I don’t think there’s anywhere I’d rather be on a hot day than in one of my old favourite watering holes with some of my favourite local punk bands, and that’s exactly what I did in Ballarat this weekend at In A Row Promotions second annual You Dirty Rat festival. If you’ve never heard of In A Row or have never been to any of their shows and festivals (Spot Fest, Via Melbourne, In-A-Palooza) then you’re missing out on being a part of Victoria’s amazing folk/punk community.
As I entered The Eastern I was straightaway seeing familiar faces and friendly smiles, and there was just enough time to say some hellos before heading to the band room with a crisp cold cider to take the edge off the heat. TIM HAMPSHIRE was first on, and like most people I’ve met from Portland he was a man who enjoys the simple things in life, like banter with his mates and a beer holder on the microphone stand. His folky acoustic punk is catchy and relatable as the genre always seems to be, I guess the genre is like horoscopes in that way, but lyrically he could turn a phrase like few other punks with an acoustic guitar I’ve seen before. It was a nice easy start to the festival that all those who got down early enjoyed, but I’m still not sure what was the most punk thing about Tim; his contempt for the current government, or his desire to trade albums for beer rather than money.
Up next was my favourite acoustic punk act in all of Victoria and self proclaimed sad-sack, JOE GUITON. Joe may not be the best musician on the line up, in fact I’ve seen him make so many mistakes on stage that he manages to just roll with the punches now and make the screw ups seem like parts of the songs. Regardless, his lyrics are personal and the emotion shines strong with every word, and this day’s performance of ‘Juchie’ was the best rendition of the song I’ve ever heard. At the emotional climax of the song he stopped playing his guitar, and just yelled his way through the lyrics, stammering and powering through some deeply personal lines. I was beyond impressed, I was awe-struck. He closed his set with the help of festival organizer and AGENT 37 frontman Dave Grimson for some duets by what I consider to be one of the Victorian punk scene’s greatest bromances.
The first full band of the night took the stage after, the young guns LETHAL SOUND DIVISION (points for the rad name). Although new on the scene, these three showed some mad potential with all three members sharing vocal duties with widely different styles, and the drummer playing more interesting rhythms than most drummers I’ve seen in the Melbourne metal scene. Despite the dynamic vocals, I’d still love to see them with a dedicated vocalist as none of them seemed comfortable with playing and singing at the same time. I could probably nitpick more but any downfalls they had were just things that come with experience on the stage, and they’re obviously on the right path to getting that experience. Now I can’t move on without mentioning one of the most memorable moments of the night, a cover of KORN’s ‘Shoots and Ladders’ complete with a live bagpipe player in full formal kilt attire, I think Jonathan Davis would be proud of that. Keep an eye on this band, the future looks bright for them.
TRUCKS rolled in next for some noisy yet upbeat emo punk, which sounded great even if the noisy element does drown out the vocals for the most part. If you’re going to have guitars over vocals though, you can at least have the tone right, and they definitely did. The infectious positive vibes from the band got the crowd moving a little bit with bobbing heads and tapping toes, but none were more mobile than bassist Rick Murphy and his pop punk jumps. While never being a big fan of the band, I must admit I really enjoyed their cover of VIOLENT SOHO’s ‘In The Aisle’, it was both a nice change and a good fit for the set. Having lost one of my favourite emo punk bands earlier this year (RIP FOXES) I think TRUCKS could really fill the hole in my heart right now, so I’m glad I discovered them.
Now most of GOOD FOR WEDNESDAY’s set I’ll admit I saw and heard from the beer garden in between talking to an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, but my trusty partner in crime (read: girlfriend) helped me fill in the blanks. These guys got the positive vibe of TRUCKS and amplified it tenfold, there was not a single time I looked at the guys on stage without seeing at least one big cheesy grin, they were loving it up there. They also gave the crowd no choice but to love it by dragging them in for some crowd participation. Whilst writing this review I was shocked to find out how new this band is, since their sound was so tight and their energetic stage presence and interaction with the crowd was at such a professional standard. I just kind of assumed these guys had been around and played many shows on much bigger stages than little old Eastern. I hope one day all the great accomplishments I assumed these guys had are one day a reality for them.
The final band before the break was Adelaide’s horror punks DEAD JOE, and I assume Joe was cremated because these guys looked cooked when they hit the stage. Despite their guitarist having both a MISFITS shirt and a Fiend Club patch on his vest, I am very sad to report there were no MISFITS covers in their set, which is a shame because I thought that was a requirement for all horror punk bands. Despite this their own material was pretty damn good, even if at times their apparent inebriation got in the way of their musical talents. It was pretty disappointing to see the bassist’s wireless pack go to waste, but when one of the highlights of your set is a band member ripping down the lighting above the stage with his bass, it’s probably a good time to rethink your live show. I’m sure I’ll give DEAD JOE a second chance next time I see them, but I doubt they made any new fans with this set.
