Review: 78 Saab @ Brunswick Ballroom (Melbourne)

78 Saab played Brunswick Ballroom (Melbourne) on 26 April, 2024.
Bron is a Melbourne-based science journalist who loves to return 'home' to a band room any chance she gets. She has 25 years' experience and has worked for Rolling Stone, Blunt, The Sydney Morning Herald, JUICE and many more.

Some 12 years after 78 Saab played their last show in their home base of Sydney, plus another gig in their OG home of Canberra soon after, the indie rockers hinted early in 2024 they might be planning a jaunt around the east coast.

That soon turned into the official 20th anniversary tour for their sophomore album 'Crossed Lines', with the band returning to Melbourne (26 April) on a high after selling out their home-town gig.

The Brunswick Ballroom was close to full, too, at doors, despite some big shows on elsewhere around town (most notably, given the demographic, Nick Cave).

The second the four – frontman Ben Nash, guitarist Jake Andrews, bassist Garth Tregillgas and drummer Nicholai Danko – began to play, with touring keyboardist Kirsten Morely also out for the shows, their fans realised how much they'd missed 78 Saab.

As expected, much of the set was heavily weighted with songs from the Tim Whitten-produced 'Crossed Lines', an album that sounds as remarkably crisp as it was 20 years ago – and tonight it sounded better than ever live.

Drenched in melody, with some more pop-tastic sprawling arrangements, the album became a cherished standout of the band's four-album catalogue.

Bucking the trend of playing the album from start to finish, like many on anniversary tours, there was some risk that it would detract from what a good start-to-finish set the recorded 'Crossed Lines' is.

However, live the mixed-around order, with a couple of Easter eggs from other releases, worked exceptionally well. There were some real standouts – 'Come On', 'Beat Of Your Drum' and perhaps 'Crossed Lines' highlight, the glorious 'No Illusions', and 'Sunshine' from Saab's 2000 debut album, 'Picture A Hum, Can't Hear A Sound'.

The venue, Brunswick Ballroom, is a fantastic room for live music, with plenty of good vantage points to see the stage for those who don't necessarily want to be packed tight in a crowd. However, it also hosts 'dinner and show' gigs, with the front third of the dance floor occupied by people sitting around tables.

While I understand the appeal of this for punters (especially Saab fans, whose backs aren't quite what they used to be for standing at gigs for hours), it creates an inevitable disconnect for those who have to stand behind the seated diners or squeeze in around the sides. It's certainly a setup that would work great for some acts, but unfortunately 78 Saab wasn't one.

Nonetheless the crowd was still very vocal, and very wholesome; to the left of me were two teenagers in 78 Saab shirts who couldn't take their eyes off the stage, as their dad stood behind them, while on my right was another enthusiastic father-son duo singing along to every word.

With a raucous 'The City Is Humming' leaving punters wanting more, the band were done – on the stage, that is. They quickly appeared again in the crowd, chatting to fans and signing 'Crossed Lines' vinyl, newly released on that format (and will be available online soon).

While some of us Sydney expats got a chance to catch up with old friends, the most impressive effort went to the family who were having the night of their lives, having driven over from Adelaide just for the gig. They were driving back on the Sunday – probably a good idea, as they most likely had some sore heads to nurse come Saturday morning.

This was the second last show on the two-weekend four-gig tour for the band. With Saab having exceeded all expectations in merch sales over the tour (and then some), and buoyed by the response from fans, who knows, maybe those Adelaide super-fans will be able to see them closer to home next time.

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