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[Review] Polaris @ Bar On The Hill, Newcastle 13/09/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

Most people generally aren’t fond of the mid-week gig, but when Sydney Metalcore band, Polaris announced a mammoth tour with three other ‘core bands from the USA and coinciding with the release of their new album, Fatalism, Novacastrians put aside the fact that it was a weeknight, and bought up their tickets quick smart! In no time, the concert was sold out. 

At the last minute, the gig was moved outside and a few extra tickets were released for the stragglers.

Finally, Newcastle’s turn to headbang and circle pit had arrived.

This mammoth metalcore extravaganza was held at Bar On The Hill, the University of Newcastle's student union bar. Upon arrival at 6pm I could hear that the first band had just begun their set. I made my way swiftly to the outdoor area to watch Currents, from Connecticut, USA, who played a cracking 25 minute set consisting of Living In Tragedy, Remember Me, The Death We Seek, Monsters, Better Days and ending their set with Into Despair. Currents’ melodic, riff heavy, djenty sound, while singer Brian Wille alternates between clean and harsh vocals was the perfect way to start the evening. Personally, I would have been a happy camper if these guys played for at least another half-a or so. 

After a quick stage changeover, the next band who walked on stage were Kublai Khan TX, hailing from Texas, hence the TX in their name. The band's main sound consists of heavy, slow breakdowns, heavily downtuned guitars and raspy, harsh vocals. It’s like treacle in your ears. Kublai Khan TX played a 25 minute sludge-fest of a set that included, The Hammer, Self-Desctruct, Boomslang, Resentment, Swan Song, Theory Of Mind and ended with the crowd favourite, Antpile. The crowd gave Kublai Khan TX respect by making dog noises and circle moshing themselves into a lather of sweat.

It was time for another efficient stage changeover and then the crowd welcomed Grammy nominated, Pennsylvanian metalcore minotaurs, August Burns Red, to the stage. 

August Burns Red’s signature sound is a combination of progressive and djent metal elements which include melodic guitar riffs, technical time signatures and heavy breakdowns. Unlike most other melodic metalcore singers, lead vocalist, Jake Luhrs generally does not mix clean vocals with his screams and growls. The other element that sets August Burns Red apart from other metalcore bands, is that most of their songs do not contain a chorus. ABR played a powerful 45 minute set that kept the crowd entertained with circle pits, headbanging, moshing, and even a spot of rowing, the crowd was warmed up and ready to give their all for the main band to follow. ABR’s set included bangers old and new such as The Truth Of A Liar, Meddler, Invisible Enemy, Backfire, Revival, Bloodletter, Paramount, Composure, Mariana’s Trench and rounded out the set with White Washed. Bro’s mate was frothing these guys, a long time fan, who growled along with Luhrs – it was impressive. I admit, I’ve struggled to connect with this band, listening on Spotify leading up to this gig, but live, OMG, live these guys shine. 

The final changeover progressed quickly, then the stage lights dimmed and the PA played an assortment of classic songs that had the crowd singing along loudly. At 8:45pm it was finally time for the beloved ARIA nominated Sydneysiders to take the stage. The crowd swelled and shuffled towards the front, Polaris appeared on the stage amid a thick fog with cheers and applause, opening with Harbinger followed by single, Nightmare. The audience was divided in half and as Hypermania played, and as the chorus hit, the crowd ran towards each other in a ‘wall of death’. After With Regards was performed, the mosh pit began rowing enthusiastically. During Lucid, All Of This Is Fleeting, Landmine and Overflow, there were several circle pits, some crowd surfing and a lot of energetic moshing. Girls were perched upon shoulders bobbing in the crowd as the audience sang and danced. Vocalist Jamie Hails, informed the audience that it was the largest headlining audience that Polaris had ever had in Newcastle and expressed his gratitude for making their recently released album, Fatalism, Number 1 on several ARIA charts. 

Midway through the set, Vocalist, Hails quieted the audience as he spoke of their recent loss of guitarist, Ryan Liew, and thanking the crowd for the outpouring of love, support, and messages, he talked about the importance of finding someone to talk to and how difficult it is for the family and friends who lose a loved one by suicide. He encouraged everyone to “be there” for each other. The crowd was quiet and respectful during this chat then the band played Martyr as the audience held up their mobile phones with the torch on, lighting up the area, making the courtyard look as if it were lit up for fairy lights as everyone sang along loudly. I could feel the outpouring of love and respect for this band by the audience. 

