The date is March 13, 2020 – Black Friday for the superstitious, the day the Morrison government is calling for the winding up or cancellation of any non-essential mass gatherings for the foreseeable future to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
As news began spreading that festivals, tours and events were already being postponed or cancelled completely, this looked like it might be the last night for a while where I could get out and see a large gig, and tonight there wasn’t just one. There were two, at venues a short walk from each other, by bands in two very different ballparks but both with the DNA of rock and roll hardwired into their veins, and my word, if this had to be the last night of live shows for me for weeks or months, it was going to be a damn good one.
GIG ONE: The Darkness, Enmore Theatre.
The lines were already forming outside the hallowed Enmore Theatre more than an hour before the doors were to open. I picked up my ticket from the box office and headed up to the Duke for a couple, and it was certainly business as usual here on Enmore Road, so clearly I wasn’t the only one out for a last hurrah. Back outside the venue, I met Loud show reviewer Paul Southwell and handed him my other ticket so he could do one of his painstakingly in depth reviews of this gig, then I took off to grab a feed. That’s not normally a priority for me on a band night, but this was much more than that, and beer alone probably wasn’t going to sustain me this time.
Back at the venue, and inside now, even with a sold out crowd there’s plenty of room to find a decent vantage point. The Enmore has a very tight curfew and the crew aren’t mucking around as they get everything ready; after a few minutes More Than a Feeling serves as an intro and a roar goes up as the stage darkens. The band hit the stage resplendent in white, the slow build into Rock and Roll Deserves to Die requiring several guitar changes before that ripping great riff kicks in and The Darkness are into it. They’re doing (somewhat fittingly) Easter is Cancelled in full tonight and the crowd is in full voice along with them as the Brits put on their arena-sized spectacle. A short way into the set, the lads swap out their roles for Deck Chair, Frankie Poullain breaking out an acoustic and Rufus Tiger Taylor stepping up to an organ, then it’s back to straight up rocking again for the ridiculous one-two punch of riff-fests Easter is Cancelled and Heavy Metal Lover, Justin Hawkins showing off every aspect of his vocal range.
The Darkness burn through the first half of their set, taking a break (“to disinfect!”) before bouncing back out, the older Hawkins now in one of his spangled jumpsuits as they rip into One Way Ticket. The second half of their show is hit after hit. Permission to Land features prominently but all the albums get a look in, The Darkness putting on a cavalcade of rock and roll goodness – no stone left unturned, no stop left unpulled, high energy, catchy and fun arena rock from one of the best live bands going around at the moment. If this was the last band I’d see for a while, I would have been more than happy. But there was another show to get to, by another band that also has some live performance rep, and one I’ve been hoping to catch up to for a while.
GIG TWO: Amyl & the Sniffers, Factory Theatre
The Factory is maybe fifteen minutes on foot from the Enmore. It’s a bit of a hive as there’s at least three gigs on at the venue’s various theatres. Amyl & the Sniffers are playing the upstairs main room; like The Darkness, their show is also sold out. The crowd seems to have the same broad demographic as the other gig, maybe a few more much younger punters, but the vibe is the same. We’re all here to see some rock and roll.
Amyl and the Sniffers burst onto the stage with a roar of charging guitar and rumbling double-down bass, their pint-sized vocalist tearing around to every corner of the stage in the minute or so the first song lasts. That’s the scenario for their entire set: furious raucous energy. There’s no let up. Amy Taylor is a whirlwind of unbridled youthful energy, her vocals a snarly shout. Gus Romer looks and plays like Lobby Loyde, back to the crowd as he slams the bass strings, Dec Marten’s guitar cutting a swathe of angular riffing. The intensity onstage soon infected the crowd and it wasn’t long before bodies were throwing themselves into the swirling pit, including Taylor herself more than once. As they ripped through their set, she had girls from the crowd go-go dancing with her as stagedivers hurtled past until the entire performance area was swamped. Amyl and the Sniffers barely slowed down, even as Taylor was lifted onto some guy’s shoulders.
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a band with this much spit and fire. Taylor is wild, untamed exuberance and the band is mean, tearing out straight ahead, unapologetic punk rock. Blazing through more than a dozen songs in the hour or so they tore up the stage, Amyl & the Sniffers were just sensational, a primal release of energy that seemed unstoppable. If this is the last live band I see for a while – and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it is – then this was certainly the band to see.