Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gig Review: Black City Lights at Mighty Mighty, Wellington, 24 January 2014

Last week, the owners of Mighty Mighty, one of Wellington’s best loved music venues, announced that the bar will close in May of 2014. From all accounts it is simply a case that this is “the right time” to move on, the bar having already outlived the use-by date initially assigned to it.

Having just blogged about the closure of another Cuba Street stalwart, the San Francisco Bath House, it was with some sense of poignancy that I found myself up at Mighty Mighty last Friday night. I was there for Black City Lights, a Wellington electropop duo, who shared the bill with Kariiiba and the late night DJ antics of Shocking Pinks.

I managed to catch up with one half of the duo, Calum Robb, prior to the gig, and he seemed like a genuinely humble guy – professing a love for the music of Kate Bush, and of the Eighties synthpop that so heavily informs the music of Black City Lights, before confessing to being a little taken aback that someone had paid $50 on Bandcamp for their album, Another Life, when it’s just as often available on “pay what you like” terms. And I’m pretty sure he agreed with my contention that the duo is bigger in the USA than it is in its “home town”, but we didn’t really go into it too much.

Opening act Kariiiba, entertained the steadily growing crowd with a heady hybrid of warped R&B cut-ups/sampling and innovative vocal FX (including his own). This was textured genre-less tech-noise, some of it quite beautiful noise, yet it was only when he’d warmed to his task sufficiently to start rapping that we saw hints of what direction his unique approach to music production might take in the future. One to keep an eye on.

Naturally enough Black City Lights stuck largely to the tried and trusted material from Another Life, album highlight ‘Give It Up’ arriving three songs in and proving especially popular with the mostly youthful dancefloor throng – it provided one of the most unlikely hands-in-the-air dancefloor singalong moments I’ve seen for some time, as it happens.

There was a pretty decent mid-set cover of the Delfonics’ classic ‘Ready Or Not, Here I Come’ (a track perhaps best known for its Fugees or dub appropriations) and a couple of other new songs were given outings, but mostly this was about giving a clearly revved-up crowd exactly what they expected.

Vocalist Julia Parr has a great sense of drama, not so much in terms of stage presence, which does have a quality all of its own, but more so in terms of vocal nuance and an ability to bring out the best from Robb’s dark electronic musings. This was one part Kate Bush – one part John Foxx-era Ultravox, and a whole lot more besides. There is something distinctly gothic about the music of Black City Lights, and that inherent sense of melodrama translates well in relatively intimate live settings like upstairs at Mighty Mighty.

The set was rather short, and the brief encore, if I can call it that, felt a little forced and obligatory. But it was a sticky night and extremely hot up on that small stage. Parr seemed to be struggling just a little over the final stages, and it’s fair to say I was a little worse for wear myself.

I’d spent the best part of four hours prior to the gig drinking alone, just killing time – trying to convince myself that it was great to have some time alone to kill – so by the time the BCL segment of the night was over, I started to contemplate the 50km-plus journey home.  I didn’t stick around for the Shocking Pinks DJ set ... effectively the international headliner portion of the night. Had it been a Saturday night I may have been up for it, but I already felt sufficiently blown away by what I’d just seen, and I left the soon-to-RIP Mighty Mighty feeling pretty lucky to have experienced what amounts to the best live – and original – darkwave-pop New Zealand has to offer at the moment.

And who could ask for much more than that?

Black City Lights play Meow, Wellington, on Waitangi Day, 9pm (doors open 6pm) in support of Daedelus ...

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