Saturday, June 2, 2012

Old Dog Sees New Trick

It takes quite a bit to impress an old greybeard like me these days. There’s not a lot I haven’t seen and done on a night out, so when I head out on the town with the express wish to check out a couple of bands I’ve heard a bit about but have yet to see … well, let’s just say that my default starting point is often one of extreme cynicism.

A few weeks back though, I had the pleasure of hosting an old friend from way back, an out-of-towner keen for a look at what local Wellington venue Bodega could offer us by way of primer for what would surely be a night of serious debauchery into the wee smalls (which is exactly what transpired). As it turned out Bodega offered us something of a rare treat to start the night, even if not quite in the way we had initially anticipated.

It was the occasion of local blogger-turned-rapper Tommy Ill’s album release party – for the New Hat And A Haircut second full length effort – but with three acts on the bill we felt comfortable enough arriving at the venue somewhat later than was perhaps desirable. Albeit missing not only the name of the first support act, but also the bulk of what looked to be a fairly radical synth-drenched set.

There was an odd poignancy about the reality that the album release party had somehow conspired to coincide with the death of MCA – Beastie Boy Adam Yauch – just hours earlier. For those not familiar with the work of Tommy Ill, it essentially adopts the tried and trusted Beastie template; three white guys rapping, a fair amount of posturing, a smattering of shock value, and a high humour quotient. And indeed, that was the default modus operandi come the time for Ill’s headlining set. The group’s rendition of ‘Sabotage’ – a universally popular tribute track in the weeks since Yauch’s death – was truly a moment of riotous splendour to savour.

Yet, as enjoyable as Tommy Ill was on the night in question, with the vast majority of the 20-something crowd evidently knowing the words to many of his best rhymes, the real shock and awe blow to this weary cynic’s befuddled head had occurred during the set of primary support act Bang Bang Eche … just how on earth had this magnificent live band manage to exist so far beyond my radar for quite so long?

Formed in 2007, two subsequent EPs (plus an album in the making? – anyone?), tours to Europe and to the USA, multiple and college radio hits, exposure at festivals like SXSW and Big Day Out, and … if Wiki is to be believed … wait for it … selection by MTV as one ‘The 25 Best New Bands In The World’ in 2010!

That’s certainly plenty to be getting on with, and I guess with the benefit of hindsight I shouldn’t have been so surprised by just how much these guys (and girl) blew us away … like some loud demented version of 70s art-rock meeting 80s gloss. An arrogant stage presence combined with an almost punk mentality. All elements colliding head on with a serious amount of natural talent. It ultimately resulted in an eye watering performance that even this perennially wary gig-goer had to concede was one of the best live acts he’d seen in years.

Here’s a clip of Bang Bang Eche from as far back as three years ago …

And if you like that … more on Bang Bang Eche and Tommy Ill here …

Album Review: Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

Myele Manzanza is the son of well known Wellington Afro/World music identity Sam Manzanza, but if the quality of his debut solo album, One, is anything to go by, it won’t be long before Manzanza junior surpasses his old fella’s considerable musical accomplishments. In a “local” context at the very least.

First and foremost, Myele is a drummer/percussionist, and he draws on his all of his experience as a member of the acclaimed Wellington group Electric Wire Hustle to make One a truly inspired debut, quite probably one of the best debut albums by a New Zealand-based artist in recent memory. Although to be fair, as Myele himself explains in the short clip below, the album has its roots not only in NZ, but also in Berlin, where Manzanza junior spent time studying music … and naturally enough, in the Congo – Sam’s original homeland.

One, released in February of 2012, opens with a track called ‘Intro’, which basically consists of a series of recorded (telephone) answering machine messages left by mildly annoyed – yet oddly sympathetic in one case – neighbours, “complaining” about Myele’s clearly quite intensive drum practice regime. It makes for an interesting and relatively amusing opening, and it adds a nice personal touch before the album really gets underway in earnest.

From there we are taken on a journey through a variety of musical strands – hip hop, jazz, funk, and what might otherwise be called smooth electronica ... ultimately culminating in a terrific collaboration with Manzanza senior on the Afrobeat-flavoured ‘Me I Know Him’ to close out the album. Another stand out is ‘City of Atlantis’, which features the vocal talents of Ladi6 and works as a fine centrepiece to the album.

Other collaborators on One include prominent Auckland-born producer Mark de Clive-Lowe, soulful vocalist Bella Kalolo, keyboardist Steph Brown, plus a host of other local music identities including Myele’s colleagues from Electric Wire Hustle.

Ultimately we get a range of instrumentation, but as you’d expect, it is the drumming and percussion that makes the album something quite special, with Myele’s finely tuned sense of space and rhythm driving and directing the process with all the assurance of a seasoned veteran.

To say that Myele Manzanza is well connected in Wellington – and beyond – is to master the art of understatement. Now 24, he’s been surrounded by quality musicians all of his life, and involved in various music-related projects since his early teenage years (if not well before).

Would I really be pushing my luck if I described him as something of a chip off the old (wood) block? ... (yawn - Ed).

I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.