Review: Highly Suspect @ The Brightside Outdoors (Brisbane)

Highly Suspect played The Brightside Outdoors (Brisbane) on 25 November, 2023 - image © Clea-marie Thorne
With an insatiable passion for live music and photography adventures, this mistress of gig chronicles loves the realms of metal and blues but wanders all musical frontiers and paints you vibrant landscapes through words and pics (@lilmissterror) that share the very essence of her sonic journeys with you.

Not even overcast skies can dampen the excitement of fans arriving at The Brightside in Brisbane for Highly Suspect gig shenanigans!

No, nothing illegal, The Midnight Demon Nightclub tour, the one that was selling out so fast they moved it from inside the venue to the open-air space we know as The Brightside Outdoors (25 November).

Engaging with a few coldie-chugging punters, excitement is undisputed about what promises to be a sing-along extravaganza, with hopes high for a robust representation of 'Mister Asylum' and 'The Boy Who Died Wolf' albums.

Despite lacking Johnny Stevens' vocal prowess, the gathering crowd is ready to belt out lyrics into the night air or, as some might prefer, simply clam it and revel in the experience.

Talking about letting vocals rip! Vocalist Josh Baker for locals Sunbleached can do that just fine, as the band lets loose on the high stage overlooking a crowd standing in a car park repurposed to host live music. I count six bodies onstage – and I thought they were a three-piece.

Sunbleached - image © Clea-marie Thorne

These Brisbane alternative rockers are two songs in to warming us and Baker shouts out "make some noise for Highly Suspect," – no further encouragement is needed to get a huge roar in response.

He then asks "who likes shirts?". We cheer for him and get "yeah, well, we didn't bring any but you can buy them online," that got a chuckle but I do hope some punters will – cos this band is giving it up hard and tight, and are doing a whole lot more than alright as the openers of the night.

After sharing their newest song with us, the atmosphere is getting hotter, prompting a shirt removal. The crowd responds with cat calls and laughter, and their music continues to captivate.

The crowd are lapping up the next song and just when the band had you thinking they were taking the tempo down a notch, partway thought it grew one hell of a set of balls that made it one of the best tracks of the night so far.

The bassist's groove stands outs, adding a distinctive flavour to the song and the set. I put that one up there alongside their closing song 'Flowers Grow From Ugly Places'. This had an intro with short but almost ethereal sustain on the guitars and the drummer sticking it to the tubs to get the crowd clapping in the lead-in beats.

Best of all, towards the end of the song Baker gets down with the crowd to scream out the ending of the song. A fan with a deep, booming masculine voice is screaming out: "I wanna have your baby!" – that's how good the set was. Check 'em out. I will definitely be if their recordings are as good as their live offerings.

On the dot, 8:30pm is marked with the first chords of 'Bath Salts' and is the first one from that favourite album 'Mister Asylum'. Immediately, fans are singing along: "Hey, I'm feeling ok, it's good 'cause lately I been feeling so strange."

Even before we get to the short drum roll leading to the song's bridge, the energy level between the band and the crowd is reaching right up there with the grey clouds beneath the night sky with their empty threats of rain.

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Highly Suspect - image © Clea-marie Thorne

From the get-go, it is drawing many a punter from the queue for the bar to join the crowd amassed in front of the stage – if this banger is the opener, I feel like the set list is going to be one hell of a cracker.

Stevens' can confidently claim MCID (My Crew Is Dope) in Brisbane and we do not fail moving face first into the rest of the set with arms and hands pumping to the music, drinks being raised to emphasise well-known lines.

A few songs in Stevens introduces a new song as one we are getting to hear live before anyone in the US. It is called 'Summertime Voodoo' and fans are finding the rhythm and grooving along without knowing the words. You gotta love it when we Aussies get a first experience ahead of a band's homeland. I love the bluesy feel to the song.

I could say just as much as the experience of other new songs 'Blue Eyed Devil' and ‘Mexico’ as well as 'Wolf' that we get later in the set – it gives fans an idea of the synergies of reality behind the lyrics of their songs and the guitar solo is one of my favourites. Let's not forget that relatable line: "I was born to rock and now I gotta roll."

Pure ecstasy is spread among the crowd when 'Lydia' starts and the marching chug is greeted with squeals and screams. It's a song that a lot of fingers have been crossed for. Stevens' vox are beyond amazing and the band are faultless behind him.

