Parkway Drive’s immense Margaret Court Arena show without a doubt proves this band is one in a million.
Over the years, I’ve seen Parkway Drive play in packed-out youth centres and clubs. I’ve seen them play other big venues like Melbourne’s Festival Hall, as well seeing them in their real element playing to large open-air festival crowds. Yet this recent Margaret Court Arena show over the weekend was not only the best Parkway Drive performance I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seriously lost count of how many I’ve attended), but it was also the best show I’ve seen all fucking year too. Yep, this was it, chief! The title of this article isn’t hyperbolic, this really was one for the ages.
There exists a “glass ceiling” of sorts for most Australian bands in heavy music. It’s the reason that no matter how many records bands like Northlane, In Hearts Wake, Polaris, Amity Affliction, Hellions, and Thy Art Is Murder put out nor how good or successful those records may be, these artists most likely won’t ever achieve the sheer level that Parkway as an entity now exists at. That maybe sounds harsh and unfair of me, and that’s not to say I don’t like some of the records those bands have released (as I do), but it’s the goddamn truth. The Bryon Bay crew really are a one in a million band; there wasn’t an Aussie group in our homegrown hardcore/metal music landscape of their calibre, success and importance before 2003, and there probably won’t be one long after they’re gone. And let’s not kid ourselves: Parkway are bigger than most of their international peers as well. So with a giant new national tour like this tearing across Australia, all the stops had to be pulled out. And my god, were they ever!
Mass amounts of pyrotechnics showing-off more flames than Hell itself; indoor fireworks, disorientating flashbangs and explosions giving our brains full-on overload; a goddamn spinning drum kit cage during their encore; and a perfectly synced-up, dazzling light show all filled up the interiors of Melbourne’s go-to tennis arena. Shit, there was even a string quartet! All placed alongside the unifying voices and raised fists of thousands of loving Parkway fans belting out their lungs to every single fuckin’ track. Parkway Drive’s immense set was honestly akin to watching an expensive and over-the-top KISS or Mötley Crüe stadium show. Except this one had screaming, mosh pits, massive breakdowns, a couple blast beats, and sweet Euro-melodic-metal guitar leads. (Thankfully, there was no incident on this night like their prior Newcastle show. In which a few fans bum-rushed the stage, got past security, and saw guitarist Luke Kilpatrick shoving a kid off the stage right before he was roasted alive by some pyro. Insane shit.)
So believe me when I say it, this show was just pure sensory overload – a bonafide experience. If you didn’t see it, then I’m sorry, but you absolutely missed out on something truly special here. For this wasn’t just another gig, this was a real show. Structured like the three-part arc of a film narrative, with its own sense of pacing and dynamic. My god, Parkway have come so far that it’s almost inconceivable.
No disrespect to Thy Art Is Murder and Killswitch Engage before the headliners, as I did enjoy both of their sets, but that’s all both support acts were: other than some fancy lighting, it was just another set for either act. Thy Art and Killswitch both had solid mixes and they both played strongly and cleanly in terms of their respective performances. Especially Thy Art’s fill-in drummer, Jesse Beahler from Black Crown Initiate, who nailed Lee Stanton’s parts so well that at first, I thought it was Lee himself keeping time.
Of course, both bands entered into their usual setlists with zero surprises. That means Thy Art playing the usual cuts – ‘Reign Of Darkness‘, ‘Purest Strain Of Hate‘, ‘Holy War‘, ‘Son Of Misery‘, ‘Slaves Beyond Death‘, with a couple tracks from 2017’s ‘Dear Desolation‘. (Why they never play ‘They Will Know Another‘ is simply beyond me. It’s OBJECTIVELY their best song!) And that also means Killswitch touching upon the go-to metalcore bangers of their career; all the way from those ‘Alive Or Just Breathing‘ (2002) and ‘The End Of Heartache‘ (2004) classics, right up to songs from their most recent two records, ‘Disarm The Descent‘ (2013) and ‘Incarnate‘ (2016). Saving any and all newer, unreleased material from their upcoming 2019 LP for when said record is announced and ready to drop. (Not of their own doing, but there was an over-eager KSE fan who snuck up to the venue’s lighting rig at the back near where I was seated. And this dude was LOVING every single minute; head-banging, jumping around, and even taking off his shirt to wave it around above his head. Just before the end of Killswitch’s set, venue security finally took notice and came up in droves to remove his zealous ass from the venue. But I saw you, random shirtless overly enthusiastic KSE fan, I saw you).
