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[Review] King Stingray @ The Forum, Melbourne 01/07/2023

Review By Nikki Eenink

Never has it felt more appropriate to recognise the People’s whose land I work and write on; the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Australia is home to the longest living culture on Earth, whose tradition of oral storytelling often involved song. As a music-writer, gig-goer, and story-lover – It’s important to recognise and honour that tradition, and the many ways it is carried on throughout our country. This always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Australia is a country that is unbelievably diverse, in landscape, in people and in sound. On Saturday night, I was treated to three acts from all across the country: from the small-town shores of Kojonup to sleepy Adelaide and then all the way north to Arnhem land. I’ve never seen The Forum so full. Doors were at 7, and by the time the clock struck 8 – it was full. Strangers standing shoulder to shoulder, filling the walkways and the floor. We ourselves were so diverse. I saw two twenty-somethings in bright pink coats and red leather pants, a middle-aged man fresh from BCF rocking a cap and boardies, and everything in between.

First act of the night were WA’s own, Old Mervs. To say this duo are “up-and-comers”, is putting it lightly. With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, I’d be expecting them to become a household name tossed around along with snags at a barbeque. Major hit Cellphone absolutely rocks the crowd at The Forum. It combines King Krule-esque vocal stylings with Ocean Alley’s Aus-Rock sensibilities. Wearing baggy shirts, partially unbuttoned and jeans, these are two guys I could’ve gone to highschool with. Unbelievably chill, but undeniably polished, Henry and David are bringing surf rock back, baby. Childhood friends since they were 5, they innately understand the other, moving like a single organism. The surf-rock renaissance is back, bring it on, bruh.

Although a tough act to follow, we completely shift gears with second support, George Alice. We’ve swapped shaggy blonde hair and a slacker attitude for feminine melancholy and RnB vocals. Australia needs more women in its music scene, and Georgia Mannion took matters into her own hands. At only 20 years old, she’s already quickly soaring through the charts and quickly cementing herself as a newcomer not to be messed with. Long bleached blonde waves cascade over her shoulders as she places two hands lightly on the mic stand. The voice that comes out of her is incredible. Strong, with a gorgeous vibrato and a self-assured gentleness – she has us wrapped around her little finger. Hold On is where her voice really shines. The crowd that was letting loose and dancing is now deathly still, not wanting to break the spell she’s cast on us. My arms are covered in goosebumps. But it’s not all achingly gorgeous semi-ballads, songs like Stuck in a Bubble do an amazing job prepping us for the high-energy main act that’s about to come onstage.

It’s hard to describe the hold King Stingray had over us that night. From the moment it seems like the house lights might dim, people go ballistic. Boys jump in the air, someone screams an ungodly scream, hands are thrown into the air. The anticipation is killer. And not long after, King Stingray comes onstage. This 6-piece, absolute weapon of a band are dressed so casually, it’s almost humorous. They really look like they just stumbled onstage at first. But then they play. And my God, can they play. It’s just banger after banger. The nervous shuffling is replaced with ripper guitar solos, multi-instrument changes and powerful vocals. King Stingray are a delight, in every sense of the word. The room is buzzing, nay, pulsing with energy. Constant heckles of “Yeah!” or, better yet, “Fuck yeah!”, “Deadly!” all fill the room. I moved further to the back of the room as the dancefloor became too hot for my winter getup, and The Forum looked like an ocean. Waves of sound created a sea of hands and bodies and heads, all moving together.

There are many parallels between King Stingray and another iconic Indigenous band, Yothu Yindi. Lead singer Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu is the nephew of Dr. M. Yunupiŋu. and guitarist Roy Kellaway is the son of Stuart Kellaway, who were both founding members of Yothu Yindi. The pair have known each other since childhood. The band is already heavily enmeshed in Australian music culture, King Stingray signed to The Chats’ ‘Bargain Bin Records’, after Yunupiŋu and Kellaway released the band’s first single, Hey Wanhaka. Hey Wanhaka gets a feature tonight, to thunderous applause, jumping and stamping feet. The standout of the night for me, is Dimathaya Burarrwanga’s absolutely unreal didgeridoo playing. It melts perfectly among their 6-voices, adding a layer of depth musically unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. King Stingray are clearly very connected to their Indigeneity, and it surrounds all of their songs in a way that is so beautiful and profoundly fulfilling. We are watching more than a concert, we are watching thousands of years of cultural tradition, of community building, of brotherhood.

