Review: Emily Swanson | Hordern Pavilion, Sydney 19/01/2017
Photos: Luke Sutton | Festival Hall, Melbourne 17/01/2017
Lest we reference the side project largely responsible for their split in the first place, seeing Alexisonfire feels like comin’ home. A thousand bands will tell you that Australia is their favourite place to play, but when it spills from Wade MacNeil during the set you can’t help but believe him. “I really mean it from the bottom of my heart,” he told the Hordern crowd, his short hair dyed a spectacular shade of pink. “From the first time we played this country I felt like I was in bizarro Canada.”
Throughout their 15-odd years as a band, Alexisonfire have had an enduring romance with Australia. You know the ones where you lock eyes from across the room? Well, the room is Manning Bar circa 2004 and I Killed The Prom Queen watched it happen. When it came time for The Only Band Ever’s last hurrah in late 2012, we were one of the only countries to get a look-in alongside England, Brazil and their native Canada. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all singing our hearts out at a sold-out Hordern for what seemed like it might actually be the last time. It gave tonight’s show an eerie familiarity. Seeing Alexisonfire feels like comin’ home.
From frontman George Pettit’s opening screech of “ALLLLLRIIIIIGHT!” they were off, bassist Chris “More Beast Than Man” Steele tearing up the stage with reckless abandon as the band smashed through “Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints”, the opening cut from Crisis (2006). Pettit’s got that look in his eye and you know you’re in for a good time. “This Could Be Anywhere in the World” runs seamlessly into “Old Crows”; “Boiled Frogs” takes us right back to being on the barrier, screaming along with every word. Somehow MacNeil belting out “My youth is slipping away, safe in monotony day after day” has become even more pertinent with age.
It’s a shame, then, that mid-song five people decided to take advantage of some extra space and clear an area to take a photo. With their backs to the band. While the band played. We’re not talking about a quick selfie (there were loads of them too) we’re talking about the kind of photo you take with Bugs Bunny at Movie World. “Why is this happening?” your internal monologue screams. “She’s actually pushed back into you, entirely blocking your view, to take this photo of her frands while Dallas Green is onstage doing his best one-man impression of a choir of angels.” At least half a dozen photos were taken and we can now tell you with expert certainty that “Rough Hands” is not improved by camera phone flashes.
It was around this point that Pettit stopped the show to check on a scuffle in the pit. “It’s okay to admit that you’re a little older, we’re doing it,” Green said with a laugh. They launched into “Crisis”, or as MacNeil called it, the song that could be hazardous to our health. Even though they’ve had several years away their playing is as tight as ever; Jordan “Ratbeard” Hastings still thrashes away on the kit with dexterous precision. It’s when they hit “Dog’s Blood” – arguably the meanest, fiercest material Alexisonfire ever released – that you remember just how much potential they had right up until the end, like a beast never fully realised.
“Alexisonfire shows are a safe space for everybody – regardless of sex, regardless of culture, regardless of sexual orientation. And this song is about that!” Pettit urged ahead of “Accept Crime”. “GEORGE! TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF!” screamed someone behind us. Evidently they too had realised that the band had been on stage far too long for Pettit to still be wearing a shirt. “Young Cardinals” elicited perhaps the most fervent sing-along of the night, the last track they offered us before dashing off stage. The obligatory breather before coming back for one last round of mayhem.
When you hear “The Northern”, the extended live version in particular, it’s hard to picture a more proficient clean singer than Dallas Green. His honeyed vocals are equal parts sublime and sobering – the kind of voice that would make you believe in God if the world weren’t such a fucked up place right now. With the start of “Happiness by the Kilowatt”, we all know the night is coming to an end. It’s coming up on five years since we farewelled Alexisonfire and we are not the kids we used to be. And neither are they. But we’re makin’ it work.