I was blessed with a treat for my inner teenager this week. Opening the night at The Corner Hotel was Suzi, a fairly new heavy hitter in Melbourne’s growing angry-girl-rock scene. Following on her heels was new emo fixture, Microwave. Then, after a night of high-energy dancing and cheering, comes Mom Jeans, the Pasadena natives who wrote the soundtrack of many people’s adolescence.
Suzi very much embodies contemporary Melbourne. She is an anti-folk newcomer, following in the footsteps of Australian icons, Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett. One of the things I love most about Suzi is how strongly she keeps her Australian accent in all her songs. She is embracing who she is, the city and the country that made her. She sings about the young Australian experience, unapologetically. To describe Suzi’s music, I would say it is a musical coming-of-age story. Songs like Amelia make me want to ride my bike around the backstreets in a movie-montage. I was struck by how unique and kitsch Suzi’s aesthetic is; a mullet/shag combo with bleached streaks on the front and sides, Haus of Dizzy earrings, band shirt. The song Everyone I’ve Met Hates Me hit the room hard. People were still moving, but with the weight that we have all had these feelings. Towards the end of the song, Suzi picks up the energy to a level not in her Spotify repertoire. The band is going crazy, and she’s singing her heart out into the mic. We are eating out of her hand. Looking into a mirror.
Following on with a short intermission are new(ish) post-hardcore guys, Microwave. A group of 4 guys, who you would not pick to be in a post-hardcore band. The front man, Nathan Hardy, is wearing a backwards baseball cap and looks very much like the high-school jocks from teen movies. The rest of the band, brothers Tyler and Travis Hill and drummer, Timothy Pittard, are all wearing non-descript black t-shirts. These are guys who could be anyone, totally unassuming. But then the music comes. Gritty, heavy on the drums, with guitar shredding and reverb pedals galore. Both Hill brothers are jumping around stage, somehow keeping a grip on their instruments. The room isn’t so much dancing as they are head-banging, hands thrown up in the air. The song keeping up was an absolute highlight of the set, with the foursome giving everything they’ve got to the crowd, who match that energy and keep pushing it higher. While the Atlanta natives are still fairly underground, I would pay close attention. It’s hard to toe a line between sensitivity and hardcore, and no one does it quite like Microwave.
Since many emo bands disbanded in the 2010s, it is oh-so rare to see a band as prolific as Mom Jeans continuing to tour, especially in Australia. But fear not! “If you keep coming to our shows, we’ll keep coming here! This is in our Top 4 places in the world to perform” (I wonder who came second, third and fourth). Keep going to shows, keep the spirit of teenagerhood, of community and embrace the silliness of nostalgia, and the shows will keep coming.
I was not a happy teenager. Maybe it was the 2am Tumblr scrolls, questionable Omegle calls, a chemical imbalance in my brain – we may never know. Something I do know, however, is that very few people who listen to emo music like Mom Jeans were happy teenagers. Convinced we wouldn’t survive high school, with no plans to live beyond 20. The future seemed like a dark, endless tunnel. And yet, there we all were at The Corner Hotel, covered in tattoos, scars, heavy eyeliner, band shirts, beaming grins and tear-streaked cheeks. Scanning the periphery of the room I saw couples embracing, an older woman singing along with her 20-something son, a young dad, and his daughter – wearing a Trophy Eyes shirt and blue crocs. We all did make it. The future is now, and we are making it together – the wonderful soundtrack of Mom Jeans becoming an anthem of survival. Throughout the entire set, the crowd was screaming every line, word perfect, reaching the same volume levels as the band. And louder still, there were frequent heckles ‘fuck yes!’ ‘do a shoey’ or just ‘WOOOOO!’ at the top of someone’s lungs. It was euphoric.
The songs which I took so seriously in high school were being performed by a group of guys who looked like regulars at the local pub. Lead singer Eric Butler is rocking a mullet and moustache (très Melbourne Chic), Austin Carango on drums, wearing a baggy black shirt and baseball cap, and bassist Sam Kless wearing… very little. By the time I could see the stage through the sea of arms and bobbing heads, his shirt was off. It took all of about 3 minutes. The band don’t take themselves seriously at all, they embrace the goofiness, the jollity and the imperfection which all come with making music for a sea of SSRI teenagers unhappy with their hometown. They do, however, take the music seriously. They are seriously tight. Playing amazing math-rock riffs, never missing a single drum beat or tempo change. It’s very clear that the guys behind Mom Jeans love music, but equally love having fun. That’s the best way to describe the energy in that room, fun. After playing *Sobs Quietly*, Butler starts the opening riff to Weezer’s ‘Say it Ain’t So’; the rest of the band immediately join in, until Butler stops and says “We didn’t write that one. But we did write this”, and the foursome immediately break into White Trash Millionaire. One guy starts crowd surfing, his old-skool vans making him indistinguishable from everyone else in the room. The big guys in the middle of the room start moving around with ferocity only matched by the short girls in fishnets dominating the mosh. They break into several other iconic Rock openers in between songs, almost like we are privy to a rehearsal session, or a goof-off between friends. Everything from Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Can’t Stop’. Music is about having fun, doing goofy homages to those acts who came before us who we love, embracing meme culture. Mom Jeans’ ability to include the audience in their jokes, breaks down the barrier between artist and audience – they too were unhappy teenagers, potentially with a horrendous side fringe, who made it through – and we see ourselves in them, and they in us. What a beautiful thing.
The song Edward 40 Hands helped bring the show to an end. Super high energy, lots of off-beat jumping and flailing limbs and flying beer. There was not a person in that room who didn’t know those words:
I don’t mind / That you lie sometimes / Because I lie too / Yeah, I’m just like you
Guitarist Bart Thompson began motioning for the audience to sing even louder. He abandoned his strumming and focussed on getting the energy up. There was no way to tell where the mosh ended and the floaters on the side of the room began – everyone was spending all their energy in this final moment of nostalgic bliss.
Finishing with their encore of Vape Nation 2.0, a heartbreaking solo song performed solo by front-man Butler, I saw people crying. These songs carried us through adolescence, but they hit so much harder as an adult. Butler’s voice cracked on the opening stanza;
I’m scared of losing touch/ I’m forced to ask if you know that/ The reason I try so hard to be nice/ Is so no one else will leave me behind
No one was screaming during this song, just tearful singing. Mom Jeans lyrics sting, but they also make us laugh, dance, scream. The community many of us thought we didn’t have, was made in that room.