Saturday, 15 July 2017

Gig Reiew: The Smith Street Band/The Bennies/Shit Present UK Tour July 2017

I am a big fan of the Australian punk rock scene and believe it's up there with the best in the world. The sheer amount of quality bands I've been discovering from that part of the world is astonishing. Two bands seemingly at the forefront of this rise in Aussie Punk are The Smith Street Band and The Bennies. Emma and I are both big fans of both bands so I'm sure you can imagine our excitement when it was announced the two bands would be touring the UK together along with another of our favourite UK bands, Shit Present.

It turned out Emma and I had a week off work booked for the first week of the tour and it coincided with our planned trip to Scotland. We originally planned to spend a few days in Edinburgh but as the tour would be heading to Glasgow we decided to visit that great city as well. That show was happening at a fantastic basement space named Stereo. We would also be attending the London show at The Garage the following week which was scheduled to be the final night of the tour - or so we thought. Whilst in Edinburgh, in what felt like the longest queue in the world (to get into Edinburgh Castle), Emma noticed [online] that one final show had been announced for the tour. The final show was scheduled for the day after the Garage show at The Montague Arms pub in South London, a pub that is run by many of The Smith Street Bands’ friends. We deliberated about going to the show briefly, we would be back late from the Garage show and had work the next day and would be super tired… But then we decided that it was Smithies, Bennies and Shit Pres in a tiny pub - of course we should go! Thank goodness for smartphones allowing us to buy tickets online.

Because we went to three shows on the tour, I thought that it might be an interesting exercise to review the three shows as a whole rather than each individually. I can compare the sets and talk about the good and the great of each show.

Shit Present

Seeing Shit Present three times in a week really cemented them as one of the very best bands in the UK scene for me. I've always thought of Shit Present as a bit of a supergroup considering the bands their members come from. In Glasgow this thought became even more poignant as Iona (guitar/vocals) and Ben (drums) were joined by Minty from Caves on bass and Andrew from Bangers/Specialist Subject Records on guitar. This didn't prevent them playing a great set - if you didn't know them you would have just assumed that this was always the Shit Present line up. Nic (bass) and Thom (guitar) returned for both London shows. The Garage show in particular stood out to me, out of all three shows. Shit Present are destined to play many more bigger stages over the years and they already look extremely comfortable on them. Their brand of indie pop punk became somewhat anthemic on the bigger stage and Iona's voice really carried well. Despite being on first, it was great to see them being able to play in front of a large crowd, the size of crowd that a band packed with so much talent deserves to be playing in front of.

The Bennies

I absolutely adore The Bennies. Ever since I first heard Rainbows In Space back in 2014 I've been hooked on them. Since then they've released two more superb albums and I finally had the chance to see them live last year when they played at the Camden Barfly. They took my breath away. All of that being said, I kind of felt like The Bennies and The Smith Street Band were quite strange bedfellows when it came to playing shows together. Both band's style of punk rock certainly falls into two different camps. A Bennies fan might not necessarily be a fan of The Smith Street Band or vice-versa. Before the shows I was quite curious to see how the crowds would react to their punk/ska/synth/reggae mash up. In Glasgow the crowd took a little bit of time to get going with The Bennies on stage antics but by the end of their set they had certainly finished their job of warming up the crowd. Watching The Bennies live it's nearly impossible not to get swept away in the infectious nature of their live show. The high energy songs and performance and the overall good time vibes that erupt from the stage leaves everyone smiling come the end of the set. They spring a surprise in their set as well as Smithies drummer, Chris, joins the band for penultimate track Party Machine. At The Garage and Montague Arms shows it took no time at all for the crowd to get into The Bennies. It was a pleasure to see The Bennies play a bigger stage but the set at The Montague Arms was probably one of my favourite sets of the entire year. The energy was out of this world. There was no need to encourage the crowd to sing or dance. With the opening sounds of Anty's korg blasting through the speakers for Party Smashers, The Montague Arms sprang into life and gleefully joined the band in screaming "Motherfucking London" at the appropriate moments in the song. The Bennies by all accounts are a pretty jovial bunch of fellas but you could see how immensely happy they were to be on stage at this moment. Smiling and laughing their way through an incredible set. Finishing the set with the excellent Knights Forever, there were some pretty poignant lyrics that for me really summed up my feelings whilst enjoying the set. "These Moments Get Lost 'Cos Our Memory's Been A Blur, Like A Sense And Feeling It Will Go On Forever, These Nights Are Not Rare And That Is Not Why We Care, We Are Who We Are And That Is More Than Enough, 'Cos People Around Me Make Me Feel Alive, And I've Got A Feeling That I'll Never Die" talks about the euphoria you feel after a great night out, this was certainly the case of at the end of every Bennies set over the past week.

The Smith Street Band

Where do I begin when trying to talk about The Smith Street Band? Arguably the greatest band on the planet. After seeing them three times on this tour, that now makes eleven times in three years for me. That's more times than any other band and considering that the band live in Australia I think that it's some achievement. When I first started listening to the band I was struggling through a particularly low point in my life and found some comfort in their music. It has definitely helped me come out of the other side of those struggles and am now at a point in my life where I can say that I am truly happy. I've seen The Smithies grow massively in popularity over the past couple of years but I have to confess that I was somewhat taken aback by just how popular they currently are. After watching them slay at Stereo in Glasgow (another of my favourite sets of the year) we turned up at The Garage and were shocked at just how many people were there! For a DIY band from the other side of the world to sell out the Garage is some achievement and to be honest I shouldn't have been surprised given just what an incredible band The Smith Street Band. The set for this tour was very heavy on songs from the brand new record, More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me, an album that I enjoyed on my first listens but didn't really hit me in the good bits like Throw Me In The River did. After seeing and hearing so many of the new songs live now I definitely have a new found level of appreciation for an album I already thought was pretty good. Lead by Wil Wagner, The Smith Street Band are just on another level. Despite not being the most animated band around, they have this kind of magnetic energy that really pulls you in. I think that a big part of this is due to Wagner's incredible song writing skills. He has this ability to write these incredible songs that really give you a sense of catharsis whilst you sing along with the band. Speaking of singing along, that's what happened from the opening song of the set and continued to the end on every night of the tour that we went to - I suspect it was the same on every single night of the tour too. Brilliantly, even the new tracks went down a storm, perhaps more so than some of the older material they squeezed in. This is probably a sign of all the new fans that have jumped on board with the band more recently and haven't quite gotten around to digging deeper into the Smith Street Band discography. All three performances on the tour that I saw were absolutely first class (the only sour note for me was getting covered in beer and headbutted at The Garage show) but a special mention has to go to the Montague Arms show. In years to come this will be one of those shows where you can say "I was there" and folk will be jealous that they missed out on a show that will no doubt go down in history. 250 people squeezed in to the tiny pub in South London and sang their hearts out. I'm always a sucker for a small venue and this night was just perfect for me. After a brief deliberation about whether or not we should go to both London shows we felt more than vindicated about our decision. What an absolutely unbelievable night it was to finish off a trio of excellent gigs.

This gig review was written by Colin Clark.