LIVE REVIEW: ‘Prekender’ Feat. Knapsack in Melbourne, Australia (8/21/14)

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Over the past years the Poison City Weekender has grown from a simple showcase for the much respected Melbourne independent label’s roster into one of the Australian punk rock scene’s premiere annual events.

The 2014 edition of the festival, now appropriately dubbed Weekender Fest, is set to take place over four days and five venues and features a stellar lineup of local and international acts headlined by Californian emo-rock cult favourites, Knapsack, and Michigan indie-rockers, Pity Sex. Weekender Fest kicked off with the aptly titled Prekender at The Reverence Hotel on Thursday night with a lineup headlined by Knapsack, playing their first ever show in Melbourne. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance (courtesy of the fine folk at Poison City) to witness the wonder of the Weekender Fest firsthand.

Local lads The Union Pacific were granted the honour of getting the Prekender under way and they did not disappoint with their blend of heartfelt, husky voiced punk-rock getting the still-building front bar crowd nice and warmed up on a bitterly cold Melbourne winter night. An energetic live act with a knack for memorable melodies interspersed with moments of technical proficiency; they played a killer set highlighted by their 2013 double A side “Changing of The Guard” and “Eye to Eye.” Having just put the finishing touches on a debut full-length, The Union Pacific appear destined for bigger and brighter things in the year ahead.

Sydney emo-rock favourites Oslow opened proceedings in the band room, performing their powerful and emotive compositions with a level of passion and commitment that had everyone in the room feeling every lyric sputtered by likable frontman Dylan Farrugia. Serving as an ideal showcase for their excellent EP, Days are So Bright Now, these Sydneysider’s had even the most staunch Melbourne scenesters nodding in appreciation of their talents.

UTG favourites Ceres were up next, playing a set largely consisting of cuts from their incendiary debut record, I Don’t Want To Be Anywhere But Here (read our review). An engaging live outfit, Ceres inspired the night’s first group sing-along as the now rather well-lubricated audience hung on vocalist Tom Lanyon’s every word. Tom may look like the love child of Ron Jeremy and Jack Black, but he can emote like few other vocalists around, enabling a deep emotional connection with his audience. Superbly backed by stellar performances from Rhys Vleugel (Guitars), Grant Young (Bass), and Frank Morda (Drums), Ceres proved themselves once again to be one of the finest outfits Melbourne (and for that matter, the country) has to offer with a dynamic performance bringing the likes of “Upwey, Tecoma, Belgrave,” “I Feel Fine, I Feel Sick” and crowd favourite “Syllables” to life before our very eyes.

Freak Wave have been making ‘waves’ as of late in the Australian scene and after viewing their set it is not hard to see why. A band comprised of ex-members of scene stalwarts A Death In The Family, Kill Whitey and Blueline Medic, Freak Wave play a unique and yet instantly familiar blend of emotive rock that calls to mind the likes of Drive Like Jehu and (somewhat naturally) the members’ former bands, while managing to sound nothing like any of them at the same time. A polished live outfit, Freak Wave powered through a set of songs that had the crowd reaching a rather raucous state, with passionate renditions of “Buffalo Summer” and “Freak Wave” (both off of their Poison City released s/t LP), warming the band room stage beautifully for the impending arrival of the night’s headliners, Knapsack. These cats may be a little long in the tooth, but those teeth still appear to be sharp enough to take a mighty sized bite out of the Australian punk rock scene in the coming months.

Perth’s bearded and bespectacled punk rock wonders, Grim Fandango, took the energy to a whole new level with a frantic set of punk rock gems that had the front room rocking like only the Reverence can. Unleashing a blitzkrieg of bangers from their impressive catalogue of releases, Grim Fandango had the crowd in the palm of their hands from the get-go, proving that when it comes to punk rock, Perth can more than pull its weight. A prolific act that releases a new song via Bandcamp every month, Grim Fandango are truly one of Australia’s best live bands and I highly advise checking them out.

Knapsack took the band room stage to rapturous applause and immediately launched into a set full of some of the finest emo rock songs ever penned. With the crowd reciting vocalist Blair Shehan’s every lyric in reverence, it became immediately clear that this was going to be a special night for Knapsack fans, many of whom had been waiting for over 20 years for the band to grace our shores.

A near riot ensued front of stage as the Californian cult favourites treated the audience to emotive renditions of “Thursday Side of The Street,” “Hummingbirds,” “Effortless” and “Arrows to The Action.” An enigmatic frontman, Blair’s command over his band’s material is spellbinding and the performances from Colby Mancasola (Drums), Sergie Loobkoff (Guitars) and Edward Brekenridge (Bass) ensured that the Reverence crowd was whipped into a fervour at all times. Loobkoff in particular was in fine form with his trademark tone, gifting the band’s superb riffs a unique character that adds another level of depth to what are some truly remarkable compositions. Of all these compositions, “Cellophane” is arguably the best, and viewing Knapsack’s performance of it Thursday night enabled me to tick one of the few remaining items off of my personal music bucket list. An amazing song, it remains among the very best emo tracks ever written.

A band that is equally adept at rocking out as they are chilling out, Knapsack’s set was a fan dream come to life, with the band playing all the primary tracks off of their criminally underrated back catalogue. How much that night meant to some in attendance became apparent when Blair bled out the desperate opening lines to “Cold Enough To Break,” as there were tears clearly visible on a number of bearded blokes who were too engrossed to bother maintaining a charade of bravado. Closing out the set with the awesome foursome of “Katherine The Grateful,” “Please Shut Off The Lights,” the aforementioned “Cold Enough To Break” and a raucous “Decorate The Spine,” Knapsack departed the stage as heroes in the eyes of their audience, many of whom likely returned the following night to live the experience all over again.

All in all, the Prekender was a near-perfect night and the perfect example of why the Poison City crew, The Reverence Hotel and the Weekender Fest are a match made in Melbourne music heaven. Kudos to all involved! All hail the Weekender!

Review written by Brenton Harris
Feature photo courtesy of Jonathan Weiner

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