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[Review] Everything Everything / The Vaccines @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 09/05/2024

Braving Melbourne’s rain-drenched streets this Thursday evening, a sold-out crowd packed their way into the Forum in anticipation of a cosier occasion, brimming with nostalgic British Rock royalty. Making their first return to Australian shores since 2018 and 2019 respectively, co-headliners Everything Everything and The Vaccines are the unexpected combination of uniquely daring, and familiarly sentimental, blurring the lines of what is recognised within the classic rock genre.

In a Melbourne-exclusive, crowds were blessed to witness Kitschen Boy, awakening the iconic venue and setting the tone for the night. The four exquisitely suited local lads absolutely astounded audiences with their high-energy, 80s sound, packed with captivating basslines and contemplative lyricism. Immediately placing the audience into the crescendo of a coming-of-age film, the band exudes an aura of youth and vulnerability, whilst remaining infectiously danceable.

The indie band’s front man Dylan Baddeley is the epitome of confidence. His on-stage persona flaunts a kind of smugness, paramount to the British trad rock genre. Through their heavy thumping set, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this really was the ‘supporting’ act for the night. Powering through their short-but-sweet discography, and barely stopping for air, the band landed on their recent 2024 single, The Perfect Excuse. The introspective lyricism paired with trademark dreamy, muffled vocals makes for a standout hit, and the theatrical peak of their freshly released EP, Now Arriving At Panic Station.

Adorned with golden Hollywood lighting, perfectly placed synth, and ingenious bass lines, the band’s all-consuming blanket of vintage rock ‘n roll truly bought the Forum to life. Closing with 2019 single Charlie Don’t Party, the audience was left on an absolute high; a final clashing instrumental paired with blinding strobe cementing Kitschen Boy as some of Melbourne’s finest talent.

Waltzing onstage as nonchalant as ever, English Art-Rock band Everything Everything were set to make their Aussie return, touring their 2024 LP Mountainhead. Veterans of the genre, Everything Everything are best known for their complex and abstract tracks, drawing heavy inspiration from Radiohead, Nirvana, and The Beatles. With such legendary foundations, the band construct incredibly high expectations – which were most certainly met in their hour-long set.

The most colourful act of the night, Everything Everything’s unbelievably intricate, perfectly mismatched instrumentalism was clear from the outset. Maintaining an upbeat and energetic tone with their music, whilst under such heavy physical composure, the band exudes an unmatched level of professionalism. Taking their fans through a captivating journey of their expansive discography, they made sure to touch upon all the hits; the flawless harmonies of The End of The Contender, hypnotic lyricism of Arch Enemy, and infectious groove of Pizza Boy, to name a few.  By the half-way point of the set, the band entirely stripped back their fourth wall, inviting the audience to sing along. The movement of frontman Jonathan Higgs becoming increasingly fluid and captivating.

Jonathan’s vocals, most impressively his signature falsetto, are a standout feature of Everything Everything’s music. The band’s intricate song writing is also credited to the multi-talented frontman, who shares the intention of “avoid[ing] cliche, or the cliches expected of white men with guitars from Manchester”. However, the band’s spotlight is not solely contained to the centre stage, with each individual musician shining independently of each other. Another standout of their live set is touring keyboardist and percussionist Peter Sené. Travelling with the band since 2012, Peter has cemented himself as an honorary member of the band, bringing infectious energy to every song with his power stance and enthusiastic headbanging.

Nearing their grand finale, Everything Everything still had so much ground to cover. Hits including Kemosabe, Enter the Mirror, and Night of the Long Knives keeping the crowd on their toes, and introducing new musical elements with every verse. With a set so incredibly full of life and energy, and each song fresher than the last, it is clear to see how Everything Everything has amassed such a cult-like following. Distant Past, a standout of the set, is a culmination of the band’s catalogue of genres. Meshing rap vocals, a dance beat, rock guitar, jazz horns, and electronic glitches, the band proves there is nothing out of their grasp in today’s musical landscape – making them undoubtedly some of the best in the business.

Introducing a band with a hit from one of the greatest rock artists of all time is quite the statement. But West London’s, The Vaccines, entrance to the McCartney classic, Live and Let Die, was a perfect fit. The eccentric Indie-Rock heavyweights, fronted by affectionately cocky singer-songwriter Justin Young, bring a modern edge to the British glam rock genre. Flaunting flared trousers, a blazer, and a pair of Windsor-style sunglasses, The Vaccines ooze coolness, before even a single note is played. Kicking the set off, the single Love To Walk Away from their 2024 album Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations had the room in a trance. Playing every song as if it were the finale, The Vaccines have a mesmerising way of personally involving every audience member in their high-voltage spectacle.  Making tactical eye contact with fans pressed against the barrier, it is clear the band have a following similarly ecstatic to that of early rock icons.

Waltzing though their impressive fourteen-year discography, the band barely paused for breath. Hits like I Can’t Quit flaunts their signature carefree feel, whilst clearly having the time of their lives revisiting Melbourne for the first time in six years. Hinting to their cheeky, unhinged side, the band transitioned into their ‘one for the animals’, Post Break-Up Sex. Dancing around the stage with fancy footwork, and pointing into the distance aimlessly, Justin makes the whole performer gig look easy. This is what diversifies The Vaccines from other rock bands, they are performing simply to have a fun and carefree time, with no hidden agendas or messages to push; and man, was the audience having fun!

Moving into a dreamier soundscape, Discount de Kooning (Last One Standing), bought with it a nostalgic energy, almost as if pulled from a teen romance film. Ringing guitars paired with continuous dazzling synth, and incredibly smooth flowing vocals gives the track a particular warmth. Lines like ‘Baby we should keep on dancing, I feel that something good is going to happen’ are uniform with the way The Vaccines consistently refresh audiences with happy positive music, yet not void of emotion.

Flying through hit after hit, The Vaccines reminded us of what flawless musicians they are, playing consistently dynamic tracks one after the other. After captivating thousands of minds for the last hour, the marathon of an evening closed out with the 2018 pop anthem All My Friends Are Falling In Love. Leaving the stage with the audience still dancing the night away, naturally, fans refused to leave, desperate for an encore. Once the house lights flickered on, and the glitz and glam faded, all we were left with was the memories of an incredibly fun night of rock music (and maybe a hangover or two!)

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[Review] Mushroom 50 Live @ Rod Laver Arena Melbourne, 26/11/2023

Australia’s population is easily united by large-scale events and entertainment, particularly in relation to sport and politics. However, it is not often that our country, separated by vastness of land, cultural differences, and generational divides comes together over a musical event. Mushroom 50 Live was one of these once-in-a-lifetime occasions. A transcendence of humanistic differences, 50 Songs for 50 Years bought together the best of this nation’s talent, both past and present – a culmination of 50+ years of musical greats.

Acting as Australia’s founding father for aspiring musicians, a deal with Mushroom Records is one of the hallmarks of commercial success. Founded in 1972 by the late Michael Gudinski, Mushroom’s legacy has continued on both a national, and international scale. The excitement that filled Rod Laver Arena as thousands of lucky fans, music industry professionals, family, and friends, took their seats is simply irreplicable. With a line-up comprised of multiple generations of artists, there was bound to be something for everyone.

