Living Colour and Massive, The Metro Theatre, 13.5.17

Living Colour is one of the most important bands of the last 30 years. They are at once overtly political, preposterously dextrous musicians, and at a glance, relatively accessible. This is exemplified in the 1988 break out hit, ‘Cult of Personality,’ a song which skewers celebrity politics with a chunky metallic riff and a huge chorus. In 2017, the tune couldn’t be more relevant. Donald Trump is the President of the United States, whilst Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has found a rebirth in Australia. The ‘alt-right,’ as they call themselves, has risen on a platform of white supremacy and cultural isolationism. It is apt that the first single for Living Colour’s upcoming new album, Shade, is a reinterpretation of the Notorious BIG’s ‘Who Shot Ya.’ Their version – a blunt criticism of police gun violence – reflects an issue which overwhelmingly affects black youth. I went into the Metro Theatre with one question: how does this translate to an older, white audience?

Before I could find an answer to that question, we were treated to a set from Melbourne hard rockers, Massive. I couldn’t help but feel proud to see them perform before a close-to-capacity Metro, having witnessed them a few years earlier before a paltry crowd at the Erskineville Hotel. 2 albums and an Earache record deal later, they’ve started to hit their stride. The band wasted no time with pleasantries, ripping straight into a raucous slab of bluesy hard rock – the kind you only get from the bowels of Australia’s dingiest pubs. In many ways their fist-pumping ACDC worship is the complete antithesis of Living Colour’s funkier flavours. And yet, it makes perfect sense. Australian pub rock is simply a colloquial permutation of the early blues rock popularised by the likes of Chuck Berry; just add VB and extra distortion. Massive brought both aplenty, chugging beer in between their odes to the riff-rock of yore. Their new single, ‘Calm before the Storm,’ even got a spin on Triple M. As they say, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll.

The crowd fills out to capacity during sound-check whilst Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bulls on Parade’ blasts through the PA – a fitting choice. House lights come down. I’m struck by the audience’s reluctance to push forward, an understandable but strange product of the average age in the room. Living Colour emerge from the shadows and slide into an off-kilter cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Preachin’ Blues,’ before setting the tone for the evening with politically charged Stained cut, ‘Wall.’ One couldn’t help but think of the Trump administration’s border wall, if it should eventuate, and what follows. The song itself is vague enough to resonate in a much broader context, but for many the prospect is all too real. We are then treated to rollicking renditions of Vivid favourites, ‘Middle Man’ and ‘Desperate People.’ It is at this point that I can’t help but move forward, in a bid to get closer to the action

…Which is when I’m bluntly reminded that this isn’t a mosh-friendly pit. Bizarre. This is the only time I’ve been actively disparaged for daring to move forward in a standing only venue, and I couldn’t help but turn around and ask, “do you know where you are?” There is nothing quite so surreal as watching a sea of rigid white people receive Corey Glover belting out ‘Mind Your Own Business’ with the enthusiasm of a wet blanket. I can’t help but feel the significance of Time’s Up cut, (black) ‘Pride,’ was lost on the (white) crowd. Likewise, Doug Wimbish’s declaration of solidarity with aboriginal Australia led me to ponder the sincerity of the rapturous applause he received. Wimbish regaled us with Living Colour’s 1993 headline tour of Australia, during which he visited The Block in Redfern. Even today, the future of The Block is uncertain, with many doubting the Aboriginal Housing Company’s commitment to affordable accommodation. Support for genuine change across party lines remains thin. It is for this reason I find myself treating the cheering crowd with suspicion – are we not simply patting ourselves on the back for showing Australia’s first people the bare minimum respect?

Whatever the answer, the band was unfazed, tearing through their explosive set of funk-laden rock jams with aplomb. I even came away with a greater appreciation for ‘Behind the Sun,’ a standout from the largely inessential Chair in the Doorway. This is followed with 2 new songs – the aforementioned ‘Who Shot Ya’ and previously unreleased ‘Who’s That.’ An ethereal performance of ‘Nothingness’ created an air of solemn introspection before we were abruptly pulled back into reality with Time’s Up classic, ‘Love Rears its Ugly Head.’ Living Colour’s swagger has no equal. They are at once loose and groovy, whilst also being impossibly tight. This is a band of soloists coming together to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Corey Glover weaves in and out of the kaleidoscopic soundscape with ease, his pipes as versatile as they are powerful. Oh no, please, not that again.

