Pretty much instantly, New Zealander Conan Mockasin invites curiosity. His vocals are pitched at the top of the range to strikingly childlike effect. The music is weird and ominous, like it hides some dark psychedelic secret. And he seems like he’s slightly out of it. Odd, yes – but it soon becomes apparent there’s a lot more to it.
After a couple of songs Conan asks the crowd to come forward. “This is weird”, he says, referring to the gulf in front of the stage. It’s a request that sums up a lot of his charm. His eccentricity is winning in its sincerity. When he sings “what I am, you will love it” on the wonderful pop-anthem-in-disguise ‘Starlet Johannson Teenagers’ (think the Pixies, if they were freak children raised on mushrooms), it sounds superfluous; the crowd are already won over.
Something about the band’s approach recalls mid-90s Wowee Zowee-era Pavement, if not musically but in the shambolic, unchecked feel, and minus Stephen Malkmus’s audience-baiting quips. The set is a mix of good-natured fun (‘Sneaky Dog Friend’ is impossible to listen to without smiling) and trippy, sinister psychedelia, especially when he whips out the autoharp for the last few songs. Conan’s stage presence, given plenty of room to breathe as minimal band of drummer and bassist bunch up at the back of the stage, is ineffably fascinating, equal parts bizarre and engaging.
Maybe I was giddy with the oxygen of originality after a couple of uninspired bands, but Conan Mockasin was a bolt from leftfield that pretty much blew me away. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but be assured – it’s a unique brew.
Words: Carey Davies