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Live Review + Gallery: The Smith Street Band, Sydney 2016

The Smith Street Band / Luca Brasi / Joelistics / Jess Locke Band
Metro Theatre, Sydney 03/06/2016
Review: Matt Doria | Gallery: Peter Zaluzny

“Toniiiiiight, I’m getting young drunk!” – of all the painfully relatable lyrics The Smith Street Band thrive on, this is probably the one that punters flooding into the Metro Theatre could most authentically connect with. The smell of open Coopers tinnies wafts through the venue in all of its inviting maltiness (which is ironic, considering the taste of a Coopers is anything but) as the legends at the merch desk pawn beanies out like hotcakes, and we all share memories of our Smithies shows of late. This is the fourth time our Fitzroy faves have toured since dropping Throw Me In The River at the end of 2014, and with every passing jaunt, they grow a little bit both in size and in quality. As science dictates, this should then bring one of the best damn gigs in Metro history.

We’re off to much more than a promising start with the ever-enigmatic Jess Locke Band. Her crumbly vocals sticky sweet and a little rough around the edges, Locke herself holds a voice nothing short of revolutionary. It radiates gingerly on the slow-burning “Radio” and emotively on the smoke-drenched “Change The Sheets”, her rhythmic fretwork equally astonishing bounding along with James Morris’ doughy basslines. Behind the kit, Christopher Rawsthorne adds a crispy level of resonance to the mix – he also holds the set’s mood in his hands (sticks?), otherwise downcast moments made sprightly with a manic snare-laden solo. An easy highlight comes in the newly-released (we’re talkin’ yesterday) “Paper Planes”, a lo-fi head-banger just swimming in groove.

Joelistics could not look more out of place as a hip hop artist on an indie punk bill, but don’t let that throw you off: the Melbourne MC spits bars fresh enough to make your local farmer’s market look like a landfill. His crowd stand appropriately skeptical at first, but it’s only two songs in – with the cruisy, sun-ripened “Days” – that fists are high and pumping. “Head Right” stands out instantly thereafter, its jangly, quasi-reggae beat and racially-charged political message as scorching as it infectious. Blue Volume cut “Say I’m Good” reigns with schoolyard gaiety and a blistering pace recounting the glory days of Australian rap – not to mention, his DJ straight up killing that chorus. When you’ve got every head nodding to a club beat at a punk show, you know you’re untouchable.

We’ve seen Luca Brasi tear shit up in 100-cap venues and on festival stages, but it’s here – soaking in the reverence of 1,000 munted theatregoers – that they truly shine. Tyler Richardson is an anomaly both behind the mic and with bass in hand, his face intently painted with passion as he pours his heart and soul into every jam. Classics like “Theme Song From HQ” play out as massively as they always have, but it’s hard to look past the cuts from recent opus If This Is All We’re Going To Be – especially when “Aeroplane” and “Anything But Conviction” spur the type of mosh only seen otherwise at deathcore shows. If the quartet’s upcoming headline tour wasn’t already hyped to the rafters, it definitely is now.

Between sets, we learn just how squished the Metro can get when everyone wants to be on the bottom level, and chuck a quick pre-set mosh to The Bennies’ “Party Machine” over the PA; tech hands raise the same banner that The Smith Street Band have used for a handful of tours now, which in itself adds to the ‘one last big bash’ feel: the next time they head off on a national tour, the Smithies will have a shiny new album under their belts – and as such, a shinier new stage banner. The set starts calmly as Wil Wagner walks out on his lonesome, a lowkey solo version of “I Love Life” (usually the band’s epic set closer) gentle and entrancing before his bandmates sprint out to smash straight into “Surrey Drive”. There’s a reason why The Smith Street Band have grown so fervidly in the hearts of Australian music fans, and this is it.

It’s the sweat Wagner’s drenched in before they’re even halfway through “Ducks Fly Together”; the dorky smile plastered on his face when we all know the words to “Postcodes”. It’s the hell Chris Cowburn puts his drums through and the violence with which Lee Hartney smashes a riff. As it should surprise no one, the whole band are in top form tonight; Michael ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald is a marvel on bass, too, and though interaction between the quartet is slim, their combined artistry is unquestionable. Wagner’s stage presence is particularly feverish – notably when he delivers banter like a ’90s rave MC and makes a scathing remark to an inadmissible stage diver: “If you want to get onstage, make your own fucking band,” he bites to sheer praise.

Fittingly, it’s tonight that the band debut their forthcoming single, “Death To The Lads” – a blazing alt-rock anthem that burns in the hatred of night-spoiling punk scene bros. The setlist elsewhere pillars on deep cuts from older records, Wagner admitting that this tour would be the last time some of them would ever be played. “When I Was A Boy, I Thought I Was A Fish” perfectly sums up the breezy storytelling that makes No One Gets Lost Anymore so classic, while “Tom Busby” shines as one of the standouts from Sunshine And Technology. We genuinely hope tonight isn’t the last time “My Little Sinking Ship” is given a showcase, but if it is, we can safely say it was a worthy final run with all of its heartfelt, gloomily joyful vibes intact amidst the dim surroundings.

While the emphasis on deep cuts leaves some usual classics in the dust – “Sigourney Weaver” and “The Arrogance Of The Drunk Pedestrian” in particular – the payoff is more than worth it; this is the sweaty symbolic execution of The Smith Street Band as we know them. Throw Me In The River might have taken them from expanded clubs to small theatres, but it’s without a doubt that LP #4 will see Willy Wags and co. rise to Enmore level appreciation, if not the Roundhouse, or even the Hordern.

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