It was at this moment we bore witness to the first of two unique solo spots this evening. Bassist Doug Wimbish used a loop pedal to create a rhythm track, over which he played an emotive and dynamic solo, his fingers dancing up and down the fretboard with ease. In the hands of a lesser musician, this may have been indulgent and underwhelming, but this was no concern for Wimbish. By the end of the extended solo spot, he had the audience eating out of his hand, stopping and starting in between cheers. When the magic finally concluded the band returned to the stage and ad libbed an extended version of the introduction to ‘Elvis is Dead,’ winking to the audience as they mashed the Time’s Up cut with Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog,’ which Presley famously covered. ‘Type’ is then followed by drummer Will Calhoun’s drum solo, which makes surprising use of an electronic beat pad. The stage becomes a pop-up light installation thanks to Calhoun’s glow-in-the-dark drumsticks, bright neon tracing his every move. Take note, drummers – this is how you solo.

‘Cult of Personality’ closes out Living Colour’s main set, the prescience of which is not lost on Vernon Reid – “Seriously, fuck Donald Trump.” Over the next 5 minutes I almost lost my voice screaming every damn word. One would’ve forgiven them entirely for finishing up then and there, but after a brief respite they came back on for a fiery 3 song encore. The ticking of a clock leads us into a ferocious version of ‘Time’s Up,’ spliced masterfully with Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Wake Up,’ and James Brown’s ‘Get Up (I Feel like Being) a Sex Machine.’ Their musical quotations are both poignant and gloriously fun. ‘Glamour Boys’ is an absolute riot, before closing their encore with a mash up of ‘What’s Your Favourite Colour?’ and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go.’ Not everyone in the Metro may really understand, but the answer to the first question is very simple – Living Colour.

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Live: High on Fire set the Factory ablaze (20/7/14)

Matt Pike is the best all around metal guitarist since Tony Iommi. The man is a certified riff factory, a blistering soloist, and an absolute technician. Pike has set the standard for smoke-laden sermons for the past two decades, preaching the holy virtues of the green leaf. Now that Sleep has reunited, the man is conquering the world on two fronts, with no sign of slowing down. Tonight, Sydney’s Factory Theatre was bludgeoned into submission by Pike’s sludge machine, High on Fire. This is the second time High on Fire have graced Australian shores in support of 2012’s excellent De Vermis Mysteriis, and their distortion soaked attack hasn’t dulled in the slightest. With local metallic hardcore outfit Gvrrls and sludge heroes I Exist in tow, tonight could go down as one of the heaviest gigs of the year.

The evening began with an ambient instrumental passage courtesy of Gvrrls, before they ripped into a short set of doom-flavoured metallic hardcore. Competent though they were, I couldn’t shake the feeling they were out of place opening a night of riff-driven sludge. As is often the case, though, there was one dedicated hardcore kid up the front flailing about like he’s trying to bat away a wasp. I found myself watching the vocalist for long periods of time, simply because he didn’t do much of anything in between screaming into the microphone, his eyes pinned to the floor. A support band’s job is to get the crowd riled up for the headliner, yet Gvrrls seemed content to merely play their set and get out of there. I’m struggling to remember if the front-man addressed the crowd even once between songs, which either speaks to my poor memory, or this band’s astonishing inability to leave any kind of impression. Gvrrls have the potential to make a mark in the emerging ‘hardcore-goes-doom’ trend in the Sydney scene, but they’ll need to learn how to command a stage first.

Exist upped the anti with their three-way guitar attack, pummelling the audience with their Palm Desert indebted doom. Employing a more traditional variety of sludge metal, I Exist interpret the art of heavy in much the same way as High on Fire, albeit with a hardcore vocalist at the helm. Despite having injured my sternum the day before, I found myself up the front headbanging along with a number of similarly impressed punters, who would no doubt be visiting the merch desk afterwards to buy a CD and shirt. The band are fast and tight, and their use of three guitars creates a wall of distortion rivalling the headliner. Unlike Gvvrls, I Exist are clearly seasoned performers, commanding the stage and engaging the audience both during and in between songs. I went into this having heard nothing but positives about the band, and my expectations were not only met, but completely destroyed. If you’re a fan of sludge metal, I heartily recommend checking out I Exist, who should soon see themselves the flag-bearers for Australian doom on the world stage.

