It’s not even 7pm and a queue of punters in distinctly ’90s attire – backwards caps, 3/4 shorts, Chuck Taylors and punk-rock merch tees (spotted: NOFX, Descendents and Bad Religion) – snakes down Flinders Street and up Hosier Lane.
Swedish punk-rockers No Fun at All take the stage at 7.05pm on the dot and the joint is jam-packed from the get-go with head-nodding enthusiasts supplying screech-alongs (“I wanna beat ’em down/ I wanna beat ’em down!”) and playing air guitar/drums. Drummer Kjell Ramstedt pays respect to Aussie rock royalty by wearing an AC/DC shirt and this quintet deal short, jagged, precise slices of fast-paced badassness. Given their pre-sunset timeslot, it’s impressive to see circle pits opening up already as a barrage of fists punch the air in the front section.
A bloke nearby observes, “Young crowd!” with a laugh (he’s being sarcastic). A dude wanders past modelling a massive two-tone, pink-and-blue Mohawk and we decide he actually looks like a Troll Doll. As Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop plays over the venue sound system, an enthusiastic chorus of, “Hey ho, let’s go!” starts up within the crowd. Predictably, it’s 95 percent bros in attendance this evening and it sure smells pongy – kinda like teen spirit – up in here.
Next up, at 7.55pm, are long-time Pennywise tour partners Strung Out from Simi Valley, California. The band’s backdrop features skulls wearing old-school cardboard 3D glasses and their song tempos roll out, relentlessly fast and furious. The band chuck in a fair few cover version segments – Billy Idol’s Dancing with Myself, Black Flag’s Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie and we also reckon we detect some Green Day. A lone crowd-surfer goes up, then another – this crowd is warming up! “Is that Caesar up there or Spartacus?” one of the guitarists wonders aloud, pointing out one of this venue’s Roman statues. Singer Jason Cruz delivers the band’s closer Matchbook from the photography barrier – all the better to conduct, observe and encourage the moshing/crowd-surfing action, my dear!
This tour sees Pennywise celebrating 20 years since the release of Straight Ahead by performing the album in full (plus a few fan favourites). As such the band’s backdrop features the cover art from their seminal album and fans ready themselves to screech/mosh along with Straight Ahead‘s 17 album tracks. Victim of Reality is an early highlight, during which the moshing, crowd surfing and stage diving is at an all-time high.
Lead singer Jim Lindberg explains Straight Ahead‘s title track was the “last f-cking song” written “literally the night before” the band hit the studio to record the album. “It’s your f-cking liiiiiiife!” – the punters go ape during this one, which prompts an, “Oooooh, sh-t, Melbourne!” from Lindberg.
There’s a record number of peeps/entourage watching from side of stage with one guy even leaning against a downstage, stage-left speaker shouting out every single lyric to every single song (when he’s not smashing tinnies). Guitarist Fletcher Dragge reminds us that Pennywise songs share a common theme: “Live your life, do whatever you f-cking want as long as you’re not hurting others… Follow your dreams.”
“Hearing grownups chanting, ‘And I don’t caaaaare and I don’t knooooow!’ is a hoot.”
Hearing grownups chanting, “And I don’t caaaaare and I don’t knooooow!” is a hoot. “As you can tell, this album’s really f-cking easy to play,” Dragge quips, before stressing Straight Ahead was penned “20 f-cking years ago”. There’s a lot of enthusiastic skyward finger pointing during crowd favourites Alien and Watch Me As I Fall.
In light of Donald Trump’s recent acquittal, Lindberg launches into an anti-Trump spiel and (sarcastically) labels the US president “a winner”. “This song is a requiem, it’s called American Dream,” he intros as we near the end of the album-in-full portion of the show. Dragge then asks for a show of hands to identify old-school fans who have been following his band for 30 years before declaring, “Without you we’re f-cking nothing, Australia – make some f-cking noise for yourself!”
This evening’s non-album fan-favourite section detonates with Fuck Authority, which attracts a deafening audience singalong. “We wrote that song about corrupt everyone,” Lindberg explains before conjuring up a round of applause for our nation’s firies. During Society, Dragge encourages the already-rabid moshpit: “I wanna see some f-cking action!”
The band’s cover of Men at Work’s Down Under “goes out to Lindsay from Frenzal Rhomb” and by this stage aforementioned old mate is now actually standing on top of the stage-left speaker. Sidestage revellers/entourage storm the stage to dance and fist pump throughout closer, Bro Hymn, supplying extra, “WOAH-oh-OH-oh-oh!”s to elevate the band’s ode to brotherhood and departed friends.
Immediately following this song, the house lights snap on, Stand By Me plays over the venue soundsystem and it’s clear there will be no encore this evening.
Quote of the night: “I always wear a bra to gigs like this. Apart from making it easier to smuggle in a hip flask, you need to safeguard yourself from losing your top in the mosh!”