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Gig Review: Peach Pit at Powerstation

Peach Pit
Wednesday 18 October

Photographs and words by Beth Torrance-Hetherington

Peach Pit is lead singer and rhythm guitarist Neil Smith, lead guitarist Chris Vanderlooy, bassist Peter Wilton and drummer Mikey Pascuzzi. The night air was balmy outside the venue; I wore shorts for the first time in about six months. I stepped into the warm, dark belly of the Powerstation. I carried my camera and a G&T into the smoke and just managed to slip through the gap at the barricade’s edge.

Tāmaki Makaurau band K M T P opened. Their indie-pop sensibilities are strong, and their infusion of melodic synth lines quickly becomes a motif that connects you to the music and ethos of the band. They seemed stoked to be there. The energy and dynamism of the performances were unmistakable and the crowd loved it.

By the time Peach Pit walked onstage, the venue was completely packed out. My breath caught as I watched the band don their instruments, struck with that strange, potent feeling of seeing the artists you love in the flesh for the first time as tangible people, mythology dispersing, sweat beading under the stage lights. They held all the tension of the room in their fingers. We waited with bated breath. This is possibly what made the following all the more surprising. The band launched into a never-heard-before death metal number. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Neil Smith growled gutturally into the mic, ‘Let me see your goat!’ as he pitched his hands forward in the red glow and signed rock ’n’roll. The crowd unleashed hell, the room filling with screams and goats’ horns.

I watched it all unfold through the viewfinder. When I pulled the camera away, Neil was throwing himself from the stage. I laughed. Hands were already raised and primed to catch and carry him through the crowd, which already smelt like weed. I hadn’t expected a band of self-described ‘chewed bubblegum pop’ to kick things off with a hair-raising death metal number and a crowd surf, but as soon as it was happening it made perfect sense.

I felt someone brush past me and realised that it was Neil leaping back onto the stage. He donned his black Danelectro and plucked the beginning notes of ‘Being so Normal’ under purple lights. I felt the atmosphere in the room tear open.

‘Being so Normal’, along with others, was played at a slightly faster tempo to accommodate for the heightened energy of the space. I began to watch famously moustache-clad Chris Vanderkooy and fell into somewhat of a reverie as I saw him create the precise notes I’d been listening to since high school. As he began to play the lick that marks the bridge of ‘Black Licorice’, anticipated note-for-note through so many listens, I felt something seismic in me click.

Songs like Being so Normal’s ‘Private Presley’ soundtracked the summer heat and melancholy of the walk from one side of my small town to the other. I’m often wary of chorus effect, but the chorus-heavy tone of Neil’s finger picking through the song has only ever charmed and resonated with me. I stared wide-eyed as a violinist readied his instrument and bowed the beautiful melody that had become inextricable from those aching, river-filled summers. Other numbers like ‘Black Licorice’ of their sophomore album You and Your Friends returned me to the listlessness and electric anticipation of each morning of April 2020 bleeding into every sunbeamed afternoon.

During the solo of ‘Private Presley’, Chris’ guitar cut out. He’d accidentally stepped on his lead. I watched as he fell to his knees before me and scrambled to plug it back in — once, twice — before a sound tech rushed from offstage to fix it, just in time for the peak of the solo. I’d always wondered what he’d used to create that wah sound — now I stared at his foot inches from my face, spellbound, as he worked the pedal.

Before I’d watched live videos of them, their surf rock sound led me to believe Peach Pit’s live presence was unassuming. I don’t know how I came to this conclusion: the ripping solos in songs like ‘Being so Normal’, ‘Private Presley’, ‘Alrighty Aphrodite’ and ‘Psychics in LA’ will tear you a new one. The band’s guts will punch your own, and then give you a confounding friendly punch in the shoulder. They buzz with crackling energy and humour that is humanising and infectious.

The instant relatability of Peach Pit’s lyrics is in the details: subtleties; small observations; endearing narratives that will always be absent from the humdrum pop that haunts the supermarket. You aren’t listening to the story about the party: you were there, getting fucked up.

‘Hey there bud, how’d it go last night? / I saw you at the bandstand looking pretty slammed / Did you see me feeding all my drinks to Cam?’ — ‘Tommy’s Party’.

The camaraderie of the band was palpable: it was obvious they’re great and long-lasting friends. It was a delight to watch Chris duck walk across the stage and Neil run on the spot, deadpan, as he played. Every so often Chris would look up at the crowd and grin. I watched him sing along, moving forwards to step on a delay or a volume pedal, followed by a prance around the stage, Chuck Berry style. At one point, himself and the violinist shared a kiss.

This is what is so great about Peach Pit as a band. Aside from their incredible natural talent as musicians and aptitude for their respective instruments, their musical and on-stage intuition, charisma and humour keep you on your toes, instantly raising the bar and cultivating a gratifying connection with the audience. Their performances demonstrated a tangible push-and-pull of polished rehearsal and spontaneity, a constant cresting between waves of shininess and grit; of indie-poptastic joy and of deep and highly-attuned sadness. Nothing is manufactured. It’s exhilarating. It feels like watching magic unfold.

Returns to early songs later in the set such as namesake ‘Peach Pit’ and ‘Seventeen’ saw them acknowledge their roots, as well as ‘Drop the Guillotine’, a stand-out performance. At this point, I had moved to the back, having milked my position in front of the barricade for as long as possible. That proximity to the band felt like being inside of the music, or watching the music create itself, exploding and reeling itself back in. I watched Neil’s fingers dance across the fretboard, each note slotting itself between the folds of memory.

It was also great to experience the rich stereo sound the back offered, instead of getting a blasting from the left. A call for an encore pulled them back onstage to play three final numbers, amongst them ‘Shampoo Bottles’, one of my favourite Peach Pit songs. The quality of the show speaks to the genuine uniqueness of their sound, greatness of the songs and talent of the musicians.

At the end of the show, Neil thanked the audience. He said the band had come a long way from playing in Chris’ upstairs bedroom in his dad’s house. They’d just wanted to play the Imperial Vancouver. Now they were here. Yes, the crowd cried. You are here.