I have long considered Gojira the heaviest band on the planet, but after having seen High on Fire live I am left with no choice but to revisit this question. Nothing could’ve prepared me for how earth-shatteringly heavy High on Fire are live. Shirtless as ever, Matt Pike and co. walked onstage with little fanfare, the band launching straight into ‘Fury Whip’ and kick-starting an hour and a half of unrelenting riff savagery. I could not have picked a worse time to be without earplugs, High on Fire being rivalled only by Motorhead in terms of sheer volume. Impending deafness wasn’t about to stop me from screaming the title straight back at Pike as the song reached its devastatingly distorted crescendo, though. Wasting no time, the band moved straight into Surrounded by Thieves’ favourite, ‘Eyes and Teeth’, satiating long-time fans before the onslaught of new material began.

‘Smooooooke weed!’ growls Pike, as De Vermis Mysteriis favourite, ‘Fertile Green’, kicks into high gear. The relentless velocity of the track is a sharp reminder that High on Fire has not, and likely will not, slow down with age. The band cleverly replicate the album sequencing by following up with the plodding epic (and personal favourite), ‘Madness of an Architect’. This is undoubtedly a highlight of the evening, the crawling loudness seeping into every wall of the room. Through this song, Pike has perfected the art of the dirty blues lick, slowly bulldozing the mesmerized mass before him. The band then tore through Blessed Black Wings cut ‘Cometh Down Hessian’, before wheeling out a blistering rendition of Snakes for the Divine highlight, ‘Frost Hammer’. Having been taken out of the set-list in recent times, the latter was an awesome addition to what must surely be the best set-list of the tour. High on Fire pulled out all stops, playing The Art of Self Defense favourite, ‘Baghdad’, Blessed Black Wings’ ‘Devilution’, and De Vermis Mysteriis opener, ‘Serums of Liao’.

The evening was not without its hiccups, however, with sound issues persisting throughout the evening. Matt Pike politely addressed the sound technician on several occasions, searching in vain for an even mix. As is usually the case in small venues across Sydney, the closer one got to the stage, the harder it was to hear the vocals. One day someone will find a solution to this epidemic, but for the time being its best to set up near the soundboard. Any complaints fell away at the show’s close, however, as Pike and co. surprised everyone with a colossal rendition of The Art of Self Defense epic, ’10 000 Years’, before the standard finishing number, ‘Snakes for the Divine’. If there is a more punishing one-two punch in encore history, I’ve not heard it (if you have, email me at msturtridge@gmail.com). Seeing High on Fire is the closest you can get to musical orgasm without your eardrums spontaneously combusting – and I can’t wait until next time.

Go Live or Go Home: a Critical Analysis of the Music Industries

The music ‘industries’ (Williamson and Cloonan, 2007) have undergone a large number of changes throughout its history, having to cope with the ever changing landscape of music and technology. As technology continues to advance at an exponential rate, the industries have found it harder than ever to maintain profit and relevance. The focus of the music industries has changed exceptionally within the last twenty years, with the advent of web 2.0 (and subsequently, ‘music 2.0’) reshaping the production and distribution of music forever. With this in mind, it has been suggested that the focus of the music industries has shifted towards live music as the primary source of income for both artists and labels. Using the available academia and public records, we shall attempt to uncover the reality of the music industries landscape in the 21st century.

Martin Cloonan states that ‘the UK’s live music scene is of greater economic value than its record industry’ (2011). This can be backed up by The Economist’s Will Page and Chris Carey, who in 2009 estimated that the UK live music industry was valued at 1537 million pounds, next to the record industry’s 1356 million (2010). This trend continues through 2010 and 2011, with 2011 statistics estimating the value of the live music industry at 1624 million pounds next to the recording sector’s 1112 million (Brookes, 2011). From these statistics, it would suggest that the live music sector has not only weathered the technological storm better than the recording sector, but has benefitted significantly from this shift in the music industries. Live music in the UK is stronger than ever, economically speaking, with the recording industry struggling to halt a steep decline.

Not only has the live music industry superseded the recording industry in value, but ‘by 2011 the most important music company in the world was no longer a record label, but Live Nation’ (Morrow, 2013). Live Nation is an events company, and owns the world’s largest ticketing agency, Ticketmaster. The United States Congress discussed the merger in 2009, with Senator Herb Kohl stating, ‘This merger will not only expand Ticketmaster’s control of the ticketing market, but it is also creating an entity that will control an entire chain of the concert business’ (2009). This mirrors the state of the music industries in the UK, as outlined by Page and Carey, as well as Brookes (2009, 2011). The industry world-wide is moving towards the business of live music, with Live Nation exerting the sort of monopolistic power that we associate with the recording industry.

