Senses Fail’s first Aussie tour in six years showed off the new, the old, & a little bit of the in-between.
[PC: Maddie Bell, from the Brisbane leg of the tour.]
A lot can happen in the span of six years. Since the last time Senses Fail toured Australia, for the criminally underrated gem that is ‘Renacer‘ (2013), they’ve had line-up changes, undergone a popular resurgence with fans, released two widely different records with the excellent ‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart‘ (2015) and the solid ‘If There Is Light, It Will Find You‘ (2018), and James “Buddy” Nielsen is now a father. Despite these changes and life events, the post-hardcore band were in fine health when they hit the sold-out Stay Gold over the weekend; a well-synced-up live unit, pumping out new and old bangers alike. So well, in fact, that I think it’s more than fair to say that, currently, Senses Fail are the best they’ve ever been as a band. There’s no better time to see them right now then in 2019.
Completed by guitarists Jason Milbank and Gavin Caswell, bassist Greg Styliades, and The Color Morale drummer, Steve Carey (who was absolutely sending it from behind the tubs), Buddy lead a packed, passionate room through a range of Senses Fail material with real bravado. From those older, angsty teenage throwbacks off ‘From The Depths Of Dreams‘ (2002) and ‘Let It Enfold You‘ (2004), the seldom deep-cut from their sadly forgotten mid-years, as well as plenty of choice cuts off of their solid 2018 offering. It was a great mix of content, really. If perhaps a little jarring in terms of lyrics to hear Buddy sing about his wife and daughter, as per their latest record, to going to dated early 2000’s lines like ‘you’re worth more dead!” during ‘Tie Her Down‘ and “I’ll stab you one time, I’ll eat your heart out, so you feel my pain” from fan-fave oldie, ‘One Eight Seven.’ Then again, if you’re a band that came from the early 2000’s period of alternative music, and you DON’T have songs about killing your exes, are you even a post-hardcore band?
There wasn’t just an energised passion to the catchier, fresher tunes like ‘Double Cross‘, ‘Elevator To The Gallows‘ and ‘New Jersey Makes, The World Takes‘ – which all sounded fantastic live – but there was something similar felt for the older classics, too. As with Buddy having severely grown as a singer, and as a person, since his younger years, he now vocally performs ancient tracks like ‘Bloody Romance‘, ‘Choke On This‘ and ‘Rum Is For Drinking, Not For Burning‘ better than he ever has. Those songs haven’t aged all that well over time, but if they were to be recorded now, they’d sound HUGE. Thankfully, those older and somewhat cringier songs are all the stronger for Buddy’s own personal and vocal growth. (I mean, it doesn’t get much cringier than ‘Buried A Lie‘, with metaphorical lyrics about him being a detective helping to solve a women’s murder. Man, 2004 was a fucking strange time, but I think Buddy himself would be the first to admit that.)
Three of the biggest surprises of the night for me were ‘Steven‘, ‘Family Tradition‘, as well as an odd little nu-metal medley during closer, ‘Bite To Break Skin.’ But let’s start at the beginning. ‘Steven‘ is an important song for many reasons. It isn’t just the emotional attachment of the song for Buddy – written about a friend of his who died when he was 17 – but it was one of, if not the very first song that Senses Fail wrote and recorded. When I was 15, I’d frequently re-watch the killer live DVD set that came packaged with ‘The Fire‘ (2010), as they opened that show with ‘Steven‘. Seeing them play it now in 2019 was quite surreal, as if my own memory serves, they don’t play the song often out of respect for the deceased’s family. However, with a re-recorded, updated version of their first EP coming out later this year around September or so, it was a fitting addition for the night.
The first and last time I saw Senses Fail live was back on their 2010 Australian headline tour, at what is now called Max Watt’s, if you must know. That was a tour that went down just a few months before they would release ‘The Fire‘ – kicking off their most consistent three album run – so that tour was technically still apart of the ‘Life Is Not A Waiting Room‘ album cycle. Yet only ‘Four Years‘ and ‘Lungs Like Gallows‘ were performed from that particular 2008 LP. So, to finally see one of my all-time favourite Senses Fail songs, ‘Family Tradition‘, live in the flesh, and to have it sound as good as I’d always hoped it would, it was such a special moment for yours truly. Senses Fail playing ‘Family Tradition; making 24-year-old me feel the heavy insecurities of 14-year-old me. Thank you Buddy, very cool.
Last but not least, let’s get to that medley during the middle-section of ‘Bite To Break Skin‘ – one of the still legitimately awesome songs from the ‘Let It Enfold You‘ days. Things first shifted gears into the intro, first verse and pre-chorus of ‘Chop Suey!‘, before we were all given a short spin on ‘Let The Bodies Hit The Floor.’ But Senses Fail weren’t done there, oh no! Things got even more heated with their take on ‘Break Stuff‘, by the one and only Limp Bizkit, before ending this covers section with the first part of ‘Bulls On Parade.’ No, I’m not kidding! It’s a very good thing that I recorded some of it too, as I feel no one would believe me if I told them that this happened. Truth be told, this was a weird rendition part of the set, as it’s just so unexpected for a band like Senses Fail to pull off. But it was also fun to watch. And really, isn’t that why bands like this perform these kinds of covers? It’s just for the fun of it, for the love of the music. Hence why their intro music on the night was some 90’s dance song.
Buddy is such a charismatic vocalist, not just in the banter between songs and his honesty, but with his on-stage moves as well. He’s this confident, hip-shaking, mic-throwing, punk jumping, dancing and dabbing frontman in a floral shirt, singing and screaming away; someone who just exudes so much energy and who just doesn’t give a single fuck. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an infectious attitude and performance from the main man. And the crowd lapped it up too!
Speaking of the crowd, it wasn’t just a middle-aged dude-bro audience either; not just a bunch of older guys looking to relieve their earlier teen years from when they had their first break-up. (With maybe the exception of Destroy All Lines promoter, Ash Hull, and the young lady running the doors, I’d have been one of the younger audience members in attendance.) Women also crowded down the front too, and it was a wide array of people filling out the Brunswick venue, whose bizarre band-room layout will be the death of me one day with those dangerous, hidden steps placed everywhere. Yet everyone down the front was belting out the words to new and old tracks alike; just getting lost in the reverie of the music. I think that Senses Fail would be first in line to recognise that their often split fan base is very passionate about very specific eras of their career. But tonight, there was such a welcoming aura in the air, a loving reciprocation felt towards all of the band’s various eras, with the ‘Still Searching‘ (2006) material easily getting the most vocal love next to ‘One Eight Seven.’ ‘Can’t Be Saved‘, ‘Calling All Cars‘, ‘Shark Attack,’ ‘Bonecrusher‘, and even ‘To All The Crowded Rooms‘ getting a mention? Yes please!
While I do feel a little fan-cucked by this tweet posted from the band the following day of this Melbourne stopover – I’d kill to see some of those ‘Renacer‘ and ‘The Fire‘ songs live – I’m still so happy to not have missed the band this time around. Senses Fail are on a cloud 9 peak lately, and it’s so good to see them pushing forward and keeping on. Come back soon, Senses Fail, it was a real pleasure. Because I just don’t think I can wait another six fucking years. Hey, DAL, get them back for Good Things 2019?
Catch Senses Fail at these remaining Australian shows:
Monday 22 July – Jive Bar, Adelaide, SA
Tuesday 23 July – Civic Hotel – Inglewood, WA