I want to stay true to my roots / I want to stay here with you

For Australian cultural icon, Triple J’s; Like A Version, King Stingray performed a cover of Yellow by Coldplay. I didn’t ever imagine I’d see The Forum filled with perfectly in-tune clapping hands.

“We’re going to need some help with this one”, before everyone launches into Yellow. Band and audience, we’re all screaming those lyrics at the top of our lungs. They play an extended version, to give each instrumentalist the chance to leave their mark on us, and the stage. Their energy is insane, never dipping, even for a moment.

Obviously, mega-hit Milkumana goes off. People are scrambling on top of their friends shoulders to make room for more bodies on the ever eager dancefloor. The guy to my left is jumping so high he nearly touches the ceiling, and I see a lad in a bucket hat ushering his band of merry bandits onto the dancefloor. The lighting is incredible here too. Black, yellow and red circles dance around the band. They’re bathed in the colour of the Aboriginal flag, and we are bathed in blissful sound. I remember the first time I heard Milkumana, I was 25 minutes late to an appointment because of traffic, but honestly, I didn’t care. If you want the vibes of an easy summers day, this is a guaranteed serotonin-booster.

Yunupiŋu poses a question to us; “Melbourne, why is it so cold down here? We gotta leave fast, it’s fucking freezing.” Kellaway jumps in, “Western Gapuwiyak, where the sun goes down – that’s what this song is about. Getting out of the city.” Campbell Messer, their phenomenal bassist, takes to the mic; “Thank you so much for coming out tonight. Everybody raise their hands up, facing your palms towards us.” A tidal wave of hands find their way to fresh air. “Look at all those colours. Beautiful. This song is to Strangers. You and me. Brothers and sisters. We bleed together.”  Yunupiŋu reiterates, “Nah, but seriously, get me out of the city.” With a laugh and a wink they launch into the penultimate track of the night; Get me Out.

Coming on for their encore, drummer Lewis Stiles does a SOMERSAULT (an honest-to-god somersault) onstage, leaping high in the air to take his seat behind the set. Let’s Go is such a mammoth way to finish. Everyone’s dancing and the band is pulling out all the stops. The tearing vocals, the unbelievable didgeridoo playing, the elegant bass-lines – not a hair out of place. It’s absolutely perfect. I see people going to leave, trying to beat the crush, but they can’t. They stand at the top of the stairs, frozen, unable to look away.

And then, it’s over, and I’m gutted. We all have more in us. It was such an unbelievable night. No other band does it quite like King Stingray. If you haven’t seen them, what are you doing? I won’t be able to get this night out of my head for a very, very long time.

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[Review] 10CC @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne 25/06/2023

Review By Nikki Eenink

My dad and I often argue about music; Are The Beatles overrated? Is Lola the best pop song? These things are unknowable. The one thing we don’t argue about: 10cc. They have to be the most underrated rock band of their era (and beyond), and I was lucky enough to have the best night in a long time when “The Worst Band in The World” took the Palais Theatre stage this Sunday.

Belgian-born but Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Romanie is the opener for the night. She played a snappy 30-minute set to eager ears, and it was a delightful start to a super fun night. 10cc didn’t have support acts for many of their concerts this tour, so I feel very blessed to have been treated to the angelic vocals and gorgeous guitar strummings of Romanie, complimented gorgeously by the Palais’ epic acoustics. Her set wasn’t long enough, and yet somehow she managed to cram in a string of heavy-hitters; Changing, Little Big Steps, Anthony and I’m Anything (But Myself Around You) were all part of this gut-wrenchingly wonderful entrée. Romanie reminds me of when I would roll down the sun-roof and windows of my family’s old Rav4 and drive as fast as I (legally) could down the hills of my hometown. These musical musings are the perfect soundtrack for an indie movie, they have a timeless, nostalgic appeal about them that is really hard to capture in words. Romanticise your life, and relive memories to Romanie this week –she’s something special.

