The Smith Street Band in Sydney – Review
Matt Lengren caught the Melbourne-based Smith Street Band at The Factory Theatre. Photos by Adam Davis-Powell, taken at their Manning Bar gig, two days previously:
All things being equal, The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian will be in my top-five Australian tracks of 2014 and, at the risk of going overboard, Wil Wagner is the only Australian vocalist whose words I really listen to apart from Gareth Liddiard (The Drones). I have been waiting a while for an album to lyrically interest me the way Listener’s Wooden Heart did and I found it when I first listened to The Smith Street Band’s latest album Throw Me in the River; no other Australian lead-singer’s delivery is as passionate. OK, I’ll settle down – I also hold Tom Lyngcoln (Harmony) in similarly high regard.
One word I would use to describe The Smith Street Band would be ‘reliable’, but that could easily paint the wrong picture of boring, monotonous songs. A lyric that comes to mind when trying to describe their music to friends is from The Belly of Your Bedroom (from 2011’s No One Gets Lost Anymore): ‘I know I’m not exciting, but I never claim to be’… not because their music is unexciting, rather that they don’t pretend to be something they’re not. Where Liddiard’s lyrics are often quite ambiguous, Wagner’s are laid bare in plain sight which increases the accessibility and listen-ability of his lyrics and, ultimately, The Smith Street Band’s music on the whole.
Whether it was the fact it was a school night (the first one of the week, no less!) or if I was acting in the interests of being able to clearly recall the gig so I could write about it, I resisted the urge to ‘get high, see The Smith Street Band’ as a tribute to two of their songs – Get High, See Mice and Get High, See No One.
I didn’t get to the gig in time to see the entire set of UK punk outfit Apologies, I Have None, but from what I saw, they’re a highly energetic band with a surprising number of dedicated fans. The only taste I’d had of The Front Bottoms was one or two listens of their six-song 2014 release: Rose. It may seem hypocritical for me to not like them that much considering they are alarmingly similar to The Smith Street Band – just with American accents rather than Australian. I attribute the familiarity of Wagner’s unashamedly ocker vocals (he strikes me as a bloke who’d pronounce ‘bloody’ as ‘blardy’) to why I like one more than the other. I would do them and their fans a disservice attempting to go into detail about their gig; good, but not great.
The Smith Street Band came onto the stage and wasted no time before opening with a rampaging four-song barrage (Something I Can Hold In My Hands, Surrender, Sunshine and Technology and Sigourney Weaver); Wil Wagner displayed an immeasurable amount of energy and was sweating beyond comprehension after about 15 minutes. Following Get High, See No One, a crowd surfer was indelicately handled by a security guard, causing Wagner to dedicate the follow-up, The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian, to said surfer – “This one’s for you, my friend. That was disgraceful.” It wasn’t until three-quarters the way through Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams that the same seccy grabbed another punter. Wagner pulled the band up, stopped playing, and assisted in a peaceful, harmless removal of the dude in the crowd. It was an impressive gesture from a guy who referred to the whole crowd as ‘my friends’. When Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams eventually came to a close, the members of The Front Bottoms joined the band on stage for an enthusiastic finale.
The only criticism I have of their performance is that Wagner’s mic was given surplus volume that would have been better utilised on Fitzy’s bass; songs such as Surrey Dive and Throw Me in the River didn’t reach the heavy and loud peaks that they should have. Lee Hartney put in a massive effort given he filled in on bass for Apologies, I Have None before playing lead guitar for TSSB.
You could see The Smith Street Band live without having previously heard any of their anthemic Australian songs and go home with a new favourite band. Driving back along King Street through Newtown with the occupants of the car in front of mine bellowing Young Drunk out the window was a nice finish to a great show.
SETLIST: Something I Can Hold in my Hands // Surrender // Sunshine and Technology // Sigourney Weaver // Get High, See No One // The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian // I Can’t Feel My Face // I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore // Calgary Girls // Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams // Ducks Fly Together // Surrey Dive // Throw Me in the River // I Love Life.
ENCORE: Get High, See Mice // Young Drunk.