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Live Photos + Review: The Beths - The Powerstation, Auckland

Live Photos + Review: The Beths - The Powerstation, Auckland

Photography by Connor Crawford / Review by Ali Nicholls / Monday 13th July, 2020 9:00AM

The Beths were the first band I ever reviewed. I hadn’t listened to their album when I returned home to Auckland in 2019 after a stint of trying to fit into the Wellington indie niche during my university years, and almost all that I knew of Auckland’s music scene was pieced together from a collection of semi-lucid memories of sweaty underage punks on winter nights at the Mt Eden scout hall. The Beths played The Hollywood Avondale to a fairly predictable crowd of lefty, lanky Grey Lynn dwellers and Wine Cellar regulars, and absolutely blew me away.

Their precision and authenticity on the stage mirrored their freshman album Future Me Hates Me to a tee, and as my friend affectionately put it, their music really did sound like K Road. Not the beats of the open club doors or the hollering across the street or the incessant road works that ignite the street, but the community. More specifically the trust, and the love, that draws in so many radical creatives and spits out fresh artistic directions left right and centre.

Having listened to Jump Rope Gazers, the sophomore album that The Beths are embarking on their release tour of, I was going in to the night with mixed feelings. If it has demonstrated anything, their latest album showed that Liz Stokes’ exceptional skill as a songwriter and lyricist can be reliably met by the highly trained and driven talent of the band members. But as can often be the case with sophomore releases, Jump Rope Gazers seemed to be a bit on the conservative side. It has some banging tracks for sure, including their two singles ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’ and ‘Dying to Believe’, but this album didn’t bring much by way of fresh perspective to the table.

There’s perhaps more brooding introspection, a more pulled back and contained expression with a finely tuned sound, but for the most part this album could really come at any stage in the life cycle of The Beths to date. And it should be noted that this isn’t necessarily to its detriment, as fans of The Beths’ sound will no doubt find so much to love in this release. But I was left with an appetite for something more, and was both hopeful and sceptical as to whether I’d find my satisfaction on the sold-out Powerstation dancefloor.

The Beths invited newcomers in the Auckland indie scene, Phoebe Rings, to open their show. To my genuine shock, lead vocalist and synth master Crystal Choi announces that this is their second show. Alex Freer aka AC Freezy brings the beat on drums, with Simeon Kavanagh-Vincent on guitar and percussion, and Benjamin Locke holding down the bass.

Their dreamy sound is littered with the syncopation and flowing modal movements of Blue Note jazz matched seamlessly with the effortlessly tight summer sounds of city pop. Beths bassist Ben Sinclair joins for a cheeky clarinet solo, showing off the skills that got him through jazz school and elevating the sound of Phoebe Rings into the territory of ethereal beauty.

They blow the crowd away with their intuitive yet well rehearsed set featuring tracks that will showcase on their as-yet unreleased EP. (Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming shows folks, you don’t want to let these fellas pass you by.)

The Beths are greeted to the joyous applause of a lively crowd that seems to have flocked in from as far as Mt Albert (although as Jonathan Pearce jokes on stage, presumably all by bike). There’s a lot of love in the room and Liz, nervous as she is, dishes out her signature stumbling stage banter with gratitude. 'I’m Not Getting Excited' rips through the heartwarming fuzziness of their welcome, and the track goes off like a fire cracker. The mosh is as lively as one can expect from an enthusiastic flock of Green party voters in their late 20s at 10pm on a Friday night, and the sound is nearly indistinguishable from the album.

I hold my reservations carefully. On the one hand, I’m really not taken aback by their live presence. It’s exactly as I expected. But I’m not certain that’s necessarily a bad thing. Their sound is faultless, the atmosphere is lush, and everyone in this room is having a blast. I teeter on the edge of judgement before I’m flung from the cliffside by the familiar peeling guitar riff of ‘Whatever’ from Future Me.

In the moment, I feel like I’m back at The Hollywood. Back in a time before Covid-19 lobbed a spanner into the churning cogs of our social networks, before the fascist grip of the US police state set Minneapolis ablaze with anguish and revolution, before Hong Kong was wrenched from its citizens and tossed into the tumbling vortex of state surveillance and governmentality. Before it felt like the world might never be the same. Like we might never be the same. But in that moment, I realised that what really mattered hasn’t changed. We still love, we still celebrate, we still dance, and we make the most of every moment we can.

The Beths' set rolls out a collection of throwbacks and fresh numbers. ‘Idea / Intent’ is followed by the classic ‘Future Me Hates Me’ and 'Great No One.’ ‘Just Shy of Sure’ and ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ from the new album pull the crowd back a little with their gentler sound, only to push us back up with ‘Uptown Girl’, the most lively number in the set. ‘Don’t Go Away’ offers us the first obvious, if fleeting, flourish of improvised distortion during the closing breakdown which the crowd is happily tangled up in.

‘Happy Unhappy’ and ‘Out of Sight’ bring us to the closing numbers ‘Dying to Believe’ and ‘Little Death’, two tracks that really encapsulate the sound of The Beths and keep the crowd revelling. Every track pushes out another wave of appreciation to the crowd, and in its tide pulls back applause and celebration and demands for more. Despite the tracks across the years blending together, the set flies by. The encore ‘You Wouldn’t Like Me’ harks back to The Hollywood set with the song that opened their show, and closes tonight with masterful precision.

The Beths are a guaranteed exceptional show. They have without a doubt mastered their craft and their sound. Now we can hope that they really push themselves and us to the edge of their ability, strike out, bring something new and jagged and invigorating and driving in their future sound. But for now, this show is the perfect way to celebrate what is, in the wake of what has been. Another stellar night from Liz and the gang, and one to surely get amongst (by bicycle only). – Ali Nicholls

Click on the thumbnail images below to view a full gallery of Connor Crawford's snaps of Saturday night's show...

The Beths
The Beths
The Beths
The Beths
The Beths
The Beths

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