Like clockwork, at 8pm sharp the lights go dim and 5 shadows take the stage. When the lights come up, the 5 shadows have faces – and Hawaiian shirts, a floral blazer and a row of instruments behind them. They have the energy of 5 dads at a barbeque, not rock Gods. Let’s meet the crew who will be steering this one way cruise to Good Vibe Island, shall we? On keyboards, vocals, bass guitar and electric guitar; Keith Hayman. On vocals, keyboards, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, (the fact that the list keeps going beyond this point is ridiculous) percussion, mandolin (ok, now you’re just bragging) and synth, Iain Hornel. These two are newly-welcomed, touring members of the 10cc band – and their talent elevates this already insanely musically talented bunch onstage to new heights. On lead guitar, vocals and acoustic guitar is someone who’s been part of 10cc since the very early days, Rick Fenn. The strong and silent type, Paul Burgess, is their sensational drummer. “He’s been with us since the very beginning, and I’m happy to say he’s still with us”, quips original guitarist and prolific songwriter, Graham Gouldman. I can’t say any one of them was “a front man” or anything like that – they’re an ensemble, and a tight one at that. They all have so much fun together throughout the night, but good god are they unbelievably skilled musicians. During mega-hit Rubber Bullets, I catch Gouldman bashing Hayman’s keyboard with the side of his guitar – all while shredding an intricate riff in perfect harmony with the rest of the guys.

We were promised a night of nostalgia and hits. To quote the Facebook event:

NO STANDING. ALL THE HITS!

And they stayed true to their end of the bargain – we did not.

To quote Smash Mouth; The hits start coming, and they don’t stop coming. Starting off with personal favourite, The Dean and I we are thrown into an ocean of bangers. I mean, seriously, it’s fucking ridiculous. They could fill a 2-hour set with iconic hit after iconic hit, and the audience still had space in our bellies for more. As they moved into The Wall Street Shuffle, it hit me; I’m surrounded by middle-aged women and barbeque dads… and I’ve never fit in so well. Someone pass me a hat and a lawn chair, It’s time to have a beer and listen to 10cc like the retiree I was always meant to be. There’s no other band like them, and there never will be. Known for songs heavy in goof-factor, like Life Is A Minestrone, I was taken aback by how insanely stellar their instrumentation is. Virtuosos, the lot of them. They wind through hits and play different arrangements to keep us on our toes, adding a prog-Rock factor to many of them that isn’t there on the albums. Sometimes, just for a moment, Fenn’s floral blazer, Gouldman’s Hawaiian shirt and the grey hairs fade away, and I can see them as young men, at the top of their game, making their musical mark on the world. There is undeniably a rockstar spirit about them, they capture the duality between comradery, silliness and shenanigan with diligence, creativity, and originality better than any other band I’ve had the privilege of seeing. The way Gouldman speaks about former 10cc members, specifically illustrious songwriters Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, is with such respect, love and care. There seems to be no bad blood between them. When talking about Fenn, Burgess and Hayman, it’s clear that Gouldman seems them as musical brothers. They are a family, where bad blood is bad blood but there’s no one else you’d rather share blood with. This respect for each other, and for their music, shines through. There is such an air of love and nostalgia tonight, and it’s delightful.

