Photos – Ben Gunzburg
Words – Richard Grimm

This Sunday past I had the opportunity to spend some time away from my usual unwashed heathen crowd and visit my musical cousins over in the post-hardcore scene to celebrate Caskets first headline tour in Australia. Generally speaking, I gravitate toward heavier sounds but it’s always fun to see what’s cooking on other genre’s stoves. So I pulled on some layers to deal with Melbourne’s cold and pulled up to the iconic Billboard to see a lineup of bands who I know nothing about.

Arriving at the venue I had pretty high hopes for a good evening because Melbourne had arrived early. A long ass line trailed down the block and the venue was near capacity by the time the first band hit the stage. The lights drop and the backing screen lights up with the first band’s logo and the night begins. 

Opening the show are local reps Bad/Love, and man am I embarrassed that they were Melbourne’s offering to this lineup. Their first song starts and the mix is stellar, the lights are fantastic and, the songwriting is great too. Drummer Luke Weber’s playing was tighter than my jeans circa 2007 (don’t look that up). I was too far back to see whether it was a hybridized or triggered kit but the sound out the front had a heavily processed sound that I think really added to performance.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Rick, you said you were embarrassed but are laying down all this praise. What’s the deal?”. Two words: backing tracks. I understand using backing tracks to elevate the performance, but you still need to perform. Every time singer Landon Kirk put his mouth near the mic I’d hear a 3 or 4-part harmony over the speakers, and even a lot of the time when he didn’t. Now if this happened once, I could overlook it. But it was often. It was most songs. What makes it even worse is that it happened with the guitar too! One guitar playing and I’m hearing 2 or 3 guitar lines.  If I wanted to hear a pre-recorded version of the song I’d buy the record or hit up Spotify. What really aggravated me about this, is toward the end of the set they played a song with barely any backing tracks and I could actually hear Landon’s voice, as well as some harmonies by guitarist and bassist Lachlan and Martin, and they were great! The lads have the ability to perform but chose not to.   I think part of the reason this made me so mad is that the songwriting was quality. Bad/Love has a solid kind of metalcore meets nu-metal sound that I think works well. At least their backing tracks had did. Except Luke, that dude crushed it the whole set. If you’re reading this Bad/Love, stop cosplaying as musicians and start actually being them.

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Seething, I stand by the barrier not sure whether it’s worth staying out for this show, maybe I’m out of my depth. Maybe there’s too much of a cultural difference between my normal crowd and this place. Lucky for me Brisbane-based group Stepson were ready to save me. They hit the stage with some classic garage energy and the fact that they were light on backing tracks and heavy on their instruments made me tear up with relief. Pretty ironic that they call themselves Stepson because they were the ones dishing out the slippage.

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The first song out the gate was high energy with vocalist Brock Conry gliding across the stage, pulling shapes and initiating pit calls in true punk tradition. Their second track “discover lonely” gave me early-era Escape the Fate vibes and it absolutely tickled me when Brock called for a wall of death and the rest of the boys launched into a breakdown so dirty you could swear they rolled their instruments in the yarra before the show. I legitimately cried it was so good.
Throughout Stepson’s set, we were treated to all the hallmarks of a great post-hardcore act: honest songwriting, high energy, and effortless crowd engagement. The group gave off an easy swagger on stage that I believe comes from a place of confidence both in each other as bandmates and honest expression in their songwriting. A particular highlight for me was their track “This is How It Feels” which I think managed to strike a refined balance of being emotionally vulnerable and heavy at the same time. Stepson were the highlight of the evening for me and I highly recommend you check them out, especially in concert.

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Sitting in a much better mood thanks to Stepson I eagerly awaited the American act The Home Team for their first-ever performance in Melbourne.
These blokes are much too light to really be metal, or post-hardcore even. I heard someone refer to them as heavy pop after the show and I think that’s a very apt attribution. Catchy and very danceable grooves were thrown out from the second their sneakers hit the stage. Brian Butcher has a great set of pipes and it was a joy to watch him vocally flex up and down the place. Ryne Olson dropped a buttery bass line on their track Drag that showcased his ability to summon the party from sesh-o-sphere and channel it through the instrument. Now let me take a moment to talk about guitarist John Baran. This bloke is a treasure of a performer. My man comes out on stage in shortcut, patch-covered overalls and a guitar strap covered in outrageous-sized spikes and spends 100% of the show either airborne, high kicking or spinning around like a Beyblade. He was the physical manifestation of “I’m just in a silly goofy mood” without ever missing a note. Please John, never do anything terrible for me to have to stop loving you.
The Home Team confused the audience all night because we couldn’t decide if we wanted to boogie or mosh and it was excellent. Hopefully, they’ll be back for a headline tour sooner rather than later.

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Now for the headline act!
Caskets opened the set with their song Drowned in Emotion with a very polished performance from the outset. Pushing and pulling the crowd with their song’s peaks and valleys and pulling sing-along moments from the very beginning till the last chord. Their performance was engaging throughout with too many notable moments to mention. A few of my favorites being: guitarist Craig Robinson jumping the stage barrier to get into the pit only to be crowd-surfed back to the stage at the end of the song and; singer Matt Flood taking a fans phone to grab a little stage video for them and then later also getting into the audience.

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Watching Caskets perform was a great moment of reflection for me. We all have that thing about music that we enjoy, and are generally pulled to one genre or another because of it. For some people it’s virtuosic musicianship, for others it’s stuff they can sing along to, others might be particularly keen on one mood being evoked. Generally speaking, I’m mostly engaged by honest songwriting and virtuosic performance. Most reviews I write, including earlier in this one, I’ll praise on those merits. However, for Caskets I don’t think that was their appeal. Now don’t get me wrong, Matt Flood has a great voice and the band’s songwriting definitely sounds honest. But I think the real appeal of Caskets is their ability to use their music to initiate community. You know how sometimes you make new friends purely because your friend has a friend who is just around a lot? Caskets somehow manage to use their performance to be that conduit that makes you more friendly to the people around you. It’s a hard thing to describe musically, but it’s what they do. By the end of their performance, the venue no longer felt like a venue, it felt like we were at someone’s house party and we just had some real sick cunt mates who wanted to make us smile. Everyone in Caskets seemed to make an effort in their performance to make the crowd feel like we were on a journey with them, not just observers and I think that’s a very unique skill. Overall very solid performance. Fans of groups like In Hearts Wake and Parkway Drive would probably get a lot more out of these guys musically than I did but I think almost any open-minded individual would have a good time at one of their shows.

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Thanks to the 170 Russell Street Crew for having us and a special thanks to Ophelia of Big Mouth PR for arranging media access.