If we consider the statement put forward by Sen. Kohl, we can identify a serious issue within the booming live music sector – a lack of balance throughout the many different tiers of concert promotion. Although live music is now the most valuable asset within the music industries, Page and Carey note that ‘earnings in live music are heavily skewed towards the top’ (in Morrow, 2013). Australia can be seen as a perfect example of this skew, as Coupe posits that:

‘In financial terms, touring Australia does not make much sense; the costs incurred travelling between major metropolitan areas are too high and the fierce competition between the top promoters means that they constantly under-cut one another to secure contracts’ (in Morrow, 2013).

As such, only top tier acts can expect to make a profit touring Australia, and only large events companies like Live Nation can afford to put on these massively expensive tours. So, whilst the live music sector has weathered the technological storm far better than the recording sector, in markets such as Australia, the profit is largely skewed towards top end companies.

this point we might ask how live music continues to be a draw for people where recorded music is not. The technological advancement of the last 20 years, particularly the invention of web 2.0 (and subsequently, P2P file-sharing), has made access to free music easier than ever before, creating a hole which the record industry has been very slow to fill. Young and Collins use an example published in The Economist to illustrate the move away from physical copies of recorded music:

‘In 2006 EMI, the world’s fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. ‘That was the moment we realised the game was completely up,’ says a person who was there’ (2010).

Recorded music, as we can observe, is no longer as desirable as it once was. At least, not in a physical format. The rise of the digital market in music is something that the recording industry has been slow to capitalise on, whilst P2P is almost impossible to police, leaving both artists and labels with lost potential profit.

‘The music industry ascribes heavy losses in sales to file sharing, that is, users illegally download music files through Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks,’ states Jeong Gicheol and Lee Jongsu, illustrating the recording industry’s inability to restructure itself within the modern music landscape (2010). However, their study of Korean consumers also shows that even with a lowered price point, ‘the estimated WTP [willingness to pay] for downloading one music file is remarkably lower than the actual price of a file’ (Gicheol and Jongsu, 2010). The threat of legal action in this case is not significant enough to offset the cheaper price point of downloading music illegally via P2P sharing networks. As such, the recording sector has struggled to weather the technological storm that has occurred with the emergence of Web 2.0. Live music does not have such an impediment to potential profit as it does not deal in a tangible product that can be shared illegally via the internet.

Whilst technological advancements have hindered the profitability of recorded music, it hasn’t done the same in the live music sector. The technological storm of the 21st century has, however, significantly reshaped the concert-going experience. Punters will still go and see their favourite bands live, but the way in which they consume this live experience has changed with technology. With the invention of smart-phones and the advancement of digital recording equipment, many fans choose to view their favourite bands through the lens of a piece of high-end technology. Lingel and Naaman echo this suggestion, stating:

‘If the enduring image of concert-going in the 1960s was enthusiastic attendees waving their lighters in approval of an acoustic guitar set, in the 2000s, the prevalent view of live music could very well be a sea of music lovers with their mobile phones raised to capture video for rapid uploading to a variety of social media sites.’ (2012)

Lingel and Naaman’s study of a group of concert attendees found that even though they are now recording the concert and uploading it to social media sites, this has not become a replacement for seeing live music. ‘For several interviewees, it was important to point out that watching videos of concerts was not a substitute for physical attendance’, the study finds, quoting one interviewee as saying, ‘there’d be no point of [editing a video] for a show I wasn’t at … it’d just make me sad I wasn’t there’ (Lingel and Naaman, 2012). This study indicates that where technology has provided consumers of recorded music with a much cheaper alternative, it hasn’t replaced the concert-going experience. This explains the continued growth of the live music sector as well as the continued decline of the recording sector. Technology has changed the mode through which we experience live music, but it doesn’t impede on the profitability of live music – ‘a unique experience’ (Morrow, 2013).

In response to technological advancement, record labels have had to significantly reshape the structure of their contracts with recording artists. No longer feeling they can turn a significant profit from record sales, labels have turned to what is commonly referred to as the ‘360 deal’. The 360 deal means ‘the record label participates in and receives income from a range of musical activities beyond the sales of recordings’ (Marshall, 2012). This entails taking a share of the profits in merchandising, sponsorship, live music, and broadcast, which is bargained for in exchange for larger royalty shares and advances. It has become the new standard for recording contracts, in a bid for record labels to maintain profitability on a long term basis through a myriad of revenue streams rather than solely through record sales.

