Saturday was an absolutely massive day for anyone who hated high school, made questionable Omegle calls, or had a Tumblr between 2009 and 2016. Pop Punk royalty All Time Low and Mayday Parade have arrived in Melbourne for a double act of debauchery, moshing, and one hell of a trip down memory lane.
I remember hearing my first Mayday Parade song on a So Fresh! Hits of Summer 2009 CD. So, I have to admit, I was a little nervous to hear them play live. I was sandwiched between some of the rowdiest concert goers of living memory, and we were hungry for a show. Were they going to be able to provide? It seems wrong to say a group of guys who haven’t yet hit 40 are in their ‘twilight years’, but Mayday Parade was formed in 2005, for God’s Sake. That’s nearly two decades of performing and touring. That is the twilight years! But I should’ve known better than to be nervous.
Oh Well, Oh Well, is quieter than I expected for an opening song. But the violin is beautiful, it’s haunting and delicate and washes over our expectant grins. And then Jake Bundrick comes in with those drums on the chorus. And I’m taken all the way back to 2011. I’m kicking rocks as I wait for the bus, I’m changing math class again, I’m at Margaret Court jostling as much as I can in my seat to keep rhythm with the women either side of me. Every word flows out of me, Mayday Parade have just unlocked something in me. Derek Sanders takes our hands, holds them lovingly, and guides us through the rest of their setlist. He is quiet, gentle, and absolutely Earth-shattering. His voice is so good, so good. Pain, love, loss all come out of him fully formed and I find myself grieving every song as soon as it’s finished. Sanders shows us how much of a master of his craft he is, in the acoustic version of Miserable At Best. Margaret Court is awash with phone torch light. This song was born to be played acoustic, born to be played live. I have never felt more lucky.
It’s clear the band have been a unit for so long. Bassist Jeremy Lenzo and guitarist Brooks Betts wind their way between each other without thinking. They’re two parts of the same whole. Everyone has this beautiful, innate understanding of the others. As individual players, their skill cannot be understated. They play to not only match the recorded version of the songs, but to destroy it. The Tallahassee natives absolutely blast their recordings out of the water. Driving, pounding, relentlessly rhythmic bass, shredding, treacle-sweet guitar licks and delicate, precise, endlessly engaging drumming keep my eyes glued to the stage for their whole set. And god, it’s too short. At only 10 songs long, I am positively gutted when it comes to an end all too soon.
But at least we get to finish on Jamie All Over. I watch GA shake off all of the emotions from the set. They’re grinning, bumping into each other, as the fellas onstage give it everything they’ve got. Guitars turned up to the max, Bundrick is slamming on the drumkit so hard I’m worried the skins will break. Everyone looks so alive.
And then it’s time for the illustrious return of Maryland emo-Rockers, All Time Low. This will be their first time in Australia since 2017, and to say it’s nostalgic – is the understatement of the fucking century. All Time Low are the high school anthem makers. In harsh contrast to Mayday Parade’s setlist – we’re in for 22 songs from a nearly 20-year career from this band of agents for chaos. If any band was going to be a parody of medieval travelling bands – these guys would be hit. They’re all energy, humour, and an endless stream of increasingly elaborate bits. They’re horny, nostalgic and angsty. They’re a delight in every sense of the word.
Nothing can describe the absolute tidal wave that is Lost in Stereo into Damned if I Do Ya (Damned if I Don’t). All Time Low sucker punch you to welcome you to the set. Unbelievably high energy, pumping lights and new takes on beloved riffs – this is an opening impossible to forget. Everyone is up. There are no seats, they’ve turned the whole fucking place into a moshpit. The control they have over us and the room is impossible to replicate.
“Holy fuck there’s a lot of people here”. Front man Alex Gaskarth is met with a tsunami of applause and cheers. “This is the biggest show we’ve ever played in Australia. And that’s all thanks to you. We’re four guys from Maryland who started this shit nearly 20 years ago – in high school, and we never, ever thought we’d be here.”
After several more songs punctuated by flashing purple lights, Rian Dawson’s inimitable drumming and Gaskarth’s unbelievable vocal power, our front man takes to the mic again. “This is a song about love.” And we launch into a mashup between, Modern Love / Stella and Tell Me I’m Alive.
God these guys are a unit. The amount of stage guitarists Jack Barakat and Zack Merrick can cover while getting these intricate runs note-perfect, is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. All Time Low do high-energy better than anyone else in the business. They are proving, with every sensational second they’re onstage, why they’re pop-punk heavy-weights. The musicianship, the effortless banter, the charisma – all of it is what puts All Time Low on top. And they’re dishing everything out for us at Margaret Court.
New touring member to the band, Dan Swank, is having a birthday! “Not only is it his first time in Australia, it’s also Dan’s birthday! Let’s all sing Happy Birthday 3 or 4 times.” Gaskarth chirps happily into the mic. We’re having none of it. There’s only one thing we want him to do.
Starting as a dull drone, and growing to a yell, the room is full of;
Shooey! Shooey! Shooey!
“You guys are fucked. You know that right? This is so completely depraved. Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?” Gaskarth might be appauled, but Barakat has already whipped off his shoe (suspiciously fast), and Swank has filled it with beer. Down the hatch. The applause is next-level.
And then we are thrown back into it. Winding our way through bagner, old and new, I have to stop us at Fake As Hell. As he absolutely tears up his vocal chords delivering us spine-tingling belts, Gaskarth takes a minute to thank the queen of pop-punk. The one. The only. My first musical hero. The other-half of the poppy, sardonic tune; Avril Lavigne. “Make some noise for Avril Lavigne. Here in spirit. She’s eternal.” Fuck! Yes! As the punchy, tongue-in-cheek tribute comes to a close. Gaskarth takes a minute to address us, after a heckle from the front row.
“Oh fuck yeah dude! No, seriously, that’s great. Who here saw us when they were 15?” A bunch of twenty-somethings hiding purple hair in the corporate world cheer. “Thanks for growing up with us guys.”
It’s a very sweet moment and reminds me of why I loved bands like All Time Low in high school. They’re messy, they make mistakes, they’re human. They understood what growing up was like.
“Alright now for something less sappy. This is the horniest song All Time Low have ever written. And I won’t apologise.” The song in question is, of course, New Religion. The stage is bathed in purple and red light. It’s just sensational. Gaskarth purrs into the mic, accompanied by the hypnotic drum work of Dawson. The song is extra hot, and extra heavy.
The set goes by in a dream. It’s alive, it’s electric. Each song is punchier than the last. And I’m not entirely sure how we ended up with the band stopping, Barakat taking the mic and asking Gaskarth; “Hey, have you ever? Ever felt like this?” Zack Merrick chimes in, “Where strange things happen?!” And suddenly, they’re playing Round The Twist. They’re dancing to Round The Twist. All Time Low, are playing Round The Twist. What the fuck is going on. We’re losing it. Some people are trying to film it, but laughing too hard, others are headbanging. Barakat was absolutely right when he said; “Glad to know you all still stand for your national anthem.” All Time Low casually pulling out maybe the most iconic live music moment of 2023. Go off boys. Their commitment to the bit is second-to-none.
And as teenage Nikki favourites like Weightless play out, I get a little teary as we hit the last song of the encore. “Take us home everyone!” And in perfect unision, fuelled by patriotism and teen angst, we sing out the end of Dear Maria, Count Me In. And it’s over. The lights come up and it doesn’t feel real. We were somewhere else. A delightful time capsule of a bygone age of hairspray, shitty bangles and musical perfection. And god do I want to go back.