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Guy's World: Rock ‘n’ Roll Reality Check

Your average music fan - who maybe learned a couple of chords, then left their budget model Stratocaster to grow mould in the back of the wardrobe with their old Commodore 64 - probably imagines rocking out on stage with a hot band must be a richly rewarding pursuit, inevitably leading to groupies, drugs, instant adulation and out-of-control egos.

If you’re getting your music fix from the Juice music video channel, you could quite happily go on believing that fantasy. It’s a whole lot easier than dragging yourself out of the warmth of your living room into a cold Wellington night to take a chance on an unknown local band.

Last Thursday and Friday nights I did the legwork for you, forsaking my early night and cup of cocoa to file this report from the coal-face of the local music scene.

I headed to the Valve bar on Vivian Street, one of the few local venues supporting live rock music. Hog Wild, friends of mine, were the entertainment for the night – they also represented a sizable chunk of the patronage at Valve. A couple of strays and a small group of the band’s friends made up the numbers, which you could just about count on your fingers.

We were treated to the surreal pleasure of a personalised show, with the bar to ourselves. Hog Wild are a loud, rocking band who should have had a sweaty, beer-soaked crowd shaking their money-makers, but they might as well have invited their mates over for a jam in the living room. They were left wondering: What do we need to do to drag people off their couches and into a bar for a rock show?

Their conclusion was, despite a passionate love for rock, they’re homebodies just like everyone else watching the Juice. There’s a small sector of the Wellington population who are regularly out there checking out bands and haunting the nightspots where original rock is played. Part of establishing a band is being amongst the crowd who go to the shows. If you’re not part of the nightlife, the nightlife won’t come running to your gig.

The following night Indigo bar hosted the Export Gold Battle Of The Bands. Young bands: the good, the bad and the worse, got up on stage to play out their greasy rock’n’roll fantasies.

The first of the two bands I saw provided the bizarrest entertainment of the night – and it wasn’t on stage. A loyal friend of the band spent the length of their set furiously head-banging, swirling his long hair in a display of pure metal I haven’t seen the like of since the death metal nights at Stax in the early nineties. Metal-dude had the luxury of a whole mosh-pit to himself, which he used to full effect - running in ever decreasing circles before collapsing in the centre, spasming, and getting to his feet for another intensive burst of head-banging.

After that display, I wrote off the Battle of the Bands as irredeemably tragic, like a high school band lunch time concert with beer, until Mary Staple – the last band of the show - restored some rocking pride to the night. I remembered the name from a gig a few years ago. They were fresh from Smokefree Rockquest, and doing a kind of Limp Bizkit rap-metal thing you get a lot of in High School bands – not something I’d go out of my way to see.

Somewhere along the line this band must have gone through an immense transformation, because what I heard on Friday sounded more like the full-blooded, bluesy stomp of Aucklanders the D4, or even the pulsating, sinewy rock of Kiwi exports Shihad, than another high school rap-metal band. Their bass player had perfected the stance of Shihad’s Karl Kippenberger, and I heard a riff too close to Shihad’s Home Again to be an accident. But even if they wore their influences a little obviously, they rocked with confidence and aggression. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

In the wee small hours of the morning I found myself at dance venue Studio Nine. Studio Nine is the kind of cutting edge nightclub where smart young people want to be, which is why they can get away with charging a $10 cover charge at four in the morning.

Maybe it was because dawn was knocking, or maybe it’s just because drum and bass is too weird and complicated to find the beat, but the punters – except for a few freakily contorted groovers - seemed to just sway around looking at the DJ booth, rather than getting down. I liked what I heard, but damned if I could dance to it. Perhaps a good old rock ‘n’ roll band would have done the trick.

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