Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ready Their Demise: Has the RTD Swansong Begun?

In early May Lion Nathan NZ announced that they would be scrapping their high alcohol content RTDs, more than two standard drinks per serving, as well as those with energy additives such as Guarana following a similar move by Lion Nathan Australia. These products are the Vault 88 range, McKenna 9% cans and Diesel 8% 440ml cans. Lion Nathan said in their press release for this that one of the reasons for this move was as an active step in combating misuse of alcohol, especially in New Zealand’s under-twenty binge drinking culture.
Tony Ryall, the National Party’s health spokesperson, applauded the move saying that it is good that Lion Nathan have recognised that they hold social responsibility and that “they’re obviously concerned about that impact that this is having and that they’re acting in a way to provide some leadership. They are far in a way not the only provider of these RTDs and it will be interesting to see what the impact it has on the other players.” This is true as Lion Nathan only have a meagre 16% share of New Zealand’s $530 million RTD market; the largest producer in this market is Independent Liquor who control a whopping 65%.
When Lion Nathan made their announcement Independent retorted saying that this move was drawing attention away from beer and wine – which they claimed to be the major cause of binge drinking in New Zealand. This is a somewhat predictable reaction from Independent as they move to protect their RTD market dominance in order to make up for their lack of which in the beer and wine market. When trying to contact a spokesperson for Independent Liquor to elaborate on why they argued that Lion Nathan’s move was shifting the focus away from beer and wine I was sent in circles through their office administration and was eventually informed that they were a company shy of the limelight.
Constable Bill Timms, an officer of the Christchurch Police, says that the move by Lion Nathan is a good idea because it is a step in what he sees as the right direction, “I seriously want to do something about getting rid of them [RTDs] altogether,”. When asked why sees RTDs as such a bad product to have on the market he argues that it introduces people to drinking far too easily. He says that if he gave his under-10 year old a glass of 4% RTD they would not know the difference, hence why these products are also referred to as ‘Alco-pops’ for their similarity in taste to soft drinks, it is because they are so similar to regular fizzy drinks that RTDs are such a big problem with binge drinkers. Timms believes that young people who are given a taste of alcohol for the first time would not immediately binge on beer or wine because they were not used to the taste, but when they taste an RTD they probably would because “it’s just like soft drink,” and that these drinks are a “cheap nasty way of getting alcohol into you”.
The Ministry of Health which despite supporting Lion Nathan’s announcement still believes that more could be done “to address alcohol-related harm caused by all alcohol beverages...such as addressing the marketing and appeal of alcohol to young people”. Marketing of RTD products are, like some beer, purposely aimed at young drinkers despite them still being consumed by drinkers of all ages, for example illustrations for RTD products and promotions commonly depict young drinkers having a good time benefiting from their enjoyment of the product. The reason for targeting young drinkers in particular could be because the young adults are high consumers willing to spend more of their income than older consumers who are more conservative with their money.
When asked about disturbances in the community caused by alcohol Constable Timms believes that they are a result of these drinks “RTDs just seem to go hand in hand with trouble. Around the streets you find Woodstock bourbon cans littered everywhere,” referring to the regular sight of RTD cans scattered on the sides of main roads such as Blenheim and Moorhouse. Tony Ryall agrees with this pointing out that much of society’s social disorder is associated with young drinkers purchasing RTDs from small liquor stores. When asked if they would like to see the drinking-age raised back to twenty both Bill Timms and Tony Ryall said that they would, Timms was also concerned that society has become too liberal and that now it is too hard to cut back.
