Joe Stumble ran my favorite blog, Last Days of Man on Earth for five years, before moving to NZ from the [American] Midwest in 2010 to pursue his Masters degree at Auckland University. He will be writing regularly for Straight To Video about life in New Zealand, primarily with regards to the arts. –KM

My Night With The Subliminals

— by Joe Stumble

The Flying Nun 30th anniversary hoopla happened about two months ago all over New Zealand and with it a host of reunion shows all over the North and South Islands. A lot of real culty acts got in on the action including but not limited to Fetus Productions, The Clean, The Chills, The Verlaines as well as a Shayne Carter super-show where he did numbers from all of his classic acts. The Doublehappys were always my personal favourite, but that is a different story.

Whilst I deeply love all of these bands with a passion that could probably best be described as ‘burning’, I also in my ever-increasing old age have become a little skeptical of reunion shows by classic new wave / underground bands. By little, I mean a lot. By a lot, I mean completely.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, man that Stumble guy. He’s such an uptight bastard. Can’t he just go out and have a little fun and enjoy the good old days a bit? Sing along to The Undertones without Feargal or watch Black Flag at 50 shred through a version of Wasted. The answer, of course is an unequivocal ‘no’. I can’t.  Not even at Coachella.  Sorry.

Why? Because the music I listened to at any particular moment in time represents that moment in time. Chances are, if I was fanatical about your band when I was 17 or 27 or maybe 37, it was because at that time, your band was critically important to me. I like my memories. I’m like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, ‘I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe.’ I don’t want a re-enactment of my memories. I’m too fucking busy making new ones.

I’m not even going to mention that rock-n-roll is a youth-oriented medium. Have you seen the latest Van Halen video for chrissakes? Sweet baby Jesus.

So why, dear reader, would I want to see one of my favourite bands of all time, lumber aimlessly through a song that I love passionately in their advancing age, thereby shitting on both their own personal legacy and my own personal history? The answer is of  course, ‘I don’t’.

Obviously then, with a militant stance like this one, it only makes sense that I would find  myself front row and center for The Clean reunion gig during the whole Flying Nun shebang. But before I could see The Clean, I first had to watch a band called The Subliminals who released an EP and a CD on Flying Nun back in 1999-2000.

Now, The Subliminals are not a part of my personal history– I had heard them before (on the Flying Nun Box Set) but they didn’t really stick.  Maybe this is why I was so completely fucking impressed by the band, because they did not represent a prior moment in my life. Or maybe it was because as far as reunions go, theirs was still pretty recent. Or maybe it was because they are so good that they just transcend the entire issue I have with reunion shows altogether. Probably a combination of all three. Irregardless, I found myself completely entranced by the band and their approach.

Coming out of the ashes of prior Kiwi bands The Hasselhof Experiment and Loves Ugly Children and inspired by the motorik sounds of Neu! amongst many other things, The Subliminals founded in the late 1990s and played around Auckland a little bit. Their two releases whilst being very good, hinted nothing at how amazing a live act they are/were.

The strength of the band lies with the tight rythm patterns set by bassist Jared Johanson and drummer Brendan Moran. Over this, dual guitar players Steve Reay and Simon MacLaren lay down some serious skronk. Neither the rythm or the skonkage is ever needlessly flashy. Instead, the band opts for a hypnotic, repetitive sound that really draws you in.

The Subliminals live are one of those bands that cause you to shake your head in disbelief whilst watching. You just can’t believe the good fortune of experiencing them in the here and now. This is what all of my great live rock-n-roll moments have shared.  A sense that the moment you are experiencing is unique and life-affirming; the immediacy of the medium helping for one flickering second to transcend the mortal coil. Coincidentally, this sense of transcendence is exactly what is missing in most reunion gigs, which by their nature force you to re-live the past.

Ah-hah, maybe I am on to something here.

Oh yeah, and The Clean. I’m a fanatical Clean fan. There was a point in my history where Boodle Boodle Boodle was a constant soundtrack to my day-to-day life. The show was a real homecoming for the audience and there were people there that had been part of the Auckland punk scene thirty years ago. Everyone seemed to have a great time dancing to great songs by three great blokes and reliving great old memories. Who am I to disrespect that?

Still, I found my opinions on reunion shows confirmed at the end of the night by The Clean whilst at the same time being puzzled by The Subliminals. How could a band that good have escaped my grasp for so long?