Obviously, the scale and impact of both of these first two bands’ sets totally paled in comparison to the night’s mammoth main act. I mean, seriously though, how the fuck would you even up-stage a headline performance like the one that was so confidently displayed so incredibly on Friday night? Trick question: you couldn’t. No matter how hard your band tried or how well you played.
For everything about Parkway Drive’s performance was just so theatrical, grandiose and meticulously planned out. Each member had their roles to play, and I’m not just talking about the musical side of things. Platforms moved around the stage, allowing certain moments where the band members would stand up high, allowing Winston McCall to lead the show down the front; bathed in lights and often surrounded by erupting pyro. Much like the shooting fireballs that burst forth right in front of the vocalist during the heavier parts of ‘Dedicated‘. For instance, during the band’s encore of ‘Crushed‘, when the second verse came in, Winston, with a wave of his left hand out in front of him, flames perfectly on cue alit along the front section of the stage. Giving the frontman this imagery of him being an enraged demon stalking behind an inferno wall. Another great example was during ‘Karma‘, which also saw a wall-to-wall circle pit erupting down on the floor for the song’s racey, bombastic intro. (Margret Court Arena just saw it’s biggest circle pit, no doubt). For during this song’s “surfacing!” breakdown, Winston would rise both himself physically and his vocal pitch upwards, all right in time with shooting geysers of pyro around the stage and an eye-searing light show shining down above. From a sheer technical level of planning and production, this show was the very definition of immense. It was fucking gargantuan!
For some readers and older fans not happy with the direction of the band’s recent records, this may all sound like a soulless experience; like a “fake” metal act trying to be just another stadium rock band. But those would be the empty, limp-dicked criticisms of someone who wasn’t there to witness this. Parkway Drive has played hundreds of shows across Australia in the 15 years that they’ve been a band, but this tour was indeed something else; it was a whole other beast. This shit really was next level.
So much so that even though Parkway Drive played many of the expected gems from their career, the insane level of production and bells and whistles of the night made each song’s performance feel new and fresh. With droning low end and with sudden, attention-pulling firecracker pops, the eerie acoustic guitar intro of ‘Wishing Wells‘ began their set. I adore this song, as it’s not only one of the heaviest tracks Parkway has ever written, both musically and emotionally, but it’s got some of the best riff work of the band’s career of late. (Suss that Riff-City section following the “Face me” breakdown). When heard and seen in the flesh live, this levelling track is just on a whole new level. Much like the larger show itself! As for a divisive song like ‘Vice Grip‘, that song is corny as hell on the record, for sure. But when played live, it’s a bouncy, fun and downright massive tune. Hell, when I was singing along with a mate to the “YEAH YEAH YEAH” chorus, I did so half-jokingly. Yet that’s the thing: I was still singing along. Jia “Pie” O’Connor’s filthy tone and gritty bass riff that begins the monstrous ‘Absolute Power‘ blew most people heads right off when the song exploded, both musically speaking and with actual explosions erupting behind the band on-stage. Excuse the pun, but this song had, well, absolute power.