A possible way of combating binge drinking of RTDs it seems is to increase the tax that consumers pay on them. In Australia the level of tax on RTD drinks has been almost doubled to match the level of spirits, this has resulted in a four pack of Pulse energy RTD going from around $11 Australian too close to $20 Australian. Tony Ryall says that while it would obviously generate a lot of money for the government he is not sure if it would have that great of an effect on consumers. It is possible that instead of purchasing ready-mixed drinks drinkers would instead return to beer or resort to mixing their drinks themselves, possibly worsening the dilemma. If the high tax is to work in Australia, which has a similar youth binge drinking problem as New Zealand, it is always possible that our own government could enforce something similar. The Ministry of Health acknowledges that an increase in tax on RTDs could have public health gains but also believes that an increase in tax on all forms of alcohol, as well as RTDs, can reduce the demand by consumers and holds the view that this would be “the most effective means by which to reduce alcohol-related harm”.
RTD drinks are not just a concern in society; the sheer amount of sugar contained in a single serving is alarming. We have all been warned that a can of coke contains twelve teaspoons of sugar, equivalent to 192 calories, and that we should at most have one per day. In a single can of Woodstock 440ml and cola there is a stunning 220 calories, and in a can of Pulse 300ml there is 277 calories. With both Woodstock and Pulse sold in four packs a drinker would assume that over a single night they would consume all four cans amounting to 880 calories and 1108 calories respectively – about half of the daily recommended calorie intake. The effect of the sheer amount of sugar has both short and long-term consequences. In the short term, any unused calories will stay in one’s body as fat, and in the long term, regular consumption of this level could lead to diabetes. The alternative to drinking RTDs laden with sugar is the sugar-free products, Victoria Robertson of Canterbury University’s health centre however warns against drinking these products as well because of the artificial sweeteners having possibly even more dire consequences on the human body. What is also of note is that the energy additive RTDs that Lion Nathan have scrapped were the only products on the entire market to contain a warning not to consume more than two servings (i.e. cans or bottles), while the leading energy RTD product Pulse contains no such warning on any of it product packaging. While this showed that Lion Nathan appeared to at least have a heightened conscience for its consumers, those warnings came in small font on the top of their cardboard packets. The Ministry of Health points out that providing maximum recommendation labelling on these products may give consumers a false impression that drinking below the recommendation is safe in all cases furthermore advising that more evidence to their effectiveness is required in promoting responsible drinking. Furthermore consumers of these RTDs barely seemed aware of these warnings resulting in sleepless nights and excessive tiredness the following day, what is equally unsettling is that some health professionals who have friends who drink these energy based RTDs were not even aware of this. A recent study also points out that alcoholic beverages containing caffeine and other stimulants, such as Guarana and Taurine, masks the effects of the intoxicating effects of alcohol. With this is mind the sale of alcoholic energy drinks really does begin to seem a little worrying if health professionals, or even retailers in some cases, are not aware of the health warnings that were on the alcoholic energy drinks.
If Lion Nathan has only just become aware of their responsibility to young alcohol consumers by halting production of high alcohol RTDs with energy additives, including caffeine, then the question is how long will it be before other RTD producers alter their products in an effort to be socially conscious? Or will it happen at all? As an under-twenty drinker and an employee of an off-license I wrote this article to point out the risks of RTD drinks. I do admit that when I began drinking when I was younger that I started on RTDs because I did not like the taste of beer and the strength of spirits was too much for me to handle. However, as I matured in my drinking and saw myself and my friends becoming overwhelmed by these drinks’ potency I realised that RTDs did not belong in a drinking culture like ours. On almost any day when I work at my liquor store I regularly serve customers who I know will be binging on the large amounts of RTDs that they purchase, in which Cody’s and Woodstock are the most popular. As a retailer of alcoholic drinks, of which RTDs are a big seller, I support the recent move by Lion Nathan and can only hope that Independent Liquor New Zealand follows suit in order to combat New Zealand’s unfortunate drinking culture.
I finally extend a warning to all my fellow young drinkers out there to be careful in what you drink; beer, shots and RTDs are all good but in moderation and to have a good time, but don’t mess it up getting shit faced and give the rest of us a bad name.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Biggest Surprise of the Weekend and the Prince of Darkness - Rock2Wellington Night Two Review

