Garageland’s ’07 comeback special

My Garageland story starts on Wednesday 13 March, 1996, at the Wailing Bongo bar at Waikato University. But because it’s a story, it changes with every retelling. This is the latest version:

There was a Flying Nun trio playing at the Bongo – Chris Knox, Superette and Garageland. Excellent. So I was in a good mood. But several months earlier I’d had my heart broken by a boy, and he was there that night too. I caught a glimpse of him by the bar and it brought back all these painful memories.

In the middle of Garageland’s set was their song “Struck”, from their 1994 “Come Back Special” EP. That song is the blues for suburban white kids. It has four chords – C-sharp, G, G-sharp and E. Its simplicity is its power.

“I have regrets, I have no cigarettes,” the verse drawls, before it begs, “Pleeeease play me ‘Benny and the Jets'”. And by the time the chorus came, the song had dragged me deep down into misery. It goes, “I’m kinda struck by the way I fucked up.” I couldn’t not react to that. I left the dancefloor, slumped into a dark corner and cried.

And I’ve never had that sort of experience at a gig since.

Garageland ruled the mid-to-late ’90s. I saw them play heaps, both on their own and as support for touring international bands. I never bought any of their albums cos I knew all the songs from seeing them live and I wasn’t sure if anything could top the “Come Back Special” EP.

The band was four school friends, Jeremy, Andrew, Mark and Debbie. They came straight outta suburban Pakuranga, aptly took a Clash song as their name, and managed to write songs that were all about what it was like to be young, a bit dorky and dissatisfied in the ’90s. Garageland were about when you’re 20 and you drink cos it’s fun to do, not cos you need to make the pain go away.

By the time their third album was released in 2003, complete with the awful song “Who The Hell Do You Think You Are” and the equally awful pretentious video set in a strip club, I’d gone right off Garageland. In fact, I didn’t even know they’d split up until I saw the posters that started appearing around town a few weeks ago promoting their reunion gig, and even then, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go.

But one fact clinched the deal: Debbie was going to be back in the line-up. She was the original guitarist and was the coolest thing ever. She had this cool red guitar with fake flowers stuck to the strap. She was far more colourful than was really allowed by mid-’90s “alternative” rock standards. And it always seemed to me that when she left the band, something changed. The band became a little darker.

So, the King’s Arms was packed full of excited Garageland fans. Finally the band took to the stage looking a little older/greyer/fatter than in previous years, but the coolness was still there. (And, y’know, I was never into him back in the day, but Jeremy was looking rather hawt in his rectangular specs.)

They started with “Fay Ray”, and somehow it didn’t feel old or nostalgic. I didn’t find myself reminiscing about ye olde Hamilton in the ’90s, or 20-year-old Robyn. It just felt like me in Newton, Auckland, 2007, seeing a cool band play.

The Pixies have a lot to answer for. Not only were they one of the bands that helped shape Garageland’s sound (the quiet-loud structure, the Santiago-esque drilly guitar bits), but they were also the inspiration behind Garageland’s reunion.

And I like these Pixies-style reunions. It goes like this: A band is big in the ’90s. They run of out energy and break up. Years pass. The band reforms and plays gigs comprising of their greatest hits. There’s no pressure to promote an album, and no burden to write new material. It’s just a good night out.

The distance of time helps reveal the best songs. Garageland’s set was dominated by their early stuff – the “Come Back Special” EP and their first album, “Last Exit to Garageland”. The audience got what it needed.

I reckon the highlight may have been “Fingerpops”. It was a grinding, teasing performance, with each verse held together by the audience yelling along, “I love the way your… fingers pop.” It was kind of a flirty, sexual experience between the audience and the band.

Then there was “Come Back”, with the rousing, shouty chorus. Almost predictably it took on special extra meaning at a reunion gig. It felt really good to be in the audience shouting at the beloved band, “Come back! All is forgiven!” Whether you were like the indie kids up from Hamilton who were in primary school when Garageland was first around, or some hardened ol’ gig-going senior (heh), Garageland were there and they were playing for you.

Near the end, Debbie Silvey came out and joined the boys, and was just as cool as she was back in the day. Interestingly she didn’t sing, which was a pity cos her sweet vocals added a nice layer to the Garageland sound – especially on the glorious “Not Empty”. But she still had her red guitar and played those little wiry accents that made the Garageland sound.

