Stan Woodhouse, aka Skyscraper Stan, is a Trans-Tasman treasure. A dual citizen, born and residing in Australia, growing up in Auckland. Most of his family are here, literally, in the reasonably populated Tuning Fork on a Saturday night.
This time, he has his full band with him, the Commission Flats (where does that name come from Stan?), so I can hardly wait, as my Stanfeast has to date been just him solo, or with cousin Oskar Herbig on exquisite guitar, including a spellbinding performance last year at BowieFest (my annual deck party) where Stan got his coat wet in the mid-afternoon rain again and nearly fell over. Again.
But first, a surprising intro from Na Noise, a two-piece female thunderbolt comprising Yolanda Fagan on guitar and Hariet Ellis on bass. Both on dreamy, Lou Reedy vocals. Some of you will know these ladies. I didn’t. Bands like the Echo-Ohs and Bozo. A new world for me.
But also, an old world, and I’ve been around. So, when the power guitar chords surge out, I immediately think of legendary Link Wray (check him out), and when the vocals purr... I also hear Breeders and just a touch of Grace Slick.
Refreshing, but also retro. Yolanda calls it pop when interviewed about their new single on the radio but to me its rock, both classic and indie. How exciting! An 8 song, thirty-minute or so set, including their new single Then Who, and in the final medley, a cover of The Make-Up’s Black Wire.
The Na Noise Setlist:
- Na Noise
- Silver Light
- Bad Dreams
- Then Who
- Good Morning
- Million Dollar Hotel / Black Wire
Stan and his boys, now converge on the small Tuning Fork stage, which feels like a football field to them, compared to some of the venues they encounter on their peripatetic perambulating (OMG where did that come from?).
I’d seen Stan earlier in the day at Marty’s 13th Floor pad, doing a few songs solos on his dad’s guitar. He looked a little jaded. But now onstage with Mum and Dad beaming on, he has bounced back with the zest and energy which befits the rock star skyscraper persona.
Chris Windley is on drums, Martin Schilov on bass, and cousin Oskar Herbig (with his family also beaming on) on swaggering guitar.
They launch into a medley of songs: Tango, from the first album, Dole Queues and Dunhill Blues, the opening track on Golden Boy Vol I and II and Woody Guthrie, also from Last Year’s Tune (2015). These old songs sound every bit as good, especially with the intensity and visual spectacle of a live group performance. “What doesn’t kill you leaves you wishing that it had”, another memorable Stan line from Tango. And as for Woody Guthrie, I can just imagine a speed addled Johnny Cash doing this number sometime in 1967….. “after all, isn’t life for losing”….
Stan slows it down and croons into On Your Corner, a song about “the unequal distribution of emotional labour in romantic relationships”. It could also be about the homeless drunk guy who tries hard to get sober but always fails and ends up back on your corner with all those other men. Take your pick. Stan often prefers other people’s interpretations. Sometimes makes him look even better...
Raphael is a song about a misogynist social media extrovert who builds his sandcastle a little too close to the waves. Flag Of Progress is a lament about the gentrification of King’s Cross in Sydney, an act of crony capitalism which ignores the human driftwood which personifies the Cross and provides its character. No more. All gone. Progress.
Dancing On My Own Grave is Stan at his self- destructive and self-deprecating best. He is full of banter and his bandmates, especially Chris, join in. Oskar, meanwhile, talks with his guitar. Just like Jeff Beck.
It seems like we are racing through the set... don’t let it stop too soon. Stan asks for a rat to feed his drummer, who apparently likes his food. I offer to get him a lawyer, and Stan gets the joke (which I had told him a few hours earlier). But misses the opportunity to retell it. Bugger. Doesn’t want to upset his uncle…
Now we get a new song, the linguistically ambiguous A Hard Lesson to Learn (Jimmy). Jimmy turns out to be Stan, whose girl-attracting- grimace gets mistaken for a...for a...for a...just can’t say it. Too much of a spoiler, too close to the swimming pool, and besides Nicole might read this. Puberty song.
Man Misunderstood is next, and we dutifully follow instructions and concentrate our gaze on Stan lest he be tempted to stop the song and start again. His bandmates enthusiastically endorse our good behaviour. Not that it’s a bad song, no, it’s a great song, a classic Stan ballad full of mystery and innuendo. It’s just that it’s 6 ½ minutes long, and Tuning Fork curfew is on the time horizon.
The two remaining songs from the album finish the set. Tarcutta Shade, a song about a Tarcutta gaze, in the Tarcutta haze, and life in a daze in the Tarcutta shade. Smell the bitumen melting in the heat (whoops, I’ve plagiarised my album review, check it out here!!).
And finally, the upbeat Doorbell, which is actually a repudiation of Australia’s immigration policies, gives the band another opportunity to cut a little bit loose.
It’s encore time, we ask for it, and we get it, seemingly reluctantly, but Stan, you promised, and a visibly relaxed and satisfied Stan launches into I Fell Over, followed by an extended version of Chief which gives Oskar a chance to cut loose and re-emphasise his prodigious talent on guitar.
Australasian troubadour. Trans-Tasman treasure. Skyscraper Stan.
Thanks to Finn McLennan-Elliott and the team at the Tuning Fork. Auckland would be an Americana-less place without you.
Great sound too, from Aiden at the sound-desk. Awesome sound. The band loved it. Special shout out to Shane Hickmore on lights too!
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