Long-time member of the Mushroom family, and a household name, Jimmy Barnes, opened the night in true rock and roll fashion.  Head to toe in leather, and pyrotechnics ablaze, Jimmy’s performance could not be faulted. Working the crowd as the rock icon he is, the energy was simply electric. As we were transported back to the 80s, long-time fans of the pub rock scene were given a moment to relieve their youth, whilst younger punters got a taste of what remains a legendary era of Aussie music. Powering through two of his hits, No Second Prize, and Working Class Man, 48 songs remained, and the bar was set astronomically high for the acts to follow.

Continuing the momentum, sisters Vika and Linda stole the hearts of the audience with their cover of Living in the 70s, the debut hit single from Mushroom’s own, Skyhooks. The pair’s angelic, ‘golden-age’ vocals paired with a jazz inspired musical arrangement created what was a uniquely surreal, cinematic feel. Stripping things back even further, Australian music sweetheart Missy Higgins gave a flawless performance of Wide Open Roads by The Triffids, which she had also re-recorded for the Mushroom 50 album. This set also bought with it a sublime 10-piece choir, whose performance in many of the evening’s acts was an absolute highlight. Treating fans to a familiar hit Scar, Missy had the room on their feet, swaying in gorgeous synchronicity, bonded by a shared love of music. The Rubens made a brief appearance, nailing their 2015 hit single Hoops. Flaunting the aesthetic of a highly polished garage band, The Rubens, are the epidemy of Aussie band music – and the foundation for many up-and-coming Melbourne indie rock bands.

The night at Mushroom 50 Live followed the ups and downs of moving through genres, and across eras from one song to the next; but what remained constant was a sense of family, and of celebration of life. Almost every artist who took to the stage, and every television host placed between acts could not help but to praise the beautiful character of Michael Gudinski. Michael founded Mushroom off his own passion for music, and for Australian artists the legacy he left for the industry is irreplaceable. Michael supported artists from all walks of life, regardless of their background. This became more and more evident as the night progressed, as we witnessed the stunning array of talent, all of whom were backed from the beginning by Mushroom Records.

A celebration of Australian music would not come close to complete without the inclusion of First Nations performers. Singing Australian anthems from the heart, Christine Anu gave a delightfully genuine rendition of My Island Home, sung from a pop-up stage at the back of the arena. Throughout the night this stage was turned to as a more intimate performance mode, away from the lights and cameras of the main spectacle. Goanna were up next, with their undeniable fan favourite, Solid Rock. The inclusion of Aboriginal instruments including digeridoo and clapsticks providing a feeling of authenticity and pride.

Many iconic acts graced the stage over the four-hour set, including Diesel, Ian Moss, Frente!, Deborah Conway, and Kate Ceberano. But the star-studded line-up had only just begun. The Temper Trap gave a strikingly poignant act, boldly choosing to perform two of the most recognisable tracks in Australian music history; Under the Milky Way by Australian rock band The Church, and their own smash hit Sweet Disposition. The sublime instrumentalism paired with an ethereal feeling backdrop of floating stars felt so out of place for an Aussie rock concert, yet was so perfectly received. An excited hum remained throughout the arena, as the crowd knew something special was still to come.

Closing out the first half was Aussie Icon Paul Kelly with his mega hit, Before Too Long, and a cover of The Sunnyboys’ Alone with You, joined by the band’s original guitarist Richard Burgman. The epic rock jams didn’t end there, as the First Nation’s band Yothu Yindi played their classic dance tracks Djapana and Treaty, embellished with flames, haphazardly flashing lights and the most intricate of rock instrumentals.

Beginning with a politically charged video compilation, the second half of the show dove deeper into the importance of messaging through music, and the influence of music icons on everyday people. Bliss n Eso put this message into practice with an emotional and moving rap set, alongside the ten-piece choir from earlier in the night. The phenomenally captivating stage presence didn’t end there, as international supergroup DMAs rocked audiences with their 2016 garage-band style single Lay Down. At first thought, viewers may have assumed 50 Songs for 50 Years was to deliver a few hit performances, alongside other ‘filler’ acts. However, these notions continued to be demolished by the incredible show of talent, all proudly Aussie-made. Household names including Machinations, Dan Sultan, The Teskey Brothers, Skyhooks, and Amy Shark left audiences wondering what final surprises were in store, as the catalogue of artists left on the bill grew smaller.

Birds of Tokyo were a personal standout, performing two of their international hits, Lanterns, and Good Lord, the arena was ignited – transformed from a glossy TV broadcast to an intimate early 2000s rock concert. The world class performance was breath-taking to experience, not only when viewing the stage, but after turning my head to the back of the arena, my eyes were met with the light of thousands of torches, glittering in the darkness like a magical sea of stars.

Mushroom 50 Live unfolded like a timeline. Fifty years of making noise, each decade equally represented – but now the time had come to hear from the future of the label. Recent signings including Logan, Wilson, and ‘Merci, Mercy’ gave performances worthy of international accolade. With such a solid foundation of music in this country, the sky is limitless for these young performers and their careers, and with backing from the best of the best, they are more than likely to become household names in the future.

As the star-studded evening comprised of live performance, and video cameos from the likes of Robbie Williams, Delta Goodrem, Vance Joy, Sam Smith, and Kylie Minogue came to a close, the nights successor Mark Seymour of Hunters and Collectors graced the stage. A digital duet of Aussie classic, Throw Your Arms Around Me, with none other than Ed Sheeran was adored by fans, but the finale Do You See What I See, truly took first prize. With the mighty revolving stage revealing the night’s band one final time, 2023’s biggest concert had come and gone. Left with nothing but rouge confetti in our hair, and wide smiles on our faces, it is safe to say all that attended Mushroom 50 Live have taken with them a sense of the ‘Mushroom family’. Closing the cover on the last 50 years of Australian music, and building a concrete and sacred foundation for musicians in the many decades to come.

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[Review] The Chicks @ Rod Laver Arena 16/10/2023

It has been six long years since country music royalty, The Chicks, last graced Australian shores. Returning in the light of their 2020 studio album, Gaslighter; The Chicks once again echoed their routine sell-out of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. Coupled with Ohio’s country-pop royalty Elle King, this Monday night hoedown played out as a dream come true for eagerly awaiting country music enthusiasts.

From the first beat, Elle King had transformed Melbourne’s inner-city arena into an all-American bluegrass festival. Carrying such strong Midwest influence in both her musical performance and stage persona, Elle’s presencewas intoxicating. Not only do her classic americana vocals bring an authenticity to the set, but so do her incredible four-piece band – who played a rhythmically flawless catalogue of upbeat hits.

