Two years ago, we played to 400 people in Whakatane. Tonight, we are playing to 17,000. Joel Shadbolt, lead singer and guitarist for L.A.B. is grateful and justifiably proud tonight as New Zealand’s premier Fusion Reggae band deliver a stunning and triumphant performance for a truly appreciative and buzzing Auckland crowd.
A massive stage combined with a state-of–the-art lighting effects. MELODOWNZ warms up the audience as the final stages of preparation for the headliners are being made. Tahi, rua, toru, wha and he’s off with melodic speed rap, culminating in his trademark Go! Mellow Mellow!
A day of celebration for Maori and Polynesian culture and heritage. But inclusive of all Tangata Whenua. Whilst the World continues to cower in the face of a contagion and immense social upheaval opens up the raw wounds of Black Lives Matter, it was emotionally uplifting to be at such a large gathering to celebrate the better part of the human spirit. Adding to the special occasion is the realisation that nowhere else on the planet is this happening as a music event.
Maybe the artists today are emanating this spirit to the rest of the world as a healing.
The Leers are a young Indie-Pop band from the beach town Mt Maunganui. With opening songs Far Away and Fool they lay down a mellow dance-oriented bass groove with bright sunny melodies.
They have a huge stage to fill and they add more complexity to their sound as they warm up. Short Rock rhythm riffs. Colourful sparkling keyboard fills.
Does This Speak To You and from a louche rhythm they break out some Prog guitar effects and get a bit heavier with Sabbath-style vocals.
Ria Hall has a big voice which she works to stunning effect over music which is grounded in Reggae Funk but which also reaches back to an older style of Soul. That which came out of Gospel and seeks redemption and solace.
Ria acknowledges the fast–building crowd. A large part Maori and Polynesian but with a big mix of other ethnicities. Like Auckland is now, diverse and multi-racial. Proud to be celebrating her ethnic heritage culminating in this artistic and commercial success of the headliners. And of being a mother. Her 8-month-old baby waiting backstage whilst Mama goes to work and lays out some Soul for the good people.
Owner sings about everyone’s responsibility to our environment. Over a reggae beat and Ria’s soft impassioned pleas. Lead a horse to water and you can teach him to drink/ Give knowledge to man but you cannot make him think.
Walk and she works this up to magnificent effect with the voice taking off into Gospel Soul with the power of a Mavis Staples. Laughton Kora adds some cracking guitar soloing.
Ladi6 is Karoline Tamati. Of Polynesian heritage she is a veteran stage performer and has worked up a distinctive style of Electro Hip-Hop merged with Soul and R’n’B.
Three musicians behind her on keyboards, syn-drums and effects. Five dancers synching their routines perfectly with the groove. Which moves from Dub Reggae to Trance to Techno Dance.
The keyboards play Stevie Wonder style Synth-Funk. The back screen projectors explode with colour.
Reggae grooves mixed with Afro-Blues Fife and Drum beats.
I hear yah,I hear yah and a minimalist song with Techno Beats. Ladi6 works up the vocals towards a little Gospel and the set finishes with the music heading into church.
A change of style again and Mako Road take the stage. A fast-rising four-piece Indie-Pop band formed in Christchurch. An eclectic mix of styles rooted in Mid-Sixties Rock which they also combine with a distinctive Kiwi Reggae beat as laid down by opening number, Glimmer.
Race through some bright, summery Indie-Pop tunes. Ride stands out with a Dub style big bass and soft Surf Guitar tones. A perfect warm summer beach song.
Drink from the Water works this style into a hard Chic-style Disco Funk. They give their music lots of space, and I give praise to the superb sound that is provided for all the acts today.
They do their showpiece version of the Beatles Come Together with some Reggae in the back-beat. It may be there lurking in the background on the original. Segues into their own Geen Superintendent before tying it up with the starting rhythm.
Throughout the night we get a curious Big Brother video featuring Ashley Bloomfield and a reminder of Covid-19 laid out with some Techno beats and effects. Played between each set it elicits equal amounts of cheers and jeers.
L.A.B. were established by Stu Kora on keyboard and guitar, and Brad Kora on drums. With Ara Adams-Tamatea on bass the rhythm section is the New Zealand version of the great Sly and Robbie Jamaican engine room. Joel Shadbolt out front as singer and guitarist, Miharo Gregory keyboards.
That great rhythm section you hear on the opening Why Oh Why and they keep it up through the whole set. Shadbolt is in fine voice tonight. A fine reggae-influenced soulful tenor. They have supported UB40 on tour and Ali Campbell’s style fits like a suit around the lead singer.
The same with Rocketship. The groove works into the body and resonates.
My Brother and the Black Quartet string section come on stage. The song pops with Electro-Funk as everybody’s just working hard to the 9 to 5. Very sweet violins like the classic Philly Soul sound.
Starry Eyes and the singer sounding strikingly like Bob Marley.
No Roots has a hypnotic groove. A young left-handed guitarist lays out some Rock riffs and Funk elements appear. Ain’t No Use is sung with a vocoder.
An extended guitar eulogy is worked up to a great take on Amazing Grace. The most striking special effect on the screen tonight is the lead singer transformed into a constellation of lights which look like High Voltage Man dancing ten feet fall.
Classic Soul voice on Controller and She’s Gone.
Family and friends on join the onstage party. That’s Laughton Kora, Melodownz, some of the Six60 crew.
Near the front of the stage and around me social distance is zero. Many have been swinging and moving to the locked-in solid, sinuous funky reggae groove. For close on two hours.
The artists are off to bring the spirit to Australia. Let’s hope this one keeps spreading.
Rev Orange Peel
13th Floor photographer Rachel Webb grabbed so many brilliant shots of the night, the bands and a few incredible moment. There’s a gallery for each: L.A.B, Mako Road, Ladi6, Ria Hall and The Leers!
Click any icon to see a full gallery of each artist.
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