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Sunday, September 02, 2018

The Adults - Meow (1 Sept 2018)

After a 7 year hiatus, Jon Toogood's The Adults project is back with a new band and a new direction that celebrates women from the Middle East and embraces the music and rhythms of Sudan. 
Tim Gruar (aka The CoffeeBar Kid) popped along to their debut show at Meow Bar over the weekend.

What a thrill to see Jon Toogood back on stage with this side project.  The frontman for New Zealand's hardest workin' rock act, Shihad, has been, err, maturing over the years and branching out into other styles and genres outside heavy metal and power rock.  His first venture as a 'grown-up' (hence the name) kicked off around 2010 as a Kiwi supergroup, a musical collaboration involving many established New Zealand musicians, including Shayne Carter, Julia Deans, Anika Moa, Tiki Taane and Ladi6.

The Adults released a self-titled album in 2011 which reached number four in the New Zealand album charts. The Adults has also been nominated for Album of the Year at the 2012 New Zealand Music Awards, and the single Anniversary Day was on the long list for the 2012 APRA Silver Scroll award.

I can remember seeing them at the last Big Day and was well impressed by the diversity of the material.  And this time, 7 years on from their debut, Toogood has assembled a different line up to make considerably different music.  Inspired by his wedding in Khartoum, his writing has been definitively defined by Middle Eastern themes and chants.  Haja draws from Sudanese folk music Aghani-Al-Banat.  It is African music performed exclusively by women.  However, Toogood doesn't just appropriate, he showcases it.  Most of the songs on the album are sung by women.  And you can hear this on the opening track.  Sadly Chelsea Jade, who sings the actual vocals on the song was not present tonight but Rapper Raiza Biza was, alongside the wonderfully talented Estère, who delivered the percussion lead groove Bloodlines.  This one mixes ancient Arabic drum tattoos with heavy electronic layers and reedy chanters.  Her voice was finely tuned and as impressive as her elegant attire.  This lady is all class and delivered perfectly.  She told me after that the rehearsals had been short and intense.  Toogood seemed pretty nervous on stage, lest we didn't like what he was bringing.  The distance from Churn and Haja is vast - at least on paper.  Yet musically, it's not really that far.  After all, heavy rock gods Led Zep managed it.  Take Kashmir, for a start.

Percussionist Steve Bremner
That Gold was originally done by Aaradhna but guitarist Emily Browning and Estère gave us a really powerful rendition.  With help from Raiza Biza on rhymes, this track had the potential to be huge.  However, Meow's living room/lounge room space and sound system don't really give the bass power the track really needs.

Most of the set, with the exception of Nothing to Lose and the big wig out encore Short Change, came from the new album.  Despite knowing their roots, to me, all of them had an indeterminate Middle Eastern flavour to them.  So, it was hard to actually pinpoint exactly where influences come from but that didn't really matter.  Only Gisma, the final song on the album was specific in its identity - being a dedication to one of the musicians who played on every track.

Raiza Biza opens the show with his jazz-based rap
The songs weren't overly long, as that could easily become mundane and repetitive.  Some hinted at the kind of Raga that Paul Ubana Jones does so well.  In the mix was dance, pop, hip-hop, reggae and a bit of the old Toogood indie (think Home Again) - all glued up with moody bass lines played by Toogood himself and backed by some superb percussion from Steve Bremner and Trinity Roots' Ben Would.  The latter two made some excellent tribal beats which weaved themselves through the tracks seamlessly.

The lead single Bloodlines remains a standout, boasting Estere's ethereal vocals and Jess B's insane bars which at times seem to flow with barely a second to breathe.

The most redeeming track tonight is the single Take it On the Chin, originally done by Kings, originally lacked the female voice that was present elsewhere on the album but that was rectified with both ladies on the song's vocals tonight.  It would not be right to call this album, or Raiza Biza's opening slow jazz rap set, 'Girl Power' but you definitely felt that there was a huge amount of respect being paid here.  And that needed to be acknowledged.  For an opening show, it was short and painless.  Not entirely overwhelming, but a good start made from the security of a stage in a room that was only just a little bigger than an oversized living room.  Just wait until they get to Auckland!

Tim Gruar (

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