It’s not all common hits, we are treated to new song Floating in Heaven, about Gouldman’s love for the James Webb Space Telescope. “I wrote this and sent it to my record company, and they said ‘It’s absolutely fantastic’. Obviously. But it would be even better if you could get Brian May on it. Not only is he an exceptional guitarist, but he’s also a passionate astronomer and astrophysicist. So he said ‘Ok, I love it’, and he sings on it and plays guitar and he” Gouldman gestures side-stage, “is not here tonight.” We all laugh. “But Rick Fenn is!” We all cheer. Floating in Heaven is lovely. It’s simple, it’s gorgeous, and the three-way layered vocals which reverberate so wonderfully, thanks in-part to the Palais’ acoustics, give me goosebumps.

Then we head into two songs where I feel they really shine. I’m Not in Love is first. My dad has this memory of when he was 13 and would listen to the radio in The Netherlands, and when this song came on – it blew his mind. He didn’t know music could sound that way, and he was hooked. My dad is now a music junkie (seriously, someone should stage an intervention), and this song takes some credit for that. I thought the complex vocal and instrumental layers which feature on the track wouldn’t be achievable live, but you should never doubt 10cc. They pull it off. Hornel changes instruments about 6 times, and all four vocalists are working together, and it’s spellbinding. I am washed clean by a river of sound. A musical baptism if you will. Next, is The Things We Do For Love, I’m Not in Love’s poppier big sister. Live it sounds almost melancholic, with Hornel’s vocals hitting insane notes and with those lyrics… perfection. For anyone who’s ever had their heart broken, broken their own heart or been in a complicated Situationship – this one’s for you, us, me. It’s also for the teenage daughter and her dad next to me, he’s holding back tears and she’s grooving – love these guys, great vibes from seat 34 and 35.

Now, here’s the thing about that whole: NO STANDING, thing. I think we will be standing, actually, and not just standing – dancing. As soon as Dreadlock Holiday plays, everyone’s up. Groups of women twirl with each other, teens sidestep, and uncles tap their feet. The song just goes stupidly hard, every time you hear it. I get genuinely sad when it ends. It’s the perfect road-trip song, perfect party beat, hell, I might even have the first dance at my Elvis chapel wedding to it. My daydreams are cut short by the squeals of delight from the crowd when our ship-captains change the lyrics to,

I don’t like Melbourne/ oh no! / I love it!

Insane. They love us?! We love them!! What a dream come true!!

Then, the encore. “This is going to be an acapella version of Donna.” They really don’t run out of ideas, do they? So, they gather around the mic, and in true barbershop quartet fashion, belt out an insane version of the 1972 hit. It seems appropriate to end on one of the band’s first releases. Drummer Paul Burgess comes up to the mic for the final,

“Donna / I love you”.

His deep baritone voice is both shocking and impressive.

“That was Donna by Paul Burgess, ladies and gentlemen.” We go nuts. The most Australian man in history is sitting behind me and nearly rips his vocal cords screaming; “ONYA PAUL” Legend.

But wait! It’s not over! How could it be? We haven’t heard Rubber Bullets yet!

If you haven’t heard them live, you still haven’t really heard Rubber Bullets. The flashing red and blue lights, the hilarious lyricism delivered with the perfect wit and in perfect harmony, the absolute descent into madness onstage – it’s an experience all on its own. To watch them relax into this last number after delivering a set I couldn’t criticise if I tried is so lovely. Even when they’re mucking around; dancing together, kicking their legs, play fighting using their guitars as swords; they’re on the same wavelength.

And then, it’s over. Their enduring bond and passion for music bring everyone to their feet. A standing ovation. I think someone threw their bra. Rock and Roll is back baby, and 10cc is making sure of it.

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[Review] Helmet @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 20/04/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

Helmet have been described as the East Coast version of Seattle-based Soundgarden. They hit the scene at a time when music was changing and Grunge was on the cusp of being “the next big thing”. Formed by Page Hamilton in 1989, Oregon-born Hamilton was living in New York studying jazz, and wanted to form a band with then “unusual tunings” like drop D, and use jazz-influenced time signatures and harmonies. This all seems like the norm now, and we have Page Hamilton to thank for introducing us to these ideas. Helmet are considered to be alternative metal/post hardcore. They have that punk-y style of writing short 3 minute songs bursting full of energy and attitude with a grunge undertone. They have recorded and released eight full-length albums and been featured on several movie soundtracks, most notably The Crow and Judgement Night, a popular soundtrack with an unorthodox mash up of hard rock and rap, performing with Irish rappers, House Of Pain on the popular track, Just Another Victim.

