RATSO, REVIEWED (2023): Gimme a smile . . . shut your face

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RATSO, REVIEWED (2023): Gimme a smile . . . shut your face
The Warners used to do that, said Greg who was working the door at Big Fan.

A lot of people did, I said and we both laughed.

I'd actually been laughing with delight for most of the night when Ratso were playing, they were delivering their disciplined, outrageously enjoyable and very familiar flat-tack adrenalin-fuelled rock'n'roll to a small but enthusiastic audience of fans and the curious.

I'd seen them a couple of weeks before at an even smaller venue on New North Road around the corner and nearly had my eye taken out by the swinging neck of Bruno's bass.

ratso1But now I was back for more, as was my friend Karl – who like Greg – has seen hundreds of not thousands of gigs.

In fact Karl is applying for the Guinness Book of Records for the most number of gigs attended in a year by someone who isn't a reviewer, venue staff or roadie. Karl's none of those, just a genuine music fan.

A big fan at Big Fan to see Ratso, who I think are his new favourite local band. He's seen them about half a dozen times.

[Correction, Karl tells me he has seen them only five times. This year. At least 30 times all up. Yep, He is a BIG fan]

We were going to meet at the pub across the road but he wanted to see the opening act Neon Serpent. I caught a couple of songs and after the first one said to my wife that I'd done my time watching Smokefree Rockquests and didn't need this. They were young, enthusiastic and seemed to have songs about witches or something but . . .

We went to the pub. Karl joined us not long after.

I think they actually were a Rockquest band.

Later we went back and caught the tail end of the Situations who were terrific.

Then there was some standing around. I knew quite a few people there: I talked with Adam who hadn't seen Ratso before or been in the venue (which he thought looked like a little film studio set). We chatted about work and The Fall.

ratso2I talked with Dan a well-known guitarist about town who was there because he knew John. Marty was there – but Marty is always at every gig I go to, he's made for it and his 13th Floor website is a cornerstone if you want interviews with local and international artists, reviews and so on. He deserves an award.

Brendon walked past me – he works with Karl, we agree about some music but I don't think he rates me because I consider David Dobbyn's Twist a great album. He's more into My Bloody Valentine and probably the Fall.

[Correction. Brendon tells me he likes Dobbyn . . . and the Situations who are playing early July at Cupid. He certainly like My Bloody Valentine.]

Grant was there, he's the guy who has released about 100 CDs of local music from the Sixties – everything from mainstream pop to obscure underground rock bands – and so were Dylan and Cath from Independent Music NZ (the people behind the Taite Awards etc).

[Correction: Dylan is at IMNZ but Cath is at the NZ Music Commission. I get easily confused by such things. Mea Culpa.]

There were also a dozen very young girls who – like all teenagers -- desperately needed to find their friend across the room for a few minutes then desperately needed to go outside then desperately needed to find another friend.

It was fun to watch them even if they didn't watch much of Ratso.

ratso3And how could you not watch Ratso?

There was steamroller energy pouring from the stage – if the steamroller had the engines of a MIG fighter jet attached – and the short, sharp, singalong songs bristled with furious energy.

We – Greg, Karl, me and quite a number of others – would agree on one thing, Ratso don't do anything innovative or different. They play rock'n'roll from that area where the Venn Diagrams of the D4 (singer/guitarist Jake was in them), hard rock (those piercing guitar solos from Tomi!) and the Ramones intersect.

It's where Japan's Guitar Wolf – who played Big Fan a few weeks previous with the D4 – prowls and shouts “1-2-3-4 lock'n'loll” and away they go again.

Although he's a cheerleader and singer, and is a man who knows how to swing a microphone and bang a tambourine on his chest, promoter/rock'n'roll fan and music archivist John Baker – onetime road manager for the White Stripes and who had his own garage-rock band the Psychodaisies – is a visual focus as he leaps off the stage, chats to the crowd, waves to faces he recognises and then yells out lyrics to songs like Shut Your Face, Arseholes and Bullshit, Living Dead, Gimme a Smile and Live For Nothing.

The titles tell you something.

ratso4So okay, in critical terms Ratso do nothing new.

But as the great Little Richard once said, “It ain't what you do, it's the way how you do it”.

Rasto do it, they take chopped'n'channeled garage-band rock'n'roll onto a small stage and make a big noise.

I didn't realise it but this was them launching their debut album which I think is called Live in Otautahi, recorded live in the Christchurch Town Hall last November.

On the way out I saw they had a limited number on red vinyl, just 50 copies. But not numbered as Greg noted with a laugh.

No matter. It was bloody expensive ($85!) but I bought one, not just as a memento of a great night and a terrific rock'n'roll band but to put a few coins in their pockets in the hope and expectation they just keep making the noise they do.

[Correction? Nope none, I really do want them to keep doing what they do.]

a3074607268_10I didn't know it until I got it home that the album in a handmade cover came with a little booklet of band photos, a set list and some notes from their soundman Graham Bennett.

It is dedicated to Garden City (Christchurch) rockers Chants R&B, the Androidss, Axel Grinders, Vandals . . .

You get the picture.

I see from Facebook Karl also bought a copy.

I think later that night we found our ears were hurting from the volume and our faces were strained from all the grinning and laughing.

Big fans at Big Fan.

How big a fan? Well, I bought the vinyl and it is available as a download from bandcamp here for about a tenth the price.

That big a fan.


Rasto, Big Fan, Morningside, Auckland, New Zealand. June 9 2023 


Elsewhere tries to take a different approach to reviewing live concerts, often looking at the bigger picture or wider context rather just a setlist recount of the show.

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