After such an explosive first night it the line-up for the second night wasn't looking too flash: on the one hand you had two one hit wonder bands Poison and Whitesnake, but on the other you had Ozzy Osbourne who is the one and only Prince of Darkness. And what would they do to get the whole Crazy Train rolling? What would they do to replace the guitarist battle, and would they keep the same local bands from the night before? I knew this night would be interesting but not so much as it turned out to be. I've got to say my night didn't exactly start off too great.

I pick up my ticket giddy like a little kid going to the candy shop and enter through the gates still excited as hell, but then I heard it. That music sounds live, I thought, why do I recognise it? And then it hits me like a ton of sloppy shit: THE VALVES. I saw these guys for the first time last year at UC Orientation '07 and they pissed me off, I happened to see em again this year because they were supporting a band I wanted to see, and now I saw them at possibly the best gig of my entire life - I'm still pissed off. Why? Because their frontman tries to be John Toogood: he sings like him, he acts like him, he climbs the stage like him and he even gets naked like him. I'm going to have to stop myself now before I go too off-topic and this turns into a rant about crap musicians.
The Valves *1 star - killed the beginning of my night I've got to say.

Salvation came in the form of POISON cracking into it soon after. Now you've all seen Bret Michaels wear that cowboy hat on his show on C4 right? Well you'd think for an entire set he'd take it off right? Wrong, he kept up the Hollywood cowboy image for the entire time he was on stage. It wasn't just Bret Michaels who looked odd, it was the entire band that looked washed up. Before they came on stage I tried picturing what a glam metal band would look like today, and when they emerged I wasn't all too surprised, think Hollywood but sold out: designer clothes, $500 haircuts, jewlery, overly tanned skin - yeah not nice. But it was quite funny to stand there and watch as they tried to get the crowd to get into their songs by clapping and even repeating a few lines. All of this failed pretty heroically. They put up a good fight but it really came down to the fact that close to the entire stadium only knew one Poison song. And oh boy was everyone in good spirits when 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' came on, I swear the crowd came close to drowning out Bret Michael's voice. Special mention to the fucking ass hole behind me and my mates who decided to start a circle of death to Poison: good effort, but not for glam metal. Hope you enjoyed everyone taking a swing at ya!
Poison **.5Two and a half stars - they were interesting but not special, sorry guys.

Oh and there really is no point in mentioning the entertainment between the mainstage bands because it was all the same, but at least the dragon was back!

WHITESNAKE were another one of these bands that had a one hit wonder and were at Rock2Wellington and after Poison I was dreading their performance, but they actually turned out to be the biggest surprise out of the entire two night experience. As were Poison, Whitesnake in their prime (well, when they had their one hit wonder) were also a glam band, but shit those boys are talented. Their frontman David Cloverdale (formerly of Deep Purple) had an amazing voice and was a cheeky bastard hitting on girls in the front row: "Are those real? I got feed myself for a week off those!", and their guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach really set the musical standard for the night flicking out some amazing licks with such ease. But, like Poison before them, attempts to get the crowd into the music failed simply because no one except a few die hard fans were familiar with it, because of this I couldn't help but feel that David Cloverdale was getting a bit frustrated with us. However this all changed when 'Here I Go Again' was performed, just like with Poison, every person in the stadium got into it like nothing else mattered, and the solo live was wicked.
Whitesnake ****4 stars - sooooo goddamn cool, do you best to listen to their music!

As it came to the Ozman's time the crowd were treated to an arrangement of cheeky clips involving OZZY OSBOURNE taking the piss out of Lost and the Queen among others. This was just a taster of how much of a kid Ozzy is at heart. Before he finally appeared on stage he kept on teasing the crowd yelling into a microphone "Are you fucking crazy Wellington?" and halfway into his set he mooned the crowd and threw buckets of water. When he did hit the stage it as a true Crazytrain (yes he played that) with no end in forseeable sight. He played all his classics including 'Paranoid', 'Flying High Again', 'Goodbye to Romance' and 'Bark at the Moon', including two of his newer songs which were fucking awesome: 'I Don't Wanna Stop' and 'Road To Nowhere'. To call his set just an Ozzy show is an understatement, his guitarist Zakk Wylde (a favourite of mine) was going off ripping out some incredible solos and squealing harmonics. At one stage Ozzy and the rest of the band left him on stage and for about 5 to 10 minutes it became the Zakk Wylde solo show consisting of some of the best examples of how to play a guitar and immense talent. And special mention to his new bassist Rob 'Blasko' Nicholson who looks so goddamn badass it even rivals Zakk Wylde. The only dissapointment with the entire set was that after during the encore 'No More Tears' wasn't performed - this song is one of my favourites of Ozzy's and for him not to play it was a shock, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
Ozzy Osbourne *****5 stars - The Prince of Darkness still has it. Well worth the price of the ticket just to see him alone.

ROCK2WELLINGTON was possibly the best concert/event I have ever been to, and I doubt any Big Day Out could top it. Here's hoping that this will become an annual event despite organisers announcing a loss of over $100,000 through not selling enough tickets and shoddy advertising (apparently).With the combination of Rock2Wellington and seeing Queens of the Stoneage and Smashing Pumpkins Easter weekend was the best weekend I think I will ever have.

