Review of York Street Studios Acid Test GRAND Final
The York Street Studios Acid Test - Grand Final, Saturday September. 27th, The Temple, Auckland.
On Saturday September 27th, The Temple hosted the final York Street Studios Acid Test. The final "Final", to be exact.
After a process of elimination, the heat winners became semi finalists who became finalists, and here they'll be reduced
to three winners. One winner, actually, and a second and third... you get the picture.
If this all sounds a little confused, you should have been there on the night. Over 200 people, in The Temple. Doesn't
sound feasible? Well, it was cosy, to say the least.
The Acid Test has been going for six years now, and this being the last final to be held at the Temple, it was always
going to be different. As with so many of the finals, heats, open mic nights and general showcases held over the years
at this intimate venue, the key is in the diversity of the acts that each night attracts. The structure was simple
enough; each finalist could play four songs, and at the end of the night a panel of what felt like about 300 judges
packed into the upstairs office to decide who won. The stakes are higher here than you might think, with over $15,000
worth of prize value including studio time at the country's preeminent recording space, York Street Studios, as well as
mastering, marketing assistance and gear. So when Karen q Temple took the mic to introduce this little corner of local
legend for the last time, not even the heat and lack of breathing space were going to stop the performers from having a
nervous shudder, or two.
First up, Milk Milk Lemonade. Three word name, three piece band, and off we went with melodic punk played tighter than
an inner city developer's sound proofing budget. So many bands over the years have equated "punk" with "ability to sing
or play - optional", that the new wave of hook laden, tune driven rock that these guys fired at us is stirring. Whether
the running order was planned or not, I can't say, but having this as an opener was either inspired choice or timely
MaTar came next, a brooding, rough voiced (deliberately so, it should be said) singer/songwriter who could fall out of a
lineage tracing though early Hayden to Lemmy. In fact, the warty one himself was even channeled for the final song of
MaTar's set. Funny what comes round again. MaTar mentioned at the top of his set that he usually plays with a band,
which may account for the fact that some of his material gets a little repetitive on this particular night; it feels
like the dynamics which a rhythm section could bring to these songs are missing in the solo context. Still, a wall of
guitar sound, and a brutal vocal style carry the set - not so much the Ace of Spades as the Jack of Clubs.
Charlotte Johansen, a regular performer at the Temple, softened the mood a little, although only in terms of adding a
more traditional singer/songwriter sound to the mix. Charlotte plays what could be shelved as folk, but with an edge
that belies any thoughts of saccharine. Here, she opened and closed her lovely set with a bass player, further enhancing
the darker undertones of her songwriting. She's blessed with a great voice, but unlike so many of her ilk, uses it for
far more than vocal aerobics. Let's face it, throwing sensitivity at this crowd was a bit like throwing caviar at
performing seals, but she managed to bring the place to a standstill. Remarkable.
Our next act, Manu Bennett, is perhaps best known as the host of TV3's "Going Straight." Unlike his contestants on that
particular barometer of popular culture, Manu isn't in it for the money. His songs, simply presented with voice and
keyboard, covered a range of personal issues from multi culturalism to personal loss and global peace. His voice is
great, and the songs themselves wouldn't sound out of place on any AOR station in the world. Take that as you will,
however I will say that airing your feelings as nakedly as this takes a lot more guts than jumping through fire, even
for ten grand.
Back to the bands then... Goon, a three piece guitar/bass/drum unit were one act I found tricky to quantify. When they
rocked, they rocked, however when they eased off the gas a bit, it felt a bit like the wheels weren't quite in
alignment. More laid back than the opening act, less easygoing than the previous two, perhaps it was just a case of the
night rolling onwards, but I missed a sense of cohesion during their set. Great energy and sound, however, and they
carried themselves well in terms of their onstage attitude and enthusiasm. Also, not to give too much of the game away,
the judges loved them, so what the hell do I know...
Remember what I said about sensitivity earlier? Well, by the time Punga hit the stage, replicating the attention that
Charlotte and Manu had drawn was always going to be a tough call. Punga took a while to warm into his set, which in this
short format is often difficult to recover from. Recover he did, however, and from song three to the end, there was a
sense of magic happening. Punga's sound can best be described as pacific soul, like Marvin Gaye with palm trees in the
background. One of the smoothest voices you'll hear around Auckland, Punga stuck to his guns despite the early
hesitation, and turned in a great half of a set. I'd love to hear him in a more receptive environment, and have no doubt
that getting that chance in the future won't be a problem.
Finally, the act much of the crowd had been waiting all night to scream at, Luke Bodle. It's an interesting paradox,
having a large support crew at gigs like this; on the one hand you can't help but get a good response and therefore have
a great time onstage, on the other, the temptation to perform specifically to your crowd can't (and, to be fair,
shouldn't) easily be resisted. As a result, I felt that some of the finer points of Luke's songwriting got buried under
the strong performance. He can play, and play a crowd, but in terms of actually conveying the true depths of his talent,
it wasn't ever going to happen. Still, having to choose between pleasing one lyric obsessed purist like me, and a horde
of screaming young groupies (and that was just the men)... it's not the kind of dilemma that keeps you up at night.
Off they filed then, the Judges, the keepers of the flame, cannons to right of them, cannons to the left, into the
valley of death rode the four hundred... so shoot me, it felt epic, okay? Six years of the competition, nearly eight of
The Temple, all about to end in a few short announcements.
While this was happening, last year's winner St Lucy took to the stage for a short set, which by this point of the
evening was akin to standing behind the crowd at a strip club yelling "Hey, Look over here for a second." Still, he
played a great gig, showing why he walked away with the gong last time around. Ironically, if you look at a list of
previous winners of this competition, few of them have really continued to make the musical waves they may have been
expected to. Hopefully St Lucy will stay out of this category. One other point I'd like to include here, in past
competitions I've always felt that solo acts were starting way behind the eight ball against bands, who can carry a
night through energy alone, rather than through sheer artistry. Both St Lucy and this year's acts have proved me wrong.
The diversity that I mentioned at the start of this review was on show right across the board, demonstrating yet again
that New Zealand music is a multi tentacled beast, reaching out in a variety of different styles, mediums and attitudes.
And then, there she was. Karen q Temple herself, with the three names that would end this chapter of local music
history.... I'll just stop screwing about, shall I? Punga third, Charlotte Johansen second, and Goon the overall
winners. Back slapping, cheering, and outside into the cool air for a quiet drink or eight, and that was that... for
Karen has vowed that the Acid Test will continue after the Temple finally closes it doors in the early hours of October
Long may it run.