(Above: Maybe the best band you’ve never heard of, Americans. I highly recommend you find this album.)
Any time you get a discussion going among music fans the question comes up: what was the greatest concert that you ever saw? Conversely, who did you see that didn’t live up to expectations on stage?
I was lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen twice. A Springsteen show is a sort of religious experience. It brings you up, it gives you pause, and you leave it changed in some formative way – even if that change is just that you’re exhausted from a four hour music festival.
But Springsteen is an easy one to pick. So would U2, the Rolling Stones, and the Who. Come to think of it, I’ve gotten to see some pretty legendary performers, and I am glad to have had the opportunity. (Perhaps my all-time favorite concert moment was the Who show at Alpine Valley in 1989. We were way back on the lawn. When the band started playing “Love Reign O’er Me,” it began to rain. It was not a special effect.)
To go deep into the obscure division I would like to introduce you to a band that most people in the United States do not know, but who are the stuff of legend in New Zealand. I worked in New Zealand radio for a year and was introduced to a variety of performers who had hits over there but lacked the crossover success in America. Marketing budgets being what they were, for every Crowded House there were fifteen other bands trying to hit it big but whose international careers stumbled out of the gate. That didn’t keep the music from being terrific, though. Among the souvenirs I brought back with me in 1995 were a small stack of CDs of Kiwi bands released as anthologies, and one band’s solo album.
The Exponents started out as the Dance Exponents in the early 1980s. That period yielded one amazing song, “Victoria” (not to be confused with the Kinks song of the same name). This is the only song that I can think of that name-checks Alvin Toffler, so that should give you some insight as to the writing capabilities of the band. Later they became simply the Exponents, and 1992’s Something Beginning With C LP serves as a repository for the band’s biggest hits.
One summer night in December of 1994 (remember, it’s all reversed down there) I found myself alone in my apartment with nothing to do. I saw a handbill announcing that the Exponents were playing at one of the local bars in Gisborne that I frequented. (Maybe “frequented” isn’t the word: more like “was more likely to be seen there than anywhere else.” Morning radio hosts don’t have the luxury of hanging in bars if they want their health.) In a rare fit of venturing out myself, I wandered over and bought a ticket to the show, climbed the stairs to the bar’s banquet room, and stood in the back, waiting for the show to begin.
It was, to this day, one of the best musical performances I ever witnessed. The band’s lead singer, Jordan Luck, was definitely on that night. It had all the makings of a Springsteen show at a fraction of the size. When the band played “Victoria,” the crowd filled in the chorus on cue much like I had seen done with “Thunder Road” years before. Other hits like “Who Loves Who the Most” and “Whatever Happened To Tracy” got the crowd fired up, singing along and buying even more beer. But the show stopper was “Why Does Love Do This To Me.” A song of romantic angst is not one you would expect to be a sing-along. But the irresistible “whoa-oh-oh!” in the chorus is something that is easy to sing after several beers. Fans at sporting events in New Zealand have been known to break into the song on occasion. The band’s Wikipedia entry (I know, we can’t always trust those) suggests that an Exponents show “is a rite of passage for New Zealand youth.” I understand why.
The very next day I wandered into Guy and Dunsmore, a music shop in Gisborne, and plunked down the thirty bucks to get the CD. It stayed in rotation for a while. Every so often I pull it out, play the songs, and it reminds me of that time I wandered into a bar on the other side of the planet and saw one of the greatest shows ever given.
You can get hooked on this band and this song (be careful singing along at work!) by clicking here.