Review: Kiwi icons Dance Exponents conclude another 'final tour' at Auckland Town Hall

Jordan Luck fronts Dance Exponents at Auckland Town Hall
Jordan Luck fronts Dance Exponents at Auckland Town Hall. Photo credit: Joe Photography/

REVIEW: Forty long years ago, an energetic group of musical larrakins from Christchurch came to Auckland to record their first studio album.

They were troubled times, as the world braced for the Orwellian premonition of 1984 and Big Brother.

The Soviets shot down a Korean Airlines flight 007, killing all 269 on board, including a US Senator.

Suicide bombers attacked the US and French army barracks at Beirut, killing 305 people.

The first mobile phone was made, Microsoft Word and the internet was invented. Music reviews were still written on Imperial 66 typewriters.

Ronald Regan was US President, Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister. Robert 'Piggy' Muldoon was Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Australia II became the first non-US boat to win the America's Cup. Captained by Andy Dalton, the All Blacks swept the British & Irish Lions in their four-test series.

Downtown Auckland was very different - parking was easier to find and much, much cheaper. You could drive your car around Queen St without feeling like a rat in a maze.

The Dance Exponents had become local legends on their home turf, although lead singer Jordan Luck was actually born in Canada. They toured insatiably, establishing Luck's reputation as the hardest-working man in NZ music, and were spotted by Kiwi icon Mike Chunn - formerly Split Enz and Citizen Band - who signed them to Mushroom Records, where they recorded their first single about a former flatmate who had been beaten up by her boyfriend.

The rest, as they say, is history, with the Dance Exponents winding up their most recent 'final tour' at the Auckland Town Hall on Friday.

The occasion was filled with irony. First of all, support billing for their four-stop tour - true to form, they added a fifth at Auckland's Powerstation the previous night - went to the Exponents, essentially the same band (and surviving original members) under the moniker they adopted in 1990.

While the tour was scheduled to celebrate the anniversary of their Prayers Be Answered debut studio album, 1983 was a big year for the Dance Exponents.

Earlier that same year, they played a televised gig at a venue known as Mainstreet - not 100 metres from this very spot - which spawned a live album, also featuring the Legionnaires (Graham Brazier).

Jordan Luck in full flight at the Town Hall
Jordan Luck in full flight at the Town Hall. Photo credit: Joe Photography/

As a result of their burgeoning reputation, the Dance Exponents were selected as opening act for New Zealand's biggest-ever concert - David Bowie at Western Springs, attended by 75,000. Legend has it they cut short their set, because they had double-booked that night, also at Mainstreet.

So plenty to reflect on 40 years later.

The Town Hall is no longer a premier venue as it was back then - the nearby Aotea Centre was designed as an upgrade a few years later - but it felt appropriate for this occassion and was packed to the rafters. The crowd filing into the main auditorium were mainly Generation X survivors from the band's heyday, with a surprising smattering of youngsters.

Merchandise included vinyl copies of Prayers Be Answered ($40) and Something Beginning With C ($55) - a release that became their first No.1 album (as the Exponents) in 1992. Probably no-one attending actually still owned a turntable to play said albums, which retailed for $10-15 back in the day.

The concert was divided into two halves - the first capturing the original Dance Exponents act and the second morphing into Exponents repertoire. The first thing you noticed about Luck was the ridiculously luxurious mop of hair he still seems to retain, even at 61… all the more incredible, given the peroxide abuse it would have suffered over the years.

Hair technology has certainly advanced.

Jordan Luck & Dave Gent with the Dance Exponents.
Jordan Luck & Dave Gent with the Dance Exponents. Photo credit: Joe Photography/

The second thing - this was possibly the most lucid version we've seen of Luck, who has undoubtedly relied on his audience remembering the words to his catchy songs during his career.

And remember them, they still do - even those 20-somethings who were born decades after those tunes were first released - but Luck was so on form, the audience didn't get a chance to stretch their collective larynx until 'All I Can Do' - the seventh song in.

'Poland', 'Best Friend Loves Me Too', 'Airway Spies', 'Caroline Skies' and the quirky 'Sex & Agriculture' had the throng baying for more, before a brief interval, a change of set and costume, and a change of era, ushered in by the blonde wigs popping up among the gathered.

The crowd threw themselves into 'Whatever Happened to Tracey', 'La-La-Lulu' and 'Sink Like a Stone', but appreciated the change of pace that went with the haunting 'Nameless Girl'.

Everything that came before was simply preparing them for the ultimate frenzy of Kiwi bangers - 'Who Loves Who The Most', 'I'll Say Goodbye', 'Victoria' (with Chunn on keyboards) and 'Why Does Love Do This To Me'.

Dance Exponents at Auckland Town Hall.
Dance Exponents at Auckland Town Hall. Photo credit: Joe Photography/

The Town Hall's earthquake readiness would have had a strenuous workout, as fans old and young paid tribute to the musical genius of Luck, bassist David Gent, guitarist Brian Jones and drummer 'Harry' Harallambi, ably assisted by ex-Mockers guitarist Brett Adams.

Luck's status among Kiwi musicians is already legendary. An inaugural inductee into the NZ Music Hall of Fame, he is one of only two two-timers, keeping company with Sir Dave Dobbyn.

Sir Jordan Luck sure has a ring to it, surely.

New Zealand has undoubtedly hosted most of history's great acts over the years, but in terms of homegrown concerts, this one represented a romantic slice of real life to most of those crammed into the antiquated venue, casting back to a simpler time that probably didn't seem so then.

Dance Exponents have played so many 'final concerts' over the years, there's no telling when they may actually call it quits - but on the strength of this, they must have at least one more reunion left in them.

See you in 10 years for the 50th anniversary perhaps?