Hard News by Russell Brown


Shihad are like the All Blacks, only more reliable

I can't say what kind of offering the weather gods might have extracted from Homegrown's promoters on Saturday, but it was probably worth it. The festival's use of the Wellington waterfront mixed public and private space in a way that was both ambitious and ingenious, but it would have been tricky on a foul day. But while most of the country got wind and rain, Wellington was sunny and still. Even the forecast evening showers failed to arrive.

Even at such a well-managed event, the combination of large crowds of young people, alcohol and proximity to water might still have produced something sour (unlike the Big Day Out, where it is hard to get a drink let alone drunk, all Homegrown's stages were licensed areas and it even had a booze sponsor). But that didn't happen either.

Our group of grown-ups and excited teenage girlies convened early at the indie stage for Coshercot Honeys, who weren't quite as good as when I saw them recently at the King's Arms -- the shed needed a few more bodies to soak up the sound -- but got the girls dancing and cheering. The great goodwill of the crowds was a feature of the day.

From there, we walked over to the roots tent for Ladi6, who, with her long-awaited album almost completed, was in cracking form. The show mixed soul, reggae and old-school hip-hop (I kept thinking of Boogie Down Productions). Ladi was accompanied, of course, by DJ Parks (is there another DJ in the world who sings backing vocals like Parks does?) and, for about half the set, by her girl Silver from South Auckland. My companions thought she could have sung more and rapped less, but I really dug it.

So, it seemed, did Trevor Mallard, who was there with his partner. He smiled a little when a pungent cloud of marijuana smoke drifted his way, and tapped his foot. Literally. Right foot, tapping. I think Labour needs some more ministers who can dance

There followed a fallow period of Kiwi Hit Disc bands, so we took a break at Leuven and our hotel room, and returned into time for So So Modern, who were brilliant. Do you call it ironica? Whatever, it was a thrilling collision of influences, culminating in 10-minute rave-up that sounded like a potted history of the last 30 years' popular music.

I was less convinced by the very loud Die Die Die. They had their moments, but they also made me feel ill, so I wandered off to have a look at the rest of the site and, happily, caught the breakdancing semi-finals, where the winners had their boys lined up to cheer and the losers got served.

It was a great day for people-watching. We were in fits over some of the snatches of conversation we heard as we went from one local to another. A young man strode past shouting something in German about seeing the Feelers into his mobile phone. One young woman loudly assured her friend that "you guys are gonna have amazing sex tonight!". And, of course, there was the theme-dressing. The Sevens have a lot to answer for …

Some of the better comedy was to be had in watching the Jim Beam girls totter around in high-heels, Stetsons, crop-tops and tight white jeans with the sponsor's logo across the butt. I'm sure some of them were actually funding their degrees and will one day being running the country as policy analysts, but the effect was a kind of miniature stupid-fest.

"Why don't you and Kerry dress like that?" I asked my darling.

"Because we use our brains for good," she replied.

"And they," I observed, "use their arses for advertising."

"You could say," she said, "that they pay for things with their butts."

And to add to the everything-going-on-at-once feel of the afternoon, about a thousands Chinese students marched past on their way to Te Papa, carrying large national flags.

As it grew dark, the Phoenix Foundation took things down a notch in the indie shed, playing a loose, funny, lovely set that made everyone happy, to be followed by The Checks, who seem so mature and assured these days. I ducked out again to find the 10 metre square plinth where the breakdancing had been now packed with dancers while a young blonde woman with an MC played a bangin' house set. It was funny, and fun

The electronic stage wasn't really to our tastes for much of the day -- it seemed to be full of people who'd saved up their party pills -- but I made a solo expedition to catch some of Concord Dawn's set. It was exactly as you'd expect: absolutely rammed with people dancing a million miles an hour.

I found myself thinking through the day that The Mint Chicks are the Clean of their era. A parade of young bands playing freaky, intense, rhythmic, punk pop have risen in their wake. But they didn't seem to be quite on form in their headline set, so I ducked around to the rock stage, which we'd avoided all day on the basis that nearly all the bands were shit, and that it was likely to be harbouring all the munters.

I walked in the room just as Shihad eased into 'Pacifier' and then belted through 'My Mind's Sedate'. There was hand-waving and dancing and singing along and testifying. And fair enough too: there was twice as much production as any of the other stages and Shihad were using all of it.

The new material leans towards the power ballad: I liked 'One Will Hear the Other', not so much the others. But they were brilliant, as they nearly always are, and finished up with a thunderous 'You Again'. Shihad are like the All Blacks, only more reliable.

By the time they were done, the other stages were packing down and the crowds were drifting up to Courtenay Place. Any thought of carrying on the evening was put to rest. We were all knackered; a bunch of fortysomethings clutching aching backs and resting tired feet (concrete floors with matting on them are still concrete floors). I needed to sleep, a lot.

Everyone involved with this event, including the lead sponsor, Vodafone, deserves a pat on the back. For a festival of entirely local acts to sell out three weeks in advance, be staged in such an unconventional way, and come off so well, is no mean feat. Next year's festival could certainly do with better production in the indie and electronic stages, but that's quibbling. I suspect this is now a permanent part of the Wellington summer. And if so, those weather gods can probably extract any price they please.

PS: Len Lye's water wand thing cranked up as we walked past during the evening. It's a kind of extended frolic with line and space; quite entrancing. My darling got a QuickTime movie. And there are some pictures by deadpossum in the gallery for this post. As you can see, there wasn't a lot of light …

PPS: The Dom Post's report says Ladi6 got a cheer when she announced she'd just moved to Island Bay. That was Lyall Bay, y'all. What's it coming to when an Aucklander has to point that out?

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