Category: Pop Culture

REVIEW Incubus – Auckland, March 4

It would be fair to say that I have not been the most committed or loyal Incubus fan.

Actually, it would be accurate to say that they were not my favourite act in the nu-metal movement of the late nineties; I much preferred their peers the Deftones, KoRn and Limp Bizkit, and later Linkin Park. It was all noisy, chunky guitars and a fairly straight-forward drum beat for me.

REVIEW Foo Fighters/Weezer – Auckland, Feb 3

The rain. Oh, lord, the rain.

We arrived at Mt Smart Stadium around 6.15pm and quickly joined the crowd lined up at Gate S, a small gate giving access to the South Stand, an uncovered, seating-only area at the opposite end of the stadium from the large stage set up to house the Foo Fighters and opening act Weezer.

Given past experience with shows at Mt Smart, and as Weezer were starting their set at 6.30pm, we figured that fifteen minutes would be more than enough time to get into the stadium – heck, even if it took a little longer, we’d only miss a song or two. We could live with that.

We didn’t factor in just how odd this little gate was, with only a few lanes at the actual gate causing a massive bottleneck – plus, every single person going into the stadium was being thoroughly scanned with a metal detector, causing further delays. The result was that we didn’t get to our seats until after 7.00pm, having missed the majority of Weezer’s opening set.

Oh, we could hear them from outside in the queue. It sounded like they nailed “My Name Is Jonas”, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind”, among much else. And when we made it inside, they rattled off a string of hits including “Buddy Holly” and a rousing rendition of “Say It Ain’t So”. But it was somewhat bittersweet.

A short break later – and after an unsuccessful hunt for a rain poncho, a warm cup of tea and a spicy Fritz’ Weiner – the Foo Fighters took the stage; this was my fifth time seeing the group live, but first since 2011, and I was extremely excited when they took the stage and opened with “Run”, the lead single from their latest album, Concrete & Gold. I’ve not been a huge fan of Concrete & Gold, but this song – and the second single “The Sky Is A Neighbourhood”, which they played later in the set – both seemed like they were built to excel in a live environment, both sounding great in the stadium atmosphere.

Following “Run”, charismatic lead singer Dave Grohl led his group into a selection of their albums’ lead singles, including “All My Life” (the lead single from 2002’s One By One), “Learn To Fly” (1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose), “The Pretender” (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) and “Rope” (2011’s Wasting Light), before diverting into the Taylor Hawkins-sung “Sunday Rain” – sung as “Saturday Rain”, due to the weather.

To be honest, the set lulled a little from here. The next song was their now-legendary “My Hero” – which I found oddly affecting; I’ve played that song in a handful of bands, so hearing it again in a live setting made me oddly nostalgic for the good old days, and had me thinking fondly of friends back home in Whangarei. But following that, they launched into a string of somewhat forgettable singles, an over-long version of “Breakout”, and a string of half-arsed covers while Grohl introduced the various members of the group, capped off with a rendition of Queen’s “Under Pressure”, with Taylor Hawkins filling the Freddie Mercury role while Grohl played drums and sang the Bowie portion of the track.

It is worth mentioning that – by this point of the evening – I was soaked through to the bone. By the time the Foos launched into “Monkey Wrench”, it was after 10.00pm and I’d been standing in the rain, thoroughly unprotected from the conditions, for around four hours. I was shivering. I was saturated. And as they launched into a fairly downbeat end to their main set, featuring a cover of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” with Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo, I was starting to wish they’d just get on with it.

As the low temperatures of the late night started to set in, I was hoping for something more energetic, and the set-closer “Best Of You” delivered. The band left the stage to massive applause, before returning with a slow version of “Times Like These” and a stadium-shaking performance of the fantastic “This Is A Call”, before capping off with an extremely slowed down version of “Wheels” and a fairly straightforward version of their biggest hit “Everlong” (which you can see below).

Overall, a strong set – not overly different from the last couple of times I’ve seen Foo Fighters live, and there is an element of samey-ness when a band is sticking to their own tried-and-true formula. But it is easy to get past that when the band is as adept at what they’re doing as Foo Fighters are. It was a long (and cold) show, but it was entertaining throughout.

A good night had by all. And as a bonus, the best shower I’ve ever had afterward, too.