Over and out, Maximus

Monsters, Bitter Old Men, a Dragon and Rock Gods - Rock2Wellington Night One Review

On TV n stuff you you know how you see in the music videos the massive big fuck off stadium gigs complete with fireworks and crazy onstage antics? (think the music video for 'Paradise City' by Guns N' Roses) Yep? Well that doesn't even come close to Rock2Wellington. Rock2Wellington was a show, not a concert.

This gig was pure rock n roll class all the way through, no doubt about it. The only thing that kind of bothered me was that, not being very knowledgeable about Wellington's apparent windyness and not thinking ahead, I neglected to bring my hoody to the outside gig and hence ended up shivering away my beer buzz before venturing into the pit subtley cacooning myself within other bogans.

Starting from the crazy ass guitarists squaring off with each other to win the RockFM's competition to win truckloads of free gear, there was such an awesome array of styles in their playing one dude even looked like Joe Satriani playing porno-groove licks, oh and a special mention to the second guitarist I think it was who had on a mask that strongly remesembled Paul Gray's Slipknot mask, and of course the final guitarist who upon realising the fellar before him shredded an amazing mini-set closed his own with smashing the hell out of his own guitar ending in true rock n roll style.

Right after this performance Finnish moster rockers LORDI took to the stage with a visually gobsmacking set complete with awesome as costumes that made you swear you had seen them in Lord of the Rings in that scene where the Orcs almost eat Merry and Pippin. Seriously those Finlandians love their Nordic shit, every one of the costumes looked like a zombie off a haunted viking boat, especially when their frontman Tomi Putaansuu (aka Mr Lordi) picked up big axes laden with fireworks and waved them around flaming furiously. Talking about fireworks their bassist made the crowd go wild by firing a bazooka full of explosive shit and firing it at the crowd (haha take that you diamond pit bastards!). Musically, I thought Lordi were pretty cool, not exactly 'wow thats a pretty sick solo' but 'hey that sounds pretty rocking!', especially with the chorus of one of their songs "The devil's a loser and he's my bitch" - fuck yeah! In a nutshell Lordi were scary looking rockers, but not metalheads as some may have assumed. Oh yeah and I've gotta mention the group of three kids behind me having a little mosh pit behind the rest of us watching screaming the words to Lordi's songs: good on ya for the determination but seriously annoying after the first two songs.
Lordi ***3 stars - worth seeing if you can, but should be alot more cooler when baked I think.

While setting up the stage for Alice Cooper Rock2Wellington organisers had a kiwi band by the name of SONIC ALTAR playing on a miniture stage to the side of the main stage, and well god dammit they were bad. Now that may be a bit of a bold statement to say straight off the bat but I say it because small-time NZ bands that barely anyone have heard of do not belong at stadium gigs, they belong at bars. The sound was shoddy and the frontman resembled Meatloaf in a bad way. I think the organisers may have realised it was silly just to have a single band playing on a tiny stage that no one was close to so they got Weta Workshop to make a big ass dragon that breathed smoke (but it's safe to assume that everyone wanted it to breathe fire) and fired lasers out of its eyes. Yup this was seriously an awesome sight to behold, if I ever win lotto I will guarantee you lil devils that I will buy that dragon and have it at every TRS gig. So you've probably guessed that I speant more time buzzing out to the dragon than I did listening to Sonic Crap.
Sonic Altar *.5 1.5 stars - would be cool to check em out in a smaller gig, but stupid to have them at a stadium gig
Dragon ****4 stars - ITS A FUCKING DRAGON that moves and shoots lasers from its eyes!! Doesn't make five stars because it didn't breathe fire.

Next up was ALICE COOPER, and holy crapshite this guy looks more and more bitter as he ages. What a stage show from the man who was the one of the first scary artists in the early days of heavy music (along with Ozzy). I cannot call this set a normal set, it was closer to a Rocky Horror Show broadway performance. It opened with Alice Cooper assasinating a dummy version of himself then later had a semi-story line where he abused his wife, who was played by his own real life daughter (at this point he played 'Only Women Bleed') and drove a stake through his own baby concluding with him being sent to a mental institution and finally being hung onstage. At this point his backing band performed an impressive intrumental for a good solid 5 minutes which led to Alice Coopers final songs including his some of his biggest songs 'School's Out' and 'I Wanna Be Elected'. Special mention to his stage antics during this latter song with roadies and extras running around with great big signs saying 'The Alice Cooper Party' and 'He Just Doesn't Care!'. But the songs that everyone was really hanging out for eventually came as the encore, 'Billion Dollar Babies' and the bitter-sweet 'Poison' had everyone singing out their lungs discarding all sense of caring.
Alice Cooper *****5 stars - Alice Cooper blew me away with his stage performance, swinging his walking sticks and crutch around and his general bitter appearance. Definately see this guy if you ever get the chance!

