In the six or so years I’ve been attending shows at Festival Hall, I have never once seen a show there from the venue’s balcony section, but that was the hand I was dealt on Tuesday night and I wasn’t complaining at all; as this was for Alexisonfire and my plus one and I had the best seats in the house for the Canadians killer set. But before the post-hardcore legends took the stage, their fellow Canadians peers in The Dirty Nil were up first.
This Dundas, Ontario punk rock trio of frontman Luke Bentham, drummer Kyle Fisher, and bassist David Nardi came out to DMX’s ‘X Gon Give It To Ya (yes, for I too have seen Deadpool), and they ran through a short but sweet set with cuts from their debut album, ‘Higher Power’, like ‘No Weakness’ and ‘Zombie Eyed’, among others.
Now, that I think about it, I’ve haven’t been to a gig in a long while where the first support band wasn’t an Australian band. Either way, this wasn’t a bad set by any means, but it was hard to resonate with these songs when Festival Hall was just so bloody empty (maybe around a third full if I’m being generous). To be fair, these guys are still a relatively young band on their first Australian tour, a tour for their debut record no less, so there’s plenty of room for growth and popular expansion and their mix of indie, rock and punk could very well get them there. Of course, their inclusion on this tour and their UNIFY slot was most likely because just due to them being label mates with Alexisonfire (both are on Dine Alone Records), but this trio held their own. For instance, their charismatic singer/guitarist, Luke Bentham kept things visually interesting with his on-stage moves and his ball-busting splits, even doing well-timed splits during guitar slides for maximum effect.
The slower, heavier tune of ‘Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü’ was a real nice addition towards the end, with Bentham introducing it by saying, “This song is in Drop D”. Oh shit, better watch out everyone! But no, in all seriousness, that was a damn solid track and these guys did their very best given the difficult task of playing to a barely half empty venue of this size and supporting such a revered artist. Ending with the short but intense ‘Nicotine‘, the trio left the stage, meaning that a local blast from the past was up next.
Ah, Behind Crimson Eyes.
This Melbourne band has been rather quiet since their 2012 headline dates, and this set showed no new material, just songs from their first EP, ‘Pavour Nocturnus’ and their debut album, ‘A Revelation For Despair’. Which is a smart move considering how fucking bland and forgettable their self-titled album was and still is.
Coming onto a lengthy angelic choir sample, and with the venue just over half capacity full on all accounts, the five-piece (including a fill-in guitarist) began with ‘Sex, Lies And Homicide’, the first song from their debut record. Cue PTSD flashbacks to my early teen years when I used to occasionally listen to this band and that song/album. Early on in their set, the band dug out their biggest single, ‘Shakedown’, which got a handful of punters excited down the front. I was quite surprised about its early appearance as that’s like The Getaway Plan opening with ‘Where The City Meets The Sea‘ (we’ll get to them soon enough), but whatever, I’m not the one making their setlist sadly.
In retrospect, after years of not listening to these guys, I noticed throughout their set just how much of an old Escape The Fate worship band these guys were and still are, and how you can’t go past their poor man Avenged Sevenfold guitar riffs. Speaking of the riffs, the guitars on occasion seemed really sloppy and the band’s mix for the night didn’t help matters either (I know they can’t necessarily help that last part but it impacted proceedings nonetheless). Although, I must say that it is drummer Dan Kerby who is still the best fucking thing about this group with his immensely tight, snappy playing and pristine kit.
After another mid-set choir sample, the band went further back to their musical genesis with ‘The Game Of Life’ from their first EP, with another “classic” in the form of ‘The Art Of War’ following which got a small amount of pit action down the front but the crowd, as a larger whole, seemed really unmoved by this old blast from the past. And that was the key issue present with Behind Crimson Eye’s set; this post-hardcore sound is just so fucking dated now that there’s a very good reason why we don’t really hear bands like this in the Melbourne/Australian scene. Also, here is a pro-tip for any vocalists reading; when playing big shows like this, only extend the mic out for the crowd to sing when you have more than just a few punters singing back your lyrics. It just looks downright embarrassing otherwise and I cannot help but physically cringe.