Then it was time for more circle pits, crowd surfing and moshing during  Parasites, Consume, Dissipate, Massochist and the set was rounded out with Fatalism single, Inhumane. The band left the stage briefly while the audience cheered and yelled for an encore. Polaris complied and returned to perform Pray For Rain and ended the evening with fireworks and The Remedy.

Post gig wrap up:

What an epic night! I’m still buzzing. Three killer bands from the United States and a much loved Aussie band for eighty bucks! That’s a freaking bargain! 

Each band gave their all, each giving a tight set, entertaining the audience, and taking time between songs to communicate a similar message, that the metal community is a family so have fun, do what you want, express yourself any way that you wish, but also that we need to be there for each other, to listen, to care, to share our grief and to pick each other up if we fall. I definitely felt that there was a sense of community amongst the crowd and during the memorial for Ryan there was a shared sadness as we all stood quietly listening to Jamie sharing his thoughts. I no longer hang in the mosh pit, choosing a safer spot at the side instead, but as an observer, the pits looked like so much fun (for youngsters whose joints don't creak and ache), people looked happy and I think the bands really enjoyed the enthusiastic vibe of the audience. 

Polaris put on an incredible performance. The band are energised, riding high on an almost sell out headlining tour, and the massive support for their current album, Fatalism, which is positioned at number one on several charts. I didn’t catch the name of the guitarist, but the dude can shred! It was a pleasure to listen to and watch him perform. The band sounded at least as good as their recordings and Jamie Hails was in fine voice! Expectations surpassed! 

The light show was well coordinated and included quite a bit of fog / smoke and fireworks at the end. For an outdoor gig, the sound was ok, we all know the best sound is back up next to the desk, so from our position on the right side and closer to the stage, the vocals were muddied in the mix, but what you lose in sound quality you gain in vibe and energy. And we got that in spades! From my observation as we exited the venue, everyone appeared to be highly impressed and thrilled with the evening's entertainment.

There are only a couple more dates left on this tour, so if you are Brisbane or Sydney, get your skates on and grab one of the final tickets available. I highly recommend fans of metalcore go and check out this tour – Details on the Destroy All Lines website.

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[Review] Eagles Of Death Metal @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 28/07/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

When a band walks on stage and their intro song is “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you better strap yourself in and beware of those pelvic thrusts that really drive you insane!!! 

It’s a cold Friday night in the Steel City. Newcastle is one of those blue collar tough towns that like their rock n roll heavy, dirty and loud, so it is no surprise that there’s a line up around the corner to get into the new revamped King Street music venue, The Bandroom, to see American rockers, The Eagles Of Death Metal

The night starts off with The Southern River Band, hailing from Perth. The shirtless vocalist warms up the crowd regaling us with stories peppered with many expletives assuring us that he really is “a good singer”. The music is classic, true blue Aussie pub rock –  a’la Jet or Wolfmother. And for all the tongue in cheek lyrical bravado, these humble Aussie battlers really are talented, and the dude can sing. They’re tight. I’m impressed.  After a blistering 45 min set, they walk off the stage and I’m left wondering what is in the water in WA, because they certainly breed some amazing talent over there. The crowd is warmed up and ready for the main act. Let’s gooooooooo!!!!!

Richard O’Brien’s voice plays through the speakers … “listen closely…” as EODM enter the stage. They dance and camp it up, geeing up the audience, their stage outfits look a lot like Thrift Store Chic, there’s an abundance of handlebar moustaches and wigs and you just know that this is the prelude for an ‘interesting’ evening ahead. 

The crowd are singing along and doing the Time Warp dance with the band and the music fades out and EODM start their set with Got A Woman, followed by I Only Want You and Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!). Lead vocalist and guitarist, Jesse Hughes entertains the crowd with his camped up song introductions, sounding more like a Southern Baptist preacher, except hes not saving souls, rather, this rockstar is preaching sex n drugs n rock n roll, baby.  The crowd love it, they’re dancing, heads are bobbing, and everyone is singing along loudly. Hughes pauses to tell the crowd he was “SO high” as he arrived in town he was nervous that he wouldn’t be able to perform at that moment I see a flash of light in my peripheral vision, I turn my head and see a bunch of middle-aged bearded men passing the “peace pipe” around and the room is slowly filling with the fragrance of eau du sweet leaf. It all just seems appropriate for the vibe of this band – part rock n roll fantasy, part campy cosplay.

