The worst gigs I saw in 2013

00:49, Jan 07 2014

So, since yesterday we looked at the best gigs I saw in 2013 it's only fair to now turn to the worst. Though it was a great year for gigs and I saw many "Best Ever"-type shows there were a fair few stinkers too. The bad ones were really bad. So, here goes - again, click on the link for the full review or make do with the précis.

Jimmy Barnes, Station Complex, Lower Hutt, January 2: The cover of Dylan's Seven Days sounded like Meat Loaf impersonating Van Morrison. It did not play to Jimmy Barnes's strengths. Or perhaps it did.

DJ Yoda, SFBH, Wellington, February 15: So to the walk home after. I realised that some things can be clever without being good. That something requiring skill does not mean it is actually clever. And that DJ Yoda, milking it by celebrating the absurdities of YouTube and the hollow centre of pop and hip-hop songs, played a set that was loved by many. And that I had been there too.

Garbage, MFC, Wellington, February 19: There was a lot of air-bruising with so many fists being pumped, the audience charged up by Garbage throwing down the big singles from the self-titled album and cherry picking the likes of Cherry Lips and Bond theme, The World Is Not Enough. The songs were never enough for me, not strong in my book, faceless, facile; walking with a limp - and I'm reminded of all that is wrong with trend-chasing clichés masquerading as pop hooks, these songs, utterly unmemorable as compositions, breathtakingly awful in their absurdity, horrifically dated.

Reece Mastin, MFC, Wellington, February 21: There were screams as girls ran up the stairs. One pre-teen asked the usher when the concert would finish. "Nine O'clock," came the reply. "Oh my god", squealed pre-teen, "he's going to play for ages!" I checked my watch, it was closing in on eight o'clock.

Cat Power, Town Hall, Wellington, February 23:  Watching Cat Power live is a case of waiting for something to happen. It's all musical shade cloth drapery, the music a big swirl and wash that leaves nothing resembling presence once the wave crashes. Songs from Sun started to blur, audience members seemed sure it was a second coming because - when you could hear it - the voice is beautiful. But having a great voice doesn't cover for uninspired songs and an adequate talent. And the Town Hall, so often the right venue, sounded muddy, and was maybe as much to blame for the music seeming lost as for the way Cat Power simply shrugs it off, dumping it at the crowd's feet. I say 'crowd' - but a big part of the problem was an undersold concert; yes, yes, the appeal is not waning, simply becoming more selective.

Vodafone Homegrown, Waterfront, Wellington, March 2: Once again it is the misleading branding that lets you know this is all just a giant party with a mandate to make money, not one single dub or roots artist appeared on what is called the dub and roots stage and the Lipton Ice Tea Electronic Stage simply sounded like someone had left a lawnmower running in shallow water for the afternoon.

Rodriguez, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington, March 16: When he does play a note his pick-up band of local musicians do their best to work with it but Rodriguez's scratchy guitar and weak voice can't really carry much more than a hint of the magic. Stripped of the psychedelic swirls that beguiled, enhanced and entranced what we have now is, crudely put, a septuagenarian performing slow, strange, abruptly ending version of bad Bob Dylan; the songs lacking in anything resembling dynamics despite the best efforts of talented Kiwi musicians who were, presumably, given just days to rehearse and were often close to working blind.

Albare iTD, Ilot Theatre, Wellington, April 3: Albare seemed to have a limited vocabulary on the guitar, playing the same things over - generally quite tasteful but, frankly, boring. And he has an annoying trait of playing a curly hammered-on trill that comes entirely from the rock world. This started some songs and ended almost all of them and would only have been more off-putting if it was accompanied by a lick of the tongue as if to suggest that Nigel Tufnel had taught him to ruin all of his best guitar lines with this glottal coil.

