Some of you have been slow to re-board the New Zealand Reissue Train for reasons perfectly understandable: can’t get into the psychedelic pop sounds, sounds like rain, same people play in all the bands, this all happened years ago/half a world away/what’s it got to do with me?, etc. For that last one, you’re on your own, but if you’ve been holding out for something truly dangerous from the back pages of Kiwi musicology, Shoes This High is the group for you.
Existing for a pinch between 1980-81, the only truly comparable band in the country, in terms of sheer intensity, would have been the Gordons (who I’m sure Shoes This High broke multiple stages with), but while that group was focused on a more long-term, weightier burn, Shoes This High — vocalist S. Brent Hayward, guitarist Kevin Hawkins, bassist Christopher Plummer and drummer Jessica Walker — were more content to stick and move, steal your wallet, stab you in between the ribs and slap you about.
All they ever committed to vinyl is a single four-song EP, but Straight to Hell issues for the first time a long-lost live set delivered by the band in its prime (and tacks on the 7″ tracks for comparison as a digital download). All but one of the songs in the set were ever heard by audiences outside of New Zealand in some truly reckless venues.
Punk is still in the air, but there are two other big components of their sound: the Fall, who by way of a brief snippet at the beginning of “Shouting Eat Sh*t” they must’ve been familiar with, and the Contortions, who unless any copies of No New York made their way across their borders, they couldn’t have possibly known about.
The guitar work and vocals here are absolutely vicious, frothing-mouthed and violent, introducing far-flung tenets of no-wave brutality to the punters, and the rhythm section anchors everything down in the maelstrom of slashing noise and invective hurled off by the rest of the band.
Despite what you might pre-conceive a nearly 35-year-old live tape might sound like, Straight to Hell captures this group with brightness and clarity, at peak psychosis.
If you were looking for a band that could rip your hair out from 7000 miles away, this here would be the one.
-Doug Mosurock (February 5, 2014)