I roil when the guitar sings a bittersweet recount and feed off the frenzy of fans who are chiming in loudly from the first line and don't sound bad at all – pub choir eat your heart out!

That is until about two minutes into the song a brief interlude occurs when we repeat the lyrics "...I am the hungry shark, fast and merciless. But the only girl that could talk to him, she couldn't swim. Tell me what's worse than this?".

Stevens pauses and states: "What's worse, is all the cell phones. You should just hang out with us. We're right here." He goes on to encourage fans to be present with them and put away the phones and be in the moment and just "hang out" with them.

With most phones lowered, he goes on to clear his throat and in his best but not greatest Aussie accents says: "Uhm uh umm. Shut up, you wanna sing this sh.t you good c...s! I've been overusing using the word c... lately because we can't say that back home! Do you want to just scream it together? One, two, three "C...!" This then gives birth to a "C... Chant!". Personally, I am not a big user of the “C” word but the chant is more desirable than a shoey or the sockie that didn't get any legs.

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Highly Suspect - image © Clea-marie Thorne

Stevens signals to the band that his interruption is over by picking up where he broke off singing the next line: "What's worse is all the coke, the ice that numbs my throat if only for the night." Before the crowd joins in singing then screams with him: "I can't breathe, much less believe the truth!" My skin is goosepimple city from the crying guitar all the way to the last line of the song.

We are getting so many of the songs that we hoped for. 'Bloodfeather', 'Lost' and 'Serotonia' sent us wild with joy. Everyone's favourite line in the latter is being sung with swinging hips: "I'm gonna move to California. I'm gonna melt into the sand, slow dance with Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey, bum a cigarette from Cary Grant."

This is just so damn good live! Someone buy the sound engineer a beer and the band, well they can have a brewery! At some stage during the frenzy, Stevens shakes his booty at us and invites us to take a closer gander at his new hairdo and tells us what he really thinks about the mullet.

Hairdos aside, I missed the trick about the Gilbert and Sullivan nod. "To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock, in a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock. Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock." Vocal limbering perhaps – I need to know or be reminded!

Other favourites like 'Look Alive, Stay Alive' are also filling our cups and by golly gosh 'My Name Is Human' is pure ecstasy to fans. My mind just blew.

Our live music cups are overflowing onto the car park asphalt. Not even a short sprinkle of rain was noticed by many in crowd as we continue to rock out with the band giving it all they have. Stevens treats us to sweet solos on his Gretch and those amazing pipes of his carry his voice on the air so clear.

All too soon the band is exiting the stage, that is all but Stevens, who is sitting down on the keyboard riser telling us we all know how the obligatory encore goes, so he's just going to stay and hang out with us till the band join him again. Fans cheered him and called out a few incoherent encouraging words.

Within minutes, the rest of the band is back and it's time for another new song 'Run For Your Death'. It has the lull and spoken intro and a driving rhythm that is getting us pumping. Delicious! I am sure I am not the only one that doesn't want it to end.

In one, small spoken part I am hearing a little of QOTSA and a pinch of Patti Smith's 'Horses / Land Of A Thousand Horses/ La Mer (de)' – a pinch and it is not a bad pinch at all.

There can only be one song left to send us home to our beds to. It is the heavy vibes and introspective lyrics of love and heartache (from the bottom of his heart) within 'Pink Lullabye'.

Fans are singing along with the climatic screaming of Stevens and it is bringing the whole crowd together as devotees for the live experience. Yes we are MICD and this has been an exceptional set, few could refute it.

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Highly Suspect - image © Clea-marie Thorne

The band's generosity in distributing keepsakes and engaging with the audience adds a personal touch to an already exceptional live performance. I spot Stevens is rolling up a set list and making sure it makes its way to a devoted fan who caught his attention at the barrier.

As the night concludes, the lingering, charged air molecules serve as a testament to the unforgettable experience of Highly Suspect's live show that had all the elements of creating a sense of Highly Suspect family (that sounds so wrong).

I have more of a taste for the newer tracks after experiencing them live. You know, band evolution is not a bad thing and nothing can remove the existence of our favourite classic Highly Suspect bangers.

The genre blend is there for sure, but so is the high tempo, high gain, high energy of the Highly Suspect vibe. Even the moody strains of 'A Midnight Train To Georgia' over the speakers can't taint this buzzing elation I am left feeling.

Thank you Highly Suspect for a nostalgic and most memorable rocking night!

More photos from the show.

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