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July 7, 2008 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Live Review: An Emerald City

EP Release at Happy
with Date With Doom (Silenzio) and Connan Mockasin
Saturday 28th June

I first saw Auckland based band An Emerald City at WOMAD 2008, where they were one of the stand out local acts – the only New Zealand band there that had looked further than folk, blues or dub for their influences. While they seemed slightly out of place playing alongside the very foreign artists they borrow from, it was clear that An Emerald City’s music was intelligent, unique and inspiring. Their June 28th gig at Happy bar was one I had to catch, just in case they get popular in the next few months and starting writing crap music. It happens.

First off, Connan Mockasin and his assembly of musicians treated the audience to an unadvertised set of slow-burning, understated but masterfully played pieces. Most noticeable about their set was how quiet it was compared to the average bar gig. The electric instruments were turned right down low and Connan sang without a microphone. With only a guitar, drum kit, a few extra percussion instruments and sometimes a bass, Connan and co proved that you don’t need to have lots of effects pedals, volume, instruments, or even to play that many different notes to create exciting and beautiful music.

Following Connan was Date With Doom. I’m still in two minds about them. They’re the kind of band that seem like they should be good – it’s full of NZSM-educated musicians who are familiar faces in the Wellington music scene. Most of the instruments work together well, the saxophone and cello lending the songs a quirky flourish. But there’s something that’s not quite right about Date With Doom that seems to hold them back from being as awesome as they could be. It’s hard to pick out what’s wrong, but it might be their frontman. His guitar work is inoffensive but bland; his voice is tuneful enough but his vocal style sounds oddly forced. And he sings in an American accent – a convention that’s long past its due date in this country.

The whole set was reminiscent of Wellington’s OdESSA, the least funky funk band around, who suffer from a similar lack of honesty and naturalism, particularly on record. But despite the unease, there were times during Date With Doom’s set when everything fitted together and there was a real sense of something special being created.

An Emerald City was the last act and they were utterly sublime. They are set to become the darlings of critics throughout the land, who will doubtless be at a loss to describe their sound and end up inventing a new genre in which to place it. As it happens, An Emerald City fit more or less under the ‘post-rock’ label (itself a phantom genre invented by music journalists). Their songs sound something like the middle bits in Led Zeppelin or Doors songs: the freak-out, climactic jammy parts that represent those artists’ most experimental and often most impressive work. It’s as if An Emerald City took these parts and expanded on them, and never got round to making an actual ‘song’ to fit them in to. The result feels like eating dessert without dinner – going straight to the good bits without having to sit through the rest of the song.

Much fuss has already been made of An Emerald City’s incorporation of foreign instruments and musical elements in to their sound, but it’s not so much the presence of these things as the masterful way they are combined with more familiar material that makes the band worth listening to. The conventional drumkit, the electric guitar and some of the song structures subtly prevent the music from sounding too clever for its audience, and the exploration of more exotic material sounds earnest and almost naive. Again, it’s like a continuation of the work begun in the sixties by Led Zep, George Harrison et al; venturing in to the vast realms of Eastern and other foreign music while taking care to still make sense to a Western audience.

The band were joined for one song by the vocalist Sheba, who gave eerie improvised moans and wails while transfixing the audience’s eyes with her poised, sensuous and exotic stage presence. By contrast the band’s visual presence was slightly shambolic – the violinist looked like a nerdy classical music student and the Persian lute player looked like a deranged gypsy. Messiness on stage can often be irritating, but for this band it worked. It gave the impression of humbleness, as though they were just as awed by their music as the audience was.

An Emerald City are definitely worth your time and your ten bucks if you ever have the chance to see them play, and I’d be willing to bet money that their just-released EP is amazing too. I always seem to lose bets though, so maybe you shouldn’t listen to anything I say.


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  1. ninto snow says:

    whoever wrote this article and ripped date with doom’s front man into pieces might want to have a sit back and learn firstly about music and secondly about music journalism. it sounds like there is a bit of a personal issue on the boat. it’s sad when reviews sound unprofessional. american accent = 0. oddly forceful vocals? and odessa? i have never before felt so unsettled after reading a review. it’s not funk lady, it’s soul. and it’s darker then yours.

  2. sid says:

    I think it was an accurate description of Date with Doom and if you think thats ripping someone ‘into pieces’ then you should read the Jimmy Stearn review.

    Of course if you can do better, please write a review. I’m sure we’d all love to read it and see what you know about music journalism, Ninto.

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