Reviewed on Friday July 11

It’s a generous lineup at Manning Bar tonight, as the band of the moment is backed up by one that’s always been there or thereabouts on the Australian punk scene. Third on the bill are Sydney’s Sounds Like Sunset playing their insistent noise-pop, but then it’s those ever-present punks The Smith Street Band riffing to what is already a near-full room.

Don’t tell the cool kids – they’d never want to admit such a thing – but Wil Wagner’s four-piece is the most romantic band in Aussie rock. Opener ‘Sunshine & Technology’ is a vehicle for Wagner’s thought poetry, but it’s the declaration of intent on ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’ that makes his mission clear: Smith Street are about “Driving around singing songs about / Driving ’round singing songs,” and that’s that. None of the balladry of ‘Ducks Fly Together’ or ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ feels at all forced, so by the time Wagner dives into the crowd for ‘Young Drunk’, it’s all one big love-in.

It takes almost unbelievable bravado to walk onstage to ‘Killing In The Name’, but that’s exactly what Violent Soho deliver from the top. If they’re the ‘it’ band of here and now, then the desires of Australia’s rock music audience are clear: we’re here for the audacity, not the smarts. Because there’s nothing clever about ‘Dope Calypso’, which opens tonight’s set, nor the barely disguised guitar pop of ‘Fur Eyes’. It’s why the band races through the second half of ‘Saramona Said’ and gets away with the chutzpah of ‘Jesus Stole My Girlfriend’. This is showbiz, you know, and if you’re after clever chord progressions, then find another gig.

Of course, you’d only be missing out on the fun if you did. The Brisbane quartet’s nasal power grunge sets the room alight, with not only ‘Covered In Chrome’ screamed back from every corner, but much of the older material as well. There’s an ‘OK Cathedral’ finale that descends into stage invasion mania, then a demand for encore so convincing that the band returns even after the in-house music has already come on. And yet, Violent Soho never seem to hide behind any artifice, because there isn’t any in sight. You get the feeling this could catch on.

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