Review: Ali Nicholls / Photography: Connor Crawford
/ Monday 12th October, 2020 9:47AM
In anticipation of their soon-to-be-released third album, Auckland locals Cut Off Your Hands wish the hallowed halls of Whammy! farewell in what is to be one of their last performances together.
2008 was a pretty good year to be starting high school in Auckland. The remaining drips of Brit rock were slipping through the fingers of the indie scene into the gargantuan mitts of the commercial pop industry in the UK, but the scene in my home town was still gripping on to those threads of janky guitars and dry snares, and carving out a little corner of indie pop space amid the Tāmaki post-punk renaissance.
Now the band are ready to bring their Cut off Your Hands experience to a close, and said farewell to a crowd of seasoned moshers with an astonishing night celebrating the scene that has shaped their sounds, and gratitude to the crowds that have looked forward to each new release. Packing their broad musical range into a carefully sequenced double-set show, with three different renditions of COYH taking the stage, it was clearly no small gesture for the band to call it a day. Opened by Pash, an ambient duo fresh off the press in Auckland, then by local psych-rock trio ECHO OHS, the night played out over a mammoth four hours with not a moment wasted.
The first set began with ‘Lows’ and transitioned seamlessly into ‘Higher Lows and Lower Highs’ from which the latest album HLLH earns its name. The track pops off with a four on the floor beat, shiny synths, and some very enthusiastic tambourine. Their funk and dance influences come through unapologetically on their most boogie friendly release yet, and seeing it live lifted the euphoric body rhythms to a whole new dimension. ‘Hate Somebody’ follows and the four vocalists carry the sound further still into their influences where Tina Weymouth style bass licks meet their ever-popular indie pop origins.
‘Oh Girl’ falls seamlessly into place amid the review of their new material, and it’s a solid opportunity for the band to remind us that while their style may have evolved, they’ve been refining a signature sound for years that weaves between genres without losing focus. Produced under the influence of Brit rock giant Bernard Butler (of Suede), COYH’s first album You & I is absolutely dripping with nostalgia for the golden era of haphazardly organised scout hall gigs and upbeat teenage post-punk. ‘Live For Each Other’ follows, bringing us back to the bass, kicks, cowbells, and dreamy vocals of the new album.
‘On The Sea’ flows into ‘By Your Side’, the third track of sophomore album Hollow. The dream-casting soft synths solidify the sentimentality of the night. ‘Blue Smoke Draft’, written about Nick Johnston’s last visits with his grandfather at a hospice, casts a warm emotional light over the new material. For all of its finger-tapping, party starting potential, the album is also smoked with reflection. A whole range of contorted experiences, realisations and aspirations unfold throughout the first set, which takes us far beyond the indie pop-punk thrills of their first release twelve years ago. But the playful groove that runs through the album evaporates any self-consciousness that could have defined these emotional portraits of settling in to your own life, and the heart pumping rhythm that carries us into the second half of the show sets a perfect balance of dance-floor introspection and celebration.
Set two dives into ‘Hollow’, dishing out a healthy serving of dream wave mixing with a touch of psychedelia. Two feet stay on the ground of their signature sound, and the whakapapa of their work and style becomes more apparent as the tracks roll on. By about halfway through the set, things are amping up. The crowd, struggling to contain their pent up excitement, needs a lift. A quick change from producer Jeremy Toy to original guitarist Michael Ramirez hints at what we’re gasping for. As the first ripping chords of ‘Turn Cold’ shred through the air, so do a hundred grasping arms and raucous cheers. The bodies are packed, and systematically folding over the feedback amps and falling back against the padded pillars that have narrowly saved countless concussions. Johnston is writhing around and clambering up to the crowd, offering the mic out to anyone close enough to reach.
A sharp elbow to the ribs is all the signal needed to throw me back to my first COYH show, at Cassette 9 in my late high school years. There just aren’t any other acts like them in Auckland, and it hit me then that this really was our last time to do this with these guys. We’re climbing over one another, thrashing out angst, swimming in a churning pit of bodies as the band takes us back with ‘Expectations’, ‘You and I’, and ‘Still Fond’. Someone’s crowd surfing, which I only realise when the sharp edge of well worn Docs smack me in the back of the head. There isn’t any time to turn around and see who it is, it’s just everyone for themselves as we all fight to the last line.
Nick Johnston dishes out his thanks and the band heads out the side curtain. It’s a bit of a shell shocked moment as it begins to dawn on us that some of the most beloved and renowned musicians to come together in this city are calling it a night. But among the melancholy of the end of a night that showcased a journey through sound and style are hundreds of grinning, sweaty and euphoric fans experiencing the last little taste of a golden era in our musical history. There are two shows left this month, and that’ll be it. Get your fix while you can — there won’t be anything else quite like it. Ali Nicholls
Cut Off Your Hands play two final send off events this month, at Auckland’s Whammy Bar on Thursday 29th October and at Wellington’s San Fran on Friday 30th October, tickets available via Banished Music. ‘HLLH’ launches on Friday 16th October, vinyl preorders are available via Flying Out.
Click on the thumbnail images below to view a gallery of Connor Crawford‘s snaps of Friday night’s event…