Words by Natalie Blacklock
Hailing from Brisbane (and the Sunshine Coast), Bugs are a light-hearted group of mates who find joy in crafting infectiously happy pop music, and packaging it up with a dose of honest and relatable songwriting. Having made a name for themselves with hook-laden tracks that double as candid explorations of one’s inner emotional dialogue, Bugs are definitely one of the most exciting local bands of recent years. Having bagged support slots for the likes of Hockey Dad, Modern Baseball, PUP and WAAX along the way, 2018 was easily the band’s most jam-packed year to date, scoring an opening slot at Falls Festival after winning the Triple J Unearthed competition. The three-piece have recently returned home following an extensive national tour supporting Aussie legends Grinspoon alongside The Hard Aches and The Gooch Palms, and are out on the road again in support of their sophomore album ‘Self Help’, presented by New World Artists and Bluebeard Music.
For us Brisbanities, The Zoo is as iconic as they come. Over the past 27 years, it’s become the venue where many people experienced their ‘first’ taste of live music or the place they took someone to do the same (I can attest to both of these; my first was Dead Letter Circus and Closure In Moscow then I took my sister to see Children Collide and Dune Rats. The Zoo, founded by Brisbane icons Joc Curran and C. Smith built the venue from the ground up and filled the space with passion and a burning love of music, which has continued today under the leadership of new owner Pixie Weyand. They nurtured the Brisbane music scene and gave a much-needed platform which supported not only touring bands but also gave up-and-coming musicians space to shape their craft. Over the years, The Zoo has developed a fierce reputation as one of the landmark ‘stepping stone’ venues in Brisbane. Having played host to countless icons including; Lorde, The Pixies, Nick Cave, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Something For Kate, Regurgitator, Spiderbait, Powderfinger, as well as the likes of Violent Soho and Silverchair, the feeling of nostalgia you get when you walk up the front stairs from the hustle of Ann Street is quite unlike any other.
The first on the 4-band bill for the evening is Sycco (pronounced Psycho); 18-year-old Songwriter and Producer Sasha McLeod. Performing as a 4-piece band, Sycco have really blossomed in the scene over the last year, redefining the meaning of groove, transcending into unknown territory and demanding attention with soulful vocals, observant lyrics, a psychedelic jazz aura and undeniable charisma. With support slots for the likes of I Know Leopard, City Calm Down and The Triffid’s2019 Album of The Year winner, Tia Gostelow chalked up and a freshly announced slot of the Brisbane leg of Laneway Festival 2020 on the cards, Sycco is the newest name on a whole bunch of lips. The most captivating moments of the set were the ones McLeod got completely lost within the music and her guitar solos, perfectly partnered with Guitarist James Halstead. Stronger songs like Tamed Grief won over the crowd as McLeod’s humble stage presence shone through. The set’s standout moment is the new dancey single, Peacemaker – a track about “not letting anyone around you affect your mood or your day, or year or anything for that matter”. Sycco is definitely one to watch – new and intriguing, and undoubtedly recruiting a slew of new fans in the process.
Next up is one of Adelaide’s most wholesome and loveable duos, TOWNS. The two-piece; Aston Valladares (Vocals and Guitar) and Daniel Steinert (Drums) have cemented themselves as one of the country’s brightest up-and-comers – landing themselves on line-ups alongside the likes of Turnover, Turnstile and local heartthrobs, Dear Seattle. Following on from a huge showing at BIGSOUND 2019, TOWNS have been going from strength-to-strength. Sadly, shortly before this tour kicked off, one-half of the band (Aston Valladares) made the decision to pull out of the dates, citing personal reasons.
However, with the help of Cahli Blakers from fellow Adelaide duo Teenage Joans filling in on Vocals and Guitar, the TOWNS show could go on. TOWNS had their electric stage persona on show right from the outset, their introduction turned into a soundcheck and it felt as if you were front and centre of their rehearsal room, not at a live show. In matching mustard yellow Bugs T-Shirts, Blakers and Steinert set the tone for their set early as the crowd getting in on a singalong and Steinert gives it all on the Drums for Sun. Following the timely delivery of a PSA about not drinking and driving, the two-piece launch into an eclectic medley of tunes – cuts from Lady Gaga’s Just Dance, Britney Spears’ Gimme More and Miley Cyrus’ alter ego Hannah Montana’s Best of Both Worlds nicely bookended their own track, Hush, which saw fill-in Cahli Blakers really unleash on guitar. The crowd did not have to wait long for another singalong moment, as TOWNS pulled out their cover of Liverpudlian lads The Wombats’ 2010 banger, Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves) – complete with a whole load of filthy Guitar.Closing the set with a 1-2 punch from their 2018 debut EP ‘Television’, TOWNS delivered I Don’t Mind, for which the crowd sang the whole first verse on their own before the band launched into the 90s fused pop rock and guttural screams that bring up the tail end. The jangly start of final track, Safe to Stay, instantly got the crowd bopping along, offering a gentle reminder to everyone that change is inevitable but coming to terms with it is the first step to growing. TOWNS were impressive with a charismatic, funny and skilful set of punk, pop and rock numbers – expect big things to come from this two-piece.
