Grace Stalls Then Stuns While Beck Stumbles At ACL

Auckland City Limits  Western Springs March 3, 2018

Despite a brief rain shower in the morning, the city played its part perfectly for this year’s Auckland City Limits Festival. The sun shone, the bands played and the fans grooved.

Technically, this year’s ACL went off without a hitch. All the systems that the promoters set up seemed to work flawlessly. There were few lines and plenty of food and drink. The strategy of selling primarily lower-alcohol beer seemed to work, with fewer fans losing control or behaving badly. Western Springs was a genuinely pleasant place to be all day long.

Of course there were a few glitches, a few complaints, but we’ll get to those in a moment.

I arrived just before noon, in time to catch a bit of Alien Weaponry. Ahh, there’s nothing like loud rock & roll on a sunny, summer day.

With an early adrenaline rush supplying a midday buzz, Head Like A Hole followed and they were in prime form, particularly front man Nigel “Booga” Beazley.  An early highlight was HLAH’s version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.

From the ridiculous to the sublime…English folk trio The Staves were up next. By this time fans had assembled on the grass in front of the Tamaki stage to lay back and enjoy the Staveley-Taylor sisters’ pastoral songs and close harmonies. I was good for about 20 minutes, but then I got restless and paid a visit to the Golden Dawn stage where Scott

Scott Mannion

Mannion , formerly of Tokey Tones, was performing with a rather large ensemble that included Princess Chelsea on keyboards and backing vocals.

The sound was classic 60s chamber pop with echoes of The Beach Boys and some of Phil Spector’s more restrained productions.

After a quick lunch I made my way back up to the Spark stages where Car Seat Headrest were due.  I have to say the lead singer Will Toledo and his bandmates looked like they were auditioning for a role in Freaks & Geeks, but their sound was anything but geeky. The band rocked hard and enthusiastically and Toledo seemed to be enjoying himself. The crowd certainly was. This was the first time I had caught them live and I was impressed.

Unfortunately I was less impressed with Thundercat. The mighty bassist and his two bandmates (drums and keyboards) laid down some nice grooves, but the tunes did tend to meander. The playing was excellent, but I would have liked to hear more songs and less noodling.

The Libertines had plenty of songs with them, along with the notoriously unreliable Pete Doherty. But all seemed good within the ranks of the band as they whipped through a set of crowd faves, mostly from their 2002 debut album, Up The Bracket.

Doherty and co-frontman Carl Berat are apparently back to being the best of friends, trading verses and guitar licks with each other, along with plenty of cigarettes and hugs.

Pete seemed to run out of steam near the end of the set and had to sit down for a breather, but otherwise, this was a dream come true for the many fans who had been waiting years to see these guys.

Magic Factory

Again, I wandered down to the Golden Dawn stage, and again I was pleasantly surprised by the band on offer. This time it was Magic Factory, a nine-man band that sounded like Beggars Banquet-era Stones and looked like the inbred progeny of Lynyrd Skynrd. Fortunately, that’s just what they sounded like and I loved it.

For a little more rock & roll spice, I caught the very end of The D4’s set, which was a Sake-fuelled aural assault.

Then it was The Avalanches, who were less impressive, unless you were dying to watch someone swing a baseball bats around while singing Guns Of Brixton. I wasn’t.

This led up to the most anticipated part of the day. Grace Jones was due on the relatively small Tamaki stage at 7:45. It seemed that everyone at the festival was trying to squeeze in to get a close look at Ms Jones, which begs the question, why wasn’t she on one of the larger stages.

Grace kept the crowd waiting until they were about to burst. Finally she and her band appeared just after 8pm. Jones, herself, was perched high above her drummer wearing, well, possibly not wearing, much else than some body paint and and a very cool headdress/mask.

The first song was Bowie and Iggy’s Nightclubbing, which of course Grace has made completely her own.

“Do you feel alive?” she asked the crowd after the first tune and how could you not in the presence of such an iconic performer.

She then followed with This Is, from her excellent 2008 album, Hurricane. As they set progressed, Grace would disappear off to the side of the stage after each song, still singing or talking to the crowd, then reappear with one amazing new outfit after another. Actually, her basic body-painted torso remained the same, but it would be adored with different headgear or capes or whatever she had in her wardrobe. Needless to say, it all looked fabulous.

But what impressed me was the quality of her vocals. She never hid behind the two backing vocalists, and was clearly in control of everything happening on stage for start to finish.

At the end of My Jamaican Guy she insisted that the band pick up the beat again because, as she said, “I really like that jam…I just wanted to hear it a little longer”.

That’s something we all wanted…to hear Grace a little longer.

But after a narcotic Love Is The Drug and an extended Pull Up To The Bumper…complete with a very agile male pole dancer…Grace was gone.

She had only performed for about 55 minutes and it felt like she was just getting started. I don’t know why her appearance was delayed but I do know that everyone in that crowd wanted more. When the next band, Peking Duk started up, they made one of the most ungodly noises I have heard from a stage, causing people to literally run from that area of the venue.

Clearly, Grace Jones should have been the closing act, as no one could follow her.

That became even more apparent during Beck’s set.

To his credit, Beck was doing his best…playing old favourites like Devil’s Haircut and Loser…and he had an awesome band including Jason Falkner and Roger Manning (of Jellyfish). But he never managed to connect with the audience no matter how he tried.  Even a rendition Of Prince’s Raspberry Beret seemed to fall flat.

It didn’t help that French band Phoenix, who were playing on the lower stage, could be heard loud and clear up on the Spark Stage.

Beck finally gave in to the competition from Phoenix, eventually urging his own band to join in with the Frenchmen. This then led to a long, drawn out band introduction that included snippets of songs such as The Stones’ Miss You, Gary Numan’s Cars and, best of all, Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime. But after that Beck seemed to give up, going back to playing What It Is a second time, and then abandoning the stage while Phoenix could still be heard down below.

Grace Jones would have never allowed herself to be upstaged by anyone.

In the end, Grace’s performance was not only the clear highlight, but it seemed to serve as a taster for a more complete show. Grace herself mentioned that she’d like to come back. Let’s hope someone brings her back quickly!

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Reuben Raj:

Grace Jones set list:

  1. Nightclubbing
  2. This Is
  3. Private Life
  4. Warm Leatherette
  5. My Jamaican Guy
  6. William’s Blood
  7. Amazing Grace
  8. Love Is The Drug
  9. Pull Up To The Bumper

Beck set list:

  1. Devil’s Haircut
  2. Black Tambourine
  3. The New Pollution
  4. Que Onda Guero
  5. Mixed Bizness
  6. Raspberry Beret
  7. Wow
  8. Loser
  9. E-Pro
  10. Up All Night
  11. Where It’s At
  12. Band intros: Good Times, Miss You, Once In A Lifetime, Cars, Takin’ It To The Streets
  13. Where It’s At