Elle comes across to audiences as a multi-dimensional performer. At once being a bright, pastel Barbie sweetheart, before seamlessly tapping into a raw and unapologetic female powerhouse persona. Although, after spending the better part of an hour with her, it is likely Elle’s ‘persona’ is less of a façade, and more an upscaled display of her gorgeous, bubbly personality. The most anticipated moment of the set was experiencing the chart-topping hit Ex’s & Oh’s live. Perfectly positioned as an audience vocal warm-up, the single also acted as a way of signalling an obvious post-virality change of pace in the songwriter’sdiscography. Since 2014, Elle has retained her angsty lyrical undertones, whilst leaning into a more authentic bluegrass, country-rock sound.

Showcasing her latest LP, Come Get Your Wife, bluesy keys and guitars played out the set. Bouncing around the stage, the performer boasted about the joys of being a mother, eventually bringing her gorgeous two-year old son to the stage – the inspiration behind her 2023 single Lucky. The warm, homely energy mustered on stage acted as an easy sell for fans of The Chicks, who at their roots are a fanbase built upon female strength and empowerment.

Counting thirteen GRAMMY Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards is only the tip of the iceberg when considering the huge success The Chicks (formally Dixie Chicks), have amounted over their more than three-decade long career. Returning to Australia for the fifth time, Melbourne fans were more than ready to experience The Chicks once more, but this time with a fresh name, and an even fresher sound. Gaslighter is a ground-breaking album for country listeners – pairing the best of bluegrass instrumentalism with country-pop lyricism, and bound by bold, feminist undertones and branding. This new era of The Chicks has broadened the scope for the band’s fanbase, reinforcing them as a household name year after year. 

Sparkling cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats filled the arena floor, as the night’s main act took to the stage. Anticipation filled the air, and was completely devoured by a trippy, television-static visuals on stage. Disorientating the crowd with the hums of instrumental tuning, radio segments, and distorted snippets of their discography; we were in for not only a musical concert, but a high-production spectacle. Hypnotic imaging and artistically skewed feminist propaganda of the past joined the iconic opening harmonies of title track, Gaslighter. Suddenly dropping the halfway curtain on stage to reveal a multi-level six-piece band, along with three freestanding mics for the leading ladies. Dressedto the nines, founding bandmembers Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire made their way downstage, maintaining the pace of the upbeat, country heartbreak anthem. Soon after being met by lead vocalist Natalie Maines; the band had once again been reunited, ready to treat fans to a two-hour ‘best of’ special.

Sin Wagon was a major change of pace, fulfilling the crowd’s need for some classic country dance music. Accompanied by fast-paced banjo and fiddle, the musical talents of The Chicks is beyond belief. Playing with such versatility and effortlessness, it was impossible to take your eyes off the trio dressed in gorgeous, classy black and bejewelled leather. Performing their new album in close to its entirety, Texas Man and Julianna Calm Down continued to serve bad bitch, cowgirl energy, whilst showing-off Natalie’s incredible vocal range. A standout element giving continuity to the show was the ethereal feeling violin accompaniment, played beautifully by Martie throughout. Even in the darkest of lyrics, the upbeat and hopeful fiddler gives the tracks a signature ‘Chicks’ sound.

Diving deeper into their impressive and extensive music catalogue, the band gave us all there was to be desired. ‘We are The Chicks, and we are going to attempt to entertain you this evening’ and entertain they did. Filling the first half of the set with hit after hit including The Long Way Around, Ready to Run, and Wide Open Spaces.

A change of pace came as the band moved downstage, breaking the fourth wall in a more intimate, campfire-jam style. A standout for fans was the ladies’ several covers from their early archives including Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons, Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, and Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s Rainbowland. The clever meme-style humour of The Chicks was not lost on audiences either, as the screens behind introduced the band members using videos tapes of them as small children, and displaying song lyrics using a bouncing unicorn teleprompter.

The singalong came to a jarring end as seemingly random numbers flashed on stage – which became apparent were signifying numbers of mass-shooting fatalities, which mainly resided across the US. March March, For Her, and Everybody Loves You created a striking, politically driven segment of the show – displaying images of early LGBT and women’s movements, as well as recent riots and protests. There was no one issue which stood out as more significant than another, yet these demonstrations through music signal a need for global change, for peace and equality. Everybody Loves You is another painful, gory truth. A heart-breaking, personal insight into the mind of a survivor of sexual assault, battling with wanting to overcome their oppressor, but struggling for forgiveness; ‘It’s my body and I’m trying to forgive you, I don’t want to… Why does everybody love you?’

‘It’s time to get serious’, exclaimed Natalie, before the band ironically breaks out into a banjo-led, high energy, square-dancing track, White Trash Wedding. After such emotional ups and downs, it was refreshing to end the show with strong feminist-led narratives; Goodbye Earl, being the bookend. With the entire arena on their feet – the superstar trio played out the night with electric guitars and a rockstar personas. Leaving the stage with a standing ovation, there was no hesitation in the room when Natalie shouted, ‘We hope you’ll have us back Melbourne!’

I doubt there would be a soul who would not be back for another round of The Chicks. Though it may be years into the future, the trio have truly stood the test of time, and are guaranteed to pack out venues across Aussie shores for decades to come.

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[Review] Loveless @ 170 Russell, Melbourne 20/08/2023

Review By Emily

Pop culture has forever been a universal language, consistently infiltrating the minds of the current teen population. The popularity of TikTok has opened the scope for influencers worldwide, globalising the music scene more than ever, and Loveless is no exception. Riding off the recent resurgence of the emo scene, the Los Angeles locals who formed in mid 2020 have amounted an incredible international fanbase in a matter of months. Making their Melbourne debut, the boys of Loveless lived up to their online hype – selling out the iconic 170 Russell with a sensational punk-rock set reminiscent of the early 2000s greats including My Chemical Romance and Evanescence.

Closer to home, Sydney locals Closure set the tone for the short-but-sweet evening. Having released their first single in 2019, the band have had years to perfect their sound. Fronted by the enchanting vocalist Lucy May, the set played out with a perfect blend of originals and covers, each track feeding energy directly into the crowd. Starting out strong with a rock cover of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, Closure demanded the room’s attention. A particularly refreshing element was the consistently heavy, screeching guitar riffs that rang through every track, adding a level of emotion that cannot be portrayed through lyricism alone.

Although leaning heavily into the punk genre, Closure’s music remains bright and energetic, capturing the highs and lows of the emotions of their young adult audience. Bleed Out (No Wonder), the band’s newest single was a sure highlight of the set – backed by catchy electronic elements and an overlay of heavy metal drumming, ‘this is a fucking angry song’. Lucy’s vocals on this new track sound very similar to the bright emo tones of early records from The Veronicas, paired with a screamo-style backing from the band.

Their debut single, Bedroom, may have been released a number of years ago, however the catchy guitar riffs and dreamy vocals make it one of the band’s strongest tracks. The relatable lyrics of loneliness and the ramifications of hook-up culture are as heartbreaking as they are empowering, and were the perfect way to rial up the audience one final time. Heavy headbanging and flying arms played out the set as the venue quickly hit its capacity in perfect time for Loveless to take the stage. 

