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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dunedin Double - The Chills Tuesday 9 March/ The Verlaines 10 March - both at Shed 6. Part of the NZ Festival of the Arts.
By the second week of the Festival the focus changes from the classicals to the classics with the next two nights reserved for the 'Dunedin Double', featuring individual concerts by the Chills and the Verlaines.  These are two bands from the original Flying Nun EP that pretty much kicked off the label's career, their own and, as legend will have it, the 'Dunedin Sound'.  First up are Martin Phillips' crew. "It's pretty odd playing to a seated crowd", he notes, looking around at the room of well heeled mature punter, wearing their pearls, jeans and velvet jackets.  If ever there was a Mastermind topic, it would be on The Chill's lineup, a list longer than the passenger list of the Queen Mary.  But tonight there was some stability with crazy-as drummer Todd Knudson and bassist James Dickinson (who both joined in the early 2000's) and more recent recruits violist/keyboardist Erica Scully and keyboardist Oli Wilson.

Photo fro the Festival Facebook page
Over the years, The Chills have 'suffered' from a mixed level of professionalism on stage and in the studio but tonight's performance was an exceptionally tight. Almost clinical delivery, save for the deranged antics of Knudson behind the kit, reminding us of Jack Black's exaggerated rock star performances in 'School of Rock'. 

Phillips, himself, now 53 and slightly greying, was looking in pretty good shape.  Sharply dressed, but still keeping to his customary black, he was chilled and relaxed on stage.  Signs of his condition (Stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver) and his shy edginess have been all shucked away as he quipped with the band and engaged is a little audience banter.  It was good to be back in the birth town. 

The set was always going to be a crowd pleaser, a mix of oldies and newbies from a huge repertoire.  Phillips is and always has been a prolific songwriter.  However, with the exception of one or two flourishes nearly everything has that same psychedelic, jangly continuity to it - from the latest release 'Silver Bullets' reaching way back to 'Kalaedescope World'. 

It was good to hear the new stuff sit so comfortably with the rest.  "Silver Bullets", "Eazy Peazy" and "Warm Waveform" in particular work well played live.  An updated version of "Pink Frost" May have been polished up but the core tune still stands up well.

If there was any criticism, it would be the mix.  For the old venues like 'The Carpark', Bodega' or 'The Oriental' one could forgive a bloody, muddy mix and strained vocals.  But not on a festival stage, with modern, digital equipment.  Even sitting in the fourth row deciphering lyrics through the top heavy sludge was a challenge.  But that's a minor detail, really.  And with a fair smattering of hits, including the closer "Heavenly Pop Hit", the sellout crowd weren't complaining.
Photo: eventfinda
By contrast the audience at The Verlaines concert the next night were a younger and more mixed mob.  In recent press lead guitarist and founder Graeme Downes had promised "a night in Dunedin in the mid-eighties" and so it was.  "Just a set list like you'd see on any night at the Oriental," he quipped, as the band, based on the original 1986 line-up of Jane Dodd (bass), Robbie Yeats (drums) and Downes ploughed on in.  "These are just oldies, it's all they know how to play," 

Opening with 'Pyromaniac' and 'Crisis After Crisis', it became imminently clear that whilst this was a seated festival show, it really should have been an Orientaion gig.  And the younger and younger at heart thought, too.  They soon packed the aisles, pogo-ing away to 'Burlesque',
'Dippy's Last Trip' and old faves like 'Bird Dog', 'C. D Jimmy Jazz and Me' and the intensely grungy 'Icarus Missed'.  Grinning ear to ear, Dodds was thoroughly enjoying herself.  Her sparkly frockadded a touch of glamour to the stage, contrasting with Downes' lean frame and op-shop attire.  Downes' voice may not be what it was but his guitar playing is still intense and highly skilled.  There was one perfect rock moment when he broke a string and 'Ollie the tech' had to rush on with a replacement but aside from that the show rolled along with it's own bar room slinger style.  To send us all off with a big cheer they completed with 'Death and the Maiden' and the ironic fast song 'Slow Sad Love Song'.  It's been quite a while since the Verlaines, in their old and new incarnations have been in town so it was good to see them back and relive the days.  Here's hoping the positive vibes from the night encourage their speedy return. 

Photo from the Festival facebook page

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