An expectant gathering of Brisbane fans cheer at the swell of volume and dimming of lights. The Smith Street Band appear, hammering into a pounding bottom-heavy rendition of Death To The Lads. The reaction — a hero’s welcome.
Arms are raised, devil horns formed and lighters ignited as friends clasp each other, joints are lit and cups are ejected of their contents. The magnetic opener sends a ripple throughout the euphoric crowd.
From the dank undercrofts of Melbourne’s micro-venues to the expansive hanger-like space of The Triffid, it feels like The Smith Street Band have well and truly arrived. The humble West Melburnians have been relentlessly touring the globe. Coming off the tail of North American and European tours, they still grace the stage of the Brisbane venue with effortless familiarity. On the sold-out second stop of their national tour, the four-piece continue to wage war against apathy towards serious-minded political issues, and the simpler social disturbance of laddism.
On stage, The Smith Street Band fully realise the folk inflections and punk vitriol of their signature sound. Incisive riffs and pounding drum snares are never too far from hand. There’s an air of entertainment, but at its core, The Smith Street Band’s music is a serious endeavour. Bringing a sense of urgency and meaning to the forefront, their presence casts aside any notions of glamorous artistic personas or an all-too stoic rock outfit.
Bereft of these clichés, it’s the resonant honesty and vulnerability of Wil Wagner’s lyrics which remain. That’s not to sell the instrumental backing of guitarist Chris Cowburn and rhythmic undercarriage of Lee Hartney and Fitzy Fitzgerald short — the trio provide a sonic tapestry from which Wanger launches into his majestically expansive narratives.
“I’m just going to drink some water and then we’re going to continue on with this rock and roll concert,” Wagner casually discloses. All the while, the crowd swoons, sways and sings along. Chaos erupts as the group cut into Young Drunk. Gut-punching unison riffs vibrate throughout the venue’s hefty sound system.
The group close out their performance with a shout out to Brisbane’s Violent Soho, to the crowd’s raucous approval. Their praise is followed by the chugging and head banging licks of Throw Me in a River. Despite the assurance that there will be no encore, the closing set is a veritable sonic onslaught.
Between songs, Wagner vents about the arduous aspects of his past year, candidly recounting his difficulties with manic depression and chronic anxiety. Yet, in spite of his personal struggles, the frontman concedes the band is coming out of the other side, and that it’s these shows which are keeping him going. I Don’t Want to Die Anymore precedes the premiere of a new untitled track, accompanied by the announcement of a new album in April.
The band wind down and the crowd dissipates. Yet, as the energy recedes, it’s difficult to displace the after-effects of the group’s seductive mixture of wit, warmth and vitriolic politics. Spawned from the disillusion of Wil Wanger’s blighted worldview, The Smith Street Band are equally a stirring call to action and a hard-rocking band. From their beginnings in 2011, the group have undergone a remarkable progression. They embody a classic rock trajectory. Utilising music as a vehicle for social change, the down to earth Melbourne act has been slowly but continuously building momentum. They admonish injustice and enamour fans with their resonant recordings. For those who have come to their concert looking to find some truth in music, there’s something here.
Gallery: The Smith Street Band, The Nation Blue, Grim Rhythm, Forevr – The Triffid, Brisbane 24/11/16 / Photos: Rebecca Reid