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Gig Review: Office Dog at Whammy

Office Dog at Whammy 

Saturday 29 June 2024 

Full feature by Liam Hansen 

Photographs by Álvaro Fernández

Fresh off of the international release of their 2023 debut ‘Spiel’, Office Dog has hit the road once again to raise funds for a tour of the USA and bring the self-described Office Dog Family across the motu, reminding us all of the blessing their emergence in the scene has brought forth. 

Despite their singles being broadcast across the Student Radio Network (and netting them an SRN award for Te Rōpū Mariu (Favourite Group) last year), the trio have been a bit difficult to catch live as frontman Kane Strang resides in Ōtepoti while bassist Rassani Tolovaa and drummer Mitchell Innes stick out with us in Tāmaki Makaurau. The trio had a couple standalone gigs, opening slots for the likes of Dinosaur Jr., and a tour to promote ‘Spiel’ last year, but the only time I had managed to catch them live so far was at The Others Way Festival 2023. As tends to happen with Karangahape Road festivals, Whammy Mainroom was packed to the brim with punters trying to squeeze their way into the venue to see a glimpse of them live before sprinting to the next venue - myself being one of them, only catching a few tracks before power walking to Galatos St for Vera Ellen and Fazerdaze. Even from those few tracks alone, I knew I could not let that be the last time I see them live. 

Flashing back to the present day, now! The evening began with a solo showcase from Violet Hirst, one of the best singer-songwriters Tāmaki has had to offer in recent years, and self-proclaimed honorary member of Office Dog when the tracks call for a bit of piano. She was armed on stage with nothing but a chunky Korg keyboard and her laptop, spending the first half her set sharing a batch of soft, sweet ballads with the audience as they trickled in from St Kevins Arcade. Despite being on relatively different ends of the alternative music spectrum, you can hear why Violet had been dragged into the frey of Office Dog in her solo work. Many of her piano melodies would have sounded straight out of Spiel if they were played on a guitar, and her lyrics and song structures contained the same post-punk edge  - even if the instrumentation was entirely different. 

She continued slightly switching up the vibe between tracks throughout her set, moving her keyboard presets from piano keys, to organs, to swelling synths - slowly hypnotising the audience as her performances grew in energy until the point that the ballads became bangers. It was around that point she switched over to performing against backing tracks, slowly dancing whilst singing and maintaining heavy eye contact with her laptop screen to keep time. Even as she performed the live debut of her newest track ‘For You’ on stage, she replicated the dances performed on an Ōtepoti beach in its music video. As she finished her set, she scooched the keyboard to the side of the stage - making space for the upcoming bands, while knowing she would be right back up there in the very next set. 

Kane Strang hadn’t played his solo music with a full band in years by the time this tour rolled around, despite its immense popularity throughout and beyond Aotearoa. Despite obvious parallels between his styles in Office Dog and on his own, the solo discography is still its own beast - maintaining the grunge edge whilst trading out the surreal and metaphorical lyrics of the new band with deeply personal, stream-of-consciousness hooks and verses. The four-piece (that became a five-piece when Violet Hirst jumped on stage for the second time that night) played classics from across their catalogue, maintaining a tightness and grit throughout each track - Quite literally, as Kane was singing through gritted teeth at certain points. 

Much of the solo work across his discography remains in a relatively low-fidelity state, with the crunchy reverb-laden production being a major draw - which is cool, but can be difficult to translate into a live setting. Kane and Co. did not struggle with this. They kept the same energy of the records whilst tightening up their sound and allowing for slight changes - especially in Kane’s vocal delivery. The choruses in tracks like “Oh So You’re Off I See” and “Things Are Never Simple” were shouted, rather than delivered in the calm monotone his voice has become known for. This doesn't mean the set was without soft moments though - the crowd had gone silent when Kane and Violet were riffing with each other, before exploding with the finish of one of his top tracks, ‘Two Hearts and No Brain’. 

Bringing the already strong energy at Whammy up to another level, Salt Water Criminals were up next - a Tāmaki exclusive on the tour who were hot off of their stunning Wine Cellar performance at JUNK FEST earlier in June. The raucous crowd at that performance has clearly helped boost their confidence for the next wee while, and it was evident on stage - this was one of their tightest sets I’ve ever seen. Each song was marked by heavily distorted and bright guitars and a progressively more chaotic crowd, all dancing and jumping along to the punchiest of drum kits. 

Tracks like 2023 bFM favourite ‘My Greatest Achievement’ were marked by their sound being grown dynamically to a separate level from their recorded material, and the rest of their set contained their trademark mixture of introspective indie rock with a couple pieces of emo-adjacent flair. The consistent, almost random explosions of noise made the quartet a crowd favourite, and I felt sorely sorry for the rest of the country who wouldn’t have the luxury of seeing them live for the rest of the OD Aotearoa tour. 

Finally, the headliners took to the stage to share a variety of new material alongside fan-favourites from “Spiel”. The stage was cast in a mixture of red and green and didn't differ for the rest of the night - judging by the ‘Free Palestine’ stickers on Kanes stratocaster, it’s safe to bet the trio chose those stage colours for a reason. The new music shared in the set shared an edge of aggression seldom seen in their catalogue, beginning their set with the duo of unreleased tracks “Another Time” and “Nancy” (the latter of which my cohort of showgoers were particularly excited about). 

There were only a few guitar pedals on stage - distortion and tuners, which regardless helped to carry out the depth of the band's sound across the venue. Part of me was also enamoured by just how gorgeous Kanes vocals are live, stretching between moments of softness and shouting that are seldom heard in the recorded material. This was put on display during one of the slowest tracks off Spiel, ‘Warmer’ - which brought Violet Hirst back on stage for the third time to accompany the band with her vocals and keys. Her softer harmonies played against Kane’s voice as he brought forth his falsetto and vibrato abilities, the latter of which was continuously seen throughout the set. 

The closing title track from ‘Spiel’ was the penultimate song on their set, remaining one of my favourites of the night. Closing out the album with the apology of “Sorry for the spiel” is constantly ingrained in my mind. Finally, the band closed the night out with one last unreleased track - ‘Tunnels’, which Kane introduced by admitting they weren’t sure how well they would do given how new it was, before telling himself off for being too self loathing and eventually admitting that it was one of his favourite songs he had penned with the group. He was right to shut down his tall poppy syndrome; ‘Tunnels’ is absolutely brilliant. It’s one of the most interesting and varied songs I’ve heard from across Kane’s career - approaching a decade long at this point - as he switched between bright guitar riffs, sporadic drum fills, and some of the angriest vocal deliveries I’ve ever heard from the group. It was a fantastic closure to a near-perfect set of songs, and proof that if you have any mates in the USA you should give them a yell about seeing one of the best new bands from Aotearoa before the blow up across the globe. Please stop apologising for your spiels, Office Dog - we will never stop loving them.