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Review: Henry Rollins - Old St Paul's, Wellington

Review: Henry Rollins - Old St Paul's, Wellington

Review by Scott Weaver / Monday 10th July, 2023 1:23PM

Reviewer Scott Weaver headed along to the sold-out concluding event of Henry Rollins' Good To See You New Zealand Tour, on Saturday at Pōneke's Old St Paul's...

Henry Rollins, a true cultural icon and a pioneer in the punk rock and spoken word scenes, has left an indelible mark on music history. From his groundbreaking work with Black Flag to the influential Rollins Band, Rollins has solidified his place in the annals of punk rock. Renowned for his unwavering intensity, commitment to self-expression, and tireless work ethic, he has become an influential figure in music, literature, and activism.

Personally, my introduction to Rollins' work came through his 1992 album (with Rollins Band), The End of Silence. The raw power and unapologetic honesty of tracks like 'Low Self Opinion' left a profound impact on me, leading me to delve deeper into his earlier material. While Rollins has made it clear that his days of performing music are behind him, his spoken word performances continue to captivate audiences worldwide. With a career spanning decades, he has honed his craft, mesmerising listeners with his eloquence, sharp wit, and incisive social commentary.

Tonight, I had the privilege of witnessing the final show of the current leg of Rollins' 'Good To See You' tour at the illustrious Old St Paul's in Wellington, New Zealand. This historic church, dating back to the late 19th century, provided an exquisite backdrop for Rollins' performance. From the moment Rollins bounded onto the stage, his energy radiated throughout the historic venue. He wasted no time, immediately acknowledging the late start due to confusion over door opening times. This is a man who I believe punctuality is a big deal. But any lingering frustration quickly dissipated as he launched into a frenetic and passionate performance that would hold the audience captive for nearly two and a half hours. He barely stopped for breath the entire time.

Rollins' presence was fascinating. He effortlessly commanded the stage, captivating listeners with his sharp intellect and impassioned delivery. He bared his vulnerabilities, acknowledging his lack of formal education and his advancing years, yet unapologetically defying expectations and proving that wisdom and intensity know no age limits.

Rollins didn't shy away from sharing his thoughts on current affairs, expressing admiration for New Zealand's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and praising former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In contrast, he unleashed scathing criticism on former US President Trump and the anti-science sentiment that permeates American society. It would have been intriguing to witness his reaction to the anti-mandate and anti-lockdown protests that occurred nearby at Parliament House in Wellington the previous year.

Rollins fearlessly confronted gender issues, expressing his frustration and disdain for male attitudes towards women. In a provocative and controversial solution, he proposed allowing women to kill men with guns without facing consequences.

Throughout the evening, Rollins delved into personal and dark subject matter. He spoke openly about his parents, particularly his mother Iris, painting a picture of a neglectful alcoholic. When recounting the details of her death and the collection of her ashes, he referred to her by name, eschewing the typical term 'Mom'. This poignant choice revealed a complex relationship, where resentment and sadness intertwined. Rollins's perspective on death lacked any hint of spirituality, emphasising its finality — a poignant contrast within the confines of the iconic church.

However, Henry Rollins is far from lacking empathy. He possesses a genuine desire for the world to be a better place, and he holds great faith in the potential of the youth. Rollins understands the complexities of human nature, recognising that we are all fallible and susceptible to making mistakes. With an unwavering belief in second chances, he extends compassion and understanding, acknowledging the fragility that resides within each of us.

Humour was interspersed throughout the evening, with Rollins recounting his playful winding up of his manager, Heidi May, and creating moments of levity. These light-hearted interactions added a dynamic touch to the overall intensity of the performance.

Throughout the event, Rollins shared anecdotes that both entertained and challenged. One standout moment was his account of a mentally-ill Finnish fan who managed to breach his stringent home security measures, exemplifying the extreme lengths to which some fans will go to connect with their idols. This story served as powerful reminder of the profound impact Rollins has had on his audience, transcending the stage and forging personal connections.

Critics may dismiss Rollins as overly 'woke', but to do so would be to overlook the depth and nuance of his message. Rollins is not interested in conforming to societal expectations or coddling fragile egos. Instead, he fearlessly embraces his role as a social commentator and provocateur, unyielding in his pursuit of human decency and unwavering in his conviction.

I found Henry Rollins' performance at Old St Paul's to be a powerful and transformative experience, showcasing his unwavering commitment to truth, his fearless exploration of societal issues, and his ability to captivate and inspire the audience, and he sure as hell ain’t no snowflake.

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