Wellington’s Coastella Festival 17 February 2018

Small, but perfectly formed, The Coastella Festival returned to Paraparaumu on Saturday and Wellingtonians, who’d been hanging out for their own festival for years, turned out in their numbers for The Black Seeds, The Young Folk, Nadia Reid, Mermaidens, Anthonie Tonnon and a dozen more local and international acts.

The day opened with an overcast but muggy 23 degrees, with the sun fighting through Cyclone Gita’s advance party.  She’d already brought a little rain earlier in the day but there was no more on the horizon – at least that’s what we thought.  We arrived about 1.00PM and were treated to a selection of school bands performing in the Southward’s Auditorium.  The great thing about this venue is that the floor can be raised, flattened out and the seats packed way to make it a more intimate bar-like space. I think some of the younger performers, some only 13 years old, would have appreciated this less intimidating environment. We got a short-song taste from Kapiti’s Birds Make Me Nervous, a 6 piece featuring 3 budding guitarists and a trio, MC2, two very talented young ladies singing beautiful harmonies, accompanied by another blossoming guitarist.

The lure of coffee took me towards the smell of freshly ground beans.  And down by the food vans I found a small stage, really an oversized shoebox, the tiny Curbside Cabaret. Christening the bards was covers band Jeep Road, who gave us a bluesy covers including a very gnarly Lou Reed number.

Opposite, way down beyond an immense ornamental lake was the Coastin’ Dell Stage.  This is where Gypsy brass group Niko Ne Zna were firing up the growing crowd. The band encouraged sing-a-longs and a even spot of rain dancing as the clouds rolled back in, especially when the band’s best known song, Čaje Šukarije, kicked into high gear.

The first of the bigger acts started up on the main stage, known as the Ampitheatre – a great spot set on the far lawn. Following a heartwarming mihi and welcome from local Iwi, Nga Uri Taniwha, Japanese ‘blues’ outfit George and Noriko played a blend of old school slide guitar and Japanese banjo. Noriko plucks her instrument frantically, along to the pounding rhythm of George’s one man band act.  He plays his guitar with a slide across his knee, feet on a kick drum and cymbals and interspersing with harmonicas.  They nailed a number of songs from their new CD, including a very dirty version of Howlin’ Dog Boogie and Queen of the Underground and finished with the classic Shake Your Money Maker.

Sadly, Nadia Reid‘s gig on the Dell was hindered by multiple breakdowns with a damp generator.  She’d brought along a three piece for the occasion and they were sounding great, but after losing power for a third time she stated “If it happens again, I’ll say bye bye.”  Unfortunately, the equipment was not playing ball – and that as they say, was that.

On the plus side we got to hear more of the country-meets-jazz meets folk of the Frank Burkett Band as we shuffled over to the Curbside Cabaret, which was definitely too small for him.  At over 6 ft his head crashed into the top of the canvas roof, creating a comically small dent in the ceiling and a bit of an impromptu water feature out of the puddles left by rain earlier in the day. I particularly enjoyed Work So Hard and his ode to lawyers and talking heads Too Much Noise.  I’ve seen him before as part of the So Far project and recommend checking him and his band.

Louis Baker‘s set, thankfully, was not affected by weather or equipment.  He and his five piece shooed away the rain and the blues.  Kicking off with Even In The Darkness they had the people moving  from the first beat.

My person fav’s of the day were Mermaidens, who found the power was fully restored to the Dell stage by the time they made it on.  Lucky, because their brooding, pscho-electric set doesn’t really work acoustically.  “You’re the only reason I came!” shouted a voice in the audience.  Shyly, they blushed away the compliment and got on with playing.  We got Sunstone and Satsuma and other gems from their album Perfect Body.  The dedicated crowd was a mix of teens and older ‘vinyl heads’, and maybe a few ‘Dads’ all trance-swaying slowly.

Sadly, I had to divide my time between Mermaidens and Anthonie Tonnon, so I didn’t get to see the whole set.  Tonnon was performing on the indoor Pecha Kucha stage.  This is a concept where artists get a quick turn of only 30 minutes.  Like the presentation concept it gets its name from they have to be quick to hit the spot.   DJ/Producer Olmecha Supreme, who will fill dance floors later in the evening at the after party, gave a popular ‘workshop’ on producing and beat boxing in the morning. Dipping into his new EP, Two Free Hands, Tonnon showed us his own brand of cerebral electronica with a simple keyboard, a few pedals and some jerky robotic dancing.