This tour was originally due to happen back in May 2020 – well, covid put an immediate stop to that, and they are finally here, three years later. 

First night of the Australian tour, Helmet played at The Cambridge Hotel in my hometown, Newcastle.

Upon arriving at the Cambo, I was met with a sea of bald heads, grey beards and black t-shirts. Yep, looks like the right place and I thought, Helmet fans are loyal to the end, my next thought was, GenX is in the house, this should be an interesting night. All these middle-aged men were youngsters when they discovered this band and have continued to love them all this time. To me, that speaks volumes to the impact and influence of an artist or band, and Helmet was certainly influential in many ways. 

8PM doors opened and the room filled quickly, an impressive turn out for a “school night”, and everyone braced themselves for the show. No support band, it's all about Helmet tonight. Just after 9PM Helmet entered the stage and went straight into one of their popular songs from their 1992 Meantime album, Role Model, followed by Iron Head during which he flipped his middle finger for someone up the front taking photos, then by Give It, the crowd were warmed up and bouncing and nodding together. Then it was time for Rollo, up the front a fight broke out during Speechless, continuing through So Long, and while they played from the Dead To The World album, Drunk In The Afternoon, security finally dragged one guy out leaving the other guy to continue by punching someone else during the Strap It On opening track, Repetition, I chuckled to myself and remembered similar nights back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, back before moshpits became friendly and respectful and were more like a night at fight club. Then a guest guitarist came on to play on the Betty album track, Wilma's Rainbow

Nine songs deep and Hamilton had not spoken to the crowd, and when he finally did, it was to announce that upon arriving in Newcastle, he'd stepped in vomit, which is kind of the Newy version of having a bird poop on you, so he should consider it a good luck sign. Hamilton continued his repartee by describing the scent of the Cambridge as “what is that? butt?”. Then he introduced guest guitarist Chris Haskett, best known for playing in The Henry Rollins Band as an “old friend who he’d toured with way back in 1994, before you were born”. I wondered if Hamilton was joking, does he not know his fanbase? Surely he can see that we have all grown older with him. I scanned the crowd quickly and guessed that 99% of the audience were born between 1970 and 1985. After the brief chit-chat, where Hamilton also mentioned that they were working on a new album, it was back to the music and the band went straight into their 2010 album Seeing Eye Dog track,  Welcome To Algiers, followed by rocker Better, moving straight into FBLA II, then slow grunger Overrated, followed by Vaccination, and at last the much-loved massive hit, Unsung. I looked around and everyone was dancing, nodding and singing along. As the band finished, someone yelled out, “play it again” before Hamilton stopped to chat with the audience again. He introduced each member of the band and then drummer Kyle Stevenson led the band into I Know, followed by 2016’s Life Or Death, then Tic, and rounding the set out with the Betty album and The Crow soundtrack hit, MilqueToast.

Helmet walked off stage leaving a guitar playing a distorted feedback sounding note and the audience waited patiently for about 3 minutes and then Helmet reammerged to play the encore set of Sam Hell, Turned Out and ended the show with In The Meantime which had the whole audience singing along. Helmet left the stage as quietly and unassuming as they entered, and the show was over… just like that!

This tour was originally advertised as “30 Years, 30 Songs over 2 massive hours of unrelenting guitar rock nirvana”. Well, it's been tweaked a little since covid’s interruption, to 23 songs, but it's still a massive, unrelenting rock show of hits and much-loved songs, and clocks in at around one hour 45 mins. 

