Talk about getting your money’s worth! Not that we can really put a price tag to the subjective enjoyment of music, but if we were to, Powerstation surely got a three-for-one deal last night. Consisting of members Rio Panapa, Samuel Eriwata, Joel Latimer, Zane Graham, Caleb Haapu and Matt Sadgrove, Sons Of Zion’s big return after five years with new album Vantage Point was enough to pack out the venue, and the crowd’s energy was first roused with two local support acts, Otium and Rei.
Otium was a pleasant surprise, and by ‘surprise’ I am also referring to the most literal meaning of the word. Sauntering onto stage with little sound and unnoticed by most of us, the five-piece funk band from Whangarei shocked the crowd out of their chatter with an unexpected start to their first song. It may have shocked the drink out of my hand too, but who cares? All was soon forgiven as the band led us into half an hour of funk bliss.
As multi-instrumentalists, the boys were not shy on showing off their talents as members would alternate between instruments during their set. To send the already grooving crowd into a frenzy, the band casually dropped a cover of the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive. Perhaps the track was a little vocally demanding for the band, but it certainly did not tamper with the fun that they were having onstage, and neither did the wildly dancing crowd care. When they concluded their set singing about going to leave this city, I couldn’t help but think that by keeping up this momentum, that will surely be their trajectory.
Rei, the second support act, came onto stage looking like he just came from a Miami beach party - unbuttoned patterned T-shirt with a white top underneath, beige chinos, and a fedora. His hip-hop, rap-fuelled tracks brought the energy down a little from the full band that preceded him, and it took a few songs before the crowd adjusted to the new pace. Having recently released a Te Reo Maori EP Rangatira, Rei performed a few tracks off the new record, but language in no way became a barrier to enjoyment as everyone welcomed the diversity, transforming Powerstation into a dance club for half an hour. To those who think Maori is a dying language, think again.
As a voice-over announced Sons of Zion’s imminent appearance and the countdown began, the energy of the crowd soared. In flashing lights, the beloved and long-awaited six-piece band appeared. It has been eleven years since the band’s first debut and five years since their last full-length record. Though the band has gone through changing line-ups and expanding families throughout these years, tonight they showed us they still have that same youthful exuberance.
Playing an audio clip of snippets of their past songs and dialogue in Maori, Sons of Zion began their performance by paying homage to their heritage. Caleb announced his presence with a soaring electric guitar solo before the full band launched into the titular track of their new album, Vantage Point. The crowd was clearly “up so high” as they bounced to the anthemic opener. Sustaining the momentum, the band continued with Mash It Up, an infectious pop tune that could rival the works of other pop contemporaries such as Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.
From here onwards, Sons of Zion dug into their back catalogue of classic hits, serenading the crowd with reggae jams such as Tell Her as couples in the crowd bathed in the romantic atmosphere, swaying in their lover’s arms. It was obvious by this point that the venue was filled with many of their loyal, there-from-day-one fans as each song was responded with unanimous sing-alongs. Forever the grateful people that they are known to be, the band would often adoringly observe the crowd and thank them at every chance.
It was like an interlude of teenage rebellion - we all know puberty will end so I embraced their detour because I knew the boys would calm down and come home.
Returning to their new album, the band entertained us with Early in the Morning and Leave With You, reggae numbers that hark back to their earlier styles. The melancholic So Bright changed the mood of the night. With blue strobe lights crisscrossing the stage (that were ironically not so bright), the band yearned for their lovers to “come shine with me”, painting a sorrowful atmosphere over crowd.
As a throwback to their 2013 Universal Love era, the band tackled a medley of reggae, doo-wop influenced love songs such as Good Love and Superman. Perhaps the set list was organized this way to create the greatest impact, because the crowd was certainly unprepared for what followed. Lights began frantically flashing as the band launched into a hardcore rock segment with lead singer Rio going berserk on the drums and Caleb jumping around on stage, commanding the crowd to put their hands up as he rapped the line “get the f*ck up!”. Then, as if a fine afternoon did not just get disrupted by a sudden hailstorm, the band nonchalantly slipped back into love ballad mode with Is That Enough and the clouds cleared again like Auckland weather. This was a facet of the band that we are not often presented with. It was like an interlude of teenage rebellion - we all know puberty will end so I embraced their detour because I knew the boys would calm down and come home.
The crowd would not have allowed the band to leave the venue without performing Drift Away, their summer smash hit which they announced to the audience has recently gone platinum. Sons of Zion ended the night with Be My Lady - the chorus being so infectious that the melody was still ringing in the air as the crowd exited the venue, taking memories of the show with them into the cold night.
Though once known as a reggae group, Sons of Zion have stepped outside of the genre and explored different musical directions, all the while never forgetting to show appreciation for those who have supported them in their journey throughout the night. Ours boys have grown up, but that youthful energy and humble heart still remains. The Kiwi band has reminded us once again why we are still in love with them.