Exploding into the mainstream charts in 2021 as a cover band, Loveless is ready to make a name for themselves as a heavyweight in the alt-pop scene. Blending modern hits with high-velocity hard rock and punk vocals, the band has nailed down their sound extraordinarily quickly, subsequently growing an incredibly loyal online fanbase. Putting faces to the screen names of their fans, 170 Russell found itself bursting at the seams on Sunday night to welcome the LA locals. Hitting all the conventional Aussie traditions, the band sunk a few VB’s, did a shoey, and became the captains of an ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ chant within their first 10 minutes on stage.

The simple production allowed all attention to be placed on front man Julian Comeau. The perfect leader for a band, Julian came out guns blazing, not only vocally, but in his incredible physical performance. Channelling an early rock god, Julian’s ability to make contact with every audience member adds a warmness to their set, and a complete obliteration of the fourth wall. Starting out with a single from their breakout, self-titled album; Haunting Me was met with the energy expected of an encore performance. Racing and jumping around the stage, it was unfathomable to think the band was going to keep up such high intensity, and quality instrumentalism for the entire hour.

I Hope I’m Not Sick showcased the leaning into a new rock genre. High energy, upbeat drumming making it impossible not to smile and dance, even through the dark lyrical themes of mental health struggles. The light that Loveless is clearly providing for their fans who may be struggling with loneliness and self-worth is immense, and their warm community is something for any band to strive for.

Julian’s vocals are undoubtably flawless, with a range and projection that perfectly fills out the band’s discography. Filled with emotion and life, these vocals paired with fast-paced rock drumming gives that perfect dichotomy of teenage angst, the replication of a racing heart and mind typical of adolescent years.

The time between each track was a comedic pause in what is such imposing music. The banter back and forth between Julian and his bandmate and guitarist, Dylan was abrupt, yet acted as a time for air between such heavy-hitting songs. The band’s ability to think on their feet as juvenile jokesters had the audience in fits of laughter, bridging the gap between artist and listener. Coming into the limelight as online personalities, Loveless has done an incredible job at transferring these fan relationships into meaningful face-to-face interactions – even stopping the show at one point to sing Happy Birthday to their many fans who were celebrating that night.

Powering though their two-album catalogue, Loveless touched on all their hits including sorry i’m a downer, For You, Killing Time, IS IT ME, as well as some of the fan-favourite deep-cuts. It was so clear the band were simply here to have a good time, rather than to perform a perfectly planned spectacle. Playing through a plethora of tech issues, they didn’t miss a beat, nor did they lose the captivation of the crowd. Still becoming accustom to their overnight fame, there was a genuine feeling of gratitude and excitement in the air as Julian pondered, ‘You know what’s weird.. this is our job’.

With such a unique and attractive sound, and an army of fans, this is just the beginning for the alt-rock duo. Closing out the night with a brightly lit, high energy tune Drag Me Down, it felt as though the audience was not ready to say goodbye to their idols. This extraordinary level of anticipation is set to lead Loveless into many more successful Aussie tours in the future, making a promise on their departure, ‘we will be back soon’.

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[Review] Noah Cyrus @ 170 Russell, Melbourne 20/07/2023

Review By Emily White

A dreary winter’s night in Melbourne is not the ideal scene for an international pop sensation to take the stage. However, something about the cold and misty pavement lit up by slow moving, golden headlights set the perfect mood for an exquisite night of melodic storytelling. Seeing Noah Cyrus live has been a long time coming for her allegiance of fans, many of whom have followed the star since her musical debut at only sixteen years old. Seven years on and Noah has finally made her Australian debut with the Hardest Part Tour, in light of her 2022 album release. Joined for the first time by her long-term collaborator and friend – Australian songwriter and producer PJ Harding – it was to be a night of firsts, and an absolute blessing to witness.

 Being met with one of the warmest welcomes I had ever seen for a support act, it is clear PJ Harding has built himself a fan base, almost entirely made up of gen z women. Certainly not the expected crowd for a lowkey, country-esque, songwriter, yet it was delightful to know that tonight was not about the glitz and glam of a pop concert – the fans had undoubtably gathered for the shared love of music.  

Supported by only a steel string guitar and stagnant, golden lighting, the focus was on the storytelling. Opening the set with the first track off his recent EP; A Dangerous Thing set the tone for his brief, yet striking discography. PJ’s voice is warm and familiar, the perfect delivery when lyricism is the focus of the set. PJ is not a seasoned live performer, spending more time in the studio, yet he has become so supremely popular with Noah’s fan base. For the entirety of his set the room stood still, his touches of husky falsetto silencing the sold-out nightclub. Within a thirty-minute set PJ had easily sold his solo EP, To Fall Asleep, after playing its entirety.

The warmth of his tear-jerking ballads paired with crystal clear execution induced goosebumps throughout the room. A highlight of the set was the album’s title track, To Fall Asleep. Described as a song about the simplicity and calm that comes with family, more specifically in his role as a father. The Way It Felt to Love You is another masterpiece, filled with impressively concise, yet abstract imagery through metaphors, the song manifests itself visually in the mind of the listener.

‘It never rains in LA till it pours, and now the water’s slowly rising at my door. That’s the way it felt to love you’.

 Being lucky enough to hear an unreleased track, There Was a Song, expresses the joy that comes with being able to perfectly express emotion through music in a way which words cannot. Bringing the set to a close, PJ began to work the collective voice of the room in an angsty singalong, The Machine. Evoking a sense of confidence and self-assurance in those yelling ‘Fuck you, I’m gonna do it anyway’, the crowd was more than prepared for the night’s headliner to make her debut. 

 Thirty minutes felt like a lifetime waiting for Noah to take the stage – made all the more exciting as her name appeared, illuminated by golden flames. The venue becoming more tightly packed with every passing minute. I couldn’t help but notice the striking way golden light bounced from the metal high hats and towards the freestanding mic. A high level of class and glamour had been established long before Noah’s arrival.

Noah (Stand Still), the opening track from her new LP, fittingly opened the show. A gorgeous ethereal soundscape cemented by a three-piece live band. Noah’s casual entrance to the stage came across as anything but mundane. Her stunning lace embellished, sheer white dress can only be described as angelic.  Contrastingly, Noah’s lyrics come from a much darker lens, singing ‘When I turned 20, I was overcome with the thought that I might not turn 21’.  The remaining tracks follow similar themes of struggling mental health and relationships, all with an undertone not of defeat, but of growth and persistence. Mr. Percocet and Unfinished introduced the audience to the powerhouse live vocals that were to be expected for the rest of the night, as well as Noah’s flawless crowd work and authentic, caring demeaner.

Imagery of grassy meadows backed the magical indie pop sound throughout the set, gradually darkening from day to night, coinciding with the lyrical themes becoming progressively darker. Making a nod towards her long-time collaborator PJ Harding, the audience was taken back to Noah’s first album with Liar. The End of Everything is a once in a lifetime album – perfectly crafted, no song lesser than the other. Personally, I spent much of my final year of high school listening to this album from start to end, blasting through the car on my first solo drives; I can expect that much of the crowd did too. Hearing these tracks live for the first time felt like a metaphorical bookend to that phase of life, for both Noah and her fans who have grown by her side.