Which brings us back to “Struck”: it wasn’t played. All four of the other songs on the “Come Back Special” EP were played, but for whatever reason, “Struck” wasn’t. All around me people were yelling out for it, but maybe it belongs to an earlier time, a darker time. Like Garageland’s MySpace page sez, “Remember kids, if you remember the 90’s fondly you weren’t depressed enough to want to forget it. Good old bad times, good times.”

So if Garageland won’t let me wallow in the past, then what does that leave me?

Well, in “Beelines to Heaven” there’s a bit that goes “I just got into rock ‘n’ roll. And I don’t think I can just say no. And I can’t sleep at night.” And that’s what music love is to me. It’s this thing that comes along and grabs you when you least expect it and totally transforms your life. And you can’t ditch it – once it’s there, it’s there for good.

I’m still smoking on a pop cigar and it doesn’t taste that bad.

Blam, Blam, thank you, Blam

Earlier in the week, I was part of a conversation where someone asks what everyone’s plans for the weekend are. I responded, “I’m going to see Blam Blam Blam play at the King’s Arms!” And everyone looked at me with blank stares.

I tried to explain, “They’re a band. They were first around in the early ’80s. Their best known song is “There Is No Depression In New Zealand“. Don McGlashan was in the band. He’s that guy from the Mutton Birds. Uh, you know “Nature” and “Dominion Road”. And Blam Blam Blam have got back together for a one-off reunion gig.” There were still a few blank stares.

So it was not all that surprising to find a distinct lack of young ‘uns at the King’s Arms last night. Indeed the crowd had a large number of people who looked like they probably had to arrange a babysitter before they could have gone out.

While I waited for the band to start, I noticed a difference between the older audience there and the typical younger gig-going audiences of today – lack of cellphones and cameras. People were just sitting around talking with their friends. They weren’t texting, nor were they posing seductively for photos, which would later be uploaded to Bebo, MySpace or Facebook.

Finally the gentlemen Blams took to the stage and started with their version of the Doctor Who theme, and then worked through choice songs from their 22-month life.

Now, I’m not all that familiar with Blam Blam Blam’s body of work, but I really really enjoyed the show. None of their songs sounded like relics from early ’80s. They are the sort of songs that could easily be played today and still sound contemporary.

And it was interesting how many of the lyrical themes were still relevant. Police corruption, paranoia about the SIS, struggles with national identity – ripped from 2007’s headlines, man.

The show finally ended with “There Is No Depression In New Zealand” (and how could it not?) which just set the crowd on fire. I like that it’s such a cynical and political song with a really cheerful shout-along chorus. Living in a city where politicians speak of the need for “world-class” footpaths, I reckon this song is still relevant.

Message to r00die

When I was 11 and in form one, I had this huge – huuuuge – crush on a boy in form two. Once he brushed past me, his woollen school jumper briefly touched mine. It was an utterly thrilling moment. I vowed that I would never wash my jumper ever again. Another time he accidentally showed up in my classroom for a meeting that was in another classroom with another teacher. When my teacher pointed out he was in the wrong place, he said “same difference”. I thought this was so cool and started using that phrase as often as I could. Then there was the time at the school social when he asked my friend to dance (she was in his class), and me and two other girls ended up joining her. As he looked around to see the three girls dancing with him, he said “something’s wrong”, oh, but as far as I was concerned everything was right.

Tonight at the (legendary) King’s Arse I was standing around, waiting for the WBC to set up. I glanced over at the bar and I saw him. Him, the boy I had had a crush on. Only now he was a 29/30-year-old man and he didn’t set my heart on fire any more. It was strange looking at him. He didn’t have the mullet any more, and there were a few wrinkles, but he still reminded me of how he was when he was 12.

I considered going up to him, but I realised that all I would have had to say would have been something like “Hi, you probably don’t remember me, but I went to the same intermediate school as you. And, um, I thought you were really cute. But I don’t any more. In fact, you’re really very ordinary looking. Ok, bye.”

So I just enjoyed the WBC playing. The new, improved stage is excellent. The sound is so much better, it’s clear and loud. Every instrument rang out loud and true. The WBC have even got the encore thing worked out now, and even did a second encore with the beloved “A Message To You Rudy”. During that song my former-crush emerged from the garden bar with a handle of beer in his hand and danced along.