If you read my review of ‘Reverence‘ from earlier in the year, then you’ll know that I didn’t at all care for songs like’ The Void‘ and ‘Prey‘. Yet when said songs were performed live, right there in the moment, I enjoyed them. And that’s all down to how tight Parkway is as a musical unit, but also to the ludicrous stage production backing them up. When the band were saying they’d be bringing their European and festival set-up over to the Motherland, they weren’t fucking kidding! The mass hand claps during the bridge and those mind-melting yellow strobe-lights during the mighty breakdown of ‘Prey‘ blew me down into my goddamn seat. Then, other songs that I loved from their newest album, like the theatrical and moody ‘Cemetery Bloom‘, also took on a whole new life when performed live too. If you somehow can’t tell, I just cannot get over how good this show was.
There were a couple of solid throwbacks included as well, such as ‘Carrion‘, ‘Idols & Anchors‘ and ‘Karma‘. Which brings me to one of the most incredible things about Parkway Drive these days: they’ve basically transcended generational gaps. This is something that classic rock acts and Hall Of Fame inductees seem to achieve but is something rarely acquired by a metalcore/hardcore band – let alone one from Australia who once wrote albums like ‘Killing With A Smile‘ and ‘Horizons‘. But throughout the night I saw middle-aged fans having the time of their lives; I saw people closer to my age in their early twenties wearing old Parkway merch lapping it all up; and right in front of our media upper seating section (actually the best seat in the house) was a little girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders, air drumming along to every song with pure glee. New or old fans, young or aged listeners, there is truly a place for you at anyway Parkway show. There’s something for everyone. (And if you want the old ‘Horizons‘ material, then I really hoped you caught the band on their lengthy ten-year album run earlier this year. Cause ‘Boneyards‘ ain’t coming back into their set anytime soon).
Despite how in-sync this band is as musicians and performers, there was one little hiccup. ‘Wild Eyes‘ (or as I like to call it, “Idols & Anchors 2: Electric Riffaloo”), saw the only slightly sloppy section of music for the entire night. Filling in for guitarist Jeff Ling, due to old mate and his wife bringing their new baby into the world, was Thy Art Is Murder riff-lord and mastermind, Andy Marsh. For the most part, Andy nailed every aspect of the night’s set; the riffs and chugs, the harmonies and the solos, and any and all tapping sections. Showing off just how great a player he is, whether in his own band or filling in for some mates. He was born to play these songs without breaking a sweat, and you’d hope as much due to this being at least the sixth time he’s filled in for an absent Parkway member over the last few years. Yet the intro of ‘Wild Eyes‘, in terms of note pitch and phrasing, just wasn’t quite there. To be fair, when the intro lead comes back around later on in the song before the track closes out, Andy pulled it off much better. But you know what? It didn’t matter if just one guitar part was slightly off. Because as soon as this song started, the European-football-stadium gang vocal chant that defines this song started up across the whole venue within microseconds. Speaking to just how well Parkway knows their fans and their know-how of writing great songs for these kinds of massive shows.
Sitting in the quieter parts of the night’s proceedings were ‘Writings On The Wall‘ and ‘Shadow Boxing‘, both bolstered by a string quartet of s cello and three violins; adding even more of an already hefty live performance with yet another new dynamic. There was ever a few brief flares reigning down upon the stage from the lighting rig during a break in the latter song as well. As for the band’s encore, ‘Crushed‘ was simply that; fucking crushing. It’s without a doubt one of the best songs of Parkway Drive’s recent output. Ben Gordon’s spinning drum kit cage and riser weren’t as much of a hero of the night as many may have expected, but goddamnit, any band who spins their drummer left, right and upside down as he still plays fine and in-time is a proper winner in my books. (See also: Slipknot). As for final closer, the pissed-off and aggro cut of ‘Bottom Feeder‘, it was simply bounce-central for those on the floor, complete with fireworks popping off inside the venue for the song’s (and the night’s) climax.
Honestly, all of my words here almost don’t do this kind of show justice. I’ve been thinking about this Margret Court Arena show ever since the night itself came to a stunning close. This show will be burned into my mind forever and I was smiling like a fucking goofball throughout Parkway Drive’s entire set. I mean this with absolute seriousness and sincerity: this band is untouchable.