Powering through her short, yet sweet discography, All Three, I Just Want a Lover, and her first ever single, Again, all made the cut. ‘This song confronted the sad in myself. The fear that anyone I was close to would get up and leave at any moment’. The energy came to a halt as an acoustic section of the night began with My Side of The Bed; a highly relatable, yet deeply personal ballad about having trust and abandonment issues in relationships. The star was met with dead silence and undivided attention as she reintroduced PJ for their second ever time performing as a duo. The small set comprised of acoustic tracks You Belong to Somebody Else, Cannonball, Dear August, The Best of You, and The Worst of You.

I Got So High That I Saw Jesus bought with it a complete change of mood, as the poignant song about the end of the world transformed the venue into a gospel session. The fan favourite saw arms and bodies swaying in perfect synchronicity, the lyrics ringing through the sea of people. Blue smoke filled the room as the night began to come to its end. Hardest Part was without a doubt the standout performance of the night – with booming drums and bass creating a heart wrenching drama through the choruses, and slow solemn guitar lacing the verses. The highlight however was the vocals that seemed as though they had been savoured for this moment. Sounding like a choir of angels, shivers shot down the spines of the crowd. It is no wonder Noah has made a name for herself as a Grammy Award Nominated artist at age twenty-three, she is truly a musical treasure.

With her fans desperate for more, Noah returned to the stage as swiftly as she had departed. Begging for ‘one more song’, we were lucky enough to receive three of the best. Lonely, Make Me (Cry), and The End of Everything left not a dry eye in the room.

I had read that Noah’s live performances will stay with you long after her shows… and this is entirely true. Growing up in the limelight takes a toll on the strongest of people, and there is no hiding the pain and anguish that Noah has felt through her young adult life. However, after spending the night with the star, it is clear she has come through stronger than ever; carrying both herself, and her adoring fans who have found so much solace in her music.

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[Review] Easylover Festival @ Northcote Theatre, Melbourne 10/06/2023

Review By Emily White

Having spent the first half of 2023 on their national Daisy Chain Album Tour, Melbourne’s home-grown indie rock icons, Slowly Slowly, drew in one last sold-out audience for the inaugural EASYLOVER Festival this Saturday. Returning just two weeks after their headlining show at The Forum, fans prepared to be absolutely indulged with yet another extended set. Packed with back-to-back performances from indie rock heavyweights, the seven hours spent in Northcote Theatre’s four walls flew by, with not a single ‘filler act’ to slow the momentum.

From 4pm the queue of festivalgoers wrapped tightly around the building and down the icy cold streets, eager to escape the winter breeze for what would be a hot and sweaty storm inside.  The first ingredient for such chaos was Australian alt-rock trio Ok Hotel. Playing with contrasting elements of a casual garage band paired with perfectly melodic instrumentalism, the Wollongong locals kicked off what frontman Josh Fogarty eloquently described as an evening at ‘rock n roll church’. With the gorgeous winter sun beaming through the rear stained-glass windows, the set portrayed just that – an otherworldly auditory delight.

Filled with youthful angst, the muffled grunge vocals paired with crystal clear electric guitar provided a thrilling listening experience. Regular changes in tempo and asymmetrically placed pauses made it impossible to keep up with the gritty punk machine; a highly sought-after attribute of cleverly written rock music. With only thirty minutes to highlight their impressive discography, the band made it clear they are not here to mess around. Tracks such as the 2023 single Get Out showcasing abstract imagery in the feeling of drowning through lyricism, ‘help me please, I’ve been waiting here forever but the sharks won’t ever leave’. Ok Hotel gave the audience all you could want from an opening act, departing the stage sweaty and untamed – an indicator of the night ahead.

 Friends of Friends may not yet be a household name, but the four-man band from Brisbane are certainly on a path to stardom. The self-proclaimed ‘trashy alt-pop band’ moved the show from strength to strength; with instantly intoxicating stage presence demanding the attention of the now shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Paired with a bass so heavy it could be felt in your throat, lead vocalist Barnaby Baker took the next thirty minutes to showcase the band’s fresh, otherworldly alt-rock sound. Nailed down by perfectly paced drumming, and an overlay of dreamy guitar and distorted vocals, the band explores themes of personal loss and social angst. Although remaining absolutely authentic, Friends of Friends has found a way to balance this with tour-ready, glam-rock personas; packed with fluid and emotive movement. Debuting their newest single Bleachers (On and On), impressive song writing met with an astonishing vocal range, ‘I’m mislead I’m fading baby, burning up in shades of red’. Experiencing Friends of Friends live for the first time was intoxicating, and an easy sell for their upcoming projects.

Being such a hard act to follow, Bakers Eddy was the band for the job. The Melbourne-based punk rock group are both casual in their demeaner, yet irresistibly charming in delivery. Playing a standout set despite having a stand-in bassist, and an eventually broken guitar string is a show of the sheer level of talent and persistence of the band, particularly front man Ciarann Babbington. Kicking off their set early because they ‘can’t be fucked walking off stage and then coming back 2 minutes later’, the crowd was in for a treat. What can only be described as wild, fun, and provocative, Bakers Eddy were a festival favourite. Almost immediately the mosh pit grew in intensity, bodies flying overhead and splashing beer coating everything in sight. This band were made to be seen live. Musically Bakers Eddy is youthful and charming, packed with ‘fast chords, weird chords and nostalgia’. Playing a condensed set showcasing their 2022 album Love Boredom Bicycles; hit tracks including My Baby’s Like Cigarettes and 21 left the crowd begging for more, shouting ‘one more song’ as the band departed the stage.

Riled up and thirsting for more, Press Club burst onto the stage. The Australian punk group fronted by incredibly charismatic frontwoman Natalie Foster was a breath of fresh air. Psychedelic, tight, catchy rock riffs bled seamlessly one after the other, as the vocalist cartwheeled and contorted herself through the space. The free-spirited nature of the band’s physical appearance is complimentary to the inward-looking lyrics, delivered so authentically, ‘Lately I’ve been mistaken for crazy’. Almost instantly Natalie was in the arms of the crowd, making not only the stage, but the entire room her platform for expression. With incredible abstract lighting and background imagery, Press Club disorientate the senses and hypnotise the mind. With the crowd at their fingertips the band incorporated playfulness and fun into their set in true rockstar fashion; and departed the stage as abruptly as they had arrived.

Between You & Me have become notorious for their unhinged, high energy pop rock performances, and their thirty-minute EASYLOVER set was no exception. Coming off the back of supporting Slowly Slowly’s recent tour, frontman Jake Wilson has made a name for himself as a rockstar. Playing a close re-enactment of their set at The Forum, the band now had a leg-up knowing the audience was familiar with their songs. Playing a phenomenal line-up of hits including Go to Hell, Butterflies, Deadbeat, and their newest single Nevermind, it is astounding the punters in the mosh had any energy left for the festival’s remaining two acts. The pit experience was certainly one for the books, harnessing the reckless energy of Eddie Vedder’s iconic 1992 stage dive, both Jake and bassist James Karagiozis (Bassy), had no reservations in throwing themselves into the crowd. Eventually forming a huge pit circle and revving up onlookers, the pair became a part of the mosh. It doesn’t get much better than Between You & Me when it comes to hardcore Aussie rock, and I can be certain this set grew the band’s following immensely.