Seventeen years later I can only wonder what on Earth I was thinking.

Bagel of Love

“Fuck Auckland!” says Chris from the Shrugs.
“Fuck Auckland and fuck ironic mullets!” says Robyn.

Ok, so some very cool friends of mine are going to London on Monday and were having farewell drinks at the (not inappropriately chosen) London bar. There was lager and mushy peas (not as good as the mushy peas from that pie cart in Newcastle, but still quite good), and good company and a jazz band. What’s a white boy jazz band doing playing at the London bar?

After a few hours the remaining hardcore went to the Kings Arse. The exciting thing about the ‘Arse (apart from the fact that the Shrugs were playing) was that the ceiling has been raised, and the stage has been enlarged and raised. It’s, like, a proper rock venue, man.

There was a band playing, but I can’t remember their name. Their bass player threw his bass in the audience, but didn’t seem particularly angry. Next was Rawer. They were really loud. So loud that – and this is the first time I’ve ever done this – I went outside to get away from the noise. Actually, I have done that before. When I was about two years old I went outside during my brother’s christening complaining “much noise! much noise!”. All those horrible people singing horrible hymns.

But tonight the good people known as the Shrugs were making the good music. There were quite a few covers in the set, and they should have done more originals, they especially should have played “The Hollies” cos that just rules. But they played “Exhibit B” and that was so bloody good. I love the Shrugs so much.

Next was Xanadu. They have one of those strap-on keyboard things. I thought those were banned in the ’80s, but it turns out they’re still around. Xanadu managed to make the strap-on keyboard thing sound like a guitar sometimes. They seemed to have lots of girl fans. Very good.

I want a bagel. A bagel of love.

Sleater-Kinney

Saturday, 7 December at the King’s Arms, Auckland

I have this theory that the best place to see a band play is in a small, smoky bar. It’s small enough that you can see the band play instead of some guy’s head and you can get a beer without missing any of the action.

So with this in mind, I was very excited to learn that Sleater-Kinney were playing two shows at the King’s Arms. I headed along to the cool girl boutique and bought a ticket for the Saturday night show.

Ok, most people will have one of two reactions when the topic of Sleater-Kinney comes up.

1. “I’ve never heard of them.” (It’s ok – they’ve probably never heard of you, either.) or,
2. “Yeah, they’re cool but I like Le Tigre better (Hush your mouth!)

So for all the people who’d give response #1, here’s a brief summary. Sleater-Kinney are a three piece pop/rock/punk band, originally from Olympia, Washington. There’s Corin and Carrie on guitars and Janet on drums. They kind of came out of the riot grrrl movement of the early-90s, but they’ve gone beyond that.

I showed up at the King’s Arse and the first thing I noticed was the huge number of guys there. I was kind of expecting it to be filled with lots of girls, but I’d even take a guess and say there were more males there. There were a lot of emo guys there, but once I pushed through the wall of ironic whiteboy afros and sideburns, I found the hardcore fans up the front. They were the ones having fun, jumping around, singing along.

So the band kicked off the show with “Little babies,” which is just the right thing to get everyone in a good mood. There were some really cool moments where it seemed that every band member was playing and singing something different, but it all came together perfectly and sounded great. Loud guitars with big, fat distortion paired with sweet, three part vocal harmonies is nothin’ but a good time.

I like how Sleater-Kinney can write cool songs about potentially melodramatic subjects. “Far away” the September 11-themed song had everyone jumping up and down during the chorus, and “Sympathy,” about Corin’s baby, started out as a slow, bluesy tune, then eventually got more and more rock until everyone was jumping up and down shouting “I’ve got this curse in my hands!”

Normally I ain’t got no time for drum solos, but Janet ripped into her kit and totally let loose. It’s the kind of drumming that makes your skirt hem vibrate. And hey, for a band with no bass player, there was a lot of bassy sounds.

It was a kick-arse set with plenty of old songs along with ones off the new album. Back for the encore (and who is ever surprised when the band comes back for a few more tunes?), they took a request from the audience, played some more which ended in a bit of freeform playing and then, bang, straight into “Dig me out,” a great ending to a great show in a small smoky bar.