After a quick Maccas run for dinner, it was back to the bands with THE SECOND SEX, and while I’ve seen many feminists rock this slogan on signs and tshirts at rallies, this band shows that in punk, the future is female. Over the duration of the set I was blown away by the dynamic styles of frontwoman Zarah who could do just about every vocal style in punk; screaming or singing, it didn’t matter, she nailed it despite being unwell at the time. Vast amounts of admiration and respect are due for giving 110% when your body’s not operating at 100%. THE SECOND SEX were probably the truest punk band on the lineup as they were passionately furious for social change, the way hardcore should be. The women in the crowd were loving what was happening on the stage, and the men were as silent as they were uncomfortable over the typical male behaviour Zarah was calling out. Regardless, everyone in the room cheered with vigour at the mind-blowing performance these women gave. This band is exactly what I want to see more of in the punk scene, girls to the front, but more importantly girls to the stage.
I felt sorry for NORTHWOOD having to follow what just went down, but these guys managed to bring it hard and fast in their own way. Now I have to admit that melodic punk vocals bore me, however the mixing did them no favours as all I could really hear was the riffs. This wasn’t a bad thing though, because the guitar work was definitely the pillar holding up NORTHWOOD, it was as fast as it gets and broke the mold of punk guitar work supposedly being simple. Looking back they were probably the best riffs I heard all night. Other than that there’s not much else I can say, they were great and I don’t think the crowd would disagree with that, but they’re just not my type of punk rock.
Next was easily the best set of the night, MESA COSA, with their chaotic garage punk attitude that really got the crowd moving. Now I’ve seen MESA COSA a few times and while always fun, their wild antics often affects their music, making them sound a bit sloppy, but it’s garage punk so who really cares? Well this time, they had the same energy as always but their sound was really tight, and the songs were a thousand times better for it. It was so good that I’d say all it’d take is a set like that and big support slot with someone like VIOLENT SOHO and these guys could blow up. Their set crossed over from wild to insanity in the last song though when the tambourine and guitar being used on stage were passed to the audience, luckily the guitar went to EBONIVORY guitarist Jake Ewings who ripped out some amazing improv that was so good I had to ask afterward if it was planned before the show. Just remembering it now as I write it down, it seems almost magical in my mind that it all happened so naturally and flawlessly. If you’re a fan of full on party bands like THE BENNIES, you’ve got to check out MESA COSA, you’ll never know how you lived without them once you do.
Finally the man behind the day, Dave Grimson, got to take the stage again as three quarters of AGENT 37 set up, plus JOE GUITON filling in for missing guitarist/vocalist Curt. The band was quick to remind everyone that if they didn’t sound good, blame Curt, but despite a replacement who didn’t know all the songs and Dave’s voice not being 100% they powered through song after song. The setlist was shorter than most of their shows as Dave took some time out to humbly thank everyone who made the day come together, but it still contained a healthy dose of both their Ramonescore punk rock originals and a few covers, including that MISFITS cover I’d been craving! Despite not always knowing the songs, it was great to see Joe always helping out whether it be watching Dave to learn the songs as they’re being played, doing backing vocals, or helping Jamie with percussion on the cymbals, he was always there to add his little part. With the stress of organizing a show like this I doubt Dave had much left to give, but as always he and AGENT 37 gave it all and I hope he’s enjoying a long hard-earned rest this week because of it.
The final band may or may not be larger than life, but they were certainly larger than the stage at The Eastern, as THE RAMSHACKLE ARMY spilled over the stage and onto the floor for a much more up close and intimate setting than I think they’d planned on. There’s something about celtic punk that always manages to get people moving, and I’m 99% sure it’s the fiddle which Kat plays so well, and this show was no exception as people in the crowd had a merry jig. The setlist was full of new songs from their upcoming EP ‘Whitewashed Graves’, and it sounded fantastic live so I can’t wait to hear it next month when it’s out on CD. Once again the community came together when guitarist Nath broke a string, he had a replacement in no time and his old faithful back and restrung shortly after, showing there was nothing that could stop them or even slow them down. As they finished up I was barely able to drag my sweaty body to the bar for a glass of water before the audience starting begging for an encore, and so THE RAMSHACKLE army took the stage once more to give everyone a final dance for the festival, and dance they did!
There’s a special charm to these punk festivals, the communities around them are the best in all of Australia’s live music scenes, and You Dirty Rat 2 was certainly no different. There’s nothing better than mates, drinks, and bands who are all about their mates and their drinks. A massive congratulations to In A Row Promotions on another great show, and I can’t wait for your next one!