Faith No More?’, I said, ‘are you taking the piss?’ 

Manolo Echave: It was an unusual situation for everyone involved. It was two weeks before their tour, which was scheduled to play Auckland and Wellington only. I don’t remember the Auckland venue but in Wellington we played what was a sports facility there. It was the only venue big enough in Wellington at the time. They were supposed to go on from New Zealand to do a week of shows in Asia.  I was notified that the Japan tour dates had fallen over, and they asked what they could do for a week in New Zealand. I spoke to Jim and the Faith No More guys and we worked it out.

I don’t know how he found out, but we received word Tim Shadbolt knew about the gig and he wanted to come along, so we made some tickets available.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, circa 1990s

Tim Shadbolt: It was in May of 1993, I’d just been elected as mayor of Invercargill for the first time. My sons were snowboarders and they were 15 and 20 at the time. They were both Faith No More fans, and so when they heard about it, they were begging me, ‘oh Dad, you’ve got to get us tickets’, and so I did. 

I’ve had a few lucky breaks like that. We were at a small venue in Salt Lake City promoting The World’s Fastest Indian and the Rolling Stones were playing. We couldn’t believe it. It was mentioned in a little A4 black and white flyer at the dairy we went to to get lemonade – it’s very much a non-drinking place – and there it was. We thought it must be a cover band, but no.

Manolo Echave: The whole thing in terms of getting the show on that night was horrendous. Leading up to then it was quite relaxed, we’d had some days off and the Faith No More guys had flown to Queenstown and they were in heaven. They even went and did a bungee off the AJ Hackett bungy which was quite new at the time. But it all turned to custard. 

The production gear was coming from Christchurch, and there were a couple of trucks with sound and light gear and their personal gear, guitars and stuff, was all on the truck as well. It all got held up because of a snow storm. The trucks didn’t arrive in this bloody terrible weather until around 10 o’clock on the day. The trucks were late and the soundcheck was late and so everyone spent the afternoon sitting in the pub.

The author’s parents (left) and some extremely 90s friends at Vilagrad Wines.

Jim Rowe: It was such a tight club, and in front of the stage is a fall, so from the dance floor you got a great view. There was also a mezzanine up the back and everything was elevated so there wasn’t any trying to look over people to see the band, it was really easy. And you could literally touch them because they were on a stage that was something like eight metres across, so it wasn’t big. They’re an international act and they come with all this gear. And it’s big gear – it’s not designed for putting in pissy little clubs like that, so you can just imagine it stacked each side of the stage.

Tim Shadbolt: I arrived in a big car, the big mayoral car at the time. I don’t think there was a limo, I don’t know if there were any limos in Queenstown, but I’m pretty sure it was the mayoral car. Everyone was so excited to be there. To get a group of people like that together, who were absolutely magical musicians, it just creates an absolute buzz you know?

I’ve only ever experienced one similar gig when Bob Geldof was playing at the Neon Picnic and that got cancelled because of bad management and he felt a bit bad, as he’d already been paid, and he said ‘I’ll put on a free concert’, just as a payback. So we had a free concert but the trouble was there had been a riot in Auckland in 1984 after a free concert so the rules were really strict. We had to hire 200 security guards and I said at that time I reckoned I knew every crook in West Auckland at that stage, I didn’t need to hire any heavies, but they laid down the law and we did.

Manolo Echave: Tim arrived with an entourage. I think he ended up turning up with about 12 people, most of them females. He was in a great frame of mind and he stayed for the whole show, and he got into it, he was up on the dance floor and he was really having a big night.

Jim Rowe: It was a kickass gig. Mike Patton, who was a superstar at that point, was just going off  he was out the front, all over the speakers, it was just one of those fantastic rock gigs. It was such a great sounding gig, the room was lined with stone, and it was the perfect set up. The place was pumping. People were literally swinging from the rafters.

Tim Shadbolt: The entourage was my two sons and… well I guess a few hangers on. We had a great time. Then the lead singer and some of the band members turned up at our hotel room. It all gets a bit… blurry from there.

Manolo Echave: I know that they had a good night because they came back two or three times after that and that trip was always a point of discussion, how it had come about and how much they’d enjoyed it.

It was ultimate rock n roll. It really was. That’s why I remember it so vividly. It was a totally extraordinary combination of people, current events, nature, coincidence and all of those things just came together – I mean, Faith No More playing the opening of a small bloody nightclub in Queenstown! What?!

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