Mermaidens – Hollywood Avondale: December 8, 2023

Mermaidens

Mermaidens celebrate the release of their new, self-titled album with a show at Auckland’s suitably-grand Hollywood Avondale theatre. The 13th Floor’s Karen McCarthy and Michael Jeong were there to catch all the action.

I heard ‘em  way before I saw them.

The slightly shabby but loveable old lady that is the Hollywood Picture Theatre in Avondale, west Auckland, was reverberating as I walked across the gas station forecourt and up to the venue just on 8.30pm. No, not headliners Mermaidens ..not yet .. but Gussie Larkin’s former/other band Earth Tongue  just getting underway.

Earth Tongue

The singer/guitarist was game enough to play support for herself – opening up tonight’s proceedings with partner in crime Ezra Simons on drums and vocals. I love a drummer Earth Tonguewho can play hard out and sing at the same time – wondrous multi-tasking.  Together, the Wellingtonians make an almighty racket. I wonder how two people can make so much noise i.e most excellent sound ..  till a man who knows tells me Gussie’s guitar feed goes through a bass feed – or some such thing. Tech wizardry which creates a helluva sound from the duo on stage.

Under stark white light, the pair are belting out doom rock, QOTSA-worthy riffage and rhythms. It’s big sound, impressive. Stop you in your tracks stuff.

Fashion maven Gussie looks to be channelling ‘70s rock chick Suzie Quatro tonight. Shaggy, fringed, haircut. Decked out in slinky silver top and flared trousers, she shreds her guitar hard, in an array of hard rock poses, cutting shapes, out-strutting any male rockstar in the vicinity. I like it.

There is an almost Spinal Tap-like rock anthem. The next number goes all witchy-like. Ezra continues  pounding the drums.

Gussie introduces Nightmare, a song off the new Earth Tongue album which is in the works. Motorhead vibes. Driving, chunky, dense rock music. It’s hard, fast and heavy. Lemmy would approve.

Earth TongueEzra is still monstering the drumkit. Gussie’s vocals go melodic, sweet yet still powerful. It revs up another gear. Like Motorhead meets Sabbath. “Take me back to the nightmare” she sings, “I’d like to live there.”

More rock-tastic guitar shredding. Strobe lights. White light. Red hot. Black magic woman.

“Thanks for coming along early .. awesome,” she tells the sizeable crowd. Awesome indeed.

The Beths Jonathan Pearce is lending a helping hand on stage, and doing sound this evening. Sterling stuff. It’s loud yet crisp. I don’t think the Hollywood has ever sounded so good.

Power Nap

Potted plants are rolled out on stage next for Power Nap, electronic music project of Chris Cudby.

Synthy, spacey dance grooves. Most of the punters have decamped to the garden bar, but a few a ravers remain, in light. He is unassuming but having a good time. ‘80s vibes, something that sounds like Soft Cell, but it’s not, played at 45rpm. Bleepy, synthesizer sounds, proggy keyboards, drum machine, with occasional vocals.

Not my scene, I can’t really describe it, so I’ll let Chris Cudby, in his own words, from a couple of years ago – “Pulsing grooves, catchy and wild keyboard lines, direct from the dome lyrics yelled through a sparkling echoey fog, chopped up samples.”

Yeah ..exactly that.

My fave is a weird cover he does of a Devo song. Strange, but it works.

Mermaidens

Power Nap finally makes way for power trio Mermaidens.

MermaidensGussie returns to the stage with her fuzz pop crew, Lily West on bass and vocals, drummer Abe Hollingsworth, and special guest Louisa Nicklin beefing up the axe attack, and on keys.

Lily kicks off, taking the lead on Sour Lips off the new self-titled album.

Sister brings some Bangles jangle.

They are glam, all clad in red. It’s showtime. The stage is often bathed in red light.

I Might Disappear has a sunnier sound, some crisp drumming, a pop banger with a sweet little guitar solo towards the end.

Dreamy psych-pop vibes for a while. Louisa comes in with a dirty bass line as Lily takes lead vocals again. It’s a slow, chugging number, proggy guitar. Bell-like chiming guitar. Tear It Down off the new LP.  It builds and builds, venturing into Smashing Pumpkins territory before it ends.

Lily’s singing, her vocal performance, is evocative of The Kills/Alison Mosshart. There’s a sweetness and a hardness, a toughness there too. A smile that could quickly turn into a snarl. It’s powerful stuff.

Mermaidens

She and Gussie are formidable musicians, and singers. There is great chemistry. The sharing of vocal duties, the harmonising, the combo is pretty special. The magic formula that comes with years playing together.

And drummer Abe – holding it all down – is having a blast, smiling and laughing throughout. He’s a new dad – maybe it’s sleep exhaustion/delirium. (jokes … congratulations Abe and fam)

Blue stage lights now, Lily again on lead vocals. A languid, floaty number. Something about “moving slowly as the moon”. Dreamy guitar. Hints of ‘60s girl group doo wop. “If you can’t tell, this is the tender part of the set,” Gussie tells us, chuckling.

Comet is next. No drums or bass on this one. Just the two voices, harmonies, gorgeous dreamy layers.

It’s oh so quiet. But not for long.

The rhythm section kicks back in. Cure-like guitars as Gussie rips into it again. Cacophonous. Pedals. Feedback. Grunty guitar goodness.

The band leave the stage briefly – Louisa Nicklin cuts a solitary figure on keyboards, staying to play. Experimental sounding. A brief and interesting interlude.

MermaidensMermaidens return, glad-rags gone, now decked out in double denim. Gussie literally has her denim jacket sleeves rolled up, ready for round two.

Lily’s swaying and singing. Louisa is on BVs and keyboards. It all ramps up. Foolish again brings to mind Alison Mosshart’s veiled menace. Cross this woman at your peril.

The most Earth Tongue-like track follows … dunno the name of it, but a bit like B52s meet Devo. Chant-like vocals. Hi-energy.

Deep cut Coldskin rocks hard. Rolling thunder.

Highly Strung off the new album is another power track.  Louisa Nicklin on percussion for this one, and the most inventive use of cutlery, which she drops effectively on her keyboard for metallic, crashing, tinkling SFX.  “Louisa on knives and forks” as Gussie puts it afterwards.

Soft Energy keeps up the heavy pace. Angular. Punky. Discordant. Dissonance. Duelling guitarists. Loads of reverb and Abe’s rat-a-tat drums. Gussie on lead vocals this one, her distinctive howl. You don’t wanna mess with her either.

She confides she’s watched lots of movies at the Hollywood, and always wanted to play here. The whole band seem genuinely excited and happy to be playing to a packed house in Tamaki Makarau. Firing on all cylinders.

In a brilliantly sexy move, they bring out five young women wearing bomber jackets and jeans for their last song and first single off the new album  I Like To Be Alone.

It’s a velvet-gloved iron fist of a song. A love song with a twist. “With your hand in my back pocket. Keep your hand in my back pocket. You know I like to be alone. Is that so much to ask.”

The quintet of guests line up with their backs to the audience, and hands in each other’s back pockets, a short human chain in denim blue, swaying side to side throughout..

Another energetic Gussie guitar solo sees us out.

The Butts, as she called them, file off as quickly as they came on stage, leaving an indelible memory. Inspired.  A badass gig could we say.

They came. They conquered. Wellington’s turn for a taste of Mermaidens tonight (Saturday, at the San Fran – you lucky, lucky people).

Karen McCarthy

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Jeong:

Mermaidens:

Earth Tongue:

Catch Mermaidens tonight in Wellington:

9 DEC 2023
SAN FRAN, WELLINGTON
Tickets from MOSHTIX