"They’re a precision machine with a beating heart."
Thirty years, damn… where did that time go? This writer recalls first seeing Shihad open for The Angels in Auckland in 1990. Back then they were fresh-faced young lads, still in thrall to the thrash metal of Metallica and co and yet to embark on the ups and downs of their rock’n’roll career. Now, of course, they’re the middle-aged statesman of Antipodean hard rock, a conduit between metal and melodic rock and most importantly, still performing as passionately and intensely as ever.
The Dead Love were up first, keeping things simple, rough and raw with their grunge-punk that treads a nice line between unhinged rock and crossover melodic pop-punk. At times their songs veered too close to catchy choruses of the anthemic hook kind but they knew to ensure they kept enough throat shredding angst and anger in the mix to stop the songs sounding too clean.
Young Lions, on the other hand, represent the worst of modern rock with technology creeping in and bleaching out the rough edges and believable conviction in the music. In their frontman, they have a singer who can certainly nail emo, hard rock and some cringe-worthy rap moments but that was all overcooked with over-the-top rock star moves and ventures into the audience. The music was generic alt-rock by numbers, Bono fronting Linkin Park, an Australian Idol facsimile of rock music.
Shihad quite simply laid waste to what came before them. On a stage devoid of amplifiers and a sound that was blisteringly loud, heavy and perfectly balanced, they set about celebrating 30 years as a band with a set that began with Think You’re So Free from their most recent album FVEY and worked its way back, in chronological order to Factory from their debut Churn.
It was a fascinating arc to experience as the four Kiwis accurately acknowledged their high-points and lesser successes. The General Electric (celebrating 20 years) supplied five songs, FVEY three and Shihad, Killjoy and Pacifier two apiece. The most commercial period spanned The General Electric and Pacifier albums and the nearly sold out crowd were in full voice singing along to songs such as Comfort Me, Run and My Mind’s Sedate. As always Jon Toogood was both the hype man and the tireless frontman, constantly inciting audience involvement with handclaps, singalongs, lit-up phones held aloft and unified jumping up and down. They’re all cliched rock moves but he does it well and all with his laconic, genial stage manner.
As a band there are few that play tighter hard-rock and honour the riff as diligently as Shihad; they’re a precision machine with a beating heart. Karl Kippenberger still works the stage, grinning at the audience like he’s bumping into old friends, Phil Knight is a study of six-string wizardry while Tom Larkin is the glue and anchor that ties it all together. As they approached the tail end of the set, things got darker with the magnificent thrum and throb of Deb’s Night Out, an absolutely brutal psych assault of You Again and the industrial tectonic riff of Factory from their debut album.
Shihad are essentially still doing what they’ve always done - entertaining their devoted fans with sensory overload at maximum volume. It’s fun, it’s life-affirming rock music and they’re still right at the top of their game, a claim that can be bestowed on very few bands after three decades of making music.