Few bands have been more influential upon Australia’s alternative music scene in the past
few decades than legendary punk rock luminaries Spiderbait. Fast forward 30 years since
their first album release in the heady days of the 90s punk scene in Melbourne, the genre-
defying three-piece have galvanized several defining moments in modern Australian music
history with beloved albums ‘Grand Slam’ and megahits Calypso and Buy Me a Pony – not to
mention that explosively popular cover of Black Betty that everyone has attempted a
rendition of at karaoke at some point in their lives.
But Spiderbait’s latest resurgence back into the scene has been off the back of the ‘Sounds in the Key of J’ album release, a heartfelt celebration of the contributions of their pioneering bassist/lead vocalist Janet English, who has been an icon of Australian music for longer than this reviewer has been alive. The release of this gorgeous and diverse collection of tracks, spanning everything from twangy country ballads to furious punk numbers, has inspired a national tour to showcase the immeasurable talents of this very special musician from a very special band. So tonight, it is with great reverence that I make my way into the elegant Princess Theatre to witness this game-changing band in action.
Local indie-rock youngsters Platonic Sex open the proceedings with their charming sound that exudes Garbage and Wet Leg vibes, though it’s delivered with a decidedly more wholesome sweetness. The live mix is excellent, with warm guitar tones and strong bass resonating through the room – not to mention the considerable vocal talents of frontwoman Bridget Brandolini, whose pure yet powerful soprano (with flawless vibrato, I might add) soars through the air like an eagle in flight and is utterly captivating. I even hear shades of the great Katie Noonan when Brandolini ascends to the topmost ends of her vocal range.
The four-piece have an enthusiastic crowd from the get-go, and they are genuinely humbled to see the size of the crowd who have made the effort to turn up early for their set. The band needn’t feel that way, however, as they maintain an effortless, relaxed and tight performance throughout their set, and they endear themselves to the crowd with their quirky stage banter and completely unpretentious disposition. Track highlights are definitely the sombre and compelling Teeth, which hits like a ton of bricks when the full band kicks in after solo lead vocals from Brandolini, and Devil’s Advocate, which conveys a hugely important message by pointing out the dangers of excusing toxic masculinity. It’s a quality set from a band to watch, and as far as opening acts go, Platonic Sex have totally knocked it out of the park tonight.
Next up we have the fabulously funky, vintage-tinged tones of another vastly talented up-and-coming indie rock act in Cheap Date. Despite looking like they’re fresh out of high school, the five-piece showcases immense skill in interweaving luscious musical textures, effects and sounds to create an immersive and vibrant soundscape that washes over the crowd like a watercolour painting. I adore the liberal use of shoegaze guitars that contrasts with the precise jazz drum lines, and frontwoman Lara Dee’s Halsey-esque vocals lend a gentle pop sweetness to the indie rock instrumental backdrop that boasts strong Stand Atlantic vibes as well as retro funk flavours reminiscent of Bruno Mars.
All the members have such a great energy about them and natural chemistry between them as they effortlessly command the stage. This is especially fun to watch when they are tearing it up in unison during a particularly energetic guitar riff section. On the subject of Dee, she has all the mesmerising attitude, confidence and talent of a bonafide rock goddess, with moves to match as she power stances about the stage with an unmistakeable swagger. The crowd is packed out by now, and it’s clear that Cheap Date already have a solid following, with numerous fans singing along to almost every track on the set list. The band’s cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ raises all the voices in the room, and the standout track for me is Cheap Date’s banger Kissed You In The Car, which releases my inner teenager and has me dancing around without a care in the world. Both support bands have set a very high standard for our local music scene tonight – outstanding sets all round.
The crowd is getting rowdy as the stage is readied, and then Kram ambles out onto the stage to announce that this is a special, one-off show (and tour) to pay tribute to Janet. The lights are switched off, and cheers erupt as Spiderbait begins their set of greatest Janet-driven hits that have been cherry-picked from their vast anthology of songs, working chronologically through their discography. The atmosphere is charged during early, frenzied punk favourites such as Jesus and Yeah Oh Yeah – the 90s revival is in full force tonight! And we are truly kicking it old school, as most impressively, I’m pretty sure that Kram isn’t drumming to a click track, yet talent and experience keeps the band as tight as ever. What’s more punk rock than that?
The trademark Spiderbait sound of short, sharp, punchy tracks gets a mosh going in no time with their sudden, abrupt bursts of energy, yet the band themselves maintain a surprisingly calm stage presence considering how wild the music is. Beloved bangers such as Daisy May and Fucken Awesome dial up the energy in the room even further, and the crowd is going off, and I’m not sure if I regret my decision to remain in the mosh pit.
However, with the inclusion of more subdued tracks such as Inner Ear Infection with its psychedelic bass line, and Bessy’s Last Journey which apparently was never played live before this tour, we are given a chance to catch our breath and simply revel in the music. A resounding highlight of the set is when Kram pulls out a glockenspiel to perform the delightful Glockenpop and reveals that this was the original instrument used in the recording of the track.
The band are taking a trip down memory lane with us, reflecting on their incredible career that began at a singular, very special point in time for Australian alternative music. It’s a heart-warming performance that they deliver, and it’s evident just how much revisiting some of these tracks mean to them. They play with precision and ease, never once losing momentum, and Janet’s voice is as powerful and resonant as it ever was, even after 30 years. It’s a perfect live mix with a nice crunchy guitar tone from Whitt, which is particularly on display during the infectiously catchy Alex The Seal – side note, that may be one of the best mondogreens I have ever come across in music. Finally, after several encore numbers, the mammoth set is rounded out by a very emotional performance of Calypso, the track that Janet wrote about her mother and tonight, is playing on her guitar. The rousing chants from the crowd, as well as the now feral mosh, make for a fitting send off in the face of such musical greatness, and I feel privileged to have shared in the experience.
Tonight, Spiderbait have demonstrated the breadth and depth of their enduring impact upon and shining legacy within the fabric of Australian heavy music. Supported by the next generation of talented, outspoken and innovative rockers, this trio have shown that not only have they still got it, but they continue to bear the torch that lights the way forward for pioneering musicians to come.
Get your tickets to the remaining dates of the “Tour in the Key of J” HERE
Thanks to On The Map PR