What a fantastic night this turned out to be. When I arrived the opening artist, Liam Jolly, was performing on stage and the house was completely packed out.
Lot’s of anticipation for the star attraction yet to explode onto stage. So encouraging to see such a massive turn out like this for original NZ music in Tauranga. Also, really great to see the new live venue at the Mauao Performing Arts Centre come alive with the resonance of a packed house. This really is a fantastic live venue which the people of Tauranga & the Mount should be rapped to have in their vicinity. Jay told me they have big plans to keep improving the facilities there, including hanging acoustic panelling from the ceiling to improve the live sound quality, extraction fans to help ventilate, and a plan to have the venue ‘tuned’. This means enlisting the skills of an audio engineering expert to measure the sound reflections (echo) of the room and tune the P.A to give the best possible sound performance without unwanted reflections or phasing.
Liam Jolly was a vey strong opening act and perfect for building the anticipation for the main act with Swampers Mike and Grant. Apparently Liam is one of Mike’s drumming students and was accompanied by another young chap on guitar. Together they played a solid set of tunes that were of a rootsy, unplugged flavour. Meanwhile the crowd kept building and the anticipation for Swamp Thing continued to grow.
Mike and Grant walked onto stage and people began cheering before they had even begun; the sign of a good fan base and their almost legendary appeal that they have established around New Zealand. I must admit that this was the first time I had come out to see Swamp Thing but their public profile had spread around the place like wild-fire and my anticipation of them performing was almost likened to that of seeing a major international act. Which turned out to be exactly what they are or what they are becoming. As they launched into their opening song I could tell straight away that these guys had their whole act totally sorted. Their swampy rock n blues flavour oozed with experience and projected out at us like an unrelenting beast.
They cruised into their second song which had a really punchy drum and bass groove with a driving rhythm. By now the crowd was excitable and feeding off the energy which they in turn fed it back to the swamp boys. The energy seemed to exude from both the crowd and the band like some kind of intoxication. My jaw dropped and a huge smile came over my face as I soaked up this fantastic atmosphere. At this stage, it didn’t matter what background in music you came from, cause the flavour of the night was most definitely Swamp Thing and everybody was loving it The source of their musical flavour comes from the Louisiana swamps and New Orleans but it is morphed into a very cool hybrid of the two with a strong ‘rock n blues’ feel. It short, it was ‘swamp rock’ and was executed without limit to mortal energy or musicianship.
This is most certainly a band that you have to see live. I had seen samples of their performances on youtube before but none of that did justice to the sheer electricity and awe that these two have when witnessed in the flesh ! Both Mike and Grant are legends and total masters of their instruments. Grant excels with his seasoned blues guitaring and rich singing. A raunchy thick voice, sometimes with a swagger, and other times with soulful deliverance. I was completely blown away by his guitar skills. He impressed the crowd with his combination of acoustic blues and slide guitaring, and then later blew our senses apart with some jaw dropping electric lead. Mike was no exception and he more than came to the party with his phenomenal drumming, singing and keyboard skills. In fact he was often playing all three at the same time. A case of mutli-tasking in real time and nailing every part flawlessly. I’m a seasoned musician myself and somewhat of a multi-instrumentalist, but Mike gets my full respect and admiration for the skill and talent he clearly has. They nickname him the ‘octopus’ for his on stage ability to play drums while holding down a bass line on his keyboard (Ray Manzarek style) and then also singing at the same time. The human brain has to be wired differently to do that, I tell you. It was truly impressive to watch ! And tight as tight with their delivery; super tight and impressively ‘full sounding’ for only two guys. It seriously sounded (no exaggeration) like I was listening to a 4 piece rock band with all the trimmings. Somehow they are able to combine all their parts to create this very full sound. Their vocal harmonies, which are faultless, help towards thickening the on stage sound and Mike’s multi-instrumentation greatly transform them from just a two piece into a fully fledged band !
The atmosphere was cooking. With a killer band, first class light show and a massive crowd that lapped it all up, their was no doubt that this would be a night to remember. Baz Mantis, from Baz Mantis Photography (who is also one of ARTbop’s official photographers), was there to capture all the awe and spectacle of the experience.
One of my favourite songs from their set (amongst many other favourites) was about the 5th or 6th song in the set. It started with a soft moody feel with Grant on acoustic and vocals. At this stage there was a beautiful moody appeal to the song. It then grew into this epic western ballad akin to the likes of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’. Very cool indeed ! They played some of their new songs including a new track called “It’s ok”. A special guest artist joined them briefly on stage; Harpist Peter Archer. You could tell they had musical chemistry together as they ripped it up with some high energy blues. Peter and Grant played multiple solo’s and generated a very exciting and electrifying performance together. Incidentally Peter is one of the organisers for the Marchwood Blues Picnic which is being held in Omokoroa on the 7th of March. Another local BOP event worth checking out !
At one stage in their set Grant got the audience to perform a crowd chant in response to his vocal cues. I remember virtually everyone in the house was joining in the chant and the venue filled with the mass sound akin to a stadium crowd. It’s was sensational ! Grant admitted that we were indeed a very good vocal crowd. In fact he looked mighty impressed with our effort ! The B.O.P might still have a full tank of juice when it comes to crowd participation. Mike and Grant continued to pull out crowd pleasers in their set including their own funky version of the Split Endz classic ‘Dirty Creature’. I was tapping and clapping along to this. Such amazing performers; they continued to play for two and a half hours all up. It was massive value for the punters and a massive experience to all. One that I will never forget.
They are touring the U.S in April with some high profile gigs lined up. I, for one, can’t wait till they return to the B.O.P for another gig. If you’ve already seen them, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t seen them then you are missing out on one of NZ’s premium acts. As you can tell, I can’t say enough about these guys. I wish them the greatest success with their tour in the U.S this year and I thank them for enriching my life that much more with their music.
By Kingsley Smith
Kingsley Smith is a veteran musician who cut his teeth in the Hamilton music scene 25 years ago. He has been in dozens of original and cover bands. Has opened for Tania Donnelly, Anika Moa, Pluto, Renee Geyer, and The Black Seeds. Has 3 solo albums and recorded keyboards for other artists including Cassidy and Max Creepy. He is a multi-instrumentalist in his home recording studio and has been working hard this past year on new material for a new studio rock project known as Audio Storm. Kingsley also produce’s and DJ’s a music radio show called the NZ Hard Rock Show featuring the latest original hard rock from all around the country. It is played on 12 FM stations around NZ and also overseas on Rock Bandom Radio.