live review

Auckland City Limits 2016

Auckland City Limits 2016

March 19 2016
Western Springs, Auckland

Reviewed by Team UTR
21st March 2016

The build up to Auckland City Limits came with a dose of apprehension following the cancellation of a number of festivals over the last six months. Soulfest, Echo Fest and Westfest, all had to pull the plug due to low ticket sales. And tickets to ACL didn’t come cheap. However, with seasoned promoters CRS at the helm, the inaugural City Limits ran like a well-oiled machine.

Despite a somewhat uninspired line-up, Western Springs really is a great venue for a music festival, and any teething issues CRS may have had during the Big Day Out 2014 had been smoothed out and ACL seemed a lot more like an international festival than its predecessor. It was easier to navigate, there were less queues, and adults could freely drink around the grounds rather than being relegated to caged sections. And small touches like the recyclable glasses and bike parking made a big difference. Not to mention the inclusive move of allowing children to the festival. With that in mind, the R18 space curated by local tavern The Golden Dawn was also an awesome choice, creating a spacious and well-coordinated area that allowed people to relax and drink some full strength brew.

While there were some awesome highlights to the festival (Kendrick Lamar, anyone!?!) a stronger line-up will help cement ACL’s identity and make it a successful family-friendly festival for many years to come. We sent out a team of writers to cover some of the musical highlights from the inaugural event and here’s what they had to say….


SHAB ORKESTRA
1.00pm, Golden Dawn

Soaring melodies fly my mind to distant lands while a hypnotic throb grounds my body. Brass instruments swell through the air as suspense builds in the sprawling compositions. My soul would drift right off the low-end weren’t pulsating through my chest so insistently. This is dance music for ether-drifters. Thirty minutes in, both members start chanting in unison in a manner reminiscent of Sun 0))) on an 80s goth/dance buzz; Gregorian but upbeat. This majesty is lost on a few of the more conservative listeners, but those whose minds are open are grinning as they journey through this lush sonic forest. Upon their conclusion the skies open, as if the set was a shamanic rain dance conducted by witch doctors of the brass section to remind festival goers that the bad juju resides even in places you may not expect - Fluffy


KAMASI WASHINGTON
3.30pm, V Energy 2 Stage

I wouldn’t consider myself a huge jazz fan but Kamasi Washington’s fantastic debut album The Epic has been getting regular repeats on my stereo since coming out last year. The saxophonist, who has made his name working with Thundercat and Kendrick Lamar, bought a colourfully dressed six-piece ensemble (including two drummers) with him. And from the get-go it’s a chaotic and beautiful thing. Wave after wave of driving and pulsating freak-jazz. Every member takes a turn to solo and show off their musical prowess, with the highlight being a drum battle of… epic proportions. It probably went above a lot of heads, and I’m not quite sure if I understood it all, but in the moment it was wonderful and a pleasure to watch such talented musicians. A great way to start my day - Ben Coley


ACTION BRONSON
5.00pm - Spark 1 Stage

Action Bronson is a jolly fellow. One can tell he loves a feed as he enquires about the culinary capacity of long-standing Auckland cuisine dealer The White Lady. He signals the end of dull times, bringing the party to the late afternoon singing: “it’s a beautiful day and it’ll be a beautiful night”. The between song banter about self-pleasure was a little too much information for me, but when the beat was on his vocal river flowed strong. He did have the audience eating out of his hand with his slightly-too-cheesy sense of humour. Crowd cam displayed the merry-making and one hat which read: “Big Hips, Four Lips” epitomised the jock mentality which was ever present around the Spark stage. Radio banger ‘Baby Blue’ had a sing-a-long session of thousands of half-cut youngsters as the sun went down and behavioural standards began to descend a slippery slope - Fluffy


DELANEY DAVIDSON
5:15pm Golden Dawn Stage

Even after seeing him impress crowds consistently over the last few years, country-swamp legend Delaney Davidson was a highlight of Auckland City Limits. The mid-afternoon crowd at the Golden Dawn stage were relaxed and mostly engaged, however some were clearly there to enjoy the only area serving full strength alcohol available at the festival. Davidson performed without a band, instead looping and layering gritty guitar percussion, porch board, swampy guitar lines, and haunting rockabilly vocals. The Lyttelton native howled through his set with ease, impressing a mellow, mostly seated crowd with his signature charm and authenticity. Undoubtedly, the high point of his set was a duet with his recent collaborator Nicole Garcia, followed by some classic Americana covers. Massive credit must be paid to Matthew Crawley and the Golden Dawn team who curated an interesting line-up of festival curiosities and eclectic performances. Including an egg-eating comedian, a Luchador burlesque performance, and some of the finest 80s lip synching dancing I have ever seen - Sam Ralston.


THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION
6.30pm, V Energy 2 Stage

The sun sighed over Western park stretching his orange arms around the Auckland City Limits festival. For a small grazing crowd The Phoenix Foundation made a low-key entrance with no fanfare onto the VEnergy2 stage. A refreshing upbeat band of six. Smashing through songs until halfway through, the front man began conversing between tracks with witty, happy humour. Delighting us with vo-coders and reverbs and entertaining antics to jerk us out of the lull and urge us into the night’s adventures. Thankfully the sound problems that were apparent on stage left weren’t an issue for these wonderful entertainers. Favorite tunes of the performance ‘Give up your dreams’, and of course the classic ‘Buffalo’ - Bonni Tamati


THE NATIONAL
8.15pm, Spark 2 Stage

This is my third time seeing The National and it has been impressive to see them rise to stadium headliners. It’s their first show for 2016 and second time in New Zealand since releasing 2013’s Grammy-nominated album Trouble Will Find Me. Most of the set comes off this and previous album High Violet, with a few old favourites and personal highlights from Alligator including ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr November’. Performing on a dark stage with a flashy visual backdrop, The National play their brand of rock with a powerful and nervous energy and slowly build the intensity throughout opening track ‘Sea Of Love’ until it all comes crashing to a cacophonous end with ‘Terrible Love’. It’s flawless and everything I have come to expect from the band. Apart from the group of rabid Kendrick fans chanting through the whole set, it is my personal highlight of the day - Ben Coley


GIRL TALK
8.00pm, V Energy 2 Stage

Pittsburgh "not a DJ" Girl Talk took the big field stage at 8pm, dark enough for his wicked stage set up to really come to life. Giant inflatable shoes and hands cradled the energetic scientist over his computer. Massive video screens all over the stage brought the awesome visual effects to life, and the stage was quickly filled up with some lucky audience members. I have only seen Girl Talk in tiny venues, so I wasn't sure how the energy and intensity of the show would translate. Well, no need to worry about old Gregg! Throughout his set, the crowd got steadily bigger. More and more people running themselves into the crowd as perhaps people who hadn't heard the Mash Up King before realised how freakin’ fun it was. Two party assistants popped in and out controlling balloons and confetti, and perhaps the weirdest of all - toilet paper guns. The sound was actually at a great level - many of the bands at the V Energy stages were just so loud it was hard to deal - but Girl Talks’ unique blend of jams was just right. After what could be a long day for many, Girl Talk really put a smile on everyone's dial, and it was just so much fun dancing around with gay abandon in a field - Rebecca White


MODEST MOUSE
10.00pm, V Energy 2 Stage
Closing the night on the V Energy stages was Modest Mouse, yep, those guys from all that time ago. The assaulting and un-relentless sound level wasn't a great vibe for so late in the evening. The big stages were so very loud all day it seemed to send quite a few away. Add in an underwhelming lighting show, mixed in with some weird banter, Modest Mouse felt a little odd and it seemed as if they were perhaps, flogging a dead mouse. I heard they were rehearsing their stage show in Auckland through the week, and granted there seemed to be about eight of them up there so that would take some shuffling, but it still came off awkward and unenthusiastic. The crowd was fairly small for a closing act, many jammed in across the way for the late Kendrick, but the festival being family friendly attracted a fair amount of older guests, so they were happy enough to relive the late 90s/early 2000s. And ‘Float On’, which they surprisingly dropped mid-set, is a happy wee tune if ever there was one. But sometimes, nostalgia just isn't strong enough to make something as fun as it once was - Rebecca White



KENDRICK LAMAR
9.30pm, Spark 1 Stage

The 8-year-olds I hung out with for the day were most excited about seeing Kendrick Lamar. No. I mean KENDRICK LAMAR! Expressed in a breathy and big eyed way. So here we are: Stadium seats are packed. Standing room only in the pit… and he’s late. It’s nearly 10pm and the band has been set-up and on stage with instruments ready. One guy jumps out of the crowd and attempts to get the stadium to wave their hands in the air. A few good people entertain his efforts. Then KENDRICK LAMAR! He jogs onto stage to Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Can’t hide Love’ which weaves and builds throughout the set. This song has much emotional attachment for me, so from the very beginning I was invested. His free-jazz freestyles were passionate and on-beat. With on point call-and-response which is a sign of a good MC. All the arms in the air throughout his set were also testament to his skill and connection. Sometimes hip-hop acts have a preachy vibe. But similar to Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar was generous and genuine when he spoke, and delivered with his choice of hit tracks. There were some medleys and some hybrid tracks such as ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ that had a rock/jazz feel about it. It was thoughtful and progressive. The track that had my little buddies out their minds dancing was ‘King Kunta’. As we walked up Great North Rd to Surrey Crescent after the show, we held hands under stars and hummed “We gon be alright” and we were - Bonni Tamati


Check out some great photos of the day courtesy of Michael Pharaoh...

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