original. acoustic. music.

Monroe's Deviant Jamm 2: Review

The Ruby Lounge is the latest incarnation of a venue that has a long and chequered history in Wellington.

It is situated in a side street running between what used to be two main arteries in and out of the central city, and has a kind of exclusive, tucked away feel as you mount the stairs from street level to the bar on the first floor. The venue is split in two by a wraparound central bar. On the lefthand side tables and chairs are set up for sit down dining or quiet drinks, looking out toward the balcony that, although large, doesn't quite afford a vista of any great interest. The righthand side sports a large stage at one end, and a small dais at the end by the balcony, and couches, table and chairs scattered around for the audience.

The main stage was roomy compared to many we've been on lately, and fetchingly bedecked in sweeping drapes of cloth to hide the soundproofing on the ceiling making it look a little like a cross between a boudoir, a cabaret, and The Muppet Show.

The PA system was great, with suspended main speakers and subs in front of the stage, and a foldback system that was clear and powerful. The front of house position was slightly off centre, however, which may have been for aesthetic rather than acoustic reasons. Ordinarily the sound mix in a venue is always the best around the FOH position, but not so in this case.

Once again it is worth mentioning the sterling efforts of Dean the sound guy plucked once again from his day job at Groove FM to help us out -- calm, organised, and adaptable, and a helluva nice guy to boot.

The programme for the evening was slightly different from our last outing. Each band would play two short sets, one in the first half, one in the second. It is often the case at gigs where there is more than one performer that fans of a particular act will turn up for their act and leave straight after, often in the middle of the next act's set, which is a little off-putting. We've been the victims of this audience die-off many times.

The strategy this time meant that the audience remained stable pretty much the whole night, as they got to see all three acts in equal measure (well... ok, there was a bit of an exodus before we finished off the night, but we rocked and they missed it, so yah boo sucks to them).

The Gracious Deviants played first, and despite a minor technical hitch that meant our guitars weren't coming through the PA for the first song, our first set went well. It was a Thursday night after a long week, but we pulled out the stops to make a good first impression.

Our first set comprised I See, Mistakes, The Mountain, The Thought of You, and Release - kick off with some uptempo stuff and round off with a bit of harmonic showoffery - that was the plan. These days, as we get more and more confident in ourselves and our material, opening a gig is getting easier and easier. A couple of beers beforehand always helps, but our attitude to performing is changing, becoming much more positive and less tentative. We had hoped to bring Gerry and Lucy from Monroe up to help us with Release and then sidle off stage as they began their set in an effortless segue, but as it turned out we ran out of time to get together and rehearse. Maybe next show...

Monroe took the stage and launched into their set with their usual grace and style. They played electric guitars mostly, Lucy coaxing a few well-chosen effects from her extraordinary array of pedals, but their distinctively shaped Luna acoustic made an appearance later in the set. As I have mentioned before both Lucy and Gerry have strong, confident voices and blend together well in harmony. Their personalities are complementary also, borne out in the songs they write and sing - theirs is a relationship of mutual support on stage, they are passionate about what they do and it certainly comes across.

Apricot Jamm were to round off the first set, but due to some unforseen and unfortunate circumstances only two of the five members could be there. Morgan and Mike took to the stage largely on the back foot, but proved that they were up to the task. They played a short but lively set of Morgan's songs played on acoustic and electric guitar. Darrel made a comment after the show, and I agree, that the songs didn't suffer in this paired-back arrangement - quite the opposite. Morgan's songwriting skill and solid rhythm guitar coupled with Mike's lead pyrotechnics provided a complete package - Ok, so it wasn't the full sonic potential of the full-blown Apricot Jamm, but it allowed you to get to the heart and soul of the songs, the way they must have sounded when they were first written. I finally found out the name of that song I'd had stuck in my head for days after the Happy gig, the one with the catchy "Hey Yeah" chorus - it's called Star.

Monroe took the stage again for their final set. I must confess that I had taken over door duties at that stage and didn't get the full force of their performance that time, but I was nodding along to You Are the Sun from the side of the stage nevertheless. Incidentally,You Are the Sun appears on the CD we produced for the gig, and the version on CD features a drum machine - I have to say that the all-acoustic version played that night stands up pretty well against it.

So with four beers and no food in us we took to the stage to finish off the night, as a significant section of the audience got up and left - yes it was getting late and the weather was atrocious but come on....

Anyway, we had a ball. We rocked. We kicked off with Falling, followed with Strong Enough and moved into If the Stars. By that stage I was so relaxed and (possibly drunk) happy I good-naturedly shushed the crowd for the quiet bit - something I've never had the courage to do in the past, and surprised myself when it actually worked, albeit for a short time. Still Got A Hold followed and then we brought Mike from Apricot Jamm up to play lead for us in Free Bird, a new track we've only performed live twice before. Mike's inclusion was definitely last-minute. There is a section for a solo in the song that I've always muddled through, and given the chance to perform with a skilled lead guitarist like Mike, well, we'd be stupid to pass it up. Full credit to Mike who had only run through the chord changes about three hours before, he followed Darrel's directions as we played and provided not just a killer solo, but accompanied us all the way through. It was great fun. Self-indulgent? Possibly. Awesome? Definitely. Thanks Mike.

The night ended and we all look forward to the San Francisco Bath House on June 10th when we get to do it all again (with a couple of changes). To Gerry, Lucy, Morgan, and Mike: Thanks guys for your work, your support, and for yet another great night out doing what we all love. Cheers,Pete & Darrel.