Live shows from long ago… Wolfgang/Coup D’Etat

GARY STEEL’s 1980 review of a gig by the Red Mole theatre troupe splinter band that was soon to become the hitmaking Coup D’Etat.

 

Wolfgang, The Last Resort, Wellington

In some instances, audiences make all the difference – unless of course audiences are seen as a mere extension of the performers’ collective spirit/type-cast.

This very, very Last Resort Wolfgang audience sit, slounge and hippy-hypothesize, zen-positioning themselves on those grubby cushions, grabbing them 10-to-one, detracting irreparably from the show at hand. I mean, who wouldn’t find that indefinable talent, objectivism, hard to must at such times and in such circumstances.

 

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This band comprise ex-Red Molers Jan Preston and Neil Hannan, Steve Osborn and newcomer Harry Lyon. Where they go from here, I don’t know and can’t pretend to care.

They make great play of their redoubtable musical ability. Jan has been known to give occasional classical performances. Why she messes in the grubby world of rock’n’roll is beyond me.

For the first set, Jan and Neil duet. Jan: electric piano. Neil: bass. The music varies from semi-classical displays of virtuosity to jazz-tinged pieces, mostly original, one supposes. Jan sings bitter-sweet, intoning irritatingly thinly, plays token novelty melodica.

Despite her keyboard prowess, the electric Yamaha just ain’t subtle enough to convey the sensitivity and tonal colouring so vital to the music being played. Jan, you should know better. I really thought the ‘70s had proved once and for all how worthless displays of virtuosity (showing off) become within the rock medium.

Neil’s bass is never less than superb. Gliding runs, complex, with understated but effective nuances: Stanley Clarke, you’ve met your match. Like wow and marvy, man.

The second set, after an interminably long break, ushers the whole band (gasp, sighs of ecstasy, etc) onto the podium. They run through a number of capriciously suspicious modern pop period pieces, a few oldies but lots’n’lots of newish compositions contrived to make this audience feel they’re up with the play. You know, this NEW WAVE thingy. It doesn’t of course challenge their preconceptions, which is what new wave was all about, remember? Safe. Just new pop with a little added fake zest and nothing in particular to say. It must be nice to feel young and part of some unified movement to nowhere, albeit three years late, eh?

The band performance, though adequate by any standards, fails to impress one with anything bar the hint of enjoyed anonymity. They had fun, and so did the audience, so let’s leave them to it. Jan can keep singing like a classy Antipodean Ellen Foley – powerful but suspect pitch – and the band can keep plying their innocuous wares to the nation’s arts intelligentsia. It will go no further without some revision.

I left after the second set, so who knows, the rest of the evening may have been sheer delight. But audiences don’t improve with age, they become intolerable.

  • This was originally published in Wellington’s In Touch magazine, May 1980.

Note from 2022: I’m deeply ashamed of this review. I can barely understand myself a lot of the time. What an unforgiveable mishmash of a review. And so mean-spirited. I do apologise to the musicians involved. It must have been those grubby cushions and the way the patrons nabbed them all. I’d like to hear this music again now to see whether my perspective has changed, but I’m not sure they ever recorded.

 

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