Hits and Pits Festival
Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne
May 18th 2104
Melbourne’s much loved Hi Fi Bar is the venue for Australia’s best known punk rock mini touring festival. Mark Brekau reports.
Actually, it’s the nation’s only such festival, and the Melbourne leg was the only date sold out as punters left daylight to enter the semi-darkness world of punk rock. Is this important? Hell yeah, for Melbourne is truly the music capital of Australia, and we love to promote the small musical facts like we sold out this bleeding brilliant event!
Hits & Pits 3.0 delivers a bill of ten bands which combine familiar heavy hitters with aspiring unfamiliar ones, commencing around 3:20pm with around 100 punters and a punk super group of sorts, Implants. Described as melodic hardcore punk band (who creates these idiosyncratic genre labels) Implants deliver a blistering twin guitar sound that mimics harder, faster punk and metal styles. Ah, see how punk rock labels are inspired! Mutalism’s a stand out number as the band deliver a tight, sober and entertaining set, drawing from their debut From Chaos To Order album – is that what it’s still called in today’s digital age – before departing as numbers start to swell for the arrival of Heartsounds.
As they sound check, they casually ask “Can we start now” before launching into their set. Featuring the bill’s only female punk goddess Laura Nichols, Heartsound’s pop-punk style features twin guitar riffs reminiscent of Thin Lizzy among others, and some lovely vocal harmonies, suggesting punk’s male dominant genre would truly benefit from having more punk ladies on stage to sing and perform.
With minimal time between changeovers, Wisconsin’s Masked Intruder sound check complete with coloured matched masks and matching instruments reminiscent of a punk rock Wiggles! Complete with a large chap dressed in a tight fitting Police uniform, Masked Intruder deliver a superb pop-punk set laden with criminal and jail associations – Stick Em Up, 25 To Life, Fought The Law – and love associations – You’re Love, Unrequited Love and Hey Girl.
They launch into a retro Eighties cover that inspires the first circle pit for the day, one more comedic and friendly than the type noted within Death By Stereo’s set. Then the policeman gets into the act, playing bad cop while singing and beating both crowd and band alike before he performs push ups on stage with Blue Intruder sitting on his back, playing guitar. Laura Nichol’s joins for a rendition of Heart Shaped Guitar, before said Policeman lifts her high onto his shoulders to receive the crowd applause. Said Policeman disappears and reappears with nothing more than his underwear, belly and body. Great stuff, brilliant performance and something that endured hundreds of new fans to their criminal punk rock cause. Later I met Blue Intruder in Swanston Street to find he’s still was in character, all while drinking. Great stuff again.
While outside, some lady asks for a photo, saying she enjoyed my set. I decline and said she was mistaken, but she persists until I’m saved by someone else. Surely I didn’t play on stage tonight, did I? Back inside, Boston’s Big D and the Kids Table change the tone with their ska-punk sound, draping banners flags over their amps and slowing down the pace with an interesting set opener, before ramping it up with Diggin In Your Nails and the popular LAX. I didn’t recognise any other songs, but Big D et al gained a few fans from among the skater punk fraternity. See, all those silly genre names do have a place within Hits And Pits after all. Hell, the music between sets is truly abysmal today (Sonic Youth.) How fucking hard is it to play something decent folks?
With beers, bodies and heat building, the crowd swelled for hard core exponents Death By Stereo. I’m no fan, standing a man clearly alone among the masses that appreciate the hard and fast sound that emanates from the stage. A chap beside me shouts they are playing tracks from several albums, the latest being Black Sheep Of The American Dream, before departing to punch the air in the pit, which is going off. Efrem stalks the stage to please, torment, excite and engage with the faithful. Sadly, I understand hardly any of it. I’m clearly out of place and wondering what the appeal is. No Shirt, No Shoes, No Salvation is played and heats up the crowd.
The circle pit then gets angry, with bodies bumping and gyrating in time without fear of injury as the band conclude their set, and after they depart a chap comes up and asks for a photo. What’s going on here? I say he’s mistaken. He laughs, shakes my hand and asks for a photo again, which takes some convincing to avoid given he’s pissed, all while I remain bemused by my new found brush with fame. Who the fuck do I look like?
Being confined in dark crowded spaces affects your psyche as you gradually succumb to the merging sensory sensations of beer, body odour and stale air. I stand disorientated as Ten Foot Pole tune up for their brief 30 minute set. Clearly deserving more time than travels will allow, I could easily entertain more Ten Foot Pole and one less act on the bill today. The band’s a real crowd favourite and deliver a set that includes My Wall, Hammering Out The Details, Broken Bubble, Old Man and Never Look Back (I think), plus the sublime and compulsory The Getaway. I also sense everyone else could entertain an extended set from the band, but that’s the challenge with single stage, adventurous multi-band bills. Some bands simply miss out delivering what we punters want to hear, and given how far they’ve travelled to play, that’s bad news for us money paying, punk rocking punters. More Ten Foot Pole please. Why the fuck don’t promoters listen to the punters who pay for tickets?
