Shihad's Jon Toogood and Dolf de Borst from the Datsuns first met each other in the early- to mid-90s - they can't remember exactly - at a Hamilton venue called the Wailing Bongo. De Borst was still in a band called Trucker and Shihad were well on their way to becoming one of the best live acts in the country.
Then, in 1998, reckons de Borst, at Hamilton's old student pub, the Hillcrest Tavern, Shihad and the Datsuns played their only show together. This New Year they're joining forces again.
Shihad are veterans of New Year's Eve gigs but the Datsuns have only played one. "And that was the worst gig of the tour so I'm not really qualified. I don't really like doing the shout out thing," laughs de Borst.
"I always mess it up, eh," adds Toogood, "and it's usually on purpose and you get in shit because it's usually timed with fireworks and stuff. So I try and throw a curve ball in there."
Like all of us, Toogood's had some good and bad end-of-year celebrations. He remembers an outdoor concert in Napier where the wind was so strong it turned the gig into a dust bowl.
"I remember hating every minute of it and I ended up destroying a drum kit which cost $5000, which meant the hire company in New Zealand hated me for about three years," he laughs.
Today the pair are in Melbourne: Toogood is his usual chirpy and cussing self and the Datsun is a little croaky and quiet after last night's gig and a drinking session at the Cherry Bar that went on until 4am. Let's talk rock'n'roll.
So what do you think of each other's music?
DdB: Well we've grown up with these guys' music completely. We used to sneak in to their shows when we were 16 or 17 and I remember getting into fights at the Wailing Bongo 'cause our drummer Matt, who was a bit younger than the rest of us, was getting his arse kicked by some old hairy man and he was only about 14. So I was going to see Shihad and bands like Nothing At All in the mid-90s.
JT: I saw you guys at the Corner Hotel supporting the White Stripes and I thought the Datsuns stole the show. It was the first time I'd seen the White Stripes too and I think [Jack White] was packing a big tanty. These guys were playing in between and they didn't mess around. It was [expletive] awesome. It reminded me of a good Head Like a Hole show, you know, that same sort of energy, because when Head Like a Hole were on fire they were dangerous. That's how Shihad learned to be a good live band, by touring around Germany and having to go on after Head Like a Hole every night - that was pretty intimidating. That was awesome, until the drugs kicked in and then we started winning every night.
What is the art to a good live show?
JT: I dunno. Giving it stick.
DdB: My answer used to be never rehearse and walk out on stage and then you know all the songs are fresh and you haven't played them to death and you're just going to go out there and fall in love with your songs again. But yeah, I don't know, Jon's right, it's all about just playing with passion.
JT: And also, once you get a taste for playing a good show you don't ever want to step back from it. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don't, but once you've got a picture in your mind about what a good show can be you've always got that reference point to try and reach that level.
DdB: For the Datsuns, our reputation is on our live show, not making records. That's what we love to do and we don't want to let anybody down by playing a crap show. We tend to go on these long tours for months on end and when you're on the road you live off the highs of the shows. If you have a bad show you're in a bad mood for the next 23 hours, so you just want every night to be great because otherwise you're going home really unhappy.
JT: Especially being away from home as well, having a good show means the homesickness is kept at bay because you feel fulfilled. There's nothing worse than having a shit show. For me, the only time I know I'm not having a good time is when I can think clearly on stage. You know, when I can think, 'Oh, I've got to do my washing when I get back to the hotel'. But when I'm not thinking about reality and you're just going with the music, that's what you're looking for and that's usually when you're having a good show. Recently I've been getting into making the crowd the biggest part of the show. We've been on stage 18 years and I've pretty much got my chops down, but there's nothing better than watching a crowd moving together. I believe you can have a career for a long time if you can play good live.
DdB: Like AC/DC.
How are your throats and your ears? Because Jon, like you say, 18 years in a band ...
JT: It's a similar thing to a band getting better live by basically playing lots of shows. The voice sort of works in the same way. I tend to be crap if I haven't played for a while, singing-wise. I will be good for the first two shows and then my voice craps out because I smoke cigarettes. But it comes back. I suppose if I didn't smoke cigarettes I'd make my job a lot easier but there's so many boring bits in this business, and I'm also a nervous and anxious freak so it just helps alleviate that anxiety.
DdB: I'm a quietly spoken person off the stage anyway, and I kind of have to be because you can hear it in my voice now, its kind of [expletive]. But that's from being out at the Cherry Bar until 4 o'clock in the morning. And I try and not drink on stage and save it until afterwards.
