Hard News by Russell Brown



The strong dollar might be bad for farmers and Hobbits, but it truly is a boon for concert promoters and their crowds. The array of acts lined up for summer festival bills alone would have been unthinkable four or five years ago.

As Damian noted, for the next few months we're "awash with great gigs" – all of them en route either to or from Australia. Tours that once wouldn't have crossed the Tasman come here because the local promoters can afford the guarantees.

The dollar isn't the whole story, of course. Coromandel Gold sold out in a day and a half with an all-local bill topped by Shapeshifter. I think the development of that kind of audience loyalty is part of the change going on in the music industry as it reshapes itself around live performance as a cornerstone of artists' livelihoods.

Promoters are far better at talking to us now. It's worth being on the mailing lists of ticketing agencies and venues for the advance sales. When you go to the Powerstation now, you'll probably be holding an A4 ticket you've purchased on the Ticketmaster website and printed out at home. Its bar code will be scanned at the door. They make it easy these days.

And there's another factor: the revival artists. A rich back catalogue doesn't just sell tickets, it sells tickets to an audience that can afford to buy them. Seats on the floor for Leonard Cohen's shows at Vector Arena on Thursday and Friday nights were mostly $200 each. Who can afford, en masse, to pay that but the baby boomers?

Vector is also part of the smooth new world of barcodes and scanners – they'll even scan you out for a smoke, and back in again. It's still a chore in some ways: queuing for tiny glasses of wine and indifferent Aussie beers at upwards of nine bucks, mind and body rebelling after three hours in those tiny, hard, close seats.

But Leonard? Oh, he was great. At the age of 76 ("can a man of 76 still be sexy?"), and the wrong side of being nearly bankrupted by an errant manager, he's revelling in this world. He doesn't so much sing his famous songs as perform them. Big video screens catch the sense of theatre as he sings 'The Tower of Song', minimally accompanied. Between songs, the lights throw up shadows of that famous profile; the tilted trilby and the nose.

It wasn't perfect. The vibe did lapse a little through some lesser songs, and the director of the video pictures often seemed unfamiliar with the arrangements. But through a shimmering version of 'Hallelujah' and an aching soul take on 'Bird on a Wire', it was sometimes transporting. His band – especially the brilliant Hammond organist Neil Larsen and his longtime backing singer and collaborator Sharon Robinson – are remarkable artists in their own right (yes, alright, the saxophone spoiled the party a little bit). And Len's voice is a presence.

It all feels stylish and dignified and generous. There's a sense that both the audience and the performers are grateful to each other for coming.

There was another big back-catalogue on offer the following evening at the Powerstation for Paul Weller. Can you believe I briefly considered not going? Fiona didn't feel up to it, and by the time I'd called a couple of mates who passed on a freebie (yes, I know I should have called you. Sorry) I resolved I'd do a clinical hit on this one.

The return of the Powerstation as a touring venue has been a good thing. The city-fringe apartments around it mean that shows start agreeably early (Weller had already kicked off by the time I arrived about 9.20), and the trend to respond to demand by adding extra dates (Weller sold out three nights) is great for fans.

I wasn't entirely feeling it last night, until I managed to work my way down through the crowd to the dancefloor where, as is often the case, there was some wriggle room. (I'm glad I had my earplugs, though: it's bloody loud underneath the PA system.)

He played the beautiful 'No Tears to Cry' from his current album, Wake Up the Nation -- and then something I hadn't expected. 'Shout to the Top', pulled off as a glorious, energising disco song by a rock 'n' roll band. It really was fabulous.

Yes, the crowd wanted to hear Jam songs, and they got a few of them. 'That's Entertainment' occasioned a frenzy of rejoicing, and they finished the second of two encores with a blazing version of 'Town Called Malice' animated by that song's Atlantic soul roots.

But Duncan Johnstone is wrong to suggest no one cared about the more recent material. People did, and we tend to forget that Weller is still a significant contemporary artist in Britain. Of the nine albums he's released since 1993, only one has peaked lower than #2 on the British chart. I'm not really familiar with much of the work, but the likes of 1994's 'Broken Stones' and a number of tracks from this year's album are pretty special tunes.

Not the least of them is the fantastic blue-eyed soul tune 'Aim High', which you can find here remixed by both legendary house producer Larry Heard (aka Mr Fingers) and Amorphous Androgynous.

And a word, in conclusion, for the Powerstation audience. It had the feel of a football crowd, swinging easily into singing, clapping and chanting, especially when it was demanding encores. I think Weller and his band were genuinely touched at the reception.

And then I exited, having spoken only one word to anyone who wasn't a bar person all night (I chirped "Hi!" to an enthusiastic Campbell Smith on the dancefloor), and arrived home to read tweets from friends at the second Leonard Cohen concert and the Trinity Roots show at the Town Hall. Busy night.

This evening, I'll avail myself of the $15 ticket deal for the new South Stand and watch the ITM Cup semi-final (I'm not really expecting a home win) before escaping home through the back streets to watch the Bledisloe Cup fixture on TV. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to do some work now, then …

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