Congress of Animals

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22 and 23 November, Haumoana Hall
By Jess Soutar Barron

We all had crushes on the boys in the band. The average high school concert became a moist mosh pit of unkempt energy when the fellas from the 6th form pulled out their axes. We didn’t care what they played, we loved them. This was like that.

Ambience? Yes, the Haumoana Hall is bobo bliss. Acoustics? Atrocious. The crowd don’t give a fig. Grown men whoop and weep like proud Dads.

Full of ready-made pop hits, Brett McKenzie kicks off Randy-Newman-style. It’s hard not to hear The Muppets as he delivers meaningful enviro lyrics to an upbeat honky tonk tune. Ben Lemi is brooding and bass-y and has a mellifluous voice that whets more than just the appetite. They’re off to a good start but the night never builds. Just as we get into a groove, they stop and swap around to show off what diverse and multi-talented musos they are. Everyone has a turn being the frontman, everyone gets a go on the drums. It’s all deeply satisfying…for the band. For the audience it’s a bit stop-start; more mix tape than concept album.

There are many bright bits, and it’s all totally entertaining. Who knew Brett McKenzie was such a sexy drummer? The bad boy pout peppering his paradiddles is priceless. The real gem is Deanne Krieg, she should be the headliner rather than the after-thought, tagged on to the lads like a clingy girlfriend. Guitar geeks Justin Firefly and Nigel Collins luxuriate in self-indulgent gat solos. (I have a soft spot for Age Pryor, plus he’s the spit of my fifth-form crush, so I won’t hear a word against him!) These are talented and well-loved personalities. Touring darlings French for Rabbits are represented as is The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (who doesn’t remember their legendary 2010 Aramoana Woolshed gig?!) and everyone has a soft-spot for Figwit. But somehow this much talent cancels itself out, imploding in a piffle of blah.

What carries the night is the obvious love and appreciation each member of the band has for his mates. That rubs off on the audience who squeal with delight at weird points like someone slipped Purple Death into their Foxton Fizz.

The usuals up the back try to cut-the-rug but it’s a tiny carpet and Brett in the band says not to stand there “because we can’t see Kev”, and Kev is their sound man who makes all this work.

But really this is the band Flight of the Conchords were taking the piss out of. Pinning this to a genre beyond college concert let’s go for Retro Lounge. There is serious talent here, no doubt about it, but there’s no electricity, no dynamism, no cut through. It’s all spectacularly average. Tunes are plastic copies of real, pastiche pop with instantly memorable chorus lines that last long enough to singalong to then vanish. Animals explains their process: everyone bringing songs to “jam sessions, sharing them over a cup of tea”. I imagine that happens in a garage, people fighting over derivative riffs and flurries of moog, all the natural charisma vacuumed up by too much ego.

Just when you think it can’t get cornier, come the encore, the audience piles the forms up the side of the hall and slow dances to lyrics that include “Hope you have the time of your life”. It’s surreal and the best bit of the night, right down to the drop-kicks too cool to come in sharing their homegrown with the teachers outside.

 

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