If rock music is comparable to a steak, the studio album hits the medium-to-well-done range; running the risk of being overcooked, but still capable of providing a quality product. Live rock, on the other hand, is akin to medium-rare, bringing a raw element to the table (although hopefully not satiating anyone’s bloodlust). If anything, NZ indie rock band Racing’s sold-out performance at the Whammy Bar in Auckland proves that they’re one of the rawest bands around, assaulting the senses like no one else in New Zealand - and they brought some tasty appetisers to make the meal go down smoother.
Auckland band Mini Simmons have all the best elements of your favourite pub rock bands rolled into one. Clean yet crunchy guitar tones, à la The Black Crowes? Check. Tasteful harmonies shared on one microphone, à la the Eagles? Check. Long-haired louts, à la every ‘70s rock band ever? Five musicians on stage, so five checks. Opener French Sunflower Fields was a particular highlight, a comforting and familiar slab of ‘70s rock without being dulled down by nostalgia or derivative songwriting - a sentiment that applies to the rest of the set. As a precursor to their upcoming debut album and album release tour this July, I was impressed by this promising display.
Dirty Pixels were arguably the dark horse of the night; a self-proclaimed “bedroom stadium pop” band that could, and would, run the gamut from synth-heavy post-punk to ‘60s pop waltzes. Add a tinge of doo-wop and a killer of an unpredictably theatrical frontman in Ethan Moore, and the results are wildly entertaining, even if not every song is equally potent. It’s the kind of slightly eccentric showmanship that can go wrong easily, but the tally was two-for-two on bands hitting home runs that night.
From the woozy opening of Drugs and Affection to the outright throat-shredding screams on Run Wild, Racing refuse to give any leeway. Vocalist Ed Knowles performed in a rather aloof manner, contrasting with his significant vocal range - but a few breakout dances hinted at vigorous energy lying in wait. Drummer Izaak Houston, on the other hand, barely suppresses any sort of primal instinct; at many points, during the set, I had to wonder if my earplugs were strong enough to ward off the pure ferocity on display. High stakes, high octane rock and roll? Who could say no?!
Having gone in moderately blind outside of the smashing single Motel Pool, there were two factors of Racing’s sound that caught me off guard: the inherent groove of the songs and the stoner-rock-like hypnotism of the riffs. Given that Knowles and guitarist Sven Patterson are ex-Checks, the boogie is undeniable, but it’s bassist Daniel Barrett that contributes a steady stream of stuttery heartbeat-like rhythms, keeping you on the edge of your toes. When each song hits close to breaking the five-minute mark - and in the case of the encore, maybe even double digits (at least that’s what it felt like) - Racing readily achieve a state of euphoria.
I may have had to sit down numerous times over the course of the set, overwhelmed by the energy - but Racing have obtained a fanbase that cycles this intensity in on itself, in a way that I haven’t seen before. Crowd interaction may have been few and far between from the band, but every time Knowles pointed the mic our way, everyone knew exactly what to sing back. In a venue like the Whammy Bar, it felt like a pocket-sized stadium, a paradox of intimacy and intensity. For once, being packed like sardines in a can didn’t sound so bad - especially on a night that sounded so good.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Liam Costley from Park Up Collective for all the images featured on this article.