Suddenly the PA breaks out Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves’, and I sing along to Maxwell Murder as the album provides a segway into NYC’s hardcore/street punk quartet The Casualties. Despite thinning crowds, The Causalities deliver an ear bleeding, blisteringly fast set that divides audience opinion, including my mate Michael who exits for a beer and ear sanity check. Energetic, tight, brutal, hard and fast, Jorge Herrera’s Hispanic gravel laden vocals seems at odds with the overall sound, but that’s hardcore for you. I recall they played Life On The Line, Constant Struggle, The System Failed Us Again and two Ramones covers, and while not my style it’s one that makes you appreciate how diverse punk is today, and how some bands still employ and sustain the sound and style pioneered by GBH, The Exploited et al.
Within 15 minutes of The Casualties departure, the Hi-Fi Bar becomes packed for So-Cal stalwarts Face To Face, and it’s here I immediately transform into the tragic obsessive fan figure I am. Positioned stage left, in front and strategically positioned above taller heads and drunken types, I transform into the bands unofficial backing singer and sing to my heart’s content. On stage, Chad’s slim frame suits him better than the portly one he donned last year when the band supported Pennywise, and Trevor’s loss of several kilos makes him look better, yet still dons braces to keep his pants up. A fast, tight and melodic set abounding with crowd pleasers – Blind, Ordinary, Disconnected, Bill Of Goods, You’ve Done Nothing and Walk The Talk, the set opener. F2F satisfied all and sundry. Bright Lights Go Down ends the set, and despite my indifference for slower songs I stand in full glowing admiration for the band I love, adore and worship. I then spy the set list, the one thing that’s eluded me across 14 F2F gigs. Excited – over a typed piece of paper, I really need to recover my life – I ask the bouncer for it, he says something inaudible and then I find another bouncer picking it up and handing it to a lady in front of me, who’s on the point of collapsing from exhaustion. Do I grab it and run? Do I ….
Sadly, despite my obsessive determination and fixation with said set list, I’m just not that kind of punk. Bitch! Bastard! Openly cursing, I note the crowd, heat and anticipation suddenly reaching boiling point as the backdrop for fellow So-Cal’s Strung Out is hung, minutes before they take stage and absolutely nail it. If The Casualties were energetic and sweat laden to watch, then Strung Out take punk live performances to 11. Jason Cruz is saturated with sweat after the first number No Voice Of Mine, and remains that way throughout best vocal aerobic workout I’ve seen of late. Jake and Rob support with their finely tuned twin guitar sound, while Chris stalks the stage from left to right, engaging with the fans and singing support, often without the aid of a mike. Angel Dust, Lucifier, Katatonia and Reason To Believe, Never Good Enough, Gearbox and Monster. Jason spends the last 5 songs entwined with the crowd as bodies fly past from the pit, carried away by bouncers all while the Strung Out faithful sing, scream, punch the air, sniff each other’s armpits and get their monies worth. Bring Out Your Dead and Matchbook conclude the set, and my body is aching from the sight of Jason’s charismatic performance as the band departs to loud and rapturous applause.
How do you top that? Well Unwritten Law couldn’t visually, but could musically with an extended set of fan loved favourites, including their self-titled album played in full. With rumours of Scott Russo’s indifferent and drunken performances from the weekend past creating angst among the faithful, all doubts were soon dispelled as said front man played, engaged and enjoyed himself on stage. At times his comments were often inaudible, not down to him mind, but the mike sound, all while the lyrics and words came out clean as Unwritten Law’s set varied from fast paced to slow and back again. All the usual favourites were present – Cailin, Sorry, Save Me, Teenage Suicide, Lonesome and Shoulda Known Better, among others – with a solo acoustic Geronimo played toward the end, just before the full band returned to deliver a powerful rendition of Grinspoon’s More Than You Are, which brought the house down.
Lights up at 12:40am, I exit confused, tired and smelling like other people. Outside I take a deep breath of air to clear the body odour from my nasal passages when I’m tapped on the shoulder by a chap, who shakes my hand saying I’d played a great gig and could he have a photo. This time I oblige, and walk home wondering about how I can capitalise on my new found fame. All credit to the H&P team for a terrific show, and every band that played their heart and soul out for us punters down under. Roll on H&P 4.0…
The Hits And Pits Festival is on Facebook
Band mentioned in this review can be found on the following links: Implants, Heartsounds, Masked Intruder, Big D And The Kids Table, Death By Stereo, Ten Foot Pole , The Casualties, Face To Face, Strung Out, Unwritten Law
All words by Marc Brekau. More writing by Marc on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.