Homegrown – Wellington Waterfront April 7, 2018

Now in its 11th year, Homegrown has rightly earned its iconic status, alongside Laneway, Rhythm & Vines, the former Big Day Out and Splore, among others.  It’s also the best way to see the greatest number of Kiwi bands all in one place.  So, did it live up to the reputation?  Tim Gruar packed a rain jacket, his notepad and his camera to head along and find out.

For years, I’ve wanted to go and check out this festival but the dates always clashed with other work.  Scheduling it one week after an early Easter was perfect.  I was a bit wary of the date, though, being so late in the Capital’s calendar, as this is the time of the year that the trade winds start to pick up and everything gets a bit unpredictable.  For some gigs that wouldn’t be a problem but Homegrown’s location on the harbour side does leave it exposed to the to the elements – especially the Northerlies.  On the plus side, everything is well spread out and not as cramped as some festivals, like Laneway was at its old location in Silo Park.  It’s a long, snake like site, meaning plenty of walking to get between gigs – from the Rock Stage at the TSB Arena all the way down to the Dub & Roots Stage located at Waitangi Park, almost ½ km away.  Shame I couldn’t pack a scooter to nip between shows.  And having to go through bag check to line up at at every stage was a bit monotonous, given that you can drop in and out of the Festival sites at multiple points.

Having so many stages spread out meant having a bit of a tribal approach to the schedule and it was almost impossible to see every act.  Most people tended to hover between the two big stages and the smaller feeder stages like the Electronic Stage (EDM acts) next to the ‘Dub’ or the new City Stage (mainstream and pop) and the Lab (Hip Hop and Urban) on the ‘Rock’ side.  It was kind of like radio channels – pick your preferences, tune in and lock in.  Even the supporting radio stages had their respective tents on site to reinforce that point.

Weather wise, it was four seasons in one day.  Sun, rain. hot, cold.  So that determined where I went and what I saw.  Many others, no doubt, did the same.  The festival opened with all five stages offering up something different.  I caught the start of Christchurch new-comer Theia, on the Lab Stage.  This was her first Homegrown and was clearly happy to be here, especially as a few fans were singing along to her hits like Treat You.  I jumped over to the Rock Stage, in the TSB area a, which was still dark, cavernous and pretty empty.  After all it was only 1.00PM and most of the Rock crowd were probably still in bed.  For those who made it, Dead Favours put on a great show of good meat’n’potatoes pub rock fodder.  I was definitely impressed by their energy, thinking that one day they might take on Emo drama kings Villainy, who played later in the afternoon.  Vocalist Jared Wrennall was really enjoying himself, throwing classic rock shapes and belting out numbers like Dig and High Flying with force.  If you get to see Royal Blood when the tour shortly, be sure you are early enough to catch Dead Favours when they open the gig.  I think it’ll be worth it.

Back on the City Stage, another new face, Ciaran McMeeken, was swooning the young ladies with his ‘inner Adele’, as he called it.  He might be a pretty boy but he can sing, too.  I was only passing through but I really enjoyed his new single Someone Like You.  With just a guitar, and occasional backing band, I half wondered if McMeeken might be our version of Ed Sheeran.  Time will tell, I guess.

On right after McMeeken was the super young Nomad.  You’ve got to hand it to the Homegrown organisers, they really do invest in up and coming talent.  These boys had just done their NCA!  Also, hailing from Christchurch (isn’t everyone these days?), this 5-piece showed us the benefit of having parents with a big record collection: a bit of blues, some funk, rock and plenty of boy-band influences.  Their two tunes Oh My My and Love Will Call didn’t float my boat but then I’m not their target audience.

Behind the City Stage rapper Diaz Grimm was mixing up some wild alchemy.  Mr Grimm has been a staple of the Aotearoa Hip Hop scene for some while, even working in the USA with biggies like Eminem.  That experience showed through with his flamboyant showmanship and confidence.  His song Foreigners is even an account of his time working in LA with Mr Shady, himself.  Although it’s really about a Kiwi fish in an American pond, I couldn’t help seeing the parallels to recent immigrant stories both here and in the USA.

Yet another band from the Cathedral City, Decades, were warming up the Rock Stage, when the heavens opened up.  Not really knowing them, I wasn’t planning to hang around but I’m glad I did.  Fronted by Emma Cameron, who is a powerhouse vocalist, the band is guitarist Liam Muir, drummer Daniel Perry and the monster presence of the very hairy bassist Curtis Booth.  Their sound is more pop that rock – all be it, delivered with a gale force attitude.  Check out their single The Truth, a highlight for me.  A surprise cover, the Cranberries’ Zombie came as a tribute to the great Delores O’Riordan but also to all women in rock.  A well placed sentiment.

One of the more ‘interesting acts’ was Deadbeat (aka Blindspott’s Shelton Woolright), who played along to the best mix tape you’ll ever hear.  His sick beats were pounded out in time to a remix of Gun’n’Roses, Beyoncé, Public Enemy and virtually everything in between.  Face painted up like some kind of Hip Hop Halloween act he was both a cartoon and a frightening reality.  Still there’s no denying – the guy can play!

It was good to see Hollie Smith back and sounding true to form on the City Stage, belting out a selection from her back catalogue.  She reminded us that her debut, Long Player, had just tipped over the 10 year anniversary mark last year.

Returning also, was another hero, P-Money, who crammed the Lab Stage and the dance floor, making beats with turntables and his iMac.  He rocked out all his old tuned along with some clever remixes.  I doubt any of the kids getting down would have caught his early shows back in the day but there was no doubt they knew who he was and respect was in the house for this man!