Foo Fighters’ latest album, Concrete And Gold, is available now.
Weezer’s latest album, Pacific Daydream, is also available now.

The thing Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2 is missing.

I’m currently in the middle of watching the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe again, in anticipation of Thor: Ragnarok (which opens next Thursday), and just went past one of my favourites in the entire MCU: the original Guardians Of The Galaxy. And I noticed something about that film which was notable – not just because of what it meant to that film, but also notable because it was missing from the sequel, Guardains Of The Galaxy: Vol 2.

Warning: spoilers from both films follow, so watch them before reading on.

The original film was a success both at the box office and with critics, who described it as weird and wonderful, but with a real heart at the centre of everything – and a lot of that heart comes from small character moments: Rocket angrily letting loose about his past, or Drax defending Gamora from Nebula’s insults (“nobody talks to my friends like that”) or the closing scene with Quill opening the gift from his mother.

And we get similar – albeit not so small and subtle – scenes in the sequel: Quill dealing with the death of his mother in a more direct way, Gamora making amends with her estranged sister, Drax revealing more about his past with Mantis, and so on. The Guardians Of The Galaxy films both attempt to bring an emotive aspect to everything, even if it is a little heavy-handed at times.

But I think one character is horribly underserved in the sequel: Groot.

Okay, I know I’m not covering new ground here. Despite the popularity of Baby Groot, I think a lot of fans were probably disappointed that Groot didn’t get to play as big a role on the team as he did in the first film, here relegated to little side missions – arm the bomb, get the fin – instead of being used as a more active member of the team.

Remember how Quill, Drax and Groot have to fight their way through Ronan’s ship, and Groot got to fight off a number of henchmen through his sheer power? Yeah, he doesn’t get to do anything like that in the sequel.

In fact, I think there are three brilliant, and touching, Groot scenes in the first film which don’t have a match in the second – and it is that, combined with the fact that Vol 2 super-sizes everything on the emotional side of things, which is completely, and very noticeably, missing.

The first scene is shortly after the group arrives on Knowhere: the team disembarks from the Milano, and a small girl approaches Groot out of sheer curiosity – and Groot bends down, innocently smiles at the girl, and produces a flower from the palm of his hand, which he picks off and gently hands to the girl.

The second scene is after the team crash-land on Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster; emerging from their craft, Drax laments how dark the interior of the ship is. Groot opens his arms wide and reaches upward, producing glowing spores from his body that light the way through the ship for his friends.

The third scene is near the end of the film, when the team realises that the Dark Aster is going to crash into Xandar: while the rest of the group bicker over what to do, Groot calmly scoops them up and creates a ball of intertwining sticks and foliage which will protect them on impact. Rocket laments his actions, saying “Groot, you’ll die!”, but Groot softly but forcefully responds “we are Groot”. Cue tears.

Look, I love Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2. It is the funniest of the MCU movies to date, and features some of the best action scenes – and is a very worthy follow-up to the first film. But it just seems to me that it is missing that element of heart that is so intrinsic to the original.

And these Groot scenes are emblematic of the wider problem. There is no equivalent scenes in the sequel, no small moments that reveal a little of the deeper character traits of Groot, and very few that do this for anyone on the cast. When we meet Groot in Guardians Of The Galaxy, he is introduced to us as an enforcer, as Rocket’s muscle for hire, but as the film goes on we find he is playful, gentle, and has a wonderful heart under all those twigs.

In the sequel, Groot ends the film exactly where he started: as a baby. We don’t learn more about him – or really about anyone outside of Quill, and a little of Drax – as the film goes on. And where Groot’s sacrifice near the end of the original hits hard, the major death in the sequel (Yondu) doesn’t quite land the same way.

Those scenes I mentioned, giving the flower to the little girl or lighting the way for his friends, those scenes are where the heart of Guardians Of The Galaxy is most evident. Despite Vol 2 being a solid, entertaining film, those types of scene are noticeably missing in the sequel.

And in a genre where heart is sorely missing is most entries, it is sad that a franchise (or sub-franchise) that nailed it the first time wasn’t able to hit it again the second. If it had, we might be talking about Vol 2 as one of the best ever.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2 is directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff, with the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, and is available on bluray/DVD now. Thor: Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum, and is in cinemas next Thursday.

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