 Switching up the energy for the night’s final support act was Sydney pop-punk trio Yours Truly. Having formed in 2016, the band has become well established in their nation-wide success. Full of bounce and flair, frontwoman Mikaila Delgado puts a face to the band. Approaching the stage as a gorgeous silhouette in glittering stockings, Mikaila is captivating. Hitting the theatre with powerhouse vocals and a rockstar persona, it became abundantly clear why Yours Truly have gained so much traction. Dreamy and celestial, the band delivers relatable lyrics about heartbreak and betrayal, wrapped in a purple haze. The relationship between Yours Truly and their fans was gorgeous to watch as Mikaila made contact with anyone who knew her lyrics, smiling and waving back at them. Playing high-energy hits from their recent album is this what I look like?, the band was the perfect segway into what would be an intensely emotionally charged headliner.

 As if the room wasn’t already packed to the brink, and drowning in sweat, fans continued to flow through the doors of Northcote Theatre – keen to get a glimpse of the night’s headliners. With a following large enough to have sold out a much bigger venue, it was a luxury to witness such an intimate set from Melbourne’s kings of rock Slowly Slowly. Being a festival set, it was easy to expect a ‘best of’ heavy rock setlist from the band. What followed was a stripped-back, seemingly indiscriminate list of tracks from as far back as the Chamomile days. The band played what they wanted, and little did we know, it was what we had been craving too.

Opening with the expected hits including Nothing On, Forget You, and Achilles’ Heel, the energy harnessed was spectacular, certainly the works of ‘rock n roll church’. Not a soul stood still as the fast-paced rhythm shuddered the wooden architecture. Within minutes frontman Ben Stewart was back to his regular antics, revving up the crowd before throwing himself from the stage. Whilst stage dives have become a custom at Slowly Slowly shows, it remains astounding the high-quality vocals that are completely unaffected by the mania unfolding beneath. Ben’s crowd work is spellbinding and harnesses the energy of former rock icons.

‘Let’s pull one from the vault’… The band made a full 180, resurrecting some of their back-catalogue for one-night-only. Sunburnt Shoulders, How It Feels, and recent release God made for a heart-wrenching, emotionally charged moment of rock ballads. Thousands of rays of white light reflected off the walls, falling perfectly from a mirror ball above. EASYLOVER was not made to be a repeat of the Daisy Chain Album Tour, but a bookend on the band’s first four studio albums. Hunched over his guitar in an extended instrumental outro, the sheer weight of these songs made its physical appearance. The moment of vulnerability bringing the crowd closer together – many arm in arm, singing the familiar lyrics word for word.

Changing pace one last time, the band played out their signature rock sound with hits including Race Car Blues, Daisy Chain, Jellyfish, Creature of Habit, Longshot, Blueprint and a confirmed final performance of Blink-182’s I Miss You. No stone was left unturned, no songs left to sing. Shirts were off, shoulders mounted, and ravenous pit circles formed. The ability the band has to continually increase the energy in a crowd is astounding, and a highlight of their live shows. 

All too quickly the first EASYLOVER festival had come and gone. Sticky bodies, bumps and bruises left as a reminder of a shared passion for music. Joined by a culmination of past support acts, collaborators, and friends, the evening acted as a resurgence of classic rock roots, adorned with modern context and lyricism.

You can keep up-to-date with Slowly Slowly and any upcoming tour dates on their website.

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[Review] Slowly Slowly @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 26/05/2023

Review By Emily White

Fog, booze, and mismatched limbs filled the iconic Forum last Friday night as the homegrown rock superstars, Slowly Slowly, took to the stage. Returning less than a year after their previous headlining tour, fans gathered to celebrate the release of the band’s fourth studio album Daisy Chain. Supported by some of Australia’s best indie rock bands, it is no wonder the building was packed shoulder-to-shoulder; the perfect storm for a resurgence of some 90s style moshing.

Those who made it to the venue early were in for quite the appetiser. Australian indie rock band CLEWS opened the night gorgeously; an absolute standout being the sister duo, Lily and Grace Richardson’s dreamy harmonies. Backed by heavy drums and cleverly placed bass licks, the band boasts a vintage sound with a face of modern glamour.

Kicking off with recent single Everything Is Heavy, the group laid down their signature sound. Melodic guitar paired with angsty vocals pay homage to their early-rock influences, including The Beatles and Oasis. Being introduced as ‘the juicy heartbroken one’, Love Prank made its debut. Beginning slow and ballad-like, the track steadily builds momentum towards a highly emotive, heavily crashing bridge. Lyrically, CLEWS walks a narrow line between specific and relatable – stunning poetry written from the heart. The relationship between the sisters crafted what was an impressively personal set, capturing the unwavering attention of the audience in only a few songs. I was left pondering on the lack of blatant femininity in rock music, as CLEWS displayed what was the perfect dichotomy.

 Cocky and confident; the second support of the night, Between You & Me put on what felt like a headlining show in the span of only forty minutes. The Melbourne-based indie pop-punk band resurrects the sound of the late 90s/early 2000s punk scene, whilst delivering the stage presence of an international supergroup.

‘Are you ready to fucking rock with us tonight?’, frontman Jake Wilson abruptly addressed the crowd, giving them no choice but to be obedient to his every word. From this point Between You & Me demanded to be seen – blinding strobe lights paired with heavy metal drumming and aggressive, yet superb vocals.  Showcasing only a slice of their impressive discography, tracks such as Supervillain, Nevermind, and Pleased to Meet You had the venue shaking, heads banging, and bodies flying. The band has truly nailed their sound, with each song being full-bodied and layered to the brink of insanity.

It is hard not to fall in love with the image of an angsty punk band; grown out hair and low hung guitars. Between You & Me provide a relatability for their audiences, and an outlet for chaos and rage. ‘This could be the last show we ever play!’ Jake exclaimed. Possibly a slight dramatization, but this man has the rockstar persona nailed down. Making a simple gesture with his hand, the crowd surged into one synchronous pit circle before the singer threw himself from the stage; surfing over what was until now, a group of strangers. Leaving nothing but a cluster of sweaty bodies behind, The Forum was adequately prepared for Slowly Slowly to work their magic.

The room darkened as anticipation grew – silhouettes of the four band members flashed rapidly, obscured behind a thin white sheet. Familiar sounds of tuning instruments rung out through the venue. You could feel the chaos that was about to unfold. In the blink of an eye the curtain dropped – and the familiar rhythm of title track, Daisy Chain, shook the wooden floor beneath. For the next two hours there was not a second of stillness or silence as front man, Ben Stewart, took the crowd into his world.

It is not often that you get to experience the thrill of a classic live rock band. There is something so magical about the unwritten relationship between artist and audience that builds up to such chaos, and tonight was the perfect storm.  Within the first five minutes, Slowly Slowly had the mosh pit in shambles, crowd surfers appearing one after another. ‘How self-indulgent to play an album in full’ Ben exclaimed… unexpectedly, Melbourne was in for a one-night-only special.

