Neck Deep: The Peace And The Panic Straya Tour @ 170 Russell, Melbourne

Last night Christmas came early for every pop punk fan in Melbourne. Icons of the genre, Neck Deep, put on one hell of a show at 170 Russell. All the way from Wales in the United Kingdom, this was the final stop on Neck Deep’s short but sweet ‘The Peace And The Panic Straya Tour’ in celebration of their 2017 album The Peace And The Panic.

Before the doors had opened fans were lined up all the way around the block, making for a very long walk to the back and a substantial wait to get in. This made it clearly apparent how excited everyone was, with a huge amount of people showing up early to see the supports.

Opening the show was Brisbane’s Stateside. A healthy dose of alt-rock and pop-punk, they got things off to a positive start, with vocalist Erin Reus supplying more than enough energy to make up for the whole band. Technical difficulties wounded the first song a little, but they pulled through and managed to keep positive vibes going. Every band member danced and head-banged around the stage, with high enthusiasm despite the messy instrumental execution of “This Is War”.

Erin’s vocals continued to be a highlight throughout the set, and Stateside as a whole did very well to keep their energy as high as they did despite the quietness of the crowd. They launched into an unreleased song, managing to get the crowd involved with a chorus of singalongs and a big “yee haw”. This quite catchy new song was my personal favourite of the set.

After this they launched into something that I never thought I’d see played at a show: Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi”. A bold choice for a cover for sure, I enjoyed it nonetheless and it seemed like everyone else did as well. Stateside finished off their set with “The Way We Were”, above all proving to be a gentle way to warm the crowd up for the other bands.

Next up was Melbourne’s own Between You & Me. Coming off the back of their largely popular album Everything Is Temporary album and several headline tours around Australia and Japan, momentum is high for the band. Their presence on stage was announced by speakers blaring out the theme song of iconic WWE stable “D-Generation X”, planting a huge grin on my face and pumping me up for what was to come.

From the word go the energy flowed from the stage. Vocalist Jake Wilson was jumping and bouncing off his bandmates as they rolled through their opening songs. Tight instrumentally and flawless vocally, Between You & Me fans were overjoyed as they pushed and shoved their way around the floor and sung their hearts out with their fists in the air.

Bass player James Karagiozis also brought a great deal of energy to the band’s stage presence, despite his unusual attire made up of board shorts, suspenders, no shirt, and a santa hat. None of this stopped him from joining his bandmates in delivering a very intense and fun performance. There wasn’t a single second where everyone on stage wasn’t moving, and it seemed to be infectious as it continued to pump up the crowd and keep them going.

“Trees In The Winter” and “Move On” got hands in the air and bodies moving as Between You & Me executed them to perfection. “Friends From 96” brought the tempo down a bit, with a slow and feelsy singalong that seemed like every fan in the room contributed to. Jake stood back with a smile on his face and conducted the final chorus like an orchestra, before announcing that this next one would be their last one: “Dakota”. The pit ran wild for the Everything Is Temporary single, and from the back looked like a giant writhing mess of bodies and smiles. Prompting the biggest singalong of the night, “Dakota” ended with Jake stage diving, ending the set on a gigantic high.

The final support was Stand Atlantic from Sydney, which I was very very excited for. Their recent album Skinny Dipping is one of my favourite records of this year, and I was buzzing to see its songs performed live. They opened their set with “Lavender Bones” and from the second they started playing they sounded amazing. Incredibly tight and enthusiastic, they threw out a lot of love as the crowd threw it right back at them. Hands were already in the air swaying back and forth, and our reaction had already sprouted a smile on the face of vocalist Bonnie Fraser.

