Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gig Review: Fur Patrol, Bodega, Wellington, 18 June 2016

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Saturday night was going to be all about a double bill, a Bodega homecoming for local band Fur Patrol, alongside international headliner Swervedriver. Indeed, it was a 20-year reunion gig, with these two bands having performed on a bill together in the capital as far back as 1996, when Fur Patrol was just in its infancy.

But for yours truly, plans often have a tendency to go badly awry. Especially plans of the “Saturday night at Bodega” variety. The gig happened sure, the double bill unfolded as it should, but for myself and my regular gig-attending sidekick, it turned out to be a gig of one half, and we missed the (headline) Swervedriver set in its entirety. Having said that, Fur Patrol, as the opening act, was super impressive, and I can’t let that portion of the night go undocumented, hence the rather lop-sided review that follows.

This is not the first time I’ve been forced to abandon a gig at Bodega halfway through, but at least this time there was no ambulance and all-night hospital stay involved. And this time it was through no fault of my own – on this occasion it was my daughter who reacted badly to the heat of the moment, suffering the onset of syncope (or blackout dizzy spells) to the extent that I had to escort her home just as the night reached a highly anticipated peak. Rehydration, in this instance, just wasn’t going to cut it. At least she had the wherewithal to wait until Fur Patrol had finished. And just quietly, it was mainly Fur Patrol I was there to see.

I can perhaps console myself that Swervedriver surely can’t have been any better than when I saw them at King Tut’s in Glasgow back in 1993, when the band was something close to its prime. I can also console myself that I was being a very thoughtful and loving Dad. It’s hardly very rock’n roll, but a nonetheless very necessary part of the deal. And to think she was supposed to be MY minder, not the reverse.
Julia Deans - photo: UTR/Instagram (with thanks)
Surprisingly, the now three-piece Fur Patrol played for more than an hour, I’m picking something close to a dozen tracks, way more than any ordinary support band has any right to expect. But the Julia Deans-fronted outfit is no mere ordinary band, and nobody in the two-thirds full venue was complaining. This was a Wellington band reclaiming its old turf, in no uncertain fashion, with something close to a greatest hits set-list, after several years in the wilderness.

Deans really is the consummate performer, and it’s easy to see why she rates as one of the country’s all-time great front women. Right from the outset, opening with ‘Beautiful’ (from 1998’s Starlifter EP), she was a class act on guitar, getting that very Nineties Pixie-esque tension-building soft/loud/soft thing happening as a perfect supplement to her ever sultry vocal performance. It was an ideal scene-setter for what was to follow.

And that rhythm section, which, due to recent inactivity, you may have thought would be prone to a little rustiness, nailed it instantly, and the understanding and cohesion between bassist Andrew Bain and drummer Simon Braxton was as good as it’s ever been. I am actually struggling to recall the last time I saw a rhythm section that tight at Bodega (possibly Killing Joke, a few years back).

More than anything, the band, with Deans on guitar throughout – former guitarist Steve Wells having departed in 2004 – Fur Patrol made a helluva racket for a three-piece, and at one point I found myself feeling a little sorry for Swervedriver, wondering just how on earth they’d manage to top this little lot?

The band’s biggest commercial hit, ‘Lydia’ (from the album Pet), served as a mid-set centrepiece, suitably loved by the adoring fans, but more generally it was the lesser known tracks that made the biggest impression on me. ‘Hidden Agenda’, from the largely unheralded third album Local Kid, was a hard-rocking live masterstroke, while ‘Art of Conversation’ and ‘Precious’ stood out among the cuts lifted from Collider. Saving the best until last, and I was a little surprised by this, because I’d hoped against hope it would get an outing, Fur Patrol closed an exceptional set with an intoxicating take on ‘Man In A Box’, a very early favourite which goes right back to the band’s formative years.

Just as Deans and co bid us a raucous farewell, my trusty sidekick turned to me to suggest we “get some fresh air”, and my night was all but over in a flash. Like Fur Patrol itself, as a rendezvous, it was all too brief, and I’ll never quite know what happened next with Swervedriver (other gig reviews notwithstanding). But I do know enough to know that Fur Patrol played a blinder for its part, and really, I’m almost tempted to argue that it was worth the price of admission alone.

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