Concert Review: A Day on the Green, Villa Maria Estate

By Russell Baillie

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Simple Minds headlined the bands of the 80s but robo-punks Devo stole the show.

Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr milked the audience as if he was on a dairy farm. Photo / Geoff Walker
Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr milked the audience as if he was on a dairy farm. Photo / Geoff Walker

Yes, this vineyard show might have been bands which all had their heydays back in the 80s. And it might have been headlined by Simple Minds, a group which during the Live Aid era rivalled U2 for filling up outdoor arenas with a music big on, well, being big.

But the stars of the day were the oldest, oddest, most quintessentially early 80s act of the three: Devo, a band which formed in 1972 and last played in Auckland at their height 10 years later.

They managed to be both party-hearty entertaining with a barrage of punchy synth-rock old hits - Whip It, Girl U Want, Freedom of Choice and more - as well as unsettling enough to overcome the nostalgic requirements of picnic blanket shows like this one.

Though some of those challenging bits did turn plain torturous, like the extended encore featuring frontman Mark Mothersbaugh in the masked guise of the band's weirdo mascot "Booji Boy" prattling on about Hobbit stuff and Michael Jackson during Beautiful World.

But for the most part, Devo played like they had never been away, with a tight, wiry attack on songs old and new, while delivering a full-package performance, one with half a dozen costume changes, much references to their ol' "Theory of Devo-lution", and a videoscreen backing which neatly linked that New Wave past to their reinvigorated present.

Throughout the uniformed quintet of brothers (Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, Jerry and Bob Casale, powered by terrific touring drummer Jeff Friedl) sang, shouted, herked and, indeed, jerked like the robo-punks of old.

If they were the band you had come to see - and judging by the punters in homemade Devo overalls and silly hats, that was a sizeable number - you would have come away very happy.

Up first were Aussies the Church, a band which somehow got away with 60s paisley psychedelia in the synthetic 80s and these days sound quite timeless - even if they would give the Australian Pink Floyd Show a run for their money when it came to extended hazy guitar solos.

Still, the fretboard flourishes came with solid launchpads. The Church's short set reminded that their uneven album career has left enduring hymns - from the jangle of early breakthrough hit Unguarded Moment to the likes of Under the Milky Way. Despite their late-afternoon sunbaked timeslot maybe not suiting the music's after-dark moods, the Church conjured up quite an atmosphere.

After Devo, it was Simple Minds, the Glasgow-born band which got so big towards the end of the 80s they kind of popped and deflated. They've been celebrating their pre-pomp days elsewhere recently, with the 5X5 Live tour and box set concentrating on their less-is-more first five albums up to 1982's New Gold Dream.

But this set was the full greatest hits kaboodle, starting with the cavernous Waterfront, not the only overwrought song of the night (see also All the Things She Said, Sanctify Yourself and Alive and Kicking in the encore).

Sure, they did play some of that trancey early stuff like Love Song, and there was a good smattering from the New Gold Dream era.

But frontman Jim Kerr may have thought he was on a dairy farm rather than a vineyard, such was his evening milking of the audience (if there was a Kerr doll at the merchandise stand it would probably shout "Sing it for me!" or "Show me your hands" every time you pulled its string).

The playing of the rest - especially Charlie Burchill's highly processed guitar of those just-so ringing chords - was all present and correct, but Simple Minds were only rarely exciting in a set which leaned on nostalgia and tiresome bluster.

Review

What: A Day on the Green with Simple Minds, Devo, the Church
Where and when: Villa Maria Estate, Saturday

- NZ Herald

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