Helmet play a high octane set that chugs along mostly with tracks from the Meantime and Betty albums. It is a grunge-y, rock-y, kinda punk-y retrospective that takes the audience back to their heyday in the mid to late 1990’s. However, there's a whole chunk of their discography that gets surpassed with only one track from 2010 and two tracks from their last album, released in 2016 being added to the retro-strong playlist. This tour seems to be aimed at the OG fanbase and it is a great night out if you were around “back in the day” and want to re-live the “good ole times”. As long as you avoid that one angry drunk monkey, the crowd is mostly middle aged men and the odd wifey and they are all just there for the tunes and the memories. My brother and I enjoyed the show thoroughly and recommend checking out the Helmet tour to anyone who loves that 90s grunge rock sound.

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[Review] Arch Enemy @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 18/02/2023

In Thrash Metal there are the Big 4. Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. Of the Big 4 in Melodic Death, Arch Enemy is clearly the Megadeth of their genre.

Heavy Metal is not merely a passion to its fans, it’s a religion, and in a religion – you do not turn up late to church. This was evident by how full The Forum was even before the opening act, Valhalore took to the stage.

Valhalore are described as an Epic Folk Metal band and Epic is the perfect adjective to describe how their set began. Sweeping orchestral arrangements gave way to thunderous drums that built to a crescendo of harmonized guitar melodies, complimented by the Celtic overtones courtesy of flutist, Sophie Grace.

Their music transcended the usual musical boundaries and managed to smoothly navigate its way between the violence of Black Metal and the earthy warmth of European Folk music. From the response of the crowd, you could see that they already have a strong presence and following in the local scene and frontman, Lachlan Neate had their full attention throughout the set. The rhythm section, comprised of Joseph Dipisa-Fiorenza (Bass) and Morgan Cox (Drums), was crushingly heavy and consistent.

A special (maybe slightly biased) mention has to be made to the guitar duo of Anthony Willis and Lucas Fisher. Both of whom I proudly recognise as brothers in the Ormsby guitar family. The guitars looked and sounded damn good and the finesse in which they played their instruments was the greatest endorsement one can give.

Europe might be the birthplace of Folk Metal but Valhalore showed that the Aussies are definitely on par with the big boys.

A massive banner covered the entire back of the stage and flags with Arch Enemy’s logo flanked the sides along with two Marshall stacks on each end. They began their set with Deceiver Deceiver off their latest album and man were they loud – very loud!

Alissa White-Gluz has such a presence about her that just oozes charisma and attitude as her voice tore its way through the songs and the audience. They followed this up with The World is Yours and the iconic, Ravenous from the legendary Wages of Sin album.

If there is a more sophisticated guitar duo than Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis in the metal scene today, I’m honestly hard-pressed to think of one. They play their guitars with a fiendish level of technicality that makes them appear more than mere mortals. There is no distinction between rhythm and lead roles, and absolutely no egos between them either. Riffs and solos cascaded flawlessly with a preternatural fluidity and together with bassist, Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson, they gave us a masterclass in showmanship and proficiency.

These days, any time a band shows up to a live gig with amps I always sit up and pay extra attention. Technology has now made it possible and much more cost-efficient for a band to omit amplifiers from their live shows. Therefore, those who choose to go the extra mile and use them, hold a special place in my heart. To the non-musicians this might seem like an insignificant detail but often it’s the sum of the most minute details that add up to make the largest impact.

The first time I heard Arch Enemy was 22 years ago when the album Wages of Sin (which has now gone on to be regarded as one of the cornerstones of melodic death metal) was released in 2001. The song Enemy Within captivated me and finally, after all this time, I got to see it performed live together in a mammoth 5-song encore that included, Burning Angel, Snowbound, Nemesis and Fields.

Sometimes we can hype things up in our mind and get disappointed by the result. However, on very rare occasions reality supersedes our imagination. Arch Enemy is one of those rare bands that has gone through various evolutions and has always come out the other side at the top of their game. This is just another beginning for them and I, along with legions of fans can’t wait to see what happens next.

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