The Prince Albert, Brighton – July 17th, 2016
The final night of the Australian Band’s UK Tour sees them play the tiny Prince Albert pub in Brighton.
It’s certainly been a strange few weeks for The Smith Street Band, and in truth it’s lucky they made it to the UK at all this summer. Only last month frontman Wil Wagner injured his leg at a Melbourne show and had to cancel their subsequent New Zealand tour. Still, despite being reduced to sitting through performances rather than leaping around, the show has gone on, including this last date in Brighton.
First up are Plymouth youngsters Woahnows, who, with their floppy-haired lead singer and energetic topless drummer, seem to enjoy every minute of their short opening stint. Musically, it’s very much pop punk, with a tinge of emo and Britpop thrown in for good measure.
Opener ‘The Joy Disorder’ – whether or not the deliberate pun that the title suggests – isn’t actually too far from Ian Curtis turned punk and sets things nicely in motion for the rest of the set. What follows has a variety of influences, with the distinct sound of band trying to find their own style. ‘Watching Accidents’ combines the best of these, with melodic harmonies over pulsating poppy guitars.
The biggest cheer comes as frontman Tim Rowing-Parker noodles the opening riff from Taking Back Sunday’s – ‘Cute Without The ‘e” in-between songs, and eventually bows to pressure to play the song in full. It’s a sound that suits them with its layered vocals, and cross genre popularity.
That’s not to say their own material is that far off – closing track ‘Puncher’, their one perfectly rounded song, also manages this balance well, and is a fantastic end to a short set, but hopefully a sign of greater things to come.
And so from innocent youthfulness to the second support act, who are distinctly more adult, and with it, daunting. While Apologies, I Have None frontman Josh McKenzie used to be a similarly styled skinny teen, now, with shaven head, broad shoulders and forehead tattoo, sets a very different ambience on stage.
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition with their predecessors or it might be the lack of any real fans in the crowd, but once usually rousing opener ‘Sat In Vicky Park’ falls decidedly flat, things never really recover from there. Unfortunately for a band whose debut consisted largely of tales from London’s bleaker environments, the band’s lyrical bluntness mostly backfires to a lacklustre crowd, with neither party seeming to enjoy the gig.
Any anthemic qualities of songs like ‘Long Gone’ or downbeat new single ‘Wraith’ – “I can’t help thinking / If you mention suicide again / I swear I’ll kill you myself” – are lost and become a dirge of mumbled vocals and bad sound.
The lull is briefly lifted for ‘Concrete Feet’ with it’s major chord melodic singalong “woahs“, which for the first time seems more uplifting than just plain angry. You could almost forgive them everything that had gone before. Unfortunately closing song ‘The 26’ spoils it again, the only clarity of which is a lyrical mess of a hushed musical breakdown proclaiming: “I’m going to smash this bitch’s face in, find the cunt and stab the fucker.”
It’s not a great way to end things, and a shame for a band that are infinitely better on record, but for whatever reason just doesn’t work tonight.
And so it’s up to The Smith Street Band to pick things back up. Luckily by the time they emerge the room is packed, and understandably so – this Australian group have built up a strong fanbase in the UK following a previous co-headlining tour with Gnarwolves and performances at Reading and Leeds Festivals last year.
Despite frontman Wil Wagner’s injury somewhat upsetting the on-stage balance – he sits to the side in a somewhat subdued position – very little of the usual energy is lost. Indeed it’s a lively start as they soon tear through favourites ‘I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore’, ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’, with every word sung by the many fans in the crowd.
Some bands would struggle going in this hard so early, but now on their third album the Aussies have got plenty of material to keep both old and new converts happy. Slower number ‘Surrender’ gives both the crowd and Wagner welcome respite, while new song ‘Death to the Lads’ seems the usual big anthem with its eponymous chorus, but soon transitions into a gently twinkling coda, showing the lighter side of this wonderfully varied punk rock band.
In quite the reverse, despite a quiet opening ‘Throw Me in the River’ – the title track from the 2014 album – launches into its sweary final third and the energy doesn’t let up from then on in. The equally cursing and sentimental ‘I Love Life’ soon follows, before ‘Young Drunk’ ends things up with one final singalong.
Despite Wil Wagner’s restraints, the night is a huge success and hopefully it won’t be too long before we welcome a fully fit The Smith Street Band back to these shores again.