After a final burst of on-stage energy from the group (by far the most they had displayed all evening), their set finally came to an end and I was reminded why I stopped listening to Behind Crimson Eyes in the first goddamn place. My mate and I then left to stretch our legs and ease the soreness in our lower behinds, as a far better, far tighter Melbourne band were about ready to entertain us all: The Getaway Plan.
Nostalgia is a very big thing these days and The Getaway Plan performing 2008’s ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ in full at UNIFY this past weekend is mere proof of that concept. However, while tonight’s shows wasn’t that festival set, a handful of those older, memorable songs from the quartet’s debut album got a mention, as Matthew Wright and co. performed a solid 40 or so minute in front of a jam-packed Festival Hall, despite being a stationary band in terms of physicality.
Following their opening song, Matthew Wright puts down his guitar, grabs the mic and they rip right into ‘Streetlight’, easily one of their better songs. Yet sadly, some of his screams in this song just did not land as well as they should have to present the song’s full impact, but I’d argue that Wright is much more of a singer than a screamer nowadays. Still, it was a shame considering my own personal bias towards that particular song. One track that really shined live was fellow single, ‘Shadows’, which sounded simply huge. After witnessing the slower, bluesy, tremolo reprieve of ‘Dark Horses’ from up high in our balcony seats, it became crystal clear how great this band sounds live and how tight they are too, with drummer Dan Maio having the best drum mix of the entire night. His solid performance chops also helped out on that front, too.
Now, obviously, they played ‘Where The City Meets The Sea’ and as you can imagine, it was wicked! This really is “the” song for The Getaway Plan, and it always will be. The crowd sang along loudly to this smash hit single and the general interest and mood of the masses shot right up during this time. It was the kind of reaction that showed what may have been install for this group if they hadn’t of briefly disbanded in 2009 and killed the vast momentum they had from their debut with the two rather different records that followed it.
However, this wasn’t the band’s swan song for the night. That honour went to the downright epic sonic assault that was ‘Requiem’ and it’s legitimately awesome climax. Now, that was a fucking set ender!
With no actual songs played during the set changeover – just ambient drones and minimal percussive tracks – a high level of anticipation set in, which was already growing due to the many die-hard fans in attendance. Seriously, the merch sales were flowing like rapids streams that night. And when the music stopped and the lights dimmed for the Canadians to come up on-stage, the monumental uproar that came from the hordes inside Festival Hall would have been heard far and wide outside the venue.
With a dazzling light show throughout their set, the band began with the punchy ‘Drunks, Lovers, Sinners & Saints‘ and the anthemic ‘This Could Be Anywhere In The World‘, Alexisonfire ran through a slick set of hit after pure, nostalgic hit that fans in any and every nook and cranny of the venue lapped up, myself included. Most of the set came from 2006’s ‘Crisis‘ due to 2016 making that record a decade old, deep cuts like ‘Mailbox Arson‘, the title track and of course, the not-so-deep-cut of the haunting ‘Rough Hands‘ were presented in the finest of forms. Although, I did find it very amusing that a song called ‘Rough Hands‘ had one of the worst crowd clap along participations I have ever fucking seen at a show.
Poor from, you lot on the floor, poor from. Learn to clap in time with the music, you scrubs.
Now, the last time I saw this band live was on their Soundwave 2010 appearance (not their 2012 “final” tour because I had the foresight to know that they’d be back eventually) and I cannot stress this enough: time has not withered this band’s energy nor their powerhouse live performance, something that cannot be said for the night’s second band.
