Album release gigs are always a cause for celebration - especially when it’s taken an arduous amount of time to make an album. Auckland rock mainstays Quinn The Human made sure to pack Backbeat with plenty of grooves, plenty of guests and plenty of CDs for their debut album Shade Queen, and the result was nothing short of hypnotic.
The Dead Beat Boys are what happens when the D in "The D4" stands for degenerate - in the most complimentary way possible. Reviving the garage punk wave with excessive yelling, a general bit of misanthropy and copious amounts of alcohol has always been a recipe for a good time, and it seems this band has perfected it. It's impressive how vocalist James Fitz managed to find his way onto every table and bar surface imaginable, and it's even more impressive that he stuck the landing coming off them. You couldn’t ask for a more raucous support act, and their friendly camaraderie made for a more intimate experience.
And then on to the stars of the show, dapper band of misfits Quinn The Human. Immediately the mix sounds a little murky, but the band’s swampy and mildly psychedelic rock benefits from it in the end. Since the band played their album from front to back, it was a relatively straightforward affair; opener Party Gaol frontloading the experience with catchy triplet riffs and strong falsetto harmonies.
Nonetheless, the back half of the set is where the strongest songwriting and performance comes through, featuring headbang waltz and MVP of the overall setlist Hong Kong Medicine. In a scene, I tend to (unfairly) associate with endless reverb and bedroom pop/indie rock stereotypes, it was refreshing to have a band that favoured lower frequencies and guitar tunings, a healthy evolution of sludge rock.
Vocalist Rusty Steele is unique in that while I can generate some comparisons - a Hetfield growl here or a bluesy Clutch-like mannerism there - he never succumbs to being an imitation of them. The perfect example of this was the centrepiece of the night, Bad Deads; bolstered by Phoenix Guava and the fattest bass tone on Earth, it’s the kind of seven-minute epic that can only come from years of refinement, with Steele embodying preacher and hedonist simultaneously. The passion in the room was palpable, every crescendo punctuated by the band’s intense focus and tight rhythms. In fact, it came as a shock when the band wrapped up; time flows faster when a live performance feels effortless.
I regretfully had to leave around the time that members of both bands united to cover some classics, with Queens of the Stone Age's Make It Wit Chu echoing from the stairwell. Yet despite missing the promise of “no restrictions” and audience members jumping on stage, that regret was tempered with satisfaction; it was a party as much as it was a gig, a triumphant hurrah for a group of friends creating beautiful music. Reviewing the local scene tends to blur the line between personal and professional, but on this night, that blend only consisted of positive vibes. In both senses, Quinn The Human have ample reason to feel on top of the world.