That smile would become a mainstay for the set as her impassioned and solid vocals led the audience through “Speak Slow”. Everyone bounced in perfect sync, on and off the stage, as Stand Atlantic rolled through “Sidewinder” and “Chemicals”. Guitar spins and punk jumps were pulled out of their punk rock arsenal as the set continued to heat up.
Taking a second to mention their new album, Bonnie’s mentions of Skinny Dipping were met with a great number of cheers, and she affirmed that everyone would definitely know this next one. “Skinny Dipping” spawned a massive singalong, showing that the Stand Atlantic fans were out in droves. Grinding scream vocals came out for “Push” adding an extra powerful edge to the song, and led perfectly into the bands quick tribute to Shannon Noll. Their backdrop was the word “Stand Atlantic” surrounded by fire, flashing up with a discreet image of the man himself that I don’t think anyone noticed until Bonnie pointed it out: “Lets give it up for Nollsy, what a guy.”

Phone lights and hands were high in the air for “Lost Your Cool”, and created a beautifully wholesome atmosphere. A call of “Melbourne you have been fucking fantastic” launched us into Stand Atlantic’s final song. “Coffee at Midnight” was the biggest singalong of the night so far and even with earplugs in it was overwhelmingly obvious how much everyone loved it, including the band – all of Stand Atlantic jumped and headbanged and screamed the words along with Bonnie. The crowd was well and truly warmed up at this stage, and everyone was ready for Neck Deep.

One of the biggest pop punk bands in history, Neck Deep seem to have a place in the heart of every punk and emo kid in the scene. It also seemed like every one of us had come out to see them. As the lights went out and Neck Deep entered stage, the crowd noise was deafening. An backing track of a countdown prepared everyone. As it got to 1 and then LIFT OFF Neck Deep kicked us in the head with a perfect rendition of their very own “Motion Sickness”. Setting a foundation for the rest of the set the crowd sung along enthusiastically with every word of the song, launching themselves in every direction that they possibly could in an effort to get themselves closer to these beautiful Welsh boys.

Crowd surfers were already flowing in a seemingly constant stream, making for smiles on the faces of every band member as they played through “Gold Steps”. Dangerous looking guitar spins and jumps from guitarists Matt West and Sam Bowden added an edge of intensity to their typically upbeat sound. Though scary, it was clear they were having the times of their lives.

Vocalist Ben Barlow promised to take us all on a journey tonight, saying they’d take us “through the highs and the lows, and the happy and the sad“, and that we’d all go through it together. It was the final show for their Tour Manager of the last 5 years, and after calling him the captain of the Neck Deep ‘ship’, it was only fitting that they then launched into “Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors”.

“Parachute” slowed it down and had us all dancing, while their rendition of their recently released cover of “Torn” sparked more singing again. The final chorus had Ben extending the microphone to the crowd, as if reaching out to the heavens; being met with a beautiful angelic chorus of voices sending the words straight back at him.

A gigantic siren then rang throughout the room, seemingly preparing us for war as the opening bars of “Happy Judgement Day” got the song going. Looking back at it from the next day, this show was ridiculous. Literally EVERY song had everyone in the room seemingly singing along. It was deafeningly beautiful in a way, and was really special to be in a room like this where all the songs meant so much to the audience.

“Kali Ma” got everyone bouncing in an earth-shaking display of enthusiasm, and was so loud that I’m confident Ben could have got through the whole song without singing a single note. They then moved onto the first song Neck Deep had ever written and released – “What Did You Expect”; a cheeky attempt to weed out who the OG fans were. It worked perfectly in their favour however, as it seemed like everyone knew it anyway. “Citizens of Earth” and “Don’t Wait” brought out the heavy-side of Neck Deep and had the big double finger-point singalongs flying out between all the moshing. I was curious as to whether or not someone else would come up on stage to do Sam Carter’s part of “Don’t Wait”, but was overjoyed when Ben himself simply pulled out some very impressive scream vocals. This was when everything got really real for a while, and it was amazing.

