Long Island’s Jeff Rosenstock and Melbourne’s Wil Wagner are no strangers to collaboration, with the New York musician producing the Aussie’s last record: that being Smith Street Band’s excellent 2014 set 'Throw Me In The River'.
And it’s the upcoming Smith Street Band set that’s brought Rosenstock back to Australia, where he’s again in the studio with the quartet. But on this night (18 August) they were right at home together at Oxford Art Factory, where a sold-out crowd packed in early to see Rosenstock warm things up with his heart-on-sleeve, hooky, manic power-pop.
Armed with an acoustic guitar he chastised openly, the former Bomb The Music Industry! frontman let his best instruments shine: that voice and those lyrics. Earlier throwing out an invite to fans to suggest what songs he should play (“So you only have yourselves to blame”), he ripped through a couple of standout upbeat numbers in ‘You, In Weird Cities’ and ‘Hey Allison!’, before bringing it down a notch with ‘I’m Serious, I’m Sorry’ and early, fan-suggested ‘Twinkle’.
Having only arrived in the country the day before, Rosenstock was upbeat but his voice was showing some strain. With a mixed bag spread across is solo career – from early tune ‘Amen’ to ‘Novelty Sweater’ (“This one has a double guitar solo – fuck it, I’m gonna try it!”), by the time he reached the can’t-adult-anthem ‘Nausea’, a gruff Rosenstock reached far for the high notes and it was clear he’d put his all into the hour-long set.
It was no doubt worth it, though, with Rosenstock playing to his biggest Sydney audience yet – he was last out here in January – and having no trouble sourcing sing-alongs, showing that there were plenty of punters on hand for him, too.
With emotive singer-songwriter-storyteller Wagner’s star on the rise – evident by the crowd he drew supporting Courtney Barnett on her last Aussie tour – it’s no surprise this show sold out and the Oxford Art Factory floor was crammed to capacity. He kicked it off in energetic style with mighty single ‘Surrender’, mixing in Smithies favourites with his solo set’s tunes – ‘Laika’, the beautiful song for his younger sister, ‘My Little Sinking Ship’ – and delivers it all in trademark heart-on-sleeve, candid charm.
“I’m rock & roll’s equivalent of Hallmark greeting cards,” he quips at one point. He’s not wrong, and that’s not a bad thing. And, as usual, he has a devoted audience eating out the palm of his hand: or, in this case, showering him with gifts. It took about 20 seconds for a tin of weed to be lobbed onto the stage after Wagner requested a bit of assistance.
With ‘Throw Me In The River’ highlight ‘Calgary Girls’, ‘Sigourney Weaver’ and ‘The Arrogance Of The Drunk Pedestrian’ standing out, fist-in-the-air fan favourite ‘Young Drunk’ closed the night on a buzzing high note despite Wagner’s – and Rosenstock’s – penchant for the sadder songs on the musical spectrum.