Despite Watt Street having been turned into a racetrack for Supercars weekend, the church of rock ‘n’ roll was alive and well and easily found in Newcastle on Friday night. Approaching the venue, I knew I’d found the right place when I saw a hand-painted sign reading “Shihad. Friday 24th Nov” sitting outside a church with blaring music coming from inside. This had to be the place and I was feeling the Kiwi vibes already. Walking in, I just knew that this was going to be a particularly laid-back, intimate show, and although the crowd grew exponentially between the opening set by local punk rockers, Born Lion and Kiwi headliners Shihad, I was not wrong.
Born Lion opened up the night to somewhat of a shy crowd who appeared more than happy to hang back and enjoy some good music with a beer in hand. But not for long. Not put off by the turn out early in the night, the boys were clearly having a blast, despite being wedged between amps on the tiniest stage possible. To give bassist Nathan Mulholland a little breathing space, vocalist and guitar player, John Bowker regularly found himself out on the floor getting up close and personal with the most enthusiastic attendees, before coaxing the majority of the crowd forward to get their dancing shoes on for a mid-set video shoot. With the crowd well and truly warmed up by this point, Born Lion rocked through the latter half of their nine song set to a suddenly much more enthusiastic and playful room before graciously making way for the mighty Shihad.
Walking out onto the stage to a roomful of excited cheers, before bursting into a countdown intro into You Again, the Kiwi foursome – all clad in their signature style plain black t-shirts and jeans – proving once and for all that they have a dedicated following across the ditch from home, even after 29 years as a band. Having teased this tour as “maybe a hint” at what’s to come on their upcoming album – a follow up to 2014’s highly acclaimed FVEY (pronounced Five-Eyes), this particular show’s set list weighted quite heavily on a lot of their older music, especially in the first half of the show, playing six of the twelve songs on the set list from pre-2000 releases.
Following on from You Again, the boys were quick to jump into ‘Comfort Me‘ before playing two consecutive songs off their 1999 release, The General Electric – the title track from that album, and ‘My Mind’s Sedate’. As humble as ever, front man Jon Toogood was never too shy to thank the crowd for coming out and for their ongoing support over the years. While pausing to address the keen crowd of punters for a moment, Toogood looked around the Church before saying, “when I walked into this room this afternoon, I thought ‘man it’d be awesome if a bunch of rockers showed up tonight; and a bunch of rockers showed up.” That was all the encouragement that was needed to convince everybody in attendance to rock as hard as they could and sing loud as they could for the rest of the night. Fan favourite, ‘Pacifier’ saw bassist Karl Kippenberger get up close and personal with as many excited fans as he could, while Toogood found himself on top of an amp stack on the far side of the room to really ring that guitar solo to new heights.
‘Deb’s Night Out’, off 1995’s Killjoy album came next, before a particularly well-received heartfelt dedication of ‘Factory’, off Shihad’s 1993 debut album, Churn, to all everyone who had ever supported Shihad by going to a show. ‘Factory’ certainly separated the men from the boys – or in this case, the hard core and old school Shihad fans from the casual listener.
Jumping forward again to another track off The General Electric, ‘Wait & See’ saw just how much rock and roll and 110 year old church could handle, with the volume in the room being cranked up one louder than ten. Standing next to an amp, I was almost physically blown over by the sheer power of noise coming from beside me, before the ceilings decided to rain down on the room jam packed with keen attendees of the Church of rock n roll.
Taking a leap forward to a trifecta of songs off their most recent studio release – 2014’s highly acclaimed FVEY, saw the band and fans alike get interactive with each other for ‘Think You’re So Free‘ – the song which Toogood describes bandmate Tom Larkin’s drumming as making him feel like he’s playing in Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath… mixed with Shihad at the same time. ‘Cheap As’ saw the crowd chorusing back Toogood’s “cheap as” with “Cheap as fuck!” at the top of their lungs through the entirety of the song, before the boys closed off the main set with one of their most well-known hits, ‘Home Again’. A chill night filled with a good old fashioned rock show certainly made this Kiwi ex-pat feel home again. (See what I did there?)
Within literal seconds of stepping off the stage, a deafening chorus of “Shi-had! Shi-had! Shi-had!” tore through the building, bringing the boys back out within no time, looking as stunned as a deer in headlights at the reception. In paying homage to the great, late Malcolm Young from AC/DC, the Kiwi foursome declared they would jam some of their favourite Acca Dacca riffs. Toogood going on to credit Young for inspiring him to pick up and learn the guitar, before making it well clear that he “can’t sing like that guy from AC/DC. Even that guy from AC/DC can’t sing like the guy from AC/DC.” Powering through a particularly well-received (non vocal) cover of ‘Back In Black’. Following a remark of “If only I could sing like that, we’d be a fucking good AC/DC covers band,” Toogood is easily convinced to give that scream a try – but it’s probably for the best he doesn’t do that all the time.
Closing off the night with one of the first songs they ever wrote, ‘Churn’s Derail’, saw the boys haven’t forgotten their roots, staying behind offering out handshakes and high-fives all around. As one of New Zealand’s biggest rock exports, whether it’s headlining festivals such as Jim Beam Homegrown across the ditch, or playing intimate bars in small towns, these guys proving that they’ve still got what it takes to be a staple good night out at a rock show kind of band. Considering the number of songs from their early catalogue played this run, and the quality of their most recent release, FVEY, I think it’s safe to say that if this show was any hint at what to expect from their next record, Shihad fans will be very happy indeed.