Home Brew performed two nights at Auckland’s Powerstation. The 13th Floor’s Jeff Neems returned to the scene of previous crimes and filed this report. Photos by Hamish Graham.
Now this was more like it.
Last week, I ventured to the Powerstation to check out American rapper Earl Sweatshirt.
You can read my words on that show here. It was, to put it kindly, underwhelming.
Six nights later, and the adjectives are far more positive when describing Home Brew.
I must admit, I’m late to sup from the Home Brew cup. Although I’ve been asked for the group’s music several times while DJing, I’ve never really paid it any attention. I’d seen the prices of the Home Brew vinyl climb into the several hundreds, a reflection of the limited pressing runs and the demand for what is actually some damn fine product.
The group – really more a collective of friends – is ably led by rapper and poet Tom Scott, and beatmaker Haz Beats. Last night, the duo were joined by an ensemble cast of musicians forming a full band, plus a smattering of MC and singer pals to produce what may just be the show of the year.
Rattling through a near two-hour set, carefully curated by main-man Tom – quickly becoming a spokesman for a generation – Home Brew played to rapturous applause and recognition at the Powerstation, delighting fans who quite literally knew almost every word to the vast majority of songs.
People in the crowd rapped along with Tom and his energetic pals, yelling in delight at a menagerie of tunes from Home Brew and his other musical outings, including @Peace and Young, Gifted and Broke.
My Johny-come-lately fandom does leave me a tad exposed in writing this review – a few of the tunes were vaguely familiar – Alcoholic. Bourbon and Coke – but the vast majority felt entirely new. Yes, In got a copy of the recently reissued Fruit and Vegies album, and I really should’ve paid it more mind in the few weeks I’ve had it.
Personal failures and lack of knowledge aside, this was a hell of a show.
The band – horns, keys, drums, guitar, bass – is superbly tight, laying a gorgeous bed of sound for Tom’s witty and thoughtful social commentary, punctuated as it is with plenty of references to getting wasted.
In fact, Home Brew has become so synonymous with intoxication, fans passed their green goodness up on to the stage for Tom and Haz to sample, while the two lead characters themselves deliver almost satirical odes to mind-altering substances of their choosing.
But it’s important not to pigeon-hole Home Brew (or the other projects represented last night) as music to get blunted too.
This stuff is bloody intelligent, thought-provoking and astute. Politics, society, poverty, NZ pop culture and online community references… it’s all stirred together in the Home Brew pot to superb effect, and it leaves a strong taste in the mind afterwards. Vocalist Esther Stephens produced soulful vocals which very nearly stole the show.
Admittedly, there were times it got a little ragged and weird. One jam morphed into something Pink Floyd with be proud of, with Tom doing his unique drunken-stumble-dance around the stage. A new single – I didn’t quite catch the name – nodded to electro-soul, and probably pushed the audience beyond their musical comfort zone.
But those are very minor quibbles.
I remember when hip hop music first burst into the NZ consciousness back in the 1980s.
We used to look offshore for our rap influences back then.
There’s no need to do that now. The best there is in performance and recorded hip hop is right here, representing Auckland and speaking for a generation. It’s smart, it’s sassy, it’s funny and it’s memorizing.
And I, for one, really should have paid my dues much earlier.
A truly outstanding performance by collective of musicians who’re led by one New Zealand’s shining creative talents, who’s not scared to say what he thinks and tell it like it is.
– Jeff Neems
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