Looking for Alaska vs Albi and the Wolves

19 August 2017, Common Room, Hastings

Auckland folk (but not as you know it) band Albi and the Wolves have their biggest fans in Hastings, and Albi, in turn, is a massive fan of Common Room: “It goes without saying; this is the best pub in the whole damn country!”

What is billed as a folk-fest ‘battle of the bands’, becomes a raging, bacchanal love-in, as the touring two-band gig transitions from pop-folk, country-style goodness, and a mellow seated audience, to original, boisterously interactive pub songs, and the unexpected folk finale of the night: an amazing joint rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ to the ecstatic joy of the crowd thrashing it out on the dancefloor.

The evening opens with the lilting, loving dynamism of Looking for Alaska’s Amy Maynard and Aaron Gott, their assured, clear voices, consummate guitar playing and fine harmonies dovetailing in comforting feel-good vibes and buoyant riffs on love and home. I am lulled by the sweetness of their first-ever co-written song – “Let us be kings and queens, or lovers, and we’ll escape into the light” – and taken by the powerful, cathartic authenticity in ‘Kyle’s Song’. Their nine-song set (with drummer Will I Am and bassist Stephen Daniell) culminates in a generous, infectiously danceable version of Mel Parson’s ‘Get Out Alive’, their offerings received with big applause.

Albi and the Wolves take up with a yowl and high-voltage verve: songs of hard work, letting go and holding on, liquor, love, rebellion. Albi, aka Chris Dent (lead vocals, guitar), goes for brash energy and frenetic defiance – it’s not perfection he’s after but collective raucousness.  A version of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is played at triple speed – “We’re going to build this shit up!” Albi roars, leaping about with inexhaustible fervour.

Pascal Roggen is a devilish wicked fiddle player, while Michael Young offers a more tempered, smooth presence on the double bass. There’s a beautiful moment in the popular ‘Fall with You’ as the instruments drop away and the musicians’ voices merge in harmony with those in the filled room, a throng of folk singing their hearts out.

Overlying the accomplished musicianship there’s a rough and ready rawness that spurs on participation. “I will not settle down. I will not fuck around…. I will not be broken!” The crowd goes through the roof; Albi does too: “We have never played a gig as good as this! You’re fucking fantastic!”

He tries to teach the crowd the chorus of a song, but they already know it, word for word: “I’m not free from drinking, it’s Day One without my love”. I am enthralled by the dynamic from the floor, the palpable enthusiasm. ‘Folk’ here in all its grittiness is a euphoric communion of energetic sound, and, perched as I am on the periphery looking on, it’s both moving to witness the passionate, vocal unity of a large, diverse, foot-stomping group of people, and vaguely disquieting. There’s something edgy, precipitous about an amped-up crowd. But when the final negotiated encore ends (“Ok, we’ll give you one more song”; “Can’t you give us two?”), the surging tide of people ebbs away peaceably into the night, still singing, grinning.

 

 

 

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