Ambient Music

Summer Concert Series, Taupō NZ, 2023


The Summer Concert Series
feat. ZZ Top, Pat Benatar & Neil Geraldo, Stone Temple Pilots & The Angels

4th February 2023
Riverside Park, Taupō, New Zealand

Review by Bridget Herlihy with photography by Doug Peters.

With unprecedented weather events hitting the upper half of the North Island over the last ten days, many anxiously watched weather updates and kept all fingers and toes crossed that the three Summer Concert Tour for 2023 dates would go ahead. Unfortunately the Whitianga stop ended up being cancelled due to the weather related damage in the Coromandel, so all eyes were on Taupo to deliver the goods for the North Island. Fortuitously, in spite of showers being forecast for the day, the weather gods smiled upon Taupo on Saturday with an abundance of sunshine and heat.

Music festivals are synonymous with Kiwi summers, and by 10am hundreds had gathered outside of the venue armed with chairs, chilly bins and picnic baskets. With the cancellation of the 2022 concert tour (courtesy of the pandemic), thousands of punters were chomping at the bit for the return of the tour. The Taupo amphitheatre is a formidable venue for an event of this magnitude, and with the sun already beating down, many cleverly made a beeline for spots under the trees (which became prime real estate as the day went on).

As people continued to pour into the venue, Taupo-based band False Heights had the coveted opening slot for the day. The duo of April and Ashley Pirie delivered an enjoyable set of melodic acoustic tunes that kept the growing crowd entertained and tapping their feet. Being first on the bill is not always an easy task, but False Heights did a superb job – keeping the crowd both engaged and entertained with a series of their catchy and compelling original songs.

Beloved Australian band The Angels were the first international act of the day to take the stage, and suffice to say they kept the venue rocking for the entirety of their performance. The band had been on the bill for the 2022 tour, and although it was unable to proceed they promised to return for the 2023 tour. Clad all in black, it appeared that they made it their mission to make up for lost time with their energetic set. Formed in Adelaide in 1974, The Angels have a rich musical history, complete with a number of name and line-up changes. With brothers Rick and John Brewster on guitars and Dave Gleeson on vocals, it could be argued that the band remains in their prime. Kicking off with ‘Ivory Stairs’ from 1979’s ‘No Exit’, the band keep the rock n roll with a set full of classics including ‘Fashion and Fame’, ‘Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again’ and, or course, ‘No Secrets’. It was immediately clear that The Angels were very much one of the big draw cards of the day, as the crowd sung along to every song at the top of their lungs. The Brewster brothers were in fine form, with their guitar playing prowess on full display, while energetic front man Gleeson strutted about the stage, even performing a cartwheel at one point. The band may be almost 50 years old, but they still have it in spades.

Listening to the banter from the crowd it seemed that many people had come especially to see Stone Temple Pilots; one of the beloved rock bands of the 90s and early 2000s. Admittedly, having missed their last visit to NZ, I too was keen to see foursome live for the first time. To say that their set was a highlight of the day would be a significant understatement. Appearing on stage they immediately stating how happy they were to be back on our shores, and wasted no time in getting proceedings started, with the opening bars of ‘Wicked Garden’ from their debut album ‘Core’ ringing throughout the amphitheatre. Quickly followed by ‘Vaseline’ and ‘Big Bang Baby’, STP illustrated that they are as slick and polished as they have ever been. Dean and Robert DeLeo (bass and guitar respectively) are drummer Eric Kretz and exceptional musicians, while front man Jeff Gutt possesses formidable charisma and stage presence, not to mention an epic voice which more than does justice to the STP back catalogue.

Having been with the band for five years, he can hardly be considered the ‘new guy’, and given that he had some sizeable shoes to fill by becoming the Stone Temple Pilots front man, he was – and is – exceptional. It was touching that he took a moment mid-set to acknowledge the contribution of the late Scott Weiland to the band, which was fitting seeing as the set was largely comprised of material from the band’s first two albums. Almost effortlessly he amped up the crowd and kept them energised and dancing in the mosh pit in the scorching sun, reminding the crowd to keep hydrated, and that surely beer is good for hydration and must belong to a food group. In terms of audience engagement he was second to none, as he spent all ‘Down’ on the barrier at the front of the crowd, quite literally singing over the top of the audience, while trying on a selection of hats from the audience, settling on a rather dapper white number. The set largely consisted of the band’s ‘hits’ and fan favourites, including ‘Big Empty’, ‘Plush’, ‘Interstate Love Song’, ‘Crackerman’ and ‘Dead and Bloated’. Before ending the set with ‘Sex Type Thing’, he stated “we love your country, and we are all going to move here”. The sooner the better.

