It isn’t just geographical distance that’s left Dunedin, New Zealand indie legends The Chills out in the cold for so long. Founded in 1979 by songwriter and sole constant member Martin Phillips, a glance at the group’s Soft Bomb website reveals an ongoing history of hundreds of shows, year upon year, but almost entirely confined to their home country.
Logistical reasons aside, Phillips has long been dealing with some serious health issues (seek out his 2014 interview with The Guardian for the full tragic story) and it’s impressive that he’s kept The Chills going at all, let alone returned with as an uplifting, big hearted and joyous comeback as last year’s fifth album ‘Silver Bullets’.
Suitably, the five Chills open under blue light with ‘Night Of Chill Blue’, Phillips striking his guitar, violinist Erica Scally and keyboardist Oli Wilson filling out the flowing sound. The very early indiepop of 1982’s ‘Kaleidoscope World’ follows: their leading contribution to seminal NZ compilation EP the ‘Dunedin Double’, it’s the song that introduced The Chills to the wider world (spotters’ note: the essential singles compilation of the same name gets a long overdue repress this autumn).
Aside from their bright and rippling melodies, what tonight’s selections from ‘Silver Bullets’ prove is how humane Phillips’ view of the world is. ‘Aurora Corona’ prays to nature (“Oh Gaia, don’t bury us / We will do better”), ‘America Says Hello’ tackles geo-politics (“There’s a rocket attack / Then a property boom”), the lengthy ‘Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon’ suite a socialist call for economic equality. “We’ve only played it in its entirety once so far,” admits Phillips but The Chills navigate its shift from thumping rhythm to multi-layered vocal hymn with ease.
Alongside one new song ‘Easy Peasy’, the band leave few favourites unplayed: the Big Ben chimes of ‘Doledrums’, a thrilling ‘The Male Monster From The Id’, and one of music’s most simple declarations of pure love, the yearning ‘Wet Blanket’. When they play death classic ‘Pink Frost’, here in a revised arrangement, we will time to suspend itself to prolong the single’s beautiful devastation all the longer. “There’s none on Discogs!” wails an audience member afterwards. “Well,” Phillips replies in mock outrage, “We’ve got to do something about that!”
The Chills are pushing the curfew with ‘Rolling Moon’ when Phillips announces one more song to go. “’Heavenly Pop Hit’! Or else!” challenge the crowd. Instead it’s ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’, an audience rush pushing its urgent groove to the close. With a set of songs this strong and The Chills in good humour throughout it’s been a heart-warming night.
West Hill Hall, Saturday 28th May 2016
Words by Stuart Huggett