Iconic rock jams including Alchemy and Hold My Breath saw fans reciting every word. Emotionally heavy lyricism delivered in a high-energy package is a consistent theme throughout the album; and is evidently a shared outlet for both the band and avid listeners.

Throwing in a few ‘relics’ of the past, the 2015 single Empty Lungs saw the band’s fourth wall completely shatter, the frontman letting his hair down both physically and figuratively. Spitting lines with incredible speed, Achilles’ Heel dips its toes into the rap genre, a back-and-forth battle between the voices on stage and in the crowd. Moving Trains and Race Car Blues concluded the first sequence of the night, being followed by an unexpectedly dreamy piano interlude. As if the previous musically anarchy hadn’t been enough to throw the crowd off balance, Ben suddenly appeared in the centre of the venue. Confidently making his way over banisters and through the crowd he eventually found stillness, standing over one of the booths full of fans.

The gorgeous three-song hiatus from Slowly Slowly’s typical rock persona was a window into something far more personal. Suicidal Evangelist, Papier-Mâché and Medicine were performed in an acoustic style, showing vulnerability through lyrics such as, ‘I can tell you how I'm feeling, but only when I'm on stage’. Constantly checking in with the crowd, ‘are you losing focus?’, it was clear that the band were eager to return to the high-energy routine they are known for.

The night played out as one extensive, high-energy rock masterpiece – ingeniously retaining the attention of the entire sold-out venue. Reminding us that ‘we’re not gonna be back for a while’, the crowd collectively discarded any reservations, generating an impressively wild mosh pit. Classic pop-rock tune Blueprint closed out the show – but not before one final menacing stage dive.

The collective exhale of the crowd as they departed the venue was that of pure joy; ringing ears and pounding hearts remained as a reminder of the memories made. With an unbeatable stage presence and absolute raw talent, it is clear to see why Slowly Slowly has been returning to Australian stages year after year. Daisy Chain is an album so profound in its lyricism yet unhinged in its delivery. An age-old contrast proven to leave rock enthusiasts thirsting for more.

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[Review] Mayday @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne 12/05/2023

Review By Emily White

Rock music is a uniquely universal language, and Mayday’s long-awaited return had fans buzzing with anticipation as they packed out Rod Laver Arena this Friday night. The three-hour, fully immersive masterpiece of a performance was unforgettable, and truly leaves all western rock bands with a thing or two to learn.

The concert begun from the moment fans took their seats. High-production music videos of the band played on the mega screens behind the stage, the words ‘Mayday really really want to see you’ plastered across the display. The anticipation grew rapidly for what was to be a mind-bending piece of pure entertainment.

Unbeknownst to the crowd, a surprise opener Ann (Bai An) approached the supersized, runway stage. A quick three song set was all that was needed to appreciate her soft, angelic vocals, mainly backed by silken piano melodies. Beautiful, yet humble in her appearance, it was impossible to divert your gaze from the spectacle at hand. Never have I seen a support act perform with such high-level production – each song paired with exquisite, bright moving backdrops that place the songs in their own universe – one separate from everyday life.

Ann did not hold back. Her vocals are the work of angels, her falsetto so technically faultless. Brief moments of self-harmonisation were a stark highlight, sending shivers down the spines of everyone present. Displayed on the projections behind her were the lyrics of her songs, conveniently written in both Mandarin and English – the deep meaning held within her songwriting being an integral part of her act.

The end of the set had the entire stadium moving as one. Light sticks in hand, and smiles on faces, this perfect moment was a sign of what was to come for the main event.

Not a seat was left vacant as the box office line at the iconic Rod Laver Arena wrapped through the nearby gardens. Mayday (五月天) are one of the most iconic bands in Asia, and after seeing them play live I can now understand why. The band who started out their career in the late 90s continue to remain in their musical prime. Being their fifth time touring Australia, the MAYDAY NOWHERE tour has been a highly anticipated comeback, a ‘best of’ concert boasting the powerful vocals and electrifying performances their fans already know and love.

Smoke filled the air, the arena glowing red as the band raced downstage to the runway. There was no holding back for the music veterans; crashing drums and a bass that could be felt in my chest were just the beginning of the night’s pleasures. Dressed in black from head to toe, there was a mystery, a cool grunge feel to the band – polished with the glamour of a dazzling light show. 

Viva Love kicked off the evening, a fitting track to set the tone for the show ahead. Much of Mayday’s discography centres around themes of love, and longing for its reciprocation. Provocative lines that relate to fans young and old are at the forefront of the band’s success – screaming ‘Let me kiss you until the day breaks’ at the top of their lungs. Despite the more commercial nature of the lyric themes, Mayday’s members Monster, Ashin, Stone, Masa and Ming exude a type of coolness – true rock stars filled with angst and passion. A highlight of the stage production was the live footage projected behind the band – which out of context would appear as a final-cut music video. The 360° stage set up was similarly ingenious, leaving not a single ‘nosebleed’ seat in the house.

Mayday played for hours, with every fan favourite making the cut. The liveliness of the musicians is unlike anything I’d experienced, not letting up for even a second to breathe. Building this manic kind of atmosphere, fans were uncontrollable. Songs like Jump! forcing every person from their seats, throwing their bodies in ways only music can control.

A slower-paced segment of the night gave the band a platform to showcase their unreal vocal range, and heart-wrenching guitar solos. The stadium transformed into a night sky as the light sticks changed to white, the artists stationed independently across the stage. The tracks Contentment and World Crazy gave the crowd a sort of musical whiplash. Paired with a short film referencing the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, commenting particularly on the overwhelming doom that children see portrayed through the media. This was a particularly poignant moment; a reminder of the fragility of life, and to worry only about the things that truly matter.

Crowd interaction became a large segment of the concert as the night continued. Making conversation with their supporters, including those seated further from the stage. Front man Ashin (阿信) had the crowd in hysterics as he pointed out fan-made posters and gifts; a charismatic leader who puts a face to the name Mayday.

Moving back into their passionate love songs, Perfume covered themes of longing and devotion, so beautifully poetic with one-liners like ‘Deeply enchanted, deeply intoxicated’. Having the lyrics displayed behind them in both English and Mandarin made the songs accessible for all that were present and gave me as an English-speaker the opportunity to appreciate songs that I wouldn’t have otherwise understood.

A third clear portion of the show was met with the house lights being turned up, electric guitars switched to acoustic, and their all-black costumes turning to brighter-coloured casual clothing. This was to be the most intimate hour; the idea of a fourth wall was completely stripped away. If We Had Never Met dedicated its lyrics to their loyal fanbase – with images of concert crowds displayed on the screens. This was a collaborative effort; the mic being turned towards the crowd who sung every word in perfect unison. Song For You, Mayday’s newest single was met with gorgeous imagery of stained glass and golden lights, and pop hit Gan Bei drew the set to a close – a beautiful, humble goodbye as the band took a final bow.

I would attempt to write about the entirety of the show; however, Mayday was the gift that kept on giving, and giving, and giving. For each time the band took their bows, waved goodbye, and departed the stage, a chant would rise from the audience… ‘Encore!’

