The Homily of Wellington's Venues
I went and saw Liam Finn play a live set at Puppies in Wellington the other night. It was really good. I was into it, had been looking forward to it before hand, but it surpassed my expectations. There was the added bonus of Lawrence Arabia opening the show - a secret/unannounced "special guest". His opening set included the full band - with Liam too - joining in, so all of the musicians pulled double-duty.
We bought our tickets - no door-list for me this time, I was happy to buy a ticket, support the gig. Pay to see something I wanted to see. And then decided, after, to write about it also. (Force of habit really). It was super-cheap; $15 a ticket, quite ridiculous really when you consider that there was a full set from Lawrence Arabia as well. And he might (reasonably) charge $15 for his own show at Puppies. Or perhaps elsewhere. They played two nights - I had thought to go to both shows but the Tuesday night sold out really quickly. I'm sure Wednesday's show was also sold out, or close enough to it.
There you have five musicians playing two sets - with very little break in-between. And it was high energy. Liam, in particular, is an energised and energising frontman. He knows how to bring the show. His stage persona has him full to bursting - the songs escaping in mad dashes of energy, he whips them into shape as they're happening.
There were a whole lot of new songs too - since he has a brand new album due in April. So it was a chance to hear some of the new songs, a sneak-preview almost.
Now he could have likely played elsewhere - though quite where, in Wellington, I'm not sure. I wrote, last week, about The James Cabaret and in raving and reminiscing about that place I recapped some of the issues Wellington has this year with housing and hosting live performances.
Mighty is closing down, the Bath House was waved goodbye, Bodega's sound system needs urgent fixing - and there's that stupid pillar (still; always). And Puppies is going to shut down too.
Last year I wrote in praise of Puppies, I'd heard a lot about the venue, about how smoothly things happened there - the gigs ran to time, they started when they were supposed to start, there were interesting line-ups, acoustic, stripped-down gigs, international acts, locals, solo acts, DJs, bands - it's a small room, but it's well set up for an intimate gig. They have some decent beer including Wellington's great Garage Project and Parrot Dog - but, similar to what I said about the James Cab, it's about the show at Puppies first and foremost. You'll get served, but it's (trying to be) a venue rather than (just) a bar that hosts some music.
It's hard to know what's going wrong here in the capital - but we're losing venues left, right and centre. And yet we could still be hosting great shows. Wednesday night's gig from Liam Finn and Lawrence Arabia was important for me, not just because of the great performances and songs. It told me that musicians need - also - to change their expectations. Not so much be prepared to play for nothing, but take the risk, take the chance - and make the choice to play to a small, eager crowd rather than to hit and hope. Make the choice to play to fans, to people there for the band rather than the drink. Play because they love playing.
Liam Finn and his band clearly could have played to a bigger room in Wellington - made more of a thing of it, but this had the feel of a secret gig, a surprise gig, a pop-up show. I mean, it was advertised beforehand, sure. But in a small place the tickets sell through and then on the night or after the event there are still people surprised to hear that the gig had taken place. They'd have been there too if they could, if they only knew...
Liam Finn and his band clearly got a buzz from their two nights at Puppies. Two nights doing two sets, essentially...I didn't see the first night but they didn't seem tired for the second performances. There were no egos - there was no phoning it in. These musicians were up there for the love of it, they clearly got a kick out of playing; out of playing for an appreciative audience.
It was the same at Mighty Mighty they other week when I saw Matmos. It was about $25 only to see an international act - yes, I know they're somewhat fringe, not for everyone. But I still think that's super-cheap. I also bought the band's pretty much brand new album on vinyl, a double, for just $20.
I sometimes wonder if we've lost sight of what a great live gig should be. Of how much it should cost, of where it should be and of why it should happen.
But just as these super well-priced gigs are happening, great deals on the merch, lovely vibes from the stage, great music - and vivid experiences - filling the room, filling the hearts of the people in attendance, there's suddenly nearly nowhere to house these shows.
Damn, it's a shame. 2014 could be an interesting year for Wellington. What's going to happen? Who is going to step up? Running a venue can't be easy, and it's probably a great way to take a large fortune and turn it into a small one. So are we then asking our venue owners to be in it for the love of it only, to change their expectations too?
We certainly require that of our music journalists...
Hey, but, last year, when I saw David Kilgour (at Puppies) I had one of those great-gig/so-special moments. And I remember thinking how cool it would be to maybe one day see The Clean in that venue. But that could never happen, right? Well, this Monday I'll be one of the lucky few who bought a ticket early - forcing a very quick sell-out. And I'll be in one of the best little venues Wellington's ever had. And listening to one of the best bands this world has ever produced.
It's just starting to feel very sad to me that such occasions could be few and far between this year. These good times, clearly, ain't gonna last...so what do we do?
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