JT: Yeah, same. It's like a reward.
What songs of each other's would you cover, and how would you do it?
DdB: Mmmm ... that's a good question.
JT: Well, I'd do Harmonic [Generator] because I just like the groove. That big T. Rex stonker and I'm a big T. Rex fan and I reckon [Shihad drummer] Tom Larkin could kick out that jam.
DdB: I really like Deb's Night Out but I'd probably murder that. But there's a song, and I'm trying to think of it ... It was the B-side of one of those singles and it was almost like a My Sharona kind of groove. I'll remember it ...
JT: I reckon we've written about 10 songs with My Sharona grooves. (laughs)
DdB: It was a song called Real Man.
JT: Oh yeah, that's off Blue Light Disco. I used to love that song.
DdB: But I've never heard you guys do that live.
JT: That was a goodie. We used to like a band called Hell Is Other People and that song was my ode to that band. And they wanted to change their name and I was like, '[expletive] off man, that's a choice name'.
DdB: And I remember two really great covers Shihad did around the same time and one was Gates of Steel [by Devo].
JT: I love that song. Basically my sister had [a] live Devo album from the Freedom of Choice Tour and I used to listen to it all the time. Gates of Steel was my favourite because of the words, but I also thought they basically played punk rock, but it was so weird that it wasn't really punk rock any more.
DdB: I saw Devo play a few years back when we were doing a festival in Japan and we were on a little earlier in the day and I just sat on the side of the stage and they did a show as if it was 1979.
JT: Yep, they did the Livid festival about five years ago and they beat every band of the day and they're all 50-year-old guys. Every song was a hit, and the sound out the front was like Ministry - [expletive] huge. The cigar-smoking guitar player surfed his guitar, he actually put his guitar on the crowd and surfed on it and he's 50 years old, dude, and he just kicked it.
DdB: My best Devo memory was after the concert, [founder] Mark Mothersbaugh came into our dressing room and said, 'You've got the best [expletive] band name here'. I said, 'Oh, you know the song of yours that goes 'Jonee jumps in the Datsun ... [called Come Back Jonee], well, we're named after that song'. He goes, 'Get the [expletive] outta here'.
You talk a lot about bands "beating" each other. It's going to be a good competition between you two?
JT: I reckon both bands will just go for it.
DdB: That's what we do naturally. And we're quite different bands musically too. It's not as if we're prog' metal bands and go head to head and see who can play the meanest lick.
JT: And have the baldest front man.
DdB: And the best keyboard solo in the middle.
JT: And the best nose ring.
Music has put both bands through a few rough times in the past. Why are you still doing it?
JT: Ah, it's the money.
DdB: Yep, to pay for all my servant boys.
JT: But no, basically, I think rock'n'roll is supposed to be cathartic anyway and the more pain and anguish a group goes through, the more you've got to write about it and kick against it. And when bad shit happens it just makes you want to kick back harder.
DdB: You don't put that much time into something and the euphoria of playing live, and then just give it up. And if I decided not to be in a band I would have to work some shit job and have to live in some sort of reality which is not where I want to be. It's kind of delaying the inevitable and seeing how long you can do this. And we'll be doing it for a long time.
JT: Seriously, I've had the low points and I've thought about what I could do with my life and I've thought about a million zillion things. But nothing compares to that feeling when it's [expletive] happening. There's nothing as good as that, for me anyway. So yeah, delay the inevitable.
* Shihad and the Datsuns - New Zealand's two best live bands on the rock'n'roll tour of the summer.
Tour dates: Mangawhai Tavern, Dec 26; St James, Auckland, Dec 27; Waihi Beach Hotel, Dec 28; Brewers Stadium, Mt Mauganui, Dec 29; Coroglen Tavern, Dec 30; Lake Hawea Hotel, Hawea, Dec 31; Riwaka Hotel, Riwaka, Jan 2; Butlers Reef Hotel, New Plymouth, Jan 4; East Pier, Napier, Jan 5; Wellington Town Hall, Jan 6.
Tickets: $50 from ticketek.co.nz
Shihad and the Datsuns are offering a lucky Timeout reader a true rock'n'roll experience that money can't buy. You'll get a private box at the St James, Auckland, for you and three friends at the bands' December 27 gig, a chance to meet the both groups beforehand and a prize pack of T-shirts and CDs from both outfits. To go in the draw, send your name, address and a day-time phone number to Shihad-Datsuns Giveaway, TimeOut, Features Dept, NZ Herald, PO Box 3290, Auckland 1 by December 19.