REVIEW BY SIMON MERCEP
PHOTOS BY LEAH VICTORIA
Alien Weaponry assail your ears and rattle your bones. The heavy metal three piece from Waipu in Northland returned to Auckland at the weekend, and in front of a joyous stomping crowd of fans, who were as much part of the entertainment as the trio on stage, produced a passionate and dramatic show.
Singer and guitarist Lewis de Jong, bass player Ethan Trembath, and drummer Henry de Jong entered the Town Hall escorted by a Kapa Haka group, and they all took to the stage, continuing to perform together, a strong presentation of Aotearoa culture and pride.
Alien Weaponry has famously gained attention by combining the rebellious attitude of teenage rockers with a sharp political edge, their songs often sung in Te Reo and often speaking of injustice towards Maori, past and present.
They haven’t lost that kaupapa, and still present a youthful rawness on stage. But having now got much more touring under their belts – in North America and Europe – they have refined their stagecraft, and produce a more choreographed set than when Crave last saw them a couple of summers ago.
Lewis de Jong and Ethan Trembath stalk the stage, swapping positions, and exhorting the audience in quite different ways. Lewis is the political leader, the main singer who does most of the talking, who has that look of an angry young man with something to say. Ethan is there, apparently, just to have fun. He can’t keep a big smile off his face, sticks his tongue out in a way that evokes a Maori gesture and also the theatricality of Gene Simmons from Kiss. And when Trembath twirls his head his long blonde hair sweeps in circles like a helicopter rotor, and it’s hard to take your eyes off his performance. At the back, drummer Henry de Jong goes about his business in a straightforward and unpretentious way, but in a three piece like this, he has a lot of work to do and his drumming is musically perhaps the highlight of the entire performance. Put all this together with a well orchestrated use of spotlights from the back of stage, and this is a dramatic set of heavy metal songs – all original material of course.
The trio played much of their first album Tu, and some new songs, notably Blinded, and then, in their encore, a brand new song which they told us was having its first public performance that night. It was another barnstormer of a metal song, but I can’t tell you its title but I didn’t hear them mention it. The band is apparently well into its work on its second album, and this song will doubtless appear there.
I said the audience were a big part of the show, and so they were. The front of stage was well filled with younger fans, mostly male, almost all dressed in black, and there to listen to the music and to head bang and body slam their way through the night. At one point, they all cleared a circle on the floor, and as the next song began, rushed together, colliding – in mostly a good humoured way – like human pinballs. And when they stomped, you could feel the wooden floorboards of the Town Hall tremble and dip. Fro time to time an audience member was lifted up by his mates and crowd surfed along for a few seconds, before disappearing from sight, sometimes head first, onto the floor.
Fair to say that the slightly older members of the audience, of whom there were quite a few, edged back towards the middle and rear sections of the floor, to allow the youngsters to go about their revelry. On the upper floors, others hung over the balcony, also stomping and surging to the music. Attending an Alien Weaponry concert is an all encompassing experience. Your senses are tested, and I can report I wasn’t the only audience member wearing ear plugs to better manage the volume of the music.
So this felt like a cultural as much as a musical event, and it is from young men of this place and it feels so much of New Zealand you can’t help but feel rather patriotic when you’re there and caught up in the moment of it.
Having said all that, people who are not fans of heavy metal music may struggle with it, at least over a one and a half hour set. The music is obviously loud, and obviously heavy on the beat and light on the melody. In this hothouse of power chords, singer Lewis de Jong shouts most of his lyrics, and if you’re not familiar with the songs you may struggle to make out what he’s saying. If this was your first time hearing them, you may be forgiven for failing to differentiate one song from the next. What would help is getting hold of the album Tu, and getting familiar with the material and the lyrics.
And for all the publicity the band has attracted, the Town Hall wasn’t full. A goodly number, yes, but I was a little surprised there weren’t more people there.
But all in all, Alien Weaponry are an urgent band who demand attention. They are very good at what they do, and they will surely get better. They are a band I will take great interest in following, hopefully for many years to come.
Thanks to photographer Leah Victoria for some great images of Alien Weaponry’s show, and for her photos of Shepherds Reign, the opening act.