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My Top 5 NZ Gigs - Lee Densem

Posted by Lee Densem

The theme for NZ Music Month 2019 has been "Discover Live" in celebration of all the hustle and graft that musicians put into their live show. There's something about watching musicians bring their craft to life in front of you that can be one of life's great experiences. I've been lucky enough to see a stack live music since my very first show (The Cranberries at the Christchurch Town Hall in 1996). So here's my very personal list of the Top 5 NZ gigs I've seen.


14 Jul, 2016 - Aussie band Dune Rats were playing their first NZ show at Las Vegas Club. It was one of those free, just RSVP and get their early shows that people like Vice put on every now and again. Las Vegas on Auckland's K Rd was a strip club in a past life and still holds the certain charm you'd expect from a venue with sucha proud history. Jangley duo Surf Friends opened the night with some pleasing sounds. But following that was one of those mostly unexpected moments where you come out not quite knowing what just happened.

The next band were called Miss June. I knew a couple of tracks and a little about them after interviewing their singer Annabel Liddell the previous year. So I was expecting a loud, punk sound. What I wasn't expecting, was them to captivate the audience and take them on a ride quite like they did. They thrashed through their tracks looking the part with long hair and jumping around. 

Frontwoman Annabel jumped out onto the floor and ran round screaming "I drool, you think you're so fucking cool". She had everyone eating out of the palm of her hands (almost literally as she caressed the face of a few punters). I certainly felt pretty cool after watching that. So cool, in fact, that I was done after that. I didn't even stay to see Dune Rats, although I heard the drummer got pissed and vomited on his drum kit during the set, which may or may not be cool, depending on which side of the fence you sit on.


23 Mar 2006 - Once upon a time I went to a live show to see legendary Kiwi singer Bic Runga after she had released her album Birds. She was great. But before this two guys came on stage and sang some songs.

A couple of my 'cool' friends who knew about things like this told me that Brett and Jermaine were kinda crack up. And they were funny (like REALLY funny). The whole audience were in stitches and for the first time "It's business time" came into my lexicon. 

Bic Runga came on to do her thing, accompanied by some other esteemed colleagues called Neil Finn, Riki Gooch (Trinity Roots) and Tim Arnold (Pluto). In no way did she suck. She was amazing. But it kind of seemed like high-art compared to what came before. The night (and then the world) belonged to Flight Of The Conchords.


07 Jan 2011 - So many times, the setting amplifies what what be an amazing experience into an unforgettable one. This night was one of those. It started with that slight awkwardness of picking up strangers (people who had won tickets to go to the gig), then making conversation on the drive from Auckland to Pahia. This disappeared by the time we arrived in the Bay Of Islands, which sparkled as we jumped on board the ferry in the early afternoon for the hour long ride to Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island.

It wasn't enough that some people had come up with the idea of putting on a series of concerts on an beautiful, but mainly unihabited island, miles from anywhere. But somehow they had got the permissions to make this happen. Tonight's show was the final of four different shows that had seen some great NZ entertainers play in a killer surrounding.

Upon arrival, the heavens opened and sent people scurrying for whatever shelter they could find. Once the rain subsided, the night could begin. Salmonella Dub DJs played a set to start, but for me the night belonged to Minuit who were made for a setting like this. On the grass, near the beach they played into the night with their soaring electronic sounds accompanied by Ruth Carr's beautiful vocals. Everyone that witnesses a song like Aotearoa, booming out into one of the most beautiful parts of Aotearoa could not help being moved by this. And as new friends partied away the night, we definitely believed what Minuit were preaching. "We are New Zealand".


28 Nov 1997 - First a disclaimer, in these mostly pre-internet days it was hard to confirm the actual date, but Audio Culture lists is as 28 Nov, so that's what I'm going with!

I recall it being a grey day with a cold nor-easter wind sucking all the warmth out of the summer. The concert was organised in Catherdal Square, the heart of Christchurch for World AIDS Day and I found out about through my (volunteer) job collating and reading the gig guide on student radio station rdu 98.5FM on a Friday afternoon.

I rocked up and bought a skinny tee with RDU written on the pill. As an awkward teenager I remember wondering if I was cool enough to actually wear it? This was my first real experience with a rock concert where you could get close in to all the action. It was also the first time I remember feeling the bass from the booming speaker stacks vibrating through my body. As well as seeing and hearing the music, I could actually feel it too. I don’t remember too much else about that day apart from the fact I saw Shihad and they were my introduction to live rock music.


03 Dec 2015Villainy released their second album 'Dead Sight' in September of 2015. A couple of months later they posted on Facebook that they were going to do a special 'The Dead Sight Live Sessions' show at The Lucha Lounge in Newmarket, Auckland where they would play through the whole album. I’d been thrashing it in the car since it came out, so dived straight in and grabbed a ticket as my recollection was the venue would hold all of about 50 people!

It was a typical muggy summer's night with the cloudy, sticky mess that Auckland delivers regularly pre Xmas. In other words, perfect for seeing a rock gig in a tightly packed bar! The band was set up tight in a corner with a fan blowing some air around in the vain hope of cooling off a bit.

Everyone was packed in tight to see them as it was the first time they’d be playing some of these songs live. Earplugs went in as the the hum of the guitar and rhythmic bass and drums of Give Up The Ghost started from the corner. By the end of the song it was ear crushingly loud, just as you’d expect from a full noise rock band in such a small space. It was stifilingly hot straight away, but by the time the end of noise and energy of track three Syria had subsided I was dripping and my (now) wife who had opted for a jumper and was in the middle of some deep clothing regret.

Sometime around track six or seven, short of passing out, we decamped outside for a song to take a breather outside in the vain hope of cooling off. In reality, the only thing that worked was grabbing a cold beer and using the bottle as a ice pack for as long as it would work. So we jumped back in to hear the rest of the show.

By the time the closing bars of The Great Unknown rolled off the stage. I was happy, exhausted (probably heat exhaustion to be honest) and already reflecting on how nothing beats seeing a band you love, in an intimate setting playing live. All the elements - the heat, the sound, the crowd, the venue, the performance all combined to make made it a such a special night that I won't forget in a hurry.