I took a long walk down to the Dub & Roots Stage, situated at Waitangi Park, about 15 minutes away, where the Marley NZ All Stars had rounded up all the adults at the Festival for a bit of a jam.  Predictably, they were giving a ‘Maori’ flavour to some classic Marley tunes like and the occasional extra like Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up.  On stage I recognised various members from Katchafire (who were playing next); Fat Freddy’s, Blindspott/I am Giant, L.A.B; and assorted legends including Annie Crummer (welcome back to Wellington!).  Usually, I’d avoid something like this as a bit ‘naff’ but I really enjoyed what I saw of their set.

Hoofing it back to the Rock Stage I caught the Feelers doing their own best pub rock.  They were stoked to be back at Homegrown in front of a younger crowd that knew their stuff well.  Sometimes you forget that they are one of the most influential rock acts of recent years.  They whipped through staggeringly good versions of classics like Pressure Man, Venus and Communicate.

Back on the City Stage Che Fu and the Krates were starting off with Chains, followed by some choice cuts from the Navigator album.  I think I may have also caught glimpses of 2D and Lightwork in there as well, alongside the signature tune: Fade Away.

In bright orange Aaradhna and brought her energy, mixing up Indian and Poly-beats and her distinctive vocals.  She made a couple of quips about her reference to ‘Urban Music’ at last year’s Tuis, which went right over the heads of her young audience.  They were there for material from Brown Girl and her big hitter Wake Up, which she gave a bit of a reggae swing to, for variety’s sake.

It was almost impossible to get a glimpse at Stan Walker.  As everyone knows he’s just come back from cancer, so it was no surprise that most of the love was going to be in his room, The Lab Stage.  That was a special time and I even saw a few weepy eyed fans singing along.

Likewise Kings won a few hearts with his down home performance, especially his recent number Don’t Worry Bout It, which everyone was singing back at top volume.

I first saw Villainy in an earlier incarnation, Inverse Order, at a Telecom Christmas party gig when I worked there.  Since making their debut with Shihad’s Tom Larkin their sound has grown huge.  Dressed entirely in white, even his hair, lead singer Neill Fraser has a kind of Emo omni-presence to his performance as he screamed out lyrics like a mad man possessed.  Their set was intense beyond belief.  I really liked their new material, especially the tuneful but grinding onslaught of Raised In The Dark.

“The grown-ups are here now,” quipped Anika Moa, hold a glass of wine and putting on her own unique cartoon mothering voice, “and adults sometimes like a little red wine before they get started.”  It was time for a bit of a sing-a-long on the City Stage and Moa was keen to help out with oldies like Youthful, Good In My Head, Running Through the Storm and I Am The Woman Who Loves You.

Opshop were next, “warming up for Dobbo”, as Jason Kerrison put it.  Truth be told, the four year hiatus has done them good, although not their waistlines.  Opshop were sounding ‘keen as’.  This was quite possibly the best band I’d seen today.  I loved Kerrison’s intensity and dynamism as he performed a mix of songs from their three albums.  In there were favs like Maybe, No Ordinary Thing and, of course the big audience favourite One Day.

I saw a couple of songs from Elemeno-P on the Rock Stage but they were never really my thing.  So I didn’t really get into this band as much as some of my mates did.  None the less, the rest of those at the TSB Arena were keen to enjoy their return to Homegrown and their potential revival, grooving to Verona, S.O.S, and Louder Louder, among other High School favourites.

Promising this was part of their farewell tour, I Am Giant were determined to be remembered.  They put full force into their act, with blinding versions of Minefield, Kiss From A Ghost and Razor Heart Reality – even a sufficiently hard core version of Dragon’s Rain, for good measure.

Sufficiently, warmed up by Opshop, Dave ‘Dobbo’ Dobbyn and his three piece settled in for the City Stage’s last gig of the night.  He was in for the party, pulling out Whaling, Outlook For Thursday, Loyal and Language for the fans to sway along to.  Doing Bliss with the stage’s host Peter Urlich was another special moment.

But if Dobbo was a bit tame to finish on, then Devilskin were the complete opposite.  They brought an arsenal of antics and rock clichés including fireballs, pyros, chainsaws and gargoyles.  The latter performed amicably by the ominous red bearded Martin brothers, Nic and Paul flanked by the metallic stampede of drummer Tony ‘Nail’ Vincent and the evil siren vocals of Jennie Skulander.  Skulander, in particular was enjoying her rock diva role, strutting the stage like a venomous but dangerously witch.  They spat out Little Pills, Violation and Never See The Light alongside lesser known track including Burn.  Even if you’re not into this kind of music, the show is worth seeing for the spectacle alone.  A class act, they are.

By 10.30 PM my feet were killing me. I’d been bouncing between stages since 1 PM.  Along the way I’d missed some iconic performers like DJ Dick Johnson, Dawn Raider Savage and only got a glimpse of my hometown heroes Fat Freddy’s Drop but that’s the nature of a festival like this.  Too much for one day.  I did get to close out with Shapeshifter – yet another Chch outfit – who I’ve not seen on stage for ages.  They focused mainly on tunes from Delta and 2016’s Stars albums.  Their final tunes included In Colour which was beyond epic as it mixed climatic beats with a rainbow avalanche of coloured lighting and on screen imagery.  What a perfect send off to a great day out.  If you were thinking you should’ve been here – you were right!

Tim Gruar

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