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Live Review + Photos: I Love Life Festival, Sydney 2015

I Love Life Festival (The Smith Street Band, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Iron Chic, The Sidekicks, Oslow, Postblue, Hannahband)
The Metro Theatre, Sydney 12/09/2015
Review: Matt Doria | Photos: Peter Zaluzny

Since sprouting in 2009, the annual Poison City Weekender has swept through Melbourne September after September with three astonishing days of punk, indie, and everything in-between. Though the three-day party is still exclusive to our Victorian brothers and sisters, this year brought forth what NZ’s Westfest is to our Soundwave: I Love Life. Named after the closing track on The Smith Street Band’s 2014 masterpiece Throw Me In The River, the fun-sized spinoff served up a handful of the Weekender’s best for two unforgettable nights of good tunes in Sydney and Brisbane.

Local DIY punks Hannahband were gifted with the honour of kicking off the festivities in Sydney. Consisting plainly of guitarist Nathan Martin and drummer Marnie Vaughn, the duo somehow pulled off a richer and more full-bodied sound than most five-pieces are able to deliver. Both members were at the absolute top of their games tonight; Martin’s lo-fi shredding filled the room with all the right kinds of swishy dad-rock vibes, and Vaughn hit every click and crunch with effortless precision. Penultimate cut “You Have A Beautiful Invoice” brought the band to their peak, and just like that, the night’s mood was set.

This was supposed to be the moment where everyone was blown away by Philly emo-punks Modern Baseball, but due to complications with their frontman’s mental health, their place was handed off to Melbourne alt-rock quartet Postblue. A distinct change of pace from Hannahband, their sound was very layered, dizzy and scribbled with grit. Vocals from Riley McEvoy were grungy and emotive, peculiarly reminiscent to Blink-182, if they were to be fronted by Kurt Cobain. Their set dragged towards the end, but there was nothing in particular you could really complain about. They’re like a post-mix Coke: nothing revolutionary, but still pretty refreshing.

They say if you put a seashell up to your ear, you can hear the sounds of the ocean. That being said, one can only imagine raising a bong to your ear would produce the sounds of local indie boys Oslow. Characterised by vocalist Dylan Farrugia’s dusty harmonies and instrumental bridges almost as majestic as guitarist Jacob Rossi’s hair, Oslow’s set was 30 minutes of melty, sway-inducing fuzziness. If they aren’t already on there, they’d make a perfect fit for Poison City’s day-to-day roster.

The first of three sequential acts to come out of the USA, Ohio pop-punkers The Sidekicks were next to the podium. Their set was off to a shaky start thanks to some genuinely awful mixing – guitars were muddled together into a mess of incoherent noise, and any words to come out of Steve Ciolek’s mouth just faded into the nothingness. Thankfully, around the halfway mark things took a turn for the better. We can only assume that their sound operator was replaced with someone sober, and with that came 15 minutes of bubbling dance rock highlighted by chunky pop-punk number “Daisy”, and wrapped up with a stylistically flipped cover of Prince’s “Kiss” that made little sense in concept, but sounded damn fantastic in practice.

Without hesitation, Long Island skate-punk ruffians Iron Chic took to the stage with their signature energetic flair in full swing. Though relegated to the smaller side-stage, their sound was psychotically massive. At times, vocalist Phil Douglass was completely overpowered by the chants of his rabid devotees, the audience an overexcited commotion of crowdsurfing and flying beers. An uproarious snapshot of the days of a reckless youth, Iron Chic were all about the short, the fast, the loud, and most importantly, the fun. Their set lasted 40 minutes, but it felt like 10.

Opening their hour-long set with “The Michael Jordan Of Drunk Driving”, folk-punk outfit Andrew Jackson Jihad tore down the house with an unusual, though entirely captivating sound. They had the sad-lyrics-set to-upbeat-music game on lockdown, “Hate Song For Brains” and “Temple Grandin” especially standing out amongst the pack. “People II: The Reckoning” was an instant crowd-favourite, the hooky bridge and twisted interpolation of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” bringing an indescribably bouncy aura to the quintet’s performance. Their set came to a close with “Big Bird”, during which frontman Sean Bonnette nodded to Mad Max: Fury Road by spray painting his bandmates’ teeth – and some of the audience – with chrome food colouring. Rest assured, they were anything but mediocre. Witness them!

Just as we had all started to catch our breaths, the lights dimmed one final time and an all-out tsunami of fanatical cheering came pounding down on The Metro, as if all of the cheers from earlier in the night had been compiled and set off in one wall-rattling eruption. After building the hype with a lengthy intro of Run The Jewels’ “Blockbuster Night Part 1” – an interesting yet oddly fitting choice – The Smith Street Band sprinted onstage with smiles wider than their faces and smashed straight into their set with “It’s Alright, I Understand”.

The Smith Street Band’s rise to festival-headlining status is not one born out of luck, nor are the Melbourne pub-rockers selling out enormous theatres at the hand of Wil Wagner’s head-turning sex appeal (dat beard). With a level of passion simply unheard of elsewhere and an insatiable itch to set the room on fire time after time, The Smith Street Band are a modern day fairytale of alcohol-soaked success purely because their live shows leave audiences with sore feet, lost voices, and a head full of memories.

“Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams” and “Surrey Dive” led the pack when it came to inescapable chantability, and “Sunshine And Technology” absolutely demanded fists in the air. It was No One Gets Lost Anymore classic (and this writer’s personal favourite TSSB track) “Rooftops” that stood out the most, though, its career-defining chorus too excitable and energetic to ignore. The atmosphere took a sovereign turn into spine-tingle territory when Wagner hummed the opening lines to anti-Abbott anthem “Wipe That Shit-Eating Grin Off Your Punchable Face”, likely for one of the last times now that the onion-munching menace is out of the game. “I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” was dedicated to Modern Baseball and those in the crowd battling mental illness, and paved the way for the fitting closers of “Throw Me In The River” and “I Love Life”.

At the end of the night, the inaugural I Love Life mini-festival was a resounding success for Poison City and The Smith Street Band. It’ll be interesting to see where the concept goes in 2016, but as for tonight, you’d be hard pressed finding someone who didn’t relate to the show’s title. As we shuffled down the stairs, we were already exchanging memories with our friends.

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