Unfortunately with the good comes the not so good. Of course while re-constructing of the mainstage attention was focused again on the secondairy stages with the this time THE SYMPHONY OF SCREAMS performing a sub-par set. Again I've got to say these guys belonged in a bar not a stadium, also with a band name like that you would of expected the vocals to be at least half screaming, I think I heard maybe 3 screams in the entire set. But in saying that I also feel sorry for them when their power and then lights were switched off abruptly leaving them in darkness as Kiss began.
The Symphony of Screams **2 stars - another band that should have been at a bar that weekend, not at this gig.

Oh yeah and the dragon was out again so I was watching that most of the time.

Before I go onto the headliners of the night I've got to mention the other side acts that performed while the kiwi bands and the dragon appeared. Firstly the zombie cheerleaders: they looked more drunk than anything else and it was always fun to watch them and spot them stumble over chairs in the poor lighting and try to reassemble themselves making it look like it was part of the plan. Secondly the dudes who set themselves on fire and smashed burning guitars, fucking good on ya! That was pretty cool to watch. And thirdly the fire dancers: interesting at first but then just became part of the background.

Never before this gig did I ever expect to see a KISS show and now that I have I can tell you they are one of the coolest, most rock n roll things ever and that they really are as cool as your parents say. Despite only Gene Simmons, the glorious man-slut that all guys want to be (apparently having slept with over a thousand groupies) and all girls secretly want to have, and Paul Stanley, the strangely camp but also cool as frontman, remaining as the original members of Kiss this was still an impressive set. The entire stage was decked out in true Kiss style: truckloads of speakers and elevating stage peices for all the members. The songs were all outstanding with a sort of Greatest Hits feeling to it, but it was still amazing, even when their new guitarist Tommy Thayer was encouraged by Paul Stanley to sing a song and got the entire crowd into it. The highlights of the set had to include Gene Simmons' infamous bloody spitting, fire-breathing and flying, Paul Stanley gliding over the crowd on a flying fox to perform a song at the sound tower to "bring the love to the back of the crowd". But the best moment was easily when Paul Stanley said "In 1979 when this song came out people said Kiss has gone disco...but that's because they never heard it liiiive" and lauched into 'I Was Made For Loving You'. As the set closed there was defnately a strong euphoric connection between every man, woman, child and bogan that was only acheiveable with seeing a Kiss show.
KISS *****5 stars - they oozed sex and rock n roll and I mean c'mon it's KISS!! Stay tuned for night two!


ATV Offroad Fury 4 (PS2)

While it’s the first new racing game I’ve played since Gran Turismo 4 came out two stone ages ago at times I felt like throwing my controller through my TV while playing ATV Offroad Fury 4 because of faults that really do not deserve to be in a PS2 game this late in its life.
The first is that since it’s an off roader game it’s a completely bloody different racer from old Granny Turismo and hence controlling the vehicles in the game (of which there are four: bike, buggy, big-mother-fucking-truck and of course ATV) can take some getting used to. For example, because you’re on such unstable terrain you have to take into account the sheer lack of grip derived from the power sliding and hopping around into your racing line, this can result in you going from power sliding perfectly around the turn in front of the pack to sinking down to the back while your rivals sneak past you as you careen into a wall. However this serves as a good honest learning curve that teaches you to not to bury your foot (or thumb) down on the accelerator too much but to ease on the gas first at about half to retain some pace as you streak around the turns.
My other bug with this game I discovered was its re-spotting system when you flip your vehicle or fly too far off track for too long. Numerous times I’ve accidently taken a shortcut through some badly timed power slides and after regaining control and losing numerous positions in getting back onto the track the countdown timer continues and sends me back to the beginning of the turn or straight back into the water, forcing me to frustratingly restart the race (see throwing controller through TV).
There are two ways to unlock new tracks, vehicles and parts for them: classic and story modes. While it has a pretty shoddy storyline I recommend that you complete the latter as it has a fairly logical, albeit predictable, progression.
Climax’s effort to send the last of the long waning ATV series out on the aging platform that is the PS2 is in one word: good – nothing more, nothing less. All up this is an average game that is a bit disappointing considering its timing and only really worth renting out or buying if for $50 not $90.