The co-headline tour is a funny beast, it can either be a genius move and offer punters twice the value and introduce fans of one band to a likeminded act, or split an audience completely.
Tonight (20 July) was most certainly the latter. And in a double whammy, the promoters managed to also get the running order the wrong way around too. With both bands making their maiden voyage to Australia, as part of the Splendour In The Grass line-up, there was no doubt this midweek show on a rainy Sydney night would draw a crowd.
Oxford Art Factory was happily full by the time Philadelphia emotive punk-rockers Beach Slang hit the stage at the very civilised time of 9.10pm. And with the band supposedly close to breaking up onstage back in April, as well as one of the most hyped indie upstarts in the last two years, it’s no surprising a crowd was down early.
But if anyone was expecting drama, they were at the wrong show tonight, with the band – and charismatic frontman James Alex – in great spirits, playing their first Australian show to a crowd that enthusiastically shouted lyrics back to the stage and pumped fists high in the air. It only took two songs before someone shouted, “Nice jacket” at the frontman, who – as per most of his Beach Slang promo photos – has a penchant for badge-emblazoned blazers over dress shirts. The shirt cost him 75c at a thrift store.
But much can be said about Alex’s band from this: rough around the edges, spirited players who absolutely charm the pants off their audience thanks to the singer’s showmanship and their songs. And those songs.
Mixing things up a bit live to keep the energy at a high point, the acoustic 'Too Late To Die Young' from 2015’s impressive set 'The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us' was instead electrified, with Alex having no trouble captivating the crowd. The looseness came back the song after, with guitarist Ruben Gallego breaking a string that needed attention. “Ruben breaks strings, I break hearts…” joked – sort of – Alex, before launching into crowd favourite 'Cheap Cigarettes' from 2014’s 'Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street'.
If a lull was expected, it never came, with the band blazing through a set featuring 'Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas', a powerful 'Get Lost' and the melancholic and melodic 'Porno Love'. “No matter how long we live or how long we’ll be a band, this will always be our first show in Australia,” a beaming Alex announced, before, fittingly, rolling out 'Noisy Heaven', with the memorable beer-glass-in-the-air line: “The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk.”
The band then rolled out a few new tracks including the solid 'Punks In A Disco Bar', only released online this month. Yet Beach Slang had the songs in spades, and that special skill of letting everyone feel like the night was unique. It wasn’t more evident than with their crowd-participation game, in which they played guitar riffs off songs yelled out by the audience.
This segued into a heart-swelling take on The Cure’s 'Just Like Heaven'. “Sydney I’m in love,” Alex beamed, promising to return soon. Then it didn’t take long for the mismatched co-headline bill to become apparent, with around two-thirds of the audience making a quick exit at 10.15pm.
Spring King - image © Facebook
While the changeover for Manchester’s spiky indie-rockers Spring King was fast, the atmosphere of the last hour was most certainly lost, which not even a handful of enthusiastic fans dancing at the stage could revive.
Impressively tight and playing together like a well-oiled machine that certainly outweighed Beach Slang’s loose-and-wing-it bravado – that, admittedly, paid off – the band raced through the favourites like 'City', 'Better Man' and 'Demons'. With all four players taking part in vocal duties, the range was impressive and their razor-sharp playing just as formidable. And on any other night, the finishing 'V-V-V-Vampire' would impress a crowd.
It was a hard task for any band to follow the emotive vigour and passion of Beach Slang, a band whose nihilistic anthems only leave you feeling more alive.
Not too bad for a Wednesday night in Sydney where lock-out laws along Oxford Street have conditioned us to feel anything but.