They continue by playing faves and classics such as Cherry Cola, Complexity, Silverlake and Heart On

Then, someone in the crowd is celebrating their 21st birthday and Hughes has the crowd singing Happy Birthday before continuing to playing Now Im a Fool, I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News), Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn) and I Love You All The Time. The set ends with a cover of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream which showcases an amazing lead guitar solo. After a brief break, the band return for an encore of I Like to Move in the Night and Speaking in Tongues. Its an 85+ minute set that is designed to entertain and keep the crowd bopping along. And it delivered! 

FINAL THOUGHTS –  EODM are masters at the 3 minute rock tune, perfect for an ADHD society that can’t hold a thought for longer than a tv commercial. The EODM show is like a teenage rock n roll dreamscape for every kid who ever sung into a hairbrush or played air guitar on a tennis racquet and dreamed of being famous, playing on a big stage to a roaring crowd. It’s all about fun from go to whoa! No grown-ups allowed here!

Personally, I feel like a bit of a snob as I long for some depth. Surely these guys, now in their 50’s, would have something important to say, some life stories to share. I get that this is their schtick and I’m not dissing it at all, but as a music fan, and someone who just experienced an almost 90min set, I don’t feel like I have any insight as to who these people are once they walk off the stage. Yes, I was entertained. Absolutely.  Yes, they are talented, and yes, there is definitely an audience for this style of rock music as the packed out crowded room suggests. But for me, there was something missing – a personal connection. Not everyone needs that from music and or musicians, but I realise that I do. It’s not a criticism against the band, but it was part of my experience at this show, that  I learned something about myself, and that can only be a good thing. 

Definitely go and check The Eagles Of Death Metal out if you are a fan of bands like The Darkness, Dandy Warhols, The Hives,The Vines, and The Rolling Stones.

EODM are currently on tour in Australia, check local gig guides for details. 

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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] Richard Marx @ NEX, Newcastle 01/03/2023

Back in 1987, when Saturday morning tv was filled with the latest music videos, a handsome young man appeared on the screen. He was the epitome of a late 1980s pop star with a flowing mane cut into a designer mullet and the voice of an angel. Young women’s hearts melted for this lad (including mine), but he was so much more than just another pretty face, he had real talent, too. Single after single reached the Top 10, and this success followed through into the 1990s (and beyond). Even grunge couldn’t dim this man’s star. And to this day, he is the only male artist to have written songs that have reached the number 1 position over the past 4 decades. A song of the year Grammy Award winner in 2004, Triple Platinum status, in excess of 30 Million in record sales, 26 Top 20 singles, 17 Top 10, 14 Number 1s, this man is a powerhouse. So when I woke up to the news that I was going to be attending his concert in Newcastle (my hometown) tonight, I was more than just a bit excited. What a way to start the month! 

Introducing Mr Richard Marx, an Adult Contemporary Pop-Rock American Singer / Songwriter / Musician / Producer. He has written and co-written hit songs for artists like Kenny Rogers, Nsync, Luther Vandross and our very own, Keith Urban, as well as a slew of chart-toppers of his own.

Arriving at the NEX complex in Newcastle, NSW, the line to enter was long due to this concert being sold out, but the staff did their best to get us all inside and seated quickly and efficiently for an 8pm sharp start. 

Right on time the support act entered the stage, acoustic guitar slung across his body. He introduced himself as Dandelion Head, otherwise known as J Blynn, an American, now Melbourne-based guitarist / singer / songwriter who was recently a featured artist on Rage. 

J is also Richard Marx’ guitarist. As Dandelion Head, he played a 5 song acoustic set including his latest song, Sad Eyes

Then it was a quick outfit change and he returned to the stage with a drummer, bass guitarist and Mr Richard Marx himself, in tow. Showtime!