The origins of the 360 deal can be found through EMI, who signed Robbie Williams in 2002; although not technically a 360 deal, ‘it was an innovative deal that garnered much media attention and offers a significant precursor to deals later in the decade’ (Marshall, 2012). Functioning as two separate deals, it was the second which illustrated a shift in record contracts towards a wider pool of revenue streams. Marshall states that, ‘Williams agreed to share some of the income generated by his activities outside of recordings,’ which set the groundwork for what would become the 360 deal (2012). Although EMI would be absorbed into the Warner Music Group in 2012, Wordsworth suggests that this deal was successful, as it ‘went into profit for EMI pretty quickly’ (in Marshall, 2012).

Here we have seen how the record label EMI has tried to combat the declining sales of physical music. This particular deal might be considered a success, but it is worthy of note that its success was not due to an increase in record sales, but a restructuring towards other sectors of the music industries, most notably being live music. This is a testament to the resilience of the live sector that labels must now rely on live revenue to make profit. However, although these deals might be considered legal, record labels must combat the continued insistence from artists that claim 360 deals are still unfair. Bouton states that:

‘…even if 360 deals are deemed to be legal, as long as the perception is that they are unfair and unconscionable, the record labels will have to think of new strategies to keep high profile clients and stay afloat as the music industry faces tough economic times’ (2009).

As we can observe from this statement, 360 deals may not prove to be the silver bullet the record industry is hoping for, as it struggles to cope with the technological advancement of the 21st century. The live music sector once again proves to be the main source of revenue within the music industries.

Where we have dealt with the effects of the technological storm of the 21st century on record labels and events companies, it worth also considering the impact this has had on the artist. Whilst events companies such as Live Nation continue to dominate the world stage in music production, the practices of the industries still remain entrenched in the culture of the 50s and the 60s; distorting artists for as much profit as possible. Indeed, Cloonan notes in his essay on policy implications that ‘at many gigs bands will not even be paid (often they will be told that any gig is good for their profile and publicity’ (2011). This outlines the reality that lower and mid-tier acts are constantly cut short by events companies, and struggle to break even. Whilst Live Nation is dealing in highly profitable international acts, such as Madonna and Jay-Z, who have the sway to ensure payment, smaller promoters will often distort expenses in order to make a profit.

We can use the case study of Boy & Bear conducted by Julian Morrow, former artist-manager for the band, to highlight the risks involved with entering live music at the low and mid-level tiers in Australia. As Australia is a ‘relatively small territory (in terms of population) with arguably more promoters per-capita than anywhere else’, artists will often be cut short in the race to procure a band for a tour (Morrow, 2013). Boy & Bear illustrate the ways in which technology can be used to combat unsavoury business practice, with the involvement of companies such as Music Glue, who provide ‘online marketing and e-commerce solutions for artists, managers, promoters and venues’ (Morrow, 2013). They do this by ‘providing the tools that enable direct artist-fan engagement’, which enables bands to exchange music for email addresses, allowing them to cheaply promote future tours. Music Glue claims that this service is ‘demanded by an increasingly tech aware and empowered customer base’ (Morrow, 2013).

As we are dealing in an increasingly tech-savvy market, it would be pertinent also address the ways in which artists have used technology to their advantage in the recording sector, albeit at the exclusion of record labels. Morrow illustrates an example of this, stating: ‘British rock band Radiohead released their seventh album In Rainbows as a digital download for which consumers chose their own price’ (2009). Although no official figures have been released, the exercise might be consider a success, as Morrow notes, ‘it directed a large amount of traffic to their website from which consumers could purchase concert tickets…merchandise…and had the potential to increase the sale of their back-catalogue’ (2009). However, it must be noted that a large portion of the success found by Radiohead is due to their experience within the old system, having previously been bound by a major label contract with EMI. This successful use of technology in the recording sector cannot hope to be emulated by every upstart band in saturated market.

We must therefore conclude that the live music sector has easily weathered the technological storm of the 21st century much better than that of the recording sector. With Live Nation becoming the largest music organisation in the world, and record labels continuing to lose the fight against P2P file-sharing, it is clear that record labels are no longer the driving force in the music industry they once were. The implementation of the 360 deal by record labels has proved to be moderately successful, albeit only through tapping into revenue streams outside of record sales. There is also a continued distrust of labels as being unfair towards the artist. The live music sector is therefore still the most profitable aspect of the music industries, despite the disparity between smaller and larger acts. Artists have been able to combat this disparity through the emergence of companies such as Music Glue, which enable them to market directly to their fan-base through the internet. The recording sector is still unable to find a in a tech-savvy society, where the experience of a live show will continue to remain irreplaceable.

