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Gig Review: Ha the Unclear at Whammy

Ha the Unclear at Whammy 

Friday 21 June, 2024 

Photographs by Milad Asadi 

Full Feature by Elle Daji 

An effective test for the success of a gig is whether one had a wardrobe malfunction. I propose a moment of silence for the recently thrifted Wynn Hamlin top. Whose broken strap is a worthy sacrifice to the alternative-pop gods, Ha The Unclear. If that doesn’t paint a clear picture of how hard I danced, I don’t know what will. Fresh off a plane from Paris, the Ōtepoti band returns down under to tell the whimsical tales of their new album ‘A kingdom in a Cul-De-Sac’. The band recently signed to French record label Think Zik!, and after touring the album around Paris, their Kiwi audience gets to engage in a pas de Deux with their favourite alternative-pop band. The narrative forward album is worth going through with a fine tooth comb. On a second listen and read of the lyrics, you get songs full of insights into the human condition, unconscious interactions and fish. I was delighted to dance my Saturday night away feverishly with an audience that yelled the lyrics alongside me.
That night, there was a deal at Whammy Bar: buy one Ha The Unclear ticket and get bands Marmalade and Pocket Money free! Marmalade filled the room with some folky acoustic tunes. A highlight of their set was a song detailing the emotional tax of working in hospitality, dealing with customers' plight. As a proud hospo worker myself, I enjoyed the whoops and cheers for the profession. Then came the humorous and, at times, off-kilter lyrics of Pocket Money, detailing nostalgic times of looking for bugs in the bush and a love song between a bee and a tree. They created the atmosphere of a comedy show with the eruption of laughter from the crowd. The perfect duo of amuse bouches to ready the auditory palette for the meaty main course.
As a 5’4 woman stuffed in the back of Whammy Bar, the only indication that Ha the Unclear had walked on stage was some serious whooping from the crowd. However, the lack of visibility in no way impacted my show experience as I was in for one ripper of a dance party. From the first line of ‘Secret Lives of Furniture,’ I could tell we were in for a good show. Vocalist Michael Cathro’s vocal inflection takes on such a character, and I am left in awe of the expression he can pack into his voice. Percussive consonants add this gritty texture to the song; I genuinely believe the persona of a coffee table is devoted to its owner.
“I’m mute, I’m rimu, I’m loyal.”
Nothing is better than standing in an audience full of strangers, chorusing alongside you. The interconnected web of people that makes up the fabric of a community only to disperse as the gig ends. This sentiment is articulated far more creatively in the next track, ‘Strangers’. The beauty of hearing this tune live is that the song’s sentiment is reflected in the environment of the bar—a crowd of primarily strangers going up together, not in an elevator but in energy.
“Bump into a stranger, in an elevator. Going up, going up, going up together”
A slower tune followed with ‘Alchemy’. Lovely harmonisation accompanied a grooving, swaying crowd. Every man who has ever taken a photo with a fish rejoices with the next track rejoices with ‘Fish’. Just as fish don’t know that they are in water, I do not know how the band effortlessly weaves together a program of music that is so diverse thematically but seamlessly blends to create a cohesive program.  
Anyone with long-distance friendships will relate to the wistful words of ‘Wallace Line.’ A song with tension building guitar lines and jaunty percussion that accompany some yearning lyrics. Following this, the thoughts of someone stumbling home through the city at 10 am with ‘Mannequins’. Fittingly, next, come the desperate calls and questions of someone who has suddenly lost their love with ‘Growing Mould’. A far more stripped-back song came next with ‘Mind and Matter’. The end of this song is interspersed with bird song and a child’s musings. Distorted guitars blend, creating a gorgeous tapestry of sound, giving the audience the space to stop and recharge. Maybe a strange nexus, but my mind went to ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ by ABBA, and I fear I almost cried.
“Storefront mannequins are lazy/ At least crash test dummies have real jobs.”
“We are going to sing a French song.” A cover, in fact, ‘C’est Comme Ça’, a funky French tune accompanied by some charming Dunedin-esque vowels. You can take the accent out of New Zealand; however, Michael Cathro’s distinctly New Zealand accent only strengthens. A fun personal anecdote about this next song: when I first heard this track, I listened to it on repeat for days and noticed it moved up a slot on the band’s top songs on Spotify. I like to think that it was all due to my listening. Unfortunately, it's a tune that doesn’t grace the new album but is definitely a fan favourite. It’s true, it’s me, I am the fan.
The show was closed out with Bacterium. There was no encore to follow despite the absolute roar of “one more song” to urge the band back on stage. You could feel the energy in the venue deflate as the realisation hit that they were not coming back. In all honesty, it was nice to have a band sing the songs they wanted to sing and call it a night. It's Ha the Unclear’s show, and they’ll play if they want to.
I can only hope that you, too, experience the magical storytelling of Ha the Unclear. I thoroughly enjoyed the thoughtful curation of songs that create the perfect lively atmosphere needed in a live music environment. The lyrics postulate ideas for you to chew on rather than give conclusive answers and sing thoughts you might hear in your head in the shower or on a night out. Diverse narratives that have not left my mind since. It was a multifaceted night, I laughed, cried, and danced embarrassingly enough to break my top.