Back down at the Curbside Cabaret, Aussie troubadour Jordy Lane and the Sleepers were jammin’ up his own upbeat brand of Americana – more like ‘Australiania’ with a folkie twist.  Don’t think Slim Dusty, though.  More Paul Kelly.  Because he was on at the same time as two others I only caught his very neat and slightly twee rendition of You Are My Sunshine which broke out into a few bars of All Along the Watchtower half way through.  It was timed perfectly as the clouds broke away and the sun came out in full, remaining for the rest of the afternoon.  Thanks, Jordie.  Finishing up he pulled out his new, and now well worn single Black Diamond about a girl from a coal mining town.

Also, on the come back list are needs to be Coastella’s new favorites The Hot Potato Band.  Hailing from Sydney this 10 plus brass crew mixed up super funky soul and occasional rock with modern threads.  Imagine Louis Baker was leading the Salvation Army Band, having been trained by Quincy Jones and you’re halfway close.  With his good looks and satin vocals singer Ben Goldsmith had every heart in the front row – mainly young girls who’d flocked to see him.  But we can’t discount Max Mallen-Cooper’s crazy antics, jumping into the audience to blow his trombone and generally getting down with it all over the shop.  And then there was Daniel Moore’s sousaphone pogo stunts.  If you came to see a festival band, you got it!  They grooved and jived and had everybody on their feet singing Mama Don’t Want No Hot Potato Around Here (a good reason for a jam if ever there was) and the classic When The Saint Go Marching In.

I had to split my time between My Baby and Glass Vaults.  Glass Vaults jammed six big men and their instruments onto the Curbside Cabaret, looking they were standing on a doll’s house veranda.  They had three more than the usual team (including the also very tall percussionist Ben Levy from Trinity Roots) to flesh out the sound.  They looked uncomfortable but were simply wonderful, playing plenty of promised funky ‘Braingasm’ music from The New Happy record, also well as older stuff.  I’m pretty sure I spotted material from Sojourn, Into The Clear and the Bright ep in there somewhere.

Amsterdam-based My Baby mix psychedelic sounds, African and Indian beats and other dance grooves with guitars, violin and drums and added a lil’ world groove to the festival. Regulars in this part of the world, they did a set at the 13th Floor last year, including Love Dance, which totally went off tonight.  The energy coming off the stage was great – a flurry of paisley and dread-reggae colours, based and samples had me in full on boogie mode. Daniel ‘Dafreez’ Johnston must have been watching Wrecking Crew videos when he learned about playing ‘tight.’ Doost van Dicjk put in some extra time on his funky drumming and his sister Cato was a real charmer behind the mic.

In a way, Coastella is like a little slice of WOMAD – a family festival, with a local flavour and a bit of world music sprinkled here and there.  There were heaps of kids around, some dancing but many more playing nearby.  A group of boys had struck up an impromptu soccer game on a far corner of lush grass and their sisters and cousins were having rolly-polly races down one of the embankments.  Their parents were also enjoying kai from a range of local vendors, craft beer and even some boutique gin. And if you’d forgotten to dress up, there was a free salon that would spray you up in glitter and hairspray, maybe adding a soft toy or two to your new ‘do’ for extra effect.

One act we missed was Dublin’s Young Folk, who were on during other acts. Here’s hoping they will make a return to New Zealand so we can get another chance.

The night finished with the irrepressible Black Seeds.  Local heroes, the crowd, young and old rushed the stage.  Younger members created a mosh pit at the front, while their parents stayed at the back.  Frontmen Barnaby Weir and Daniel Wheetman were in fine form, celebrating 19 years together with a solid set of classics and new tunes. They opened with Cool Me Down and Better Days followed by, as well as stonking versions of Back To You and Everybody Knows.  The night finished with a good omen, So True, one of the band’s signature tunes, at 9.30 PM.

The more energetic ones stayed for the afterparty featuring Rhombus.  I had a story to file and a pillow to hit.  This was my first Coastella but I’ll be back.  Weather be damned, it was great event.  And better still, as a proud Wellingtonian I can say: It was ours!

Review by Tim Gruar

 Click any photo to see a gallery of Coastella images from McKenzie Jennings-Gruar