The historic venue was buzzing with excitement from a throng of dark tee shirts, all set within a classical concert hall. With the stage dressed with inflatable palm trees, one could only anticipate that the first support act would be a highly entertaining one.
The four-piece act Villainy ambled to their positions, humbly introduced themselves and announced the first song, No Future. With the sharp snarling vocals from band leader Neill Fraser, and lyrics reminiscent of The Sex Pistols, the band’s punk influences became clear quite quickly. This was further exemplified with the song Dreams, with an announcement where the frontman appended "nobody gives a f*ck about your dreams”. No sugar-coating messages here... this is music for the disillusioned, particularly with the line “I’ll make it all on my own”.
Drummer Dave Johnston held the rhythm rigid throughout the set, handling backing vocals at various points in the eight-song set. With both guitarist Thom Watts and bass player James Dylan bounding across the stage as they played, hopping on and off the PA monitors, their stage presence ensured the audience was warming up well.
Vibrancy poured from frontman Fraser for the singles Gather Yourselves, Alligator Skin and Safe Passage, with his signature blend of clean singing, added with scream vocals in parts, and shrieks at the end of verses.
When the band declared their last song, Tiny Little Island... suddenly the microphones facing the audience made a lot more sense. The ear-worm chorus was one written to be sung along, and through the thumping verses, the catchy tune became even more tasteful. Shortly into the song, giant inflatable beach balls were lobbed into the audience, adding to the live experience and leaving the crowd wanting more. Needless to say, fans were sufficiently charged up for the next act.
Making a gradual entrance on a stage bathed in blue light, the now four-membered Kora began with mesmerising vocals from leader Francis Kora, as the set kicked off with Little Star. The audience was first transfixed and captivated by the intro... but once the drums and distorted guitars made their entrance, the crowd began moving again.
The old fan favourite Skankenstein never failed to impress... with its heavy drums and bass guitar guaranteeing a grooving audience with heads bobbing. Frontman Francis’s vocal capabilities took centre stage through most of the performance, further emphasised with Dan McGruer on supporting vocals and keyboards.
Francis took time to pay respect to Shihad and fellow New Zealand music icons Salmonella Dub for supporting and guiding them through the band’s infancy, which carried into their 2016 single, Carolina. Bold, flawless vocals and shimmering guitar reverbs were further supported by the entrance of bass guitar and drums... guitar solos used brilliantly to flesh out the song structure.
Aside from musical proficiency, the band were also entertaining to see live on stage, particularly guitarist Stuart Kora, who was particularly invested in the act of head-banging and grinning throughout.
By the time the set was over, the venue had become visibly full, and the audience yearning for the main act.
Set to the instrumental opening of Metallica’s Battery, Shihad made their way on stage, and quickly started the crunching opening guitar riff to their 2014 single Think You’re So Free. What better way to set things in motion than the solid-pounding powerhouse that is drummer Tom Larkin combined with the deep, distorted guitars of frontman Jon Toogood and lead guitarist Phil Knight. Fist-pumping madness ensued in the song’s breakdown, with a sneering Toogood riling up fans to get them moving. Capping off the opening tune were the lines “Do you think we’ll wake up?”; context of the song aside, all eyes were wide open and no wake-ups were necessary.
Toogood promised the crowd they’ll run through songs from each of their albums from newest to oldest. This meant the album Ignite was next, from which the band chose the song Sleepeater. In place of the winding bass-line as heard on record, bassist Karl Kippenberger substituted with a 4/4 beat. The flow of the song remain unchanged, as many hopped and sang aloud with the chorus.
Whilst songs from the 2005 LP Love Is The New Hate were more aggressive (Toogood himself stated this), many on the floor still shook fists and moved with vigour to Alive and All the Young Fascists.
The band’s set sailed toward the early 2000’s era; for many, this meant a trip down memory lane – myself included – and the enthusiasm from the crowd also reflected this as each song was announced and kicked off. This was certainly the case with the single Comfort Me, from the days when Shihad were known briefly as Pacifier. Amidst the pumping riffs were the belt-out-loud choruses, which nearly the entirety of the hall were singing along to.
The band momentarily left the stage, and as the stage lights turned to a warm red, the twisting synth sounds of Brightest Star began. This signalled the beginning of a segment many Shihad fans looked forward to the most: songs from their best-selling album from 1999, The General Electric.
Appropriately, live staples My Mind’s Sedate, Wait and See and the title tune The General Electric were all set loose upon the crowd, and was met with overwhelming levels of excitement from fans. Aptly, the lyric “Don’t it feel good just to be alive?” seemed to resonate – certainly with myself, at the least!
Within the Kiwi rock music scene, no other song from this record was more recognisable than the classic Pacifier. For this, Toogood demanded that everyone take out their digital devices, turn on their flashlights and hold them in the air. The atmosphere was at its warmest, and with hundreds of swaying lights.
Why stop at one signature song? Toogood announced that their self-titled album was next, and once again demanded that everyone move to the following tune, Home Again. To this second Kiwi classic, the entirety of the Town Hall had hands up and sang aloud, prompted by the frontman running across the stage, getting as many to partake as possible.
Another clear highlight came with Deb’s Night Out, a song from Shihad’s 1995 debut album. A slower number made up of crooning vocals from Toogood, a gently-reverberating guitar set to a mildly-funked drumbeat, this provided a cool breeze to the heaving booms and bold sound.
Progressing into the final segment, the band crunched out what is arguably their heaviest song, You Again. Not only is the song a must-have for fans of Shihad’s earlier works, the big, sludgey industrial sound provided the outline to which Shihad’s most recent singles were based, and in the context of the setlist, made for excellent book-ends in starting and finishing the show.
As though to properly complete the show, Jon Toogood dutifully removed his tee shirt, a move typically seen at most – if not ALL – of the band’s performances. After donning his guitar in his topless state, the roaring Factory capped off the show as the finale. The song was recorded at the very start of Shihad’s musical career twenty six years ago, and now made for a very fitting way to celebrate a three-decade journey.
Shihad's Set List
Think You're So Free
One Will Hear the Other
All the Young Fascists
My Mind's Sedate
The General Electric
Wait and See
La La Land
Deb's Night Out