Geroge Pettit’s barks and screams are just as vicious live as they have ever been. As for vocals, Dallas Green sang all the right parts as well as you’d expect but it was fellow guitarist and now Gallows frontman, Wade MacNiel, who gave as much vocal output as his co-vocalists. Since joining Gallows (and since his stronger vocal input on ‘Crisis‘ and onwards) it’s easy to see that MacNeil has become much more of a vocal force within Alexisonfire in this post-reunion era of their career. And it just adds to their sound so well instead of detracting from it. Sadly, even with Jordan Hastings’ solid drumming and human metronome-like abilities, his drums just were not cutting through enough in the mix and they were being drowned out by all of the guitar work. Despite the drum mix, these songs still captivated the audience and they flowed expertly well; the kind of flow and execution that only a band as in-sync and as experienced as Alexisonfire can pull off.
Of course, if I’m gonna talk about the members then I cannot do so without mentioning bassist Chris Steele. He is just such an interesting performer to watch, displaying more energy than all of his four band mates, he was constantly roaming around the stage, getting right up close to fans at the barrier, flinging his bass around his body and just jamming out to the music that he so clearly loves to play. Considering he is the only member of Alexisonfire that did not go onto further projects since their break-up, I thought that this showed just how much this guy loves his own band’s work and his four bandmates.
This kind of enthusiasm was truly displayed from all five members during the second half of their set, which featured ‘44. Caliber Love Letter‘, the rather heavy ‘Dog’s Blood‘ (which sounded infinitely better live than it ever has on the record), the equal rights anthem that is ‘Accept Crime‘ (which is rather poignant for this show considering how Australia still doesn’t allow gays to get motherfucking married), and of course, the pure raging single of ‘Young Cardinals‘.
This really was the right kind of nostalgia to be had.
As for an encore set, the band kicked it off with the restrained, dark hymn of ‘The Northern‘ and a classic tune and personal favourite of yours truly, ‘Pulmonary Archery‘. Both made for a fine first half of this encore, and let’s be honest, it isn’t an Alexisonfire show until Pettit rips his shirt into pieces, and he did just that during these two songs.
As the stage was bathed in dark red lighting, the intro riff of ‘Accidents‘ poured out into Festival Hall, and a sheer frenzy began with vast movement on the floor section and a few thousand voices matching the PA’s output of “Let’s redefine!” It was a brilliant tipping-point for their set, and for a split second, I was happy and satisfied enough for them to end the show right then and there. But no, one more fan-favourite needed to be voiced: ‘Happiness By The Kilowatt‘.
As my younger brother put it in his Unify write-up, this a near-prefect song to end their set with. And yep, Matty was not wrong! Any fan will know that this song concludes their 2004 record, ‘Watch Out!‘ and whether this song is rounding out that album or a live show, it’s the prime choice to do so. Green’s soulful vocal melodies and almost remorseful lyrics, the stop-start drumming in the verses and the intro, the resonating pianos underneath the band’s instrumentation, those repeating distorted guitar chords, Pettit’s sharp, emotional screams; ‘Happiness By The Kilowatt‘ is a perfect cap-off for the end of a grand night such as this. The song concluded with a noisy, feedback-heavy jam section that saw Steele and MacNeil thrashing on the ground with the latter even wrapping his guitar around his amp for total feedback loops, Green running back and forth across the stage, Pettit knocking over mics left, right and centre, as he put on and ripped in half the shirts fans were throwing at him, all the while Hastings held down the musical fort with his drumming.
Once the song reached its natural end, the five members embraced one another to triumphant cheers from the crowd that lasted for a couple minutes, with many fans up in our balcony section giving the quintet standing ovation. I know I am not the only one that hopes the band make a speedy return to Australia.
I would argue that the only possible way this set could have been any better is if ‘Sharks And Danger‘ and ‘Sons Of Privilege‘ were played but even with their absence, this was Alexisonfire delivering a phenomenal set (sans the drum mixing) worthy of the hype and the five years they’ve spent away from Aussie shores. There are a couple questions I am left with, though, such as “Will they ever record new music and ensure Alexisonfire becomes full time again” and “Will they continue to be a band that just rests on their well-deserved and high achieving laurels?”
Those questions were not answered, but 2017 may be the year that we find out what Alexisonfire has planned…
PC: Melbourne’s Okayest Photographer, Digital Beard.