Mayday departed and returned to the stage another three times before finally satisfying the crowd enough to make an escape. Having a discography of over twenty years gave the band many songs to lean back on as they were chanted back on stage. Noah’s Ark, A Song with You, Tenderness, and Stubborn played to the accompaniment of confetti cannons; the band members going completely AWOL from their previously planned formations and movement. Huddling one last time to discuss their final song, the band dispersed, Ashin signalling with his hand that this would be the last one. LOVE-ing Being Happy was the perfect finale – and it was truly electrifying to be in the presence of such an avid fanbase who tonight proved their power in numbers.

I can now see why Mayday have been dubbed the ‘King of Concerts’. Still so clearly in their prime, the quintet make anthems for everyone. With lyrics that capture the nuances of life – met with stunning visuals and high energy, you would be a fool to miss Mayday the next time they return Down Under.

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[Review] Don McLean @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne 27/04/2023

Review By Emily White

It was February 3, 1959 ‘the day the music died’. The tragic loss of great American musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson marked the end of an era, and of the ‘social innocence’ held within early rock and roll. Two years later American singer-songwriter and guitarist Don Mclean released American Pie, a revolutionary moment for popular music, and the beginning of a career that was set to last over fifty years.

Taking a seat in the iconic Palais Theatre on this beautiful, frosted winter’s evening, it was impossible not to notice the rich history concealed within the century-old building – a most fitting venue for what was to be a historical night filled with some of music’s greats.

Andrew Farriss; the name may not initially ring a bell, but the music composed by the Australian rock musician and multi-instrumentalist is recognisable to an entire generation. Best known for being the backbone of INXS, it was difficult not to expect anything less than perfection from his upcoming set. Having released his debut solo album in 2021, Andrew is making a name for himself not only in Australian music but through leaning into his country-American audience.

The raw talent of this man is unmistakable – his creative genius and sublime instrumentalism is something that can only come of a legendary artist, more than 45 years into his career.  Lighting up the Palais with an intimate acoustic set, I couldn’t help but feel I was witnessing a fleetingly rare performance, a collation of decades worth of musical mastery. Joining him on stage were three other musicians – humbly appearing as his equal, stationed behind a row of freestanding mics.

Andrew’s solo tracks have an unmistakeable modern country feel, clearly influenced by his time living and writing in Nashville, Tennessee. The set of four cowboy hats and boots also adding a touch of Americana to the simply dressed stage. Much of the set provided a gorgeously romantic premise; with deep ringing guitars making each song warm and homely. Remaining unequivocally humble, the only reference Andrew made to his success in INXS came as he offhandedly mentioned how he ‘used to write songs for a band called INXS, and this one’s called Beautiful Girl’.

The velvet smooth harmonies and fresh acoustic sound of the set truly took my mind from the bustle of the city, and deep into the stories Andrew had to tell. The same goes for the latter end of the night – where poetry was set to meet world-class instrumentalism. One of his latest solo tracks, Love Makes the World Go Round, was met with an exceptional reception, the upbeat seventies feel bringing such joy to the audience of the ‘peace and love’ era.

Although he was here to debut some of his solo tracks, the incomparable highlight of the set was Andrew’s acoustic rendition of the ARIA Award Winning single, Never Tear Us Apart. A shout came from the crowd ‘you’re a legend!’ A reminder that there were diehard fans in the audience who had come to get a glimpse of what was one of the biggest bands of the time. The song was retold as a beautiful yet heart-breaking dedication to his bandmate and close friend Michael Hutchence. The moment truly stopped time, making me think how ridiculous it was that this set had been an opening act. Thinking it would be impossible to top such an iconic set, we were in for an absolute treat.

Being comedically introduced by his pianist as the man behind ‘South Korea’s president’s favourite song’, the 77-year-old Grammy-award honouree took to the stage in Melbourne for what would be the last time. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the cultural touchstone that is American Pie, the singer was surprisingly casual in his demeaner, ‘I’m just gonna ramble and sing a few songs that I feel like’… and ramble he did, but in the most hypnotic of ways – I wished the night would have gone on forever.

Beginning his ninety-minute musical tirade with So Doggone Lonesome, originally performed by Johnny Cash, was a perfectly fitting introduction. Mclean’s musical career has in a way been dedicated to Cash, with his musical legacy being the inspiration behind many of Don’s lyrics and compositions. The upbeat country feel of the track plunged the audience deep into the Americana sound – backed by steel-string guitar and a jazzy keys, this night was set to be a blessing for the ears.

‘This is our last tour of Australia; we’ve done twenty and I’ve loved every one of them’, the singer announced as he settled into his next original track, Fool’s Paradise. A heavy kick of bass guitar and a steady drumbeat counted the song in. Much of the cheerful music taking my mind to a 60s school dance filled with mid-length dresses and limitless, innocent dancing. Even fifty years on, these songs hold onto their youthful charm – Don’s voice as clear and belting as it was all those years ago.

As the night went on it became clear that Mclean may fancy himself as somewhat of a jokester, as he certainly had the crowd in hysterics with every monologue he delivered. ‘It’s so nice of you to applaud songs you don’t know’. There was an assumption that tonight’s audience was here for one song only – but I cannot believe this to be the case with the overwhelmingly positive reception of even his B-side tracks.

Moving into his newer record Botanical Gardens, Don showed off another side of his song writing, using less of a metaphorical structure, but rather a storytelling approach. The Lucky Guy was another favourite, a gorgeous light-hearted love song, with its faster pace truly showing off the composition of his band, who are distinguished in their own rights. Guitarist Kerry Marx is a highlight of Don’s live shows, with the pair playing together for the past 37 years, and prior being Johnny Cash’s guitarist. There is such an authentic sound to his playing… a true musical god.

At this point of the night the mood began to pick up incrementally, as Don played old-time favourites from the American Pie album, all in the lead up to the title track. Crossroads being one of the standouts was accompanied by a lone piano instrumental, and Mclean’s signature works of poetry; ‘you alone can make me whole’. The storytelling continued through the night, with the six-piece band playing what sounded like a produced album live on stage.

The stage suddenly darkened as the first lighting state for the night threw thousands of stars across the stage… ‘Starry starry night’… there was a roaring cheer that bellowed from the audience. The acoustic ballad being Mclean’s second-most celebrated song could not have been any more moving than what was experienced that night during Vincent.

I could have told you Vincent, this world was never made for someone as beautiful as you

Fans were left with nothing more to desire following covers of Elvis’ That’s All Right and Little Sister, and Roy Orbison’s Crying. The songs reaching such a crescendo that the room shook, the keyboard appearing to almost fall right off its stand – and with that, it was time for American Pie.

 The room took to their feet, a crowd surging towards the stage. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a glimpse of the ‘song of the 20th century’ in the flesh. The iconic bass riff and stunning keys played out the eight-and-a-half-minute song as Mclean looked out across the audience, as if to say one final goodbye. It was truly an honour to bask in the joy of American Pie, but I can’t help but feel that February 3, 1959 was not ‘the day the music died’ – in fact, music had never been more alive than it was in this moment.

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