Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gig Review: Pitch Black, San Fran, Wellington, 16 March 2018

Last Friday night, local electro dub fiends Pitch Black checked into Wellington’s San Fran venue for the second leg of the duo’s three-date Sonic Portal tour. It was a long overdue return to the capital for Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, after Wellington missed out on the late 2016/early 2017 - mostly festival - dates that passed for the Filtered Senses (album release) tour.
A Sandwiches (club) gig in the capital of roughly a decade ago is still spoken about in glowing terms by all who attended (yours truly included), so it was little surprise to discover the San Fran venue almost full upon my relatively early 9.30pm arrival. Wellington dubheads and dance music aficionados clearly have long memories … though, of course, the short-term stuff may be more of a challenge. Whatever the case, this one carried the secondary billing of being a 21st party, with Pitch Black celebrating 21 years of being at the cutting edge of the local dub and electronica scene, and a cursory glance around the venue confirmed that it would just as likely have been years, if not a decade or two, since the last occasion many of these early doors punters had attended any kind of 21st celebration (that of their own children notwithstanding).
Free & Hodgson, dub fiends ...
Pitch Black had been playing around half an hour before I arrived, easing the crowd into the night with what they called their “downbeat set”, which meant a lot of gentle swaying and head bobbing, as our dynamic duo filled the room with layer upon layer of ethereal texture and languid bass-driven technicolour soundscapes. That continued for another half hour or so before we had the pleasure of Wellington’s own DJ Ludus (aka Emma Bernard) for company while our party hosts took a well-earned refreshment break.
Ludus was a perfect fit for this gig, and a swelling of the dancefloor during her mostly minimal ambient set – is minimal ambient a thing in genre-speak? – suggests she bought her own rather large following with her. It would certainly account for the injection of a few younger faces into the crowd, many of whom would scarcely have been out of nappies when Pitch Black unleashed its debut album, Futureproof, on an unsuspecting world 20-odd years ago.
When Pitch Black returned an hour later, the bpm factor and energy levels were upped significantly as they launched into what they call their “pumping set” with all the vigour of men half their age. It was around this point I realised it was going to be virtually impossible to review this (or any other) Pitch Black gig in any orthodox kind of way. The duo’s modus operandi is to continually fuck with the heads of their audience by blending and mashing together various tracks from different albums all at the same time. At no one point can it be said “oh, this is ‘The Gatherer’ …” or “this is from Rude Mechanicals”, because at no one single point are we being exposed to one single track. It’s a method that serves them well at giant outdoor festivals across the globe, and it is one that served them equally well at San Fran last Friday night.
Suffice to say Messrs Hodgson and Free covered a fair portion of their illustrious back catalogue as the night progressed into the wee small hours and we zig-zagged back and forth between albums. And they did so with some gusto. If they bypassed Wellington last time around, they were clearly keen to make it up to us, something they achieved with ease, and more …
If I have a complaint, and it’s probably more of an observation given the limitations of the venue, it’s that the visual feast I’ve always associated Pitch Black gigs with in the past simply wasn’t there this time. There was a backdrop with a multitude of FX and far-out visuals etc, but the lighting was relatively ineffective and the whole thing (visually) just failed to hit the heights I’ve come to expect. Having said that, San Fran can’t be faulted for its sound, which was crisp and clear, and there was a moment during the second set when I swear that bass was travelling straight through my chest.
I can’t wait for the next one, just don’t make us wait so long next time, eh fellas?

Here’s something I wrote about Pitch Black for NZ Musician some 18 months ago …

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