Reference:

Bouton, D (2009) ‘The Music Industry in Flux: Are 360 Record Deals the Saving Grace or the Coup de Grace’, Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, v9 n2: 312-321.

Brookes, N (2012) Adding Up the Music Industry for 2011, London: PRS for Music

Cloonan, M (2011) ‘Researching Live Music: Some Thoughts on Policy Implications’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, v17 n4: 405-420.

Gicheol, J, and Jongsu, L (2010), ‘Estimating consumer preferences for online music services’, Applied Economics, v42 n30: 3885-3893.

Lingel, J and Naaman, M (2012) ‘You should have been there, man: Live music, DIY content and online communities’, New Media and Society, v14 n2: 332-349.

Marshall, L (2012) ‘The 360 Deal and the ‘New’ Music Industry’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, v16 n1: 77-99.

Morrow, G (2009) ‘Radiohead’s Managerial Creativity’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, v15 n2: 161- 176.

Morrow, G (2013) ‘The Influence of Dirty Pool on the Australian Live Music Industry: A Case Study of Boy & Bear’, Tschmuck, P, Pearce, P and Campbell, S (eds.) Music Business and the Experience Economy: The Australasian Case, 135-152.

Page, W and Carey, C (2010) Adding Up the Music Industry for 2009, London: PRS for Music

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Antitrust, C. Policy. (2010). The TicketMaster/Live Nation merger: what does it mean for consumers and the future of concert business? : hearing before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, first session, February 24, 2009. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.

Williamson, J and Cloonan, M (2007) ‘Rethinking “the music industry”’, Popular Music, v26 n2: 305-322.

Young, S and Collins, S (2010) ‘A View from the Trenches of Music 2.0’, Popular Music and Society, v33 n3: 339-355.

Live: Blacksmith at Spectrum – Hard Rock Lives! (4/7/14)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that hard rock is dead. It is a genre that survives almost entirely on the continued success of its elder statesmen. Slash is putting out a new album this year, and last year saw the release of Black Star Rider’s (ex-Thin Lizzy) fantastic All Hell Breaks Loose, but looking for younger hard rock bands worth talking about is a tough job. Those that have found mainstream success in the new millennium are more indebted to garage rock and psychedelia than the guitar heroism of Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi. A small glimmer of hope for the future can be found in the sleaze-soaked glory of Black Stone Cherry, The Answer, Rattlesnake, and now Blacksmith. Based in Sydney, Blacksmith employ blistering fretwork and soaring vocal acrobatics not seen since the heyday of Guns N’ Roses. Tonight, the small crowd gathered at Spectrum were treated to a short, powerful burst of great hard rock. With a little more practice and on-stage flare, they might just make a name for themselves.

Blacksmith’s modus operandi became abundantly clear with set opener, ‘Elysium Planes’, paving the way for a monstrous cover of Rolling Stones’ favourite ‘Brown Sugar’. The Stones have often flirted with hard rock, and Blacksmith took this tendency to its logical conclusion, injecting new life into a piece of classic rock history. The band then ploughed through the remainder of their set with originals both old and new, proving they need not rely on covers to put on a show. Highlights of the high voltage performance include the Sam Barker-penned ‘Iron Halo’, a HIM flavoured hard rocker punctuated by epic leads channelling New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Iron Maiden, and ‘Robot Werewolves’, a catchy sci-fi themed romp sounding not all too dissimilar to Perth’s Psychonaut. The best was saved for last, however, as they returned to the stage after an 8-song set to perform an encore of Black Sabbath’s ‘Snowblind’. If you weren’t headbanging up until this point, you definitely were now.

With that, it must be said – Blacksmith are a well oiled unit of practised musicians, but they lack the stage presence to truly engage with the audience. Vocalist Jono Palmer stands meekly at centre stage, sipping wine in between wails, which blunts the edge of his impressive range. Likewise, lead guitarist Felix Short’s technical proficiency is undermined by his rigid stage movements and unwavering focus on the fret board. Self-described ‘assault and battery’, drummer Nick Spellicy proved serviceable if not terribly original, providing a solid grounding for the rapid fire guitar. Rhythm and sometimes lead guitarist Sam Barker and bassist Cameron Cooper were definitely the most entertaining, striking poses, making faces, and providing playful banter throughout the set. Having arrived with modest expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to know that amongst the sea of ill-advised cock rock revival bands populating the scene, there are some genuinely promising newcomers. I’m also partial to any band that gives away free stubby holders.