Dimmer’s Live At The Hollywood reviewed

October 25, 2023
3 mins read
Start
8/10

Summary

Dimmer – Live At The Hollywood (Crystalator)

Shayne Carter’s three-night 20th anniversary stand gives birth to lively double Dimmer vinyl. GARY STEEL cadges a preview.

Last year Shayne Carter reconvened his on-ice group Dimmer to perform three nights at Auckland’s Hollywood theatre. The gigs had been scheduled for 2021 to mark the 20th anniversary of the debut Dimmer album, I Believe You Are A Star, a record that many fans of the sometimes ferocious alt-rock of Carter’s previous band, Straitjacket Fits, had felt all at sea about at the time. The long arm of COVID saw those original dates postponed, hence the rejig a year later.

Radio New Zealand’s Andre Upston – an award-winning live recordist – made sure that the whole thing was captured for posterity, and Live At The Hollywood is the remarkable result. The first release on Carter’s own Crystalator label, the physical object consists of two lovely slabs of translucent pink and blue vinyl in a smart package.

While the resultant 14-song, 77-minute album might not add anything especially substantive to Dimmer’s legacy, at the same time it’s more than simply a memento of a concert, and it goes some way towards capturing the kind of loose-limbed energy and dynamics that are only really evident at a live event.

 

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Unsurprisingly, most of the songs are from that first Dimmer album, a recording that was mostly worked up with Pro tools in a container shed in a Grey Lynn backyard. For me, a big chunk of the record’s unique character comes from the isolationist feel of the record, and its sometimes-claustrophobic intimacy. I knew that it could be carried off in performance, because I saw the album’s launch gig at the Comedy Club in Auckland’s Queen St, a near-perfect exposition of a record in an entirely appropriate setting. (No, I don’t mean that it was a barrel of laughs or that Shayne worked up a standup routine).

I missed the three performances from which Live At The Hollywood is taken, but if I’m to trust the recordings (why wouldn’t I?) the newly refurbished, reconfigured Dimmer carried the I Believe You Are A Star material off with aplomb, naturally adding a real-time performance vibe to the songs and a whole lot more warmth. And although there isn’t a lot of audience noise (the clapping and hollering is faded out between songs), what’s there sounds appreciative. Could it be that the album, and the band, have aged so well that audiences get them better now than they did in 2001?

For whatever reason, the album starts with ‘Getting What You Give’, a song from the 2004 album You’ve Got To Hear The Music, which is given a soul inflexion via some rather too-loose horns and a shoo-in for a Sly & The Family Stone groove.

From there on in there’s a seven-song cluster from I Believe You Are A Star. It’s uncanny how they manage the life in one chord minimalism of ‘Drop You Off’, with that desiccated wah-wah guitar and Gary Sullivan’s (electronically enhanced?) weird-ass beats. A live version is, of course, an interpretation and it’s inevitable that listeners have to readjust to slight changes. Because the studio album was so determinedly spare, those small changes for the live setting are somehow more noticeable. On ‘Pendulum’, for instance, the descending bassline that’s so much a feature of the studio version is barely noticeable, but full marks to the band for convincingly navigating this low-down groove. The deeply melancholy instrumental ‘Drift’ has always been a personal favourite, and the live performance brings out its bass-heavy throb and disco-like drums.

Only two IBYAAS songs – ‘Powercord’ and ‘Sad Guy’ – are ditched, but the epic mega-drone 10 minutes and 26 seconds of ‘Seed’ makes up for that. I’ve always thought that the guitar line on this track wants to burst into Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, but perhaps that’s intentional. Guitar fans will love this monster, as well as the final track ‘Crystalator’, the first Dimmer single that never made it to an album but would close out early gigs with a howling guitar typhoon.

The inclusion of the noisy, droning ‘Scrapbook’ and the miserabilist apocalyptica of ‘What’s A Few Tears To The Ocean’ (from There My Dear), and the Kraut-like groove of ‘Searching Time’ (from You’ve Got To Hear The Music) made me take a mental note to revisit those other, slightly lesser Dimmer albums.

Live At The Hollywood is a nicely recorded exposition of one of the greatest NZ bands of the 21st century so far, and this 2022 version of the group (featuring long-time collaborators like James Duncan on guitar and bass and Gary Sullivan on drums) shows that there’s a veritable universe inside that chord and those relentless grooves.

+ Witchdoctor has got a copy of the double vinyl Live At The Hollywood to give away. Just sign up to our fortnightly newsletter on this page (see the box on the right) and you’ll automatically go into the draw!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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