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Live Review + Photos: Mariachi El Bronx, Sydney 2016

The Bronx / Polish Club / Pounded By The Surf
Manning Bar, Sydney 02/11/2016
Review: David James Young | Gallery: Peter Zaluzny

It says a lot about the headliner’s faith in their own abilities that, tonight, they ostensibly open for themselves. For those not in the know, Pounded By The Surf is an instrumental project starring The Bronx’s Joby Ford [guitars], Ken Horne [guitars] and Brad Magers [bass] joined by The DripsVincent Hidalgo on drums. It throws them in the deep end of soundtrack-ready surf rock – stylish, sharp, and a whole lot of fun to watch. Ford and co. clearly have a deep-cut passion for the genre’s history, and to watch them enact it live is a treat for both the ears and for the dancing shoes.

They’re followed in quick succession by Polish Club, who have cemented a reputation as one of Sydney’s hardest-working bands. That’s not just an indication of their touring ethic, either – the blues-tinged duo power through urgent, howling stompers with the wallop of bands twice their size. Drummer John-Henry Pajak hits the kit so damn hard he knocks over a cymbal stand twice within the first two songs. “My House”, “Beeping”, and the romantic threats of “Don’t Fuck Me Over” are highlights, but bonus points also have to be dished out for a ripping cover of The Saints‘ “(I’m) Stranded”.

The double-life of The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx is one of the more fascinating contrasts in contemporary rock music, yet when the octet launches into “Right Between the Eyes”, it makes just as much sense as when The Bronx launched into “Heart Attack American” less than a week ago. Matt Caughthran is all sizzle and saunter, grinning from ear to ear as he croons through selections from all three of the band’s self-titled albums. “48 Roses” is all melodrama and fanfare; “Holy” sees the packed audience convert into an impromptu choir, and “Revolution Girls” scores perhaps the most rousing reception of the evening.

It’s especially a treat tonight to have the Hidalgo brothers performing together: the aforementioned Vincent has moved to guitarron, while The Bronx’s fill-in drummer David Hidalgo Jr. provides percussion up the back. The siblings’ father, David Hidalgo, is a founding member of perhaps the most famous mariachi act on the planet, Los Lobos, so not only is there the usual Bronx-oriented entertainment factor, but there’s also true heritage of the genre being represented and illuminated in what is a sadly-rare occasion.

Between going toe-to-toe with Violent Soho in massive venues to having their tour manager propose to his partner on-stage at Melbourne’s Gasometer Hotel, this has truly been one of the most eventful tours on either side of Caughthran and co’s musical spectrum across their multiple visits to Australia. As the audience departs, shouting out the titular refrain of “Tequila” as it plays over the PA, one can’t imagine anyone would be leaving the venue unhappy. This is a show of high spirits, hearty singing and positive energy. It’s a true blessing to be a part of it.

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