The astute, or perhaps just early arrivals to what ultimately turned into a large, if not capacity crowd were treated to something which would have seemed unlikely, if not downright implausible in years past. That hardest core of the hardcore from the only wild west frontier we could ever call our own - Taranaki - presented seated and intimate with acoustic guitar and voice. Here was Craig Radford, Sticky Filth's vocalist and bassist, belting out a cache from the catalogue of Filth together with more recently penned numbers.
Hardcore recontextualised is an interesting proposition, and here ostensibly fitting in the wake of the personal tragedies that derailed Sticky Filth's 25th anniversary plans in 2010. Does it work? In spades. The fire and grit and defiance are all intact. The integrity remains. Think Ian MacKaye in The Evens for a touchstone, but better than thinking, seize the opportunity to catch the man live.
The anticipation for the main event was palpable, as these icons with unbroken roots stretching back to the very inception of post-punk gothdom took the stage, customarily drowned in dense purple smoke.
Doktor Avalanche - tonight a wall of Apple Macs - initiated the metronomic rhythms, and the ritual began. Guitarists Chris Catalyst and Ben Christo provided the strutting rock spectacle, carving the heavy, crystalline riffs with dexterity and panache, trading blow for blow.
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For his part, Eldritch doesn't rely on any rocks gimmicks. He doesn't pout or pose, he neither swaggers nor swings. He sure as hell doesn't smile. He doesn't have to - he wrote his own rules decades ago. He has that quality of presence that cannot be learned or faked; it's called charisma. And that voice. Eldritch evokes the air of a man in control. From a performance standpoint, he's physically subdued, yet simply mesmerising.
The staples come think and fast. There is no between song chit-chat, in fact there's barely any acknowledgment of the crowd until the closing stages. With their infamously truncated recording career, it's obvious that nigh on everything - the occasional unfamiliar, unreleased track notwithstanding - are going to be bonafide crowd-pleasers. To name the chestnuts among the chestnuts, First and Last and Always set the tone early on, with This Corrosion, Dominion et al rousing a boisterous, ecstatic, crowd to punish the venue foundations.
Gratifying too that the grimy gems from their earlier years were not overlooked, with a decadently tensile Alice and the brooding Anaconda from 1983 hitting hard. By the time Vision Thing and Lucretia arrived, the damage was done, the boxes largely ticked for the most hotchpotch of crowds I've ever stood shoulder to shoulder with - from every sub-genre of hip young thing through to otherwise mild-mannered gone mental-for-a-night 50 somethings.
The Sisters ultimately delivered what is uniquely theirs. By the time of set closer, the epic Temple of Love, and as the dense purple smoke ushered us out into the humid night air, there was little question that 30 years of waiting and wondering had been consummately rewarded.
Who: The Sisters of Mercy w/ Craig Radford
Where: The Powerstation, Auckland
When: Wednesday 22 February