After a brief break, and a much need opportunity to rehydrate, beloved Pat Benatar and husband/writing partner Neil Giraldo took to the stage. Hundreds had repositioned themselves from their respective perches to the front of the stage for the performance, choosing to be close to greatness rather than the relative cool of the shade. The band tore straight into classic ‘All Fired Up’, just as the sound from the PA died. For 30 odd seconds the crowd was left bewildered and begging for the sound to return, which is did just in time for the chorus, eliciting a huge roar of cheers erupted from the crowd. This was only a minor glitch in a day that had otherwise run like clockwork, and the rest of Benatar and Giraldo’s set was flawless. It’s hard to fathom that Benatar turned 70 very recently; her voice remains incredibly powerful and she hit the high notes over and over again without hesitation. She and Giraldo have also just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary, having met in the studio when Giraldo was introduced to Benatar as a prospective guitar player for her band in 1974. The rest, as they say, is history. Their chemistry on stage and in their shared compositions is evident, and is a joy to behold.

Benatar also gushed about how happy they were to be in NZ, as at one point they were afraid that they weren’t going to be able to make it due to the weather. Needless to say the sold-out crowd were in agreement that they were over the moon to see the duo again after a decade. The set drew from their expansive back catalogue, and as Benatar admitted, “one of the things about being around so long is that you have a shitload of songs to choose from, and you can turn them upside down”. Which is exactly what they did with an acoustic rendition of ‘We Belong’ with Girlado at the grand piano, and ‘Shadows In The Night’ which saw Neil on acoustic guitar. Needless to say, these re-imaginings of the songs were exquisite.

The hits kept coming, with ‘We Live For Love’, ‘Promises In The Dark’, “Helter Skelter’, and a ferocious ‘Everybody Lay Down’ featured in the hour long set. Of course, no Benatar/Giraldo set would be complete without ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, which brought goose bumps and a tear to the eye. Finishing off with a medley of ‘Heartbreaker’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’, many were left in absolute awe of Benatar’s voice and Giraldo’s epic guitar playing skills, onslaught of riffs and soaring solos, and quite rightly so. Not one iota of their sonic power has diminished over time.

After another brief break, the sound of a revving hot rod engine blasted out across the amphitheatre, heralding the imminent arrival of Mr Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top. Gibbons really needs no introduction, with ZZ Top having become firmly entrenched in popular culture decades ago. The beards, the guitars, and their own trademark of blues infused rock is unmistakeable. Sadly co-vocalist and bassist Dusty Hill passed away in 2021, but the band’s guitar tech Elwood Francis has been playing bass with the band since, at Hill’s request.

Gibbons and co rolled out a bevy of infamous ZZ Top hits as the sun began to retreat from the amphitheatre, including ‘Sharp Dressed Man’, ‘Jesus Just Left For Chicago’ ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’, and ‘Legs’. Each and every song was met with ecstatic cheers of delight, a clear indicator of the seemingly timeless appeal of ZZ Top. It was a treat to see Gibbons in the flesh; a man who clearly still loves entertaining the crowd and playing good old fashioned guitar rock.

The only band that was afforded an encore (the perks of being the top of the bill), ZZ Top finished off with blistering renditions of ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ and classic ‘La Grange’ before it was closing time.

Judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces as they went back to collect their chilly bins and chairs at the end of the set, they knew that they had just experienced a line-up that was extremely special. Credit must go to the tour organisers Greenstone Entertainment, who kept the crowd well informed about the day’s schedule and location of amenities throughout the day, and kept things running smoothly. If you haven’t had the good fortune of attending a Summer Concert Tour, make sure that you get along to one. There really is nothing quite like it.

Were you there in Taupō for this roasting hot day in the sun? Or have you seen any of the acts on the lineup perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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