Against the grain. Against the odds.
Parkway Drive’s incredible success story sounds kinda like a bad joke, doesn’t it? “So, five surfer blokes from Byron Bay start up a metal band and become one of the biggest heavy groups in the world.” Yet their career isn’t a joke; it’s the every-day reality for who is the biggest band in Australia (like ’em or not, that’s undeniable.) Parkway Drive exists leagues above the levels of their Aussie peers in Amity Affliction, Northlane, Polaris, Thy Art Is Murder, and the like. Even surpassing many of the international bands that they’ve befriended and who came before them, from Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Soilwork and Hatebreed. I honestly cannot see those other artists releasing their third doco into cinemas around Australia for one night only. And I can’t see those Aussie bands currently putting on the type of insane shows that Parkway pulled off during their massive ‘Reverence‘ touring cycle around the world. Who the fuck else in this scene is strapping their drummer into a spinning drum riser that’s also set on fire? Exactly: no one else is.
Viva The Underdogs focuses on the lead-up to the band’s mammoth Wacken Open Air Festival headlining set in 2019, a colossal performance that dominates the film’s end and which goes off without a hitch; never ceasing to blow me away, from the jaw-dropping size of the crowd to just the sheer level of the stage production. When people talk about who the next headliners will be, they’re kinda half-wrong: Parkway already are one of the next big headliners. What this doco shows audiences is full, living proof of their future legacy unfolding before our eyes, seeing the band stampeding across European summer festivals like their seasoned veterans.
There is so much heart and excitement to it all, from the band members’ expressions and dialogues to the love of the fans alike, but I believe that many will sadly interpret this film the wrong way. I’ve already seen comments online worrying that this is them no longer enjoying what they do and that it’s now all about the money and the business side of things. Which is not only the furthest thing from the truth, it’s also an incredibly ignorant take. As Parkway aren’t playing youth centers anymore, ya dinguses; they’re playing giant arenas, and that shit ain’t cheap or easy to set up. Yet even with the multitude of stresses and pressures visibly weighing on their shoulders, you still see that burning hunger and passion in the band to take this as far as it’ll go, smashing any obstacle in their path.
What makes Viva The Underdogs a compelling watch is just the sheer honesty woven into it. It starts out with the Byron Bay-bred band discussing the business logistics of putting these giant shows on, how they’re funneling any and all money made back into the show to not just improve and maintain it, but to just keep this machine moving. It’s a raw look at the kinds of massive bands who exist at that level, a feat made all the more impressive by their near-constant hectic touring schedules, how Parkway’s crew has grown to now include 40-50 people – who’ve all grown and learned how to do this at every step of the way alongside the band – and multiple buses and trucks, and how guitarist Luke Kilpatrick has now become their full-time manager. Yet it’s always genuine, cutting through the BS.
What’s also genuine is the surprisingly humorous moments that bleed into the film at many points and the general wholesomeness to so many of these experiences shared. Like seeing Winston cutely bring out his mother out to introduce ‘Bottom Feeder‘ at their Rock Am Ring set, graced by rapturous applause from the gathered mass of fans. A moment the vocalist says the other “band mums” we’re all mad at. So when it came time for their Wacken festival set, bassist Jai O’Connor’s mother came with the band, proceeding to crowd surf for the first time during their set, later cheekily stating during the credits that not only was it incredibly fun, but that there were hands everywhere, much to the embarrassed exclaims of the band. Or how Parkway and their crew spend a solid minute talking up the hard work of Luke stepping up to become their manager and learning how to do the role, before immediately cutting to Luke sitting on their tour bus, in front of a laptop, announcing that: “I’ve got no fuckin’ idea what I’m doing.”
Whilst watching this in theatres, I realized that there is such a grounded, funny and often level-headed nature to this band, and that’s what really helps them connect with countless people around the world. They’re just your five average blokes who made it big by playing music that they love, working as hard as they could and tackling it all with a sense of freedom and adventure. Just notice how many of the band and their tech crew all wear flip-flops throughout the doco, and just how loose the band plays off some of these big moments. But it’s that “casual” nature that makes the band so relatable, whether it be in both the successful or the more strenuous moments.
Much like their first two DVDs, Viva The Underdogs is an extremely well made visual experience in terms of editing, presentation, and cinematography; giving fans and viewers the most intimate fly-on-the-wall perspective of the band to date. Directed by Allan Hardy, who also directed Bliss’n’Eso’s Moments, this is as close as things can get, full of music spanning their career and even archival footage from the first 2009 DVD contrasted with the dizzying heights they’ve now reached. From showing Jeff Ling’s time with his kids, heated back-stage arguments that ruin an evening, sitting in on the band rehearsing together in Byron, and capturing the band’s much-needed return home prior to their Wacken headliner, this film shines a light on all the highs and lows of Parkway’s daily grind.
Whether it’s Parkway headlining (and crushing) Alexandria Palace, one of the best shows of their careers as they put it, only for an argument in the green room to spoil that deeply proud feeling, this film doesn’t shy away from documenting the somewhat embarrassing lows of their band lives as well. To the frustration of having their giant metal logo not catch fire due to an incorrectly set-up Molotov in front of thousands of people at Resurrection Fest in Spain; to seeing a giant one-off L.A. show at the Palladium suddenly cut short when the front-of-house console blows up, killing the show right then and there; to the head-shaking but laughable shock of seeing Jai badly messing up his leg just mere days before their mighty Wacken showcase, restricting him to a wheelchair; to realizing that right before their first 2019 European date in Germany, that the wrong music charts were sent to the string-quartet that they now feature live. As their crew often put it, that’s just what happens in this band – that’s just Parkway. As Winston McCall puts it, the band is a step ahead whilst their production is a step behind. Which is amusing, because after seeing Parkway on their ridiculous 2018 headline run and at Good Things set last year, you sure as shit could’ve fooled me with all of the pyro and explosions, guys!
I left my Viva The Underdogs showing this week humming ‘Vice Grips‘ “YEAH YEAH YEAH” chorus, whilst feeling deeply inspired. Which is the exact same feeling that their other two DVDs embued me with. It’s the kind of underdog story that you experience and start fantasizing about starting your band, traveling the world, or both when those credits begin to roll. If you missed this week’s one-night-only cinema appearance, or just want to experience it all again, definitely watch this documentary anyway that you can in the future. Truly, this is absolutely essential viewing for any heavy Australian band and for any lover of Parkway and heavy music in general. This made me appreciate, respect and love Parkway Drive even more than what I already currently do, and I think it’s also made me love ‘Reverence‘ that much more too. Even my partner, who I dragged along to the showing, enjoyed it and the last release they cared about from them was ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes.’
There’s honestly no stopping this behemoth of a band, and come June when the band head-out on their Viva The Underdogs headline arena tour, things will only get bigger and better. Parkway Drive not only have the support of most heavy music media outlets around the globe, the love of so many of their peers and the higher-up promoters at Live Nation but even Wacken Open Air c0-founder, Thomas Jensen, gives them his blessing and love in the doco. There are so many people in their corner, and at every step of the way, they continually prove themselves, pushing the envelope that little bit further each time. Unbreakable? More like unstoppable!
Viva The Underdogs tour with Every Time I Die & Hatebreed:
Saturday, June 13
Friday, June 19
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Saturday, June 20
Melbourne Arena, Melbourne
Sunday, June 21
AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Wednesday, June 24
HBF Stadium, Perth