Ben took a second to talk about relationships and emotion, and how special their music is to them. He said that this next song in particular has been a big one for all of them personally. As they all launched into “December” it was clear how special this is; not just to the audience, but to the band as well. Officially the biggest singalong of the night, everyone danced and grooved to the raw rocky version of the song as emotion flowed out everywhere. Sad people united and enjoyed one of the emo anthems of the last decade together as one. It was incredibly special, and there was still more to come.

Ben grabbed himself a glass of wine, and began to tell some stories. He talked about their time as a band, and how special their music was to them. He described music as an escape, and to have the sad songs they write mean so much to so many people all around the world was the most special thing in the world. “If you’re ever down and out, don’t worry. We’ll always be there on the other end of the speaker, or the headphones. If you’ve got no one to talk to, just put on a Neck Deep record.” The whole thing was so sincere and genuine, I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to witness this. A gigantic chant of “NECK DEEP” broke out, and Ben and the band stood there and took it all in together.

Getting back into the music, they played “Candour”, which Ben shared was written right before his fathers passing. Slow, sad, and atmospheric, it’s a beautiful story about the life of his father and how much he meant to Ben. Everyone in the room happily joined in, serenading him with the beautiful words that he himself had written. Violin and piano rang through the room, heading the song on a beautiful high note.

Ben got himself another glass of wine before announcing that “it’s storytime”. He told a story of life, love, family, friends, and death, and talked about how his parents met. It was a classic story of two people meeting at the local dance and talking the night away, but with a twist: His Dad was engaged to be married to someone he despised, and as he talked about that his mother jokingly said “I’d save you if I could”. It was just a joke, but six weeks after that they were married, and would stay married for the next forty years.

Ben talked about how amazing things like that were, and how they don’t happen anymore and it’s awful. He talked about how bullshit love is now, and how people need to step away from their phones and open up their eyes to what is in front of them, because the person they spend the rest of their lives with could be next to them right now. In saying all that, they got the music going again, launching into “19 Seventy Sumthin'”, in what was one of the catchiest and wholesome songs of the evening. As the rest of the band sang and danced around him, Ben stood still and hugged the mic stand with his eyes closed as he sang.

Ben then said that amongst all that sadness he had forgotten to say that this one was their ‘last song’. They then went on to take the piss out of encores for a solid 2 minutes, sarcastically saying that “see you guys don’t even care cause you know it isn’t true.” But with that, he described the next one as the most important and special Neck Deep song that they’ve ever written. Without further ado “In Bloom” took hold of 170 Russell. Ear-numbing singalongs, dancing, bouncing, crowd-surfing, and the overwhelming beauty of what had taken place this evening was all too much. Tears were being shed everywhere around me, and it was incredibly special.

Neck Deep left stage, and that was that… for about 2 minutes.

Running back on stage, Ben said that they couldn’t just end on a solemn note like that, so they were back to have some fun. “Can’t Kick Up The Roots” brought back the bouncy and upbeat pace of Neck Deep that we all know and love. Guitarist Matt West sprinted around stage punching and kicking the air, as Ben bounced and two-stepped through the instrumental joy that is this song. Coming to an end and preparing to play their actual last song, they took a second to get their tour manager out on stage and talked about how much they loved him. They poured out a shoey for him, and enjoyed a big group hug before finishing the night by playing “Where Do We Go When We Go”. A huge happy singalong, it was a wonderful note to end the set on.

This was incredibly special, and not just to me, but to everyone that was there in that room. It is rare that anything can affect that many people like that in one place, but Neck Deep were able to do it with ease. Music does that to people, it picks them up when they’re down, and it’s always there when they have no one else. Neck Deep are a big symbol for that musical emotional connection, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the years. Nothing else can do that like music can, and I feel privileged to have been able to witness the beauty that was present at 170 Russell last night.

[Photos courtesy of Liam Davidson]
Josh Hockey

Melbourne based music journalist who is ridiculously passionate about music, and spends every possible moment listening to it, seeing shows, and of course wearing the merch.

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