Headless Chickens — live in Auckland

Headless Chickens played their first gig in almost a decade last Friday. The setlist was packed with great songs, the crowd was into it, the sound was excellent. They rocked.

Headless Chickens have been one of my favourite bands since the early ’90s, even though they pretty much called it a day in about 2000. I remember listening to their first recordings on BFM in New Zealand 20 years ago, and then the splash they made in Australia a few years later with their Body Blow album. I still listen to their music now, so imagine my surprise when the Fiona McDonald we met when we moved back to Auckland turned out to be Fiona Headless Chicken, whose sweet yet gutsy voice helped make the Chooks such a unique band. And imagine my even more surprised surprise when I found out that the band were going to re-form for a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

So along we went. The venue was the Powerstation in Mount Eden. The last act I saw there was Beats International, one of Norman Cook’s pre-Fatboy Slim guises, about 20 years ago. I was also there the night they ignored fire regulations and crammed 1400 people into the 600-capacity venue for a Deborah Harry show… now that was a hot night. It all seems so long ago now. Because it was. But this is 2008 and so we went in to see the support band Brand New Math giving their all to a few interested spectators. They made a decent noise, but I prefer their recorded output. Anyway, people came in throughout the evening so by the time the Chickens strolled on stage the Powerstation was full. And they started.

Chris Matthews has a unique voice that belies his average-Joe appearance. He can convey an insistent, unrelenting menace one moment and move to fragile vulnerability (or even vulnerable fragility) the next. During the “I’m much too tired to think” part in Gaskrankinstation I actually thought he was going to collapse in despair and exhaustion.

The sound was clear and loud but not too loud. I brought earplugs to muffle the inevitable feedback and lo-fi distortion, but it turned out to be evitable after all — I took the earplugs out for half the songs. Technically it seemed to go well, though Chris seemed to have some microphone problems once or twice.

Photo: Wonderferret

The highlights were Gaskrankinstation and Donde Esta La Pollo because those really got the crowd rocking, and Juice because of Fiona’s excellent performance. Donka was a pretty good rendition of an excellent song, and I was pleased they did Mr Moon, which is yet another of my favourites. And it was great to hear Monkey Jar again, and their “more Garbage than Garbage” number George, and Railway Surfing was another high energy stomper. And… well, you get the picture.

We had to leave at the end of the main set because Jo was actually pretty unwell. I never heard Do the Headless Chicken or Expecting to Fly, so I was sure they would play those songs in the encore. I found later that I was right. My obligatory song-I-wish-they-had-played is Inside Track. I especially love the dub version of that track. Good thing I have the CD.

Actually I don’t need the CD or the iPod, because Donka, Gaskrankinstation, Juice and Mr Moon have been playing continuously in my head since the gig. If I don’t make it to the Big Day Out to see them again, at least I’ve got the music in my brain.

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