- Each artist was unique
- Cool venue
- A special part of Chch music history
- Having my feet sat on
2016 marks the 40th year of RDU98.5FM, the longest-running independent radio station in the South Island. Conceived at the University of Canterbury as a beacon of alternative music, RDU has become known for embracing the innovative, the avant-garde, and – of course – quality New Zealand music.
Friday night was a celebration of sorts – the first concert in a series that is part of the Canterbury Museum RDU exhibit, and a showcase of some of the best homegrown musical talent on offer.
Featuring an ever-changing backdrop projected onto jewel-like screens, sections of the exhibit scattered around the space, and a hidden kitchen dispensing gourmet pizzas, the museum was a stunning venue choice that had lured in about 200 people (by my admittedly rough estimate) of all ages*.
Nadia had a classic singer-songwriter vibe going on, rocking the stage with just her guitar and some great pipes. Her voice was lilting and soulful, and her lyrics perfectly encapsulated what it’s like being twenty-something and a bit lost.
Nadia sang about learning to become friends with her past self, and other difficult things we face in life – identity, the inevitability of turning into our parents, and escaping where we come from. She said of growing up in Port Chalmers, Dunedin: “I would rather take my own eye out than come back to this hell hole”. Despite this, she told us, she had recently moved back home. A lot of this sentiment was captured in her yet unreleased song, “I Will Reach My Destination”.
An older song, “Track of the Time”, was dreamy, bluesy, reverent – and addresses the ‘fiery black disease’ that is love in a raw, unsentimental, and sincere tone. As I overheard someone say in the bathroom, Nadia showed ‘wisdom beyond her years’.
She also talked about her relationship with RDU, and how she felt they supported her when she was just starting out. With a European tour on the horizon, it must have been quite a moment of reflection on her journey thus far.
James Milne, aka Lawrence Arabia, is the embodiment of dazzling musicianship. With an impressive falsetto, he moved easily through his vocal range in songs full of key changes and atypical structure.
Like Nadia, James talked about his connection to the radio station. He started out as a volunteer at RDU, saying it connected him to “the other few freaky people in Christchurch, my people … and you’re all here tonight!”. He reflected on the “grandiose megalomania” of a student radio station to have a whole exhibit dedicated to it. In actual fact, what this draws attention to is the wider significance the station has for the community.
Also like Nadia, he tapped into some of the insecurities and angst of young people trying to escape small town mentality. In “The 03” (a reference to the Christchurch area code) he talks about the feeling of coming home, facing those who thought he would fail, dealing with the mundane reality of the city. “If I stay too long”, he laments, “I’ll feel my mind surrender, and I’ll write a dozen letters to the editor”.
There were a few other standout songs in an altogether sweet line up. “The Undesirables” was melancholic, surreal, and slightly ominous (the studio version is looped and layered in a way that is decidedly more unsettling). His Silver Scroll Award-winning “Apple Pie Bed” was a dream-pop delight, dripping with charm. Finally, he wrapped it all up with a risqué number about having a crush on his teacher. What’s not to like?
Find these tracks and more here.
The last act was a game changer. Manos del Chango includes Joe McCallum on drums and Nicole Izobel Garcia on keyboard and vocals, with Delaney Davidson (guitar and vocals) at the helm.
Their sound was like nothing else we had heard that night – primal and raw, with a dash of Latin influence.
The rhythm was hypnotic, and people started to dance where they were standing. The group covered a few noteworthy songs in their set that showcased Delaney’s musicianship, Nicole’s soulful voice, and a healthy amount of cowbell and maracas from Joe.
True to its name, “Devil’s Right Hand” (a Steve Earle original) felt demonic, with a fast and frantic beat and vocals akin to a person possessed. Conversely, “First There Was” (also a cover) was more like a story set to music with a slow beat, about a man down on his luck. Delaney covers both on his album Sad But True vol. 3.
The climax of their set was an old folk song from Mexico (that doubles as a “revolutionary lesbian song”, according to Nicole). “La Macorina” was raw and beautiful, and Nicole dominated the stage like some kind of Hispanic queen. You can watch a (rather shaky) video from the night here.
All of Delaney’s work can be found here.
Unfortunately, there were a few of those people who, bolstered by the confidence of middle age, felt it was appropriate to hassle the bar staff about “stingy” wine portions and sit on my feet despite my standing quite close to the stage (I’m barely 160cm) – but hey, what would I know, I’m just a millennial.
Photos: Justyn Denney-Strother