Concert Review: MEOW Showcase with The Butlers at Powerstation 22 May 2021

It was the Meow label showcase – The Butlers, Molly and the Chromatics, There’s a Tuesday & Michael James Keane. They rocked Auckland’s Powerstation, unleashing an energy and spirit that is pure New Zealand.

New Zealand Music Month and a showcase of four talented acts from new record label Meow. There is an abundance of great music being produced by New Zealand artists over the last decade. Judging from the spirit and mood in the packed Powerstation, all that energy is about to break out.

The unforeseen madness of coronavirus which has changed the world in the Twenties and pushed live performance towards an existential crisis has worked in the opposite sense here. The ability to perform directly to people is at the heart of music. The world centre of performance is New Zealand, by some mysterious fortune.

Michael James KeaneMichael James Keane

Mysterious is a good description of Keane. He arrives on stage with an acoustic guitar. With him a lap slide guitar player.

All the songs are Folk Americana heading into foreboding landscapes and feelings of un-named dread and disturbance. The perfect atmospherics for Twin Peaks country and the fever dreams of David Lynch.

Ceramic Tide and Love Far from Home. A trademark low mournful voice. The slide provides most of the ghostly spectral atmosphere with minimalist piercing tones which are also strangely comforting and charming. It’s not right to be the trouble in someone else’s life.

Comparisons to Nick Cave are obvious. But the low baritone with the deliberate slow delivery come from Johnny Cash, especially the spare songs from the original Sun sessions. I think Cave channels a fair bit of the dark side of Cash too.

Dry House is full of longing. Slows right down to a spoken reverie

(I had a dream) I Was Dancing. With typical dry humour this is introduced as a dance number. But it stays in strange Pop territory with lyrics about razors and fucking up the town.     

In mood the exact opposite to the three bands that will follow, and consequently the noisy chatter is not the best setting to appreciate this.

I don’t think it would have mattered too much to Keane who appears to appreciate the irony too.

There's a TuesdayThere’s a Tuesday

An Indie-Pop four-piece from Christchurch are the Tuesdays. Winners of the SmokeFree Rockquest 2019 and since then they have generated some good word-of–mouth reputation as bright new prospects.

The two young women Nat Hutton and Minnie Robberds lead the group on guitars and vocals. The engine room are the two guys Joel Becker bass and Angus Murray drums.

On stage tonight they put a lot of punk energy into their songs and come across as Power Pop. This immediately sparks up the predominantly young crowd which are quickly filling the room.

The rhythmic attack of the bass guitar gives that extra boost. They lay out some fan favourites as well as a couple of new ones tonight.

FOMO and Sound of the Stars, both from last November’s debut album Dance With Me Before We Cry. A meshed sound of instruments. The melody from the distinctive unison vocals.

 Dandelions has the sound of Punk-edged Pop reminiscent of the Beths and they rev it up a few notches from the recorded version.

Bus Stop and Baby Blue are brand- new and getting a first audition. Atonal vocals and lots of nice guitar riffs which are given a solid platform by the sterling engine-room guys.

Pinata Head starts with some Funk from the bass. Raw vocals which could be Folk or Punk and let’s say are halfway between. Welcome to my birthday party.

They’re having a blast on stage and get a huge cheer from closing number Amsterdam. Ringing guitar riffs, back to melodic vocals and the rhythm section kicks it up a notch.

A triumphant set tonight and the band know it with hugs and cheers back out to the audience.

Molly & the ChromaticsMolly and the Chromatics

Molly Rowlands is the diminutive dynamo who fronts this modern-day Soul Revue band. They come from that distant land that is North Shore. There is George Edgar guitar, Tom Taylor keyboards and Sam Horgan drums. Trumpet and saxophone players complete the ensemble.

Pick Your Potion is a good example of their sound. A slow opening with Funk elements and horns adding Ska and Soul accents.

Hold Tight is one of the highlights and comes out like a Sixties R’n’B dance-floor filler. All rhythm and swing and works out to great effect.

Blues guitar licks after a slow drum opening on Magic Wonder. Keyboards give it a little Jazz edge.

Molly certainly warms up to the crowd enthusiasm as the set proceeds. Goddess has her building up her vocals to dramatic effect behind some sinuous Funk playing.

Bionic Woman the TV show dates back to the Seventies. The song matches that, as a Seventies Soul Funk dance-floor filler. They are too young to be acquainted with that awful show. Well, it hasn’t been re-made, has it. (You’re thinking of Wonder Woman).

Another highlight was Straight Lines. Urban Blues in the style of Chess Records. My baby shows like a supernova.

Mad People is their rousing closing number. All the instruments sound busy with some harmolodics being thrown up.

Tight, disciplined and full of Funk and great fun to swing and shake to.

The ButlersThe Butlers

Five young guys who come from Sumner and so lend some more weight to Canterbury being the current centre of eclectic and diverse music. The Tuesdays are also from Christchurch.

Front-man lead vocalist and guitar Walt Robberds looks like a hyped-up Owen Wilson. They have the Mask on saxophone, Bradley King guitar and George Berry drums.

Drafted into the band at literally the last minute is the Tuesday’s bass player Joel Becker. Their own bassist incapacitated. Becker may be the hero of the night as he lays out a solid and prominent bottom for the Butlers set from start to finish.  

This is the first time I have experienced their good-time party on stage.

Opening song, something about raging fires. Rock’n’Roll with a bit of Americana. A Southern American band sound a bit like Lynyrd Skynyd. The masked saxophone adds Ska and R’n’B licks throughout reminding me of the English Beat from ages ago.

Follow with just another day/ Should I get out of bed. A young bloke’s song. The guitars and sax trade licks and mesh. Some gunfire from the drums.

They conjure up a great amount of infectious energy amongst themselves and it bounces off the stage into the party going on in the audience.

One called Speed of Sound has a Clash style rhythmic white Reggae opening. Then the lead guitar lays out some note-bending Funk.

This band builds their songs around great guitar hooks and riffs and expand it out from there. Some are simple Pop bangers, and usually the saxophone adds those old Two-Tone accents.

Kings of rhythm and that is what makes them a great live act. I can name their encore, No Good Nina. The audience join the refain, have you have you seen her.

Four acts will not cover all the diversity of the great New Zealand talent that is around. But there was dark and moody, Power Pop, New Soul Revue, to Riff merchants.

A great showcase for May’s New Zealand Music Month from Meow!

Rev Orange Peel

Click any icon to view a full gallery of each artist. Photos by Leonie Moreland

The Butlers
Molly & the Chromatics
There’s a Tuesday
Michael James Keane