Th’Dudes at Auckland Town Hall: Kiwi rock just when we needed it most

There was a certain inevitable familiarity about last night’s show at Auckland’s Town Hall. It was less than three weeks ago that Dave Dobbyn was on stage just down the road at Spark Arena for a solo show; last night he was back with the band that made his name, Th’Dudes.

And last night’s show, just like Dobbyn’s earlier in the month, was exactly what Kiwis needed right now. There were no surprises, not really, and that’s fine—surprises were not what we needed. What we got instead was a trot through the greatest hits of a local-favourite band, at a time when local favourites have the stages of Aotearoa to themselves (for now at least) and are making the most of the chance to remind local audiences why they’re local favourites.

So Th’Dudes kicked off with Right First Time, an obvious show-opener that they really did get, well, right first time. Peter Urlich, looking for all the world like a geography teacher looking forward to the end of the term, sounded like a singer who was genuinely delighted to be back on stage—Th’Dudes originally booked five nights for the Bliss tour, which has blown out to a dozen shows, including three in Auckland, for this re-union, and it was clear that they weren’t regretting expanding the run. Bruce Hambling, his replacement on drums, and Dobbyn were the other two original Dudes on stage last night; Urlich noted that Ian Morris had been gone for ten years now, his brother Rikki standing in his place and chopping out some agreeably crunchy chords for On The Rox; he was remembered with Game Of Love and Nobody Else, from his Tex Pistol days. The other honorary Dude was Victoria Girling-Butcher, Dobbyn’s regular guitarist and backing vocalist, Dobbyn himself taking lead-guitar duties to great effect, his solos slicing through the mix—itself worthy of a mention; it’s a while since I last heard a band sound so clear at the Town Hall.

Opening for Th’Dudes were local four-piece Racing. Emerging from the collapse of The Checks, Ed Knowles and Sven Pettersen have built a rather special thing. There’s at least three different bands going on in Racing—Pettersen clearly has a fondness for Southern Rock, while Daniel Barrett’s basslines have an undeniable funkiness to them which is elegantly underpinned by Izaak Houston’s drumming, with Knowles sounding, and looking, like he’ll never forgive himself for being born too young to be in Mi-Sex. While a band like this sounds like it has no business making sense, Racing’s music just works, a thoroughly enjoyable mix of genres that finds the best of each of them and creates something really rather enjoyable—in many ways, the ideal opener last night.

If you missed the show, it’s not your last chance to see Th’Dudes; that’ll come in a few weeks time when they play, apparently, their last ever show. Meanwhile, Dave Dobbyn will be playing at the Bay Of Islands Music Festival in January and at Black Barn Vineyards in Hawkes Bay in December. A couple of songs into their set, Racing’s Ed Knowles told the crowd “You’re at a Dudes gig! What year is this?” It’s 2020, of course, the year that has given us a chance to see our favourite Kiwi acts one last time, and we should be grateful that this year has given us something good.

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