The Bats – Nivara Lounge May 19, 2017

When you consider the longevity of bands, some change their sound every album, be it through restlessness or dictated by trends and a deep seated fear of becoming irrelevant. Others choose to stay within the basic confines of their original style, deviating subtlety and carefully only when it suits them.
As artists, The Bats are very much the latter. Legend has it that they were the catalyst for Roger Shepherd to establish Flying Nun Records, which eventually became synonymous with the Dunedin Sound of the 1980s. In many ways, The Bats epitomised the jangly lo fi sound that merged the elegantly dishevelled sound of The Velvet Underground with the poppy choruses of The Beatles and went on to influence Mudhoney, Lou Barlow and Pavement.

Now some thirty years later, the four piece have crafted nine albums that have relied on pliable basslines that let flashes of guitar burst through charmingly written lyrics delivered with a bittersweet bite- none more so than their latest record The Deep Set, which they are currently touring.

I managed to catch them last night in Hamilton’s Nirvara Lounge.  Despite having a large student population, it seems that when you take out the halcyon days of the late 80s/early 90s metal/pub rock/indie scene Hamilton has struggled to maintain a steady live music scene unless you knew where to look or were really into Hamilton bands.

But of late, there has been something of resurgence in musicians stopping over in the city or general area, thanks to the likes of The Nirvara Lounge, Yot Club, Hamilton Underground Press and Future City Festival (which had an excellent line up) offering some diversity of bands geography and sound  alongside Hamilton’s well-respected hardcore and punk scene.

I was initially concerned that the low ceilings of the Nirvara Lounge would result in some compressed acoustics a la The Studio in Auckland, but I was pleased to be proven wrong throughout The Bats’ hour and a half performance.

Their set proved to be, well, a deep set.  It showed off The Bats’ innate sense of melody and indie-pop smarts, seamlessly blending new and old material. The live strings added a hauntingly gothic tinge to certain songs and worked as a clever juxtaposition to the jangle. To the delight of the crowd, some songs hadn’t been played in 20 years, including Tragedy, Round And Down and Miss These Things.

As a quartet, they were effortlessly dreamy, but it was underpinned by a comfortable authority. Highlights included the perpetually popular North By North and lead single for The Deep Set, Antlers.

The album as a whole has highlighted a shift in maturity for Scott’s songwriting.  The Deep Set was recorded in The Sitting Room in Lyttleton  it has hosted other indie darlings Marlon Williams, Adolus Harding, Nadia Reid and The Eastern. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this as I observed the bodies crammed onto the mismatched couches and chairs on the outskirts of the dance floor. With a maximum capacity of a little over 100 people, it felt like a glorified house party with bar staff which suits intimate bands like The Bats wonderfully well. Based on setlist and live ability alone, Aucklanders are undoubtedly in for a treat when The Bats take to the stage later this evening.

The only gripe about the evening is one that has been following me around consistently of late.

As I took the photos that you see here (we were down a photographer) and notes on my dimmed to the maximum phone to help write this piece, a woman would periodically yank my arm and tell me to get off my phone and then something else about millennials not living in the moment.  This was despite me literally spelling out to her “I’m a reviewer” in the first instance.

Here’s the thing- all writers have a different process. I for one take notes about pretty much every aspect of the concert- from the crowd to the shoes the bassist is wearing- to help jog my memory and write a review that I hope is coherent and considered. Intermittent photos and videos help too- and before you ask, yes I manage to squeeze appreciative dances into every gig I’ve been to. Other reviewers type their reviews into an email ready to send off as the last note is played, or record the entire show to listen to and jog their memory at a later date.

But perhaps more to the point, why do we need to justify how we spend our time at concerts to strangers? Even if I wasn’t a reviewer and just Snapchatting my friends, why should anyone else care how I choose to celebrate a fun night of live music? Having a chat about the music is great, welcomed even, but impeding on a strangers personal choices only takes both parties “out of the moment.” Plus it ruins photographs. Live and let live.

Kate Powell

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