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Gig Review: Shapeshifter @ Christchurch Town Hall - 18/10/2020

Two decades deep and showing no signs of slowing down, veteran live act Shapeshifter jetted into Christchurch on the back of a sold out Auckland show and a global pandemic causing havoc for the events industry. Showcasing their incredible musical prowess with a powerhouse performance, they created a special vibe for those in attendance in a celebration of music, dance, and togetherness.

The freshly renovated Christchurch Town Hall, with its sweeping wooden roof tiles and layered red velvet seats, is clearly a special place to play, with both Shapeshifter and the opening act commenting on the unique venue. Certainly, the acoustics and aesthetic remain just as potent as its pre-earthquake condition.

Long-time Christchurch DJ Pylonz set the scene with some classic jungle vinyl selections before Dunedin-based Arma del Amor took the stage early to get things warmed up. Vocalist Martine Harding has a rich, soulful tenor and expressive moves well-suited to their unique blend of electronica and dance-rock. Instrumentalist Danny Fairley provided waves of organ and 80’s-flecked synths, with the live drummer also triggering electronic pads to produce claps and percussion. Moving between sultry and melancholic to soaring, triumphant hooks and stomping beats, they set the scene well and played for close to an hour.

Shapeshifter took the stage to an expectant, sold-out crowd. Live drum and bass has an inherent high degree of difficulty, with its high BPM beats a test for any drummer, and the delicate balance of massive bass and cutting high-mids needing to sit perfectly in the mix at the risk of sounding muddy. Luckily, long-time sound engineer Tiki Taane was on hand to provide the perfect mix via the Midas Heritage console through line D&B array. As a result, vocalist P Digsss came through crisply, Darren Mathiassen’s epic drumming was punchy and full, and the triple-threat of instrumentalists Trevethick, McGruer and Robinson nestled waves of strings and delicate arpeggios on their impressive keyboard setups.

Playing a set populated mostly with their most recent LP Stars and cuts from their forthcoming LP (including 2019 single Break Me Down, a collaboration with fellow Kiwi DnB act The Upbeats), the energy was constantly high and had both the mosh and the gallery bouncing and bopping. P Digsss was in high spirits, confiding that "Auckland was just the warmup". Clearly happy to be back performing, the gratitude shone through between songs. "2020 was crazy huh? We’ve blown out the cobwebs, and here we are...thanks for celebrating life and music with us".

The back half of the concert was arguably the strongest, closing out with combos from older LP’s System Is A Vampire and Delta. Dutchies, with its hypnotic refrain of ‘wickedness increase’, was paired into an extended jam with the epic Twin Galaxies, undulating between heavy peaks and contemplative lows. Encore closers In Colour and Monarch (introduced as "a love song for Aotearoa") were emotive and uplifting, both band and audience coming together to create a palpable sense of joy and thankfulness. On a night in which the country had voted for kindness in the general election, it was a fitting send off.

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