Bobby Womack, Concert Hall/Sydney Opera House, Sydney, May 25: Womack, looking and sounding for the most part like some broken-arsed, crack-beaten street bum suddenly made good, the hard living, the cancer, the recent death of his brother, whatever it was that was weighing him down - and you'd have to be allowed to take your pick from a long list - he seems almost ready to join the sort of cruise-ship revivalist act as offered by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Where a yelp, if pained enough, passes for the final remnants of a soul croon because, hey, the audience is just so ecstatic to see what is left of what they're sure they once loved - or, in some cases, were told - maybe just earlier in the day, even, that really they should absolutely get on board - I heard the sound of death approaching.

Richard Clayderman, MFC, Wellington, June 21: When he performs something modern - You Raise Me Up - he plays the intro completely out of time with the metronomic count-in from the behind-the-curtain backing track. The cellist shifts uncomfortably in her chair. Clayderman finds his way into the song eventually and heads sway slowly, softly. There are even some tears. (By this point I couldn't help myself). Occasionally Clayderman offers the sheet music to the song he's just covered to an adoring, star-struck front-rower. "You're still the best in the world", a woman calls out.  I've had some long nights among pitifully small audiences. And this was certainly one of them.

Japandroids, Bodega, Wellington, September 6: It was a bit like seeing half of Blink 182 play a high school talent quest. Except, of course, it wasn't quite as good as that might have been.  It was dreadful. Thin-sounding and missing anything resembling a bottom end and almost as if the whole thing - this band's very existence - was arranged as some arty prank. A stunt. But then, that would have been good. I couldn't last. Your reviewer was gone. As soon as I could say I'd given them a chance - and I tried, I really tried - I was out the door.  I don't often write this and hopefully I never will again: this was the worst gig I've ever seen.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bodega, Wellington, November 19: BRMC is a band I want to like more than I do. And this performance was better than the group's 2010 show (which was marred by a flu bug, apparently). Still, I have the same complaint, the songs are simply not memorable. It's all fleeting, even though they sound like they know what they're doing.

Swamp Thing, Meow, Wellington, December 11:
Haua and Barker are decent musicians, they can play - it would be churlish to suggest they cannot. But between Haua's generic Rock Shop guitar tone and personality-less playing and Barker's What Do You Mean? I'm Playing As Loud As I Can-idea of dynamics these two only met musical taste the one time and they were both seen to be dry-humping its leg.  And there were more drum solos than that time I Googled: Buddy Rich - Highlight Reel. If they're not signed - instantly - to Jack White's label or snapped up by a travelling circus then I predict they'll be one of New Zealand's most popular bar bands, comfortably making a living by playing provincial hell-holes week in week out, the kinds of places with those "really funny" signs above the door that say Liquor In The Front, Poker In The Rear.  I'm glad I got to see this gig - because it was the strangest fucking thing I've ever seen. I was going to say the strangest thing involving music - but then I can't be sure that it ever did.  Perhaps I'll follow this band on the road, go to all their gigs. I'll stand outside like the Bad Gig Angel offering Dr. John CDs to everyone as they leave. I'll be sure of course to put unmarked CD-Rs of the good doctor's best work in a cover that says SWAMP THING: As Seen On TV. FML.

Helmet, Bodega, Wellington, December 20: The local sound engineer clearly had everything set to 11, including the "power drill in a concrete mixer" effect and the "sledgehammer in a tumble drier" fader.  It was awful. You could see Hamilton playing the guitar - but you couldn't really hear it. Intricate parts were lost. And yet he spat the lyrics out with conviction, the band locked down into an aggressive bob and weave. It should have been great. But it was not. It was a gig that was ruined by the guy behind the sound desk. If I had paid for a ticket I would have demanded a refund.

So those were the bad shows I saw in 2013 - I felt sorry for Helmet, they wanted to be good and were let down by the sound. I felt sorry for Rodriguez, he should bow out gracefully, but everyone wants to let him have a victory lap. Mostly, I felt sorry for myself - I sat through some stinkers. And once or twice I got up and left - Japandroids and Swamp Thing were the two contenders for the absolute worst show of the year.

How about you? What were the worst shows you saw? Any of your heroes let you down? Did you get dragged along to something on the promise it would be great and you were brutally let down? Any phoned-in shows that didn't meet your standard?

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