Live Review: American Football, Birthmark, Owen, Hollow Everdaze

4 July 2015 | 11:49 am | Mitch Knox

A lot of once-angsty young people got to see something tonight their younger selves would never have dreamed of - and it was special as hell

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The Zoo's notorious ability to sideline as a giant sauna is one of its biggest strengths on this chilly Brisbane evening, the sea of mostly flannel-wearing show-goers quietly thankful, for once, that no heat has ever escaped this room.

Shoegazey Melburnian alt-rockers Hollow Everdaze get the night's proceedings under way with a polished, endearing run of prog-laced, counter-intuitively sunny yet downtempo tunes punctuated by a diverse instrumental line-up that features keys and violin(!) in addition to the expected rock line-up of guitar/bass/drums. Highlights start rearing their heads early; second cut Poisoned By Nostalgia ambles along with enjoyable ease, the band gaining technical points throughout for the solid non-verbal communication and musical interplay between bassist Jackson Kay and drummer James Turner, which makes for some fun little fills and change-ups. As the band wrap their last song, Out The Window — we know, because a crowd member makes frontman Dan Baulch repeat it — the true impressiveness of Kay's performance in particular — though, more widely, the whole band is tight as hell — becomes immediately clear when, as soon as he slips off his bass, he slips his left arm into a sling. You'd never even have known he was injured. 

Although the growing crowd is expecting the quirky, eclectic tunes of Nate Kinsella, aka Birthmark, to please it next, instead a true surprise is enjoyed by all when Nate's cousin Mike, aka guitarist in tonight's headliners American Football, aka drummer in Joan Of Arc, Owls and Their/They're/There, aka Owen, steps out to play three songs under his solo-project moniker. Seriously, before tonight, the thought of seeing so many emo fans smiling this much all at once would have been pretty unfathomable. He busts out universal favourites Too Many MoonsBreaking Away and The Sad Waltzes Of Pietro Crespi and he's gone, everyone all the happier and more stunned for it.

We do, thus, get to enjoy the aforementioned aural and visual madness of Birthmark. It's a kitschy, poppy, percussive, upbeat affair, standing out for its use of a legitimate karaoke screen that flashes up song title, artist, BPM, lyrics, and utterly wonderful captions like "22-MEASURE INSTRUMENTAL BREAK" followed by a countdown in time. Meanwhile, the whole time, footage of varying intensity and insanity works in tandem with the music, which is at once hypnotic but a little anxiety-inducing. The pulsating, driven Suit Of Armor stands out as a highlight, as does the gradually frantic build of closer Find Yourself, during which Mike Kinsella comes out again to step behind the kit, and the video/music team-up really pays off as both intensify and suddenly come to rest. Which, after that infectious display, we actually need.

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At last, to a now-totally packed room, Illinois emo/math/indie heroes American Football take the stage, fulfilling the dreams of everyone's 18-to-25-year-old selves (based on the average age range in the room) and instantly earning cheers for their decision to start their set with instrumental non-album track Five Silent Miles. From there, they drop once again into an EP cut, The One With The Tambourine, the band sounding as fresh as the day the songs were written — which, since they broke up pretty much around the time their single album was released at the turn of the millennium, they sort of are, in a live sense anyway. Obviously, it's the songs from their full-length that get the biggest love, standouts including the dancy drive of Honestly?; the airy lilt of For Sure, punctuated by slurred, soaring trumpet as it is; the technical footwork of I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional, and the gleefully mathy But The Regrets Are Killing Me. There's one small hiccup in the run — nominal finale Stay Home is interrupted with a post-intro tune-up, while Kinsella jokes that being half-a-step out of tune isn't so bad because "at least it's not a whole step", but it's quickly forgotten once the groove is reassumed, aligning itself with the rest of the band's near-flawless set. 

There are, however, two songs that the crowd are clearly thirsty to hear — though they nearly don't deserve them as the band leave the stage following Stay Home and some people actually start to boo — but enough of an applause is mustered up to bring the headliners back out to round out with a pair of clear album favourites: the brass-laced yawn of The Summer Ends, and their best-known track — and worth-the-wait high point of the set, Never Meant. A lot of once-angsty young people got to see something tonight their younger selves would never have dreamed of, and the evening's nostalgia meets its ever-present surprises to leave everyone jamming out the door in the best mood they've enjoyed all week.