Last night Jon Toogood was pretty good and surprisingly hilarious at Anthology K Road for the opening night of his solo acoustic New Zealand tour. It was a great exploration into Toogood’s favourite music, his skill as a performer, a storyteller and an unlikely stand-up comedian – also, he played some songs by Shihad amongst some very good covers.
As a 20-year-old, I missed Shihad’s rise to New Zealand Classic Band stature – I hadn’t heard any of their songs until the day before the gig. As I told my brother what gig I was reviewing, he said, “Would you like some help? I can find you every simile for the word ‘bland’ in the thesaurus.” With that in mind and armed with Shihad’s greatest hits from their YouTube channel, I walked into the venue feeling very young and a little out of place.
After pretending to have not been on stage setting up, Toogood immediately set the casually humorous tone of the night. “My name’s Jonny Toogood... You’re Auckland. I just got back from Melbourne – just got off the phone with my four-year-old son, actually. He doesn’t give a shit about the show, he just wanted to know what Lego I’m gonna get him.” I immediately liked this guy.
Toogood performed with a seething intensity... playing his acoustic guitar like it was an electric and he was on stage in a sweaty London pub to a room full of moshing punters. Opening with the Shihad song, Think You’re So Free... a much softer, chord-filled and thoughtful version than the riffage of the original recording from FVEY. He strummed so ridiculously hard I was surprised he didn’t break a string immediately.
After a resounding cheer, Toogood leapt into Run, with the playful introduction: “Now I’m gonna play a song from another band I’m in called Pacifier... THAT was fucking stupid wasn’t it.” Referring to the band’s name change in 2001, fearing that “Shihad” sounded to similar with “jihad” in the wake of 9/11 for them to break into the American market.
Then came the first of the covers, Toogood explained that he wanted to showcase the songs that he loved to sing along to throughout his life... from his formative years until the present. Beginning with Reckless by Australian Crawl, he playfully teased the ever-singing crowd when they missed the transition to the second verse – “That sounded beautiful, aside from the bit where you fucked up the middle!”
Then there was some meandering on Shihad’s Brightest Star, I saw the first of only two signs of my brother’s opinions. Thankfully, what followed was a highlight of the gig, with a joyous cover of Bliss by Th’ Dudes. Prefaced with Toogood’s lament of “I don’t know how these guys weren’t huge... They sound like our own Sex Pistols! If they were from any other country at the time.” With the advice that in order to properly sing this song you have to sound “as pissed as you possibly can,” the packed room joined in with many a loudly slurred “YAAAAA YAAA YAAYAYAAAAAA.”
What followed was a wholesome and respectful cover of Aldous Harding’s Horizon. Toogood highly recommended her music... saying she was one of his favourite Kiwi artists. “If you haven’t heard her, her name is Aldous Harding; the album is called Party – is brilliant from start to finish. AND she’s from Lyttelton.” He asked for absolute silence for the next 2 minutes, “This song is small but huge at the same time.
More meandering on another Shihad song, quickly forgotten with an energetic and brooding rendition of Victoria by The Exponents, “Back to the olden days when a New Zealand band sounding good was a rare thing.” It was at this point I noticed the long-haired, bearded, baggy jeans-ed man sitting on the sub singing his God damn heart out to every song – his energy was contagious and seeped into everyone as Toogood played the opening chords to Pacifier. The packed Anthology crowd yelled “Do you know what the time is!” with reckless abandon – it was 8:58 and everyone was having a good time.
The crowd singing reached deafening levels in Toogood’s cover of Rain by Dragon and later I Got You by Split Enz – the man sat on the sub jumped up during the chorus, jumping and pointing like it was a regular Shihad show. Toogood, for lack of a lead guitar player, mumbled the keyboard part of the song: ”Doo, doodle doo, doodle-Eddie Rayner-doodle.”
Toogood made tribute to his recently-deceased heroes David Bowie and Tom Petty, playing Ziggy Stardust, Free Fallin’ and I Won’t Back Down. During Ziggy, he finally broke the string I had been anxiously waiting for – quickly swapping guitars and ending on a triumphant “Ziggy played guitar!”
Doing Toogood’s “pre-gig poo” a fan had asked him to play The Adults song Everyday I Wake Up, which he finally agreed to after a hilarious conversation with the crowd. “Some of my best friends are from Upper Hutt,” said Toogood, “And they’re all fuckups! It’s so fucking boring out there, you HAVE to get into heroin. I’m just joking... it was Datura... and the poppies from Jenny Shipley’s house. She used to grow them and then call the police.”
Toogood closed what was a very endearing and enjoyable evening with Shihad classic Home Again, ending with raucous applause and demands for an encore. For a band’s frontman to pull off a solo show without any hint of ego, and manage to keep the crowd laughing and engaged despite being one man, a guitar and a shocking amount of spit is no ordinary feat. Toogood indeed.