The main event started with a video montage of Richards achievements, and then the band opened with a song from the latest album, Songwriter, titled Believe In Me, which led into Rush Street hit, Take This Heart, followed by Endless Summer Nights. At this point a lady from the audience approached the stage in front of Marx, holding a sign saying that it was her birthday and could she get a selfie with him. He obliged happily, also signing the album cover she handed him. He told the crowd that he got into the music business to get attention so please take photos and videos, upload them to you tube and social media, do whatever makes you happy, this is your night. Then he crooned the popular ballad, Angelia. Marx then introduced Same Heartbreak, Different Day, telling the audience that it is a special song to him as he co-wrote it with his second son, Lucas, it’s from the latest album and then Marx remained on stage while his band left. He explained that he had written a song for his 2014 album Now And Forever The Ballads that all 3 of his sons had individually told him that they liked, so he had asked them to play this song for this tour via a video recording. He spoke proudly of his talented sons and then a video of them playing When You Loved Me began while Marx accompanied on guitar and sang the song. Afterwards he stopped to take a sip of a strange lemon concoction drink and told another amusing story this time about Canadian singer Bryan Adams and this same drink which apparently is great for singers but also is used as a detox. The crowd laughed and next up were hit songs Too Late To Say Goodbye, which Richard suddenly added to the setlist on the fly – I guess he felt this audience was a Repeat Offender kinda crowd. Following that he played Hold On To The Nights, and Now and Forever. Richard stopped to chat with the crowd again, telling us how he had co-written one of Keith Urban’s popular songs and had worked with American Boy Band, Nsync in the early 2000s, which was the segway into him playing Long Hot Summer by Urban and This I Promise You by Nsync. The set closed out with Marx’ ode about the music industry, Don’t Mean Nothing.

The band left the stage and the crowd clapped and called for an encore. I mentally counted at least half a dozen more “hits” that were yet to be played so I waited for the band to return. First up was a song from the 2020 album, Limitless, accompanied by a video montage clip of Richard and his wife, Daisy Fuentes. The sweet and romantic Front Row Seat.  Marx introduced the popular chart topping, Hazard accompanied by the original video clip being played on the screen, moving seamlessly into Satisfied where the audience sang along loudly as Marx asked us to sing back to him. Should’ve Known Better got the crowd up and out of their seats and dancing in the aisle and singing along. Then it was time for the final song of the night, Marx sat at the keyboard and began to play Right Here Waiting, everyone was singing along with him, not wanting this night to end.

Richard Marx is an artist who knows and understands his fanbase. He’s here to promote his new album, Songwriter, released on September 30, 2022, but he also knows we’ve all come along to hear certain “hits” and he doesn’t disappoint. During the show, people in the audience yelled out thank yous, cheers and encouragement as Richard entertained, performing a cracking setlist made up of fan favourites from the 1987 debut Self Titled album right through to 1994s Paid Vacation and peppered the setlist with some newer content, engaging with the audience by telling funny anecdotes, using self-deprecating humour about ageing, and heartwarming stories about his family. His show included several video montages that included his family which added to the presentation while also telling the story of the songs. Marx spoke often during the show, regaleing the audience with stories and mentioning his Australian friends Keith Urban and John Farnham, and wishing his old friend well. Richard Marx fans are their fans, too and Marx is savvy enough to realise that and elicits the response he desired. Connection made. His main audience are fellow GenXers who have grown up, and older, with Marx, they “get” him. The whole vibe of the night felt different to most other shows I’ve attended. It was pretty low key, laid back, and relaxed, a safe space. Maybe that’s just Newcastle, maybe it was the 75/25 female to male ratio audience, but I believe that it also had a lot to do with Richard and his band.  And hearing these old songs again, it felt like a familiar place, a warm hug from my past, from a simpler time, come to revisit. 24 hours later and I’m still smiling at the new memories of last night, and getting to share this experience with my brother made it even more special to me. He loved the show, too.

Marx is the original Mr Nice Guy, he playfully accepted wolf whistles from the audience with good humour, obliged a fan with a selfie and autograph during the show, and encouraged everyone to have a good time, and to sing loudly with him. You go to a Richard Marx show to have a fun time and you get it – in spades, walking away at the end of the night with a big ole smile on your face. And it’s not just Marx that brings that joy, his band clearly love their job. They smile the whole time they are performing, it’s a contagious happiness.

The only real downside to the night was that it ended after about 2 hours of pure enjoyment and entertainment. It’s no wonder that this entire tour is sold out. I am definitely going to the concert the next time Richard Marx hits our shores again. 

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