Hitting The Zoo’s iconic stage next were local darlings, sweater curse. Relative unknowns in 2017, the 3-piece; Monica Sottile (Vocals / Bass), Chris Langenberg (Vocals / Guitar) and Rei Bingham (Drums) threw themselves into their art and picked up support slots for a bunch of local legends including; Ball Park Music, Horror My Friend, Polish Club, The Hard Aches and These New South Whales. Since then, sweater curse have earnt a solid reputation for their simple yet dynamic stage presence and the creation of captivating, charming and evocative jangly melodies that get stuck in your head. In what was their last Brisbane show for the year before they head back to the studio for some recording, there were a couple of early standouts in the set. The angelic Take Some Time saw Langenberg and Sottile harmonise through the choruses and the piercing and emotionally charged Z9, which features on Volume 7 of the Domestic La La Records Record Club series split 7” with fellow Brisbane pals, The Cutaways. On this track particularly, Langenberg’s vocals are incredible – powerful, instinctive and totally unexpected. Ponyo presented a perfect opportunity for Bassist Monica Sottile to highlight her stunning vocal range across its soaring melody. Closing out the set, was the honest, hard-hitting Can’t See You Anymore from the band’s debut EP, ‘See You’. Overall, this was a solid set from sweater curse, presenting an insight into their unique brand of slightly depressing but groovy indie-rock and the crowd were so there for it.
There’s only a short change over between sets, but it’s enough time to sneak off for a drink or in the case of my friend and I, nab a booth by the window, overlooking the intersection of Ann and Warner Streets. It doesn’t take long before a couple of younger girls join us, and one quickly exclaims words to the effect of “Oh my God! Apparently the air con’s broken”, while trying to fan herself with her hand. My friend and I look at each other in amusement, with the knowing look that this place has never had air con and some of the sweatiest night spent here have been the best of our adult lives. The ‘heatbox’ atmosphere felt at The Zoo is almost something of a rite of passage for Brisbane music right?
The issues of heat aside, the crowd had swelled and the punters were ready for the evening’s headliners, Bugs. Although, the Brisbane-based trio aren’t particularly new to the scene, this show is a milestone for them – selling out a venue as iconic as The Zoo is no mean feat but for it to be a ‘hometown’ show too, the excitement in the venue and from the band themselves is palpable. Daniel Steinert from TOWNS returns to the stage as somewhat of a ‘Hype Man’ and got the crowd ready before Bugs emerged. Frontman / Guitarist Connor Brooker continues the trend, geeing the crowd up with Brisbane’s now trademark catchcry “HELL FUCK YEAH” (thanks Violent Soho) before telling the crowd how surreal this was and how thankful they are to be here. Brooker, alongside Bassist Jordan Brunoli and Drummer Brock Weston rocked almost matching denim overalls for the occasion.
Opening with older cut Instant Coffee, and the chemistry between Brooker and Brunoli was immediate. Seamlessly, they transition into Glue and the first crowd surfers made their presence felt. Frontman Brooker again addresses the crowd, making reference to the ‘Brown Snake’ and telling the crowd how incredible it is to end their tour in Brisbane before dedicating Personal Saviour to his Mother and Sister (who were in the crowd) as he considered them his ‘personal saviours’. Ramping things up again with a dance, a mosh and circle pit, the band launched into Heart On Your Sleeve and Yew Crew. A sentiment echoed throughout the evening was that “A Bugs show is never a performance. It’s an interaction and a community”, which was evident as the crowd sang, clapped and wooed along to Sweetener, Feel It, You’re Falling and Reviews from their album ‘Self Help’ released in September.
In somewhat of a mid-set pause, the stage lights when down and the crowd pleaded for more before Bugs picked up where they left off for Something’s Bound To Go Bad, Safe Place and Don’t Want Me Back, which incited yet another circle pit on the floor of The Zoo. No one could have been prepared for what was to come, as TOWNS and Sweater Curse returned to stage alongside Maz DeVita, Frontwoman of fellow Brisbabes, WAAX for a stellar cover of inaugural American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson’s 2002 track Since U Been Gone. It was quite the sight to behold – singing, screaming and crowd surfing from bands and punters alike. In what sounded like the introduction to an encore without the ‘leaving the stage and coming back charade’, Bugs proclaimed this as “the best night of our lives”. With a final quip, “We’ve been Bugs. You’ve been beautiful. Let’s send it”, the band went for it and left nothing in the tank. Esky Lid was a catchy number, as their poppy sound filled the room, providing a uniquely ‘Brisbane’ feel to the evening.The grippingly honest Neighbourhood went over well with the punters, with the opening lines causing a bit of a chuckle and they closed out their set with absolute banger, Seriously; a song about “those times you screw up and end up feeling like a bit of a goofball”. Following the end of their set, they get together with the crowd and the front of the stage for a quick photo, and there isn’t an unhappy face in sight! Thinking back to some of their early headline shows to now, it’s been a hell of a journey, but collectively Brooker, Brunoli and Weston have strived to deliver their relatable suburban songbook to the masses and they are loving it. Bugs put on one of the best shows ever this evening – setting the bar high for 2020 and beyond.
If you’re keen, Bugs still have a couple of shows left for 2019. For dates, locations, and ticket information click HERE.
Saturday 14 December – Lion Arts Factory | Adelaide, SA (18+)*
Tuesday 31 December – Falls Festival | Marion Bay, TAS (AA)
*Part of Stonecutters 2019