The humble surroundings of The Croxton Bandroom in Melbourne were home to an impressive and moving night of music on Saturday night. Casually chatting with friends and having a drink before the music had started, there was no way of knowing that the night ahead would be something as special as it was.
The specialness was apparent even from opener Congrats. With no expectations whatsoever – and with barely any familiarity of his/their music for me, except for “Cut Down The Middle”, which I’ve smashed on repeat times infinity – I was immediately drawn in to the live experience. Just three musicians on stage, there was a surprisingly huge and surrounding presence and sound, while vocalist Ben Stewart’s warm voice shared his stories. “I’m nothing without you” he sang and I became one giant goosebump, wondering if everyone else was having a ‘pinch me, is this real?’ kind of moment too. Surreally beautiful.
Ben closed his eyes through a lot of this set, seeming to firmly affix himself to the moments in time that he was sharing, with full voice and emotion. Occasionally he revealed beaming smiles, reflecting joyful pockets of these memories. For an empathetic music lover, the experience of someone being so creatively all-in and sharing that outwardly was emotionally ruining, in a really fucking good way, and (probably needless to say) I couldn’t help but crying a little while standing there in the crowd.
There were moments where the Congrats set hit peak rap vibes, yet it never really felt out of place. At times those rap-esque vocal rhythms coupled with dreamy drum tones, and at other times (such as “Dessert”) the rapid run of thoughts and experiences seemed like it would be right at home on a Slowly Slowly album. A song about a lobotomy, which was amusingly feelgood and catchy in its groove and melody, climbed to an explosive peak that heavy music fans would have appreciated.
Ben felt more connected with the crowd as the set went on, and used the riser and other stage equipment to sit and “have a moment” with us. He introduced the drummer and the guitarist/synth player that were on stage with him (whose names I did not catch, I’m sorry!), and also had helping hands from friends on not one but three vocal features. A stand-out for my ears/soul was Yorke. Ben had told us to “get fuckin’ ready”, but I was definitely not ready for the goosebumps that the duo created with their sweet and tortured melodies combined. It seemed like the room was too small for how great this was. Cheers and applause persisted throughout.
Ending with “Cut Down the Middle” was the cherry on top of this set for me. It was all just perfect, really. With my qualifications of knowing every minute facet of this song from obsessive listening, the live version of it was even greater and I really don’t know how to word the experience. I’ll end by saying that I would highly, HIGHLY recommend that if you ever have the chance to see Congrats live, that you absolutely must, and THIS is why you show up for the opening bands!
Blessed was another act that I’d never seen live before. The Sydney based project created by Blessed Samuel Joe-Andah revealed itself with firstly a piano introduction before droning “ooh”s. Feeling relatively sedate, it felt fucking great and Blessed’s voice shared seriousness at the same time gave the audience space to reflect.
Different from the set before it, I came to understand that Blessed had more of a revolutionary inspiration behind his music, as well as wanting for the songs to inspire happiness. Hard to summarise of sound, it was catchy beats, funky vibes, noisy rock with sweet melodic touches, hip hop intensity, and sass on the drums. The drummer was virtually dancing at the kit.
We were invited to join in and add our voices, with Blessed saying “Now that we’re friends I’d like to welcome you to my world”. That world was one of storytelling to sick beats with grit and guts. Lush soundscapes were formed by each element of voice and instrument and frequent hums were comforting and soothing, and the vocal rhythms were mesmerising.
Reiterating the importance of connection and authentic kindness throughout the set, we were encouraged to high five someone that we didn’t know next to/near to us in the audience to feel the love. And to appreciate music as one of the great things of life, we were asked to yell “Groovy!” and encouraged to dance and shake off some of the seriousness of the important themes.
Connecting the two acts so far, as well as considering what I know of Trophy Eyes, I found a link with them all with their storytelling approach as well as honesty in their lyrics. Genre lines disintegrate when you see through to the people behind the music sharing similar messages and perspectives about life. “Superfly” was the feelgood end to the set, soaring and heartfelt!
It was time for the main event and suddenly the crowd had doubled in size! Trophy Eyes took to the stage and began with “Something Bigger Than This” from The American Dream. It was immediately apparent to me that vocalist/frontman John Floreani was working hard to amp us all up, with had high expectations of us – the last show of the tour.
Guitarist Andrew “Pokket” Hallett and bassist Jeremy “Jezza” Winchester moved around the stage and John shared his unfiltered stories via song. I was impressed by the long-held notes and it was impossible not to sing along with the chorus, just like everyone around me. “Friday Forever” enticed more singing along and bouncing, but it was pretty clear that there was so much more in our tanks for the set ahead.
A pink-hued “Breathe You In” offered a slight throwback to Chemical Miracle and seemed to multiply the crowd surfers and pit movement. John thrusting his mic stand expectantly out at the crowd sparked a bit of wildness that hadn’t seemed to truly kick in yet. The more that John put in, the more the crowd gave back. They asked a lot of themselves as well as us.
Still in Chemical Miracle territory, “Home Is” was introduced by John talking about the life experiences that inspired the song. Feeling more open and raw, it was easy for the crowd to vocally and physically match the outpouring, tumbling over the barrier… which certain security guards weren’t handling too well (requiring John to crouch down and talk to them at the “I’ve got two legs over your armrest” part of the song).
Inviting people up on friends’ shoulders then, I was surprised to hear “Hurt”. It was quite the moment, and a stand-out ‘wow’ for me. It felt great to look around and see so many sparkly eyed or bouncing fans shouting the words and beaming the song toward the stage. “Melbourne, you’re fucking beautiful!” John said, and, as he had been doing all night, threw down some more of his signature dance moves. I even spotted the classic running man.
And if “Hurt” was great, then “Heaven Sent” was even better. We virtually took over vocals at the pre-chorus, loudly singing at the stage. This was clearly a John-crowd duo now, and we didn’t need to be coaxed to be part of this anymore.
Playing “Figure Eight” seemed to put a spring in Trophy Eyes’ band members’ steps and bigger smiles on all their faces. The new single was clearly a crowd favourite too and sparked bouncing and dancing, and a crowd solo to finish. I’ve got to say that John’s vocals have continued to improve every time I see this band. He revealed himself as an impressive and strong singer throughout the set, even in the highest peaks of these songs and with their longest-held notes.
With very little time between songs, the set seemed like one mammoth Trophy Eyes sing/dance-athon. No complaints here. And it was an emotive time too. “Miming In The Choir” made for an impactful moment, making it easy to empathise with the yearning existential tune. The lights slamming to black at “I wanna care when the lights go out” added to this. “More Like You” amplified the self-hate thread, with John introducing it as being “about hating yourself down to a cellular level”. Though it’s odd for someone to share something so honest and tough and there be cheers and applause in response, it’s a really great unifying song for anyone that relates. With hands waving side to side together, it’s like the frustrated lyrical dump and terrorised roars (“I NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN!”) were taken in and accepted.
Leaping straight into “Lavender Bay” – literally leaping – I was wondering how the full jumpsuited John Floreani had energy for spins and bounces in the heat of the bandroom. Clearly unrelenting with what they were putting in, we did the same, belting out the chorus clearly and loudly.
I was loving the moments of this set where we were hearing intimate sharings about the songs, and the inspiration for “Daydreamer” was one of these. John spoke about leaving home and people forgetting who you are, and asked us to sing with our souls. The song was a special moment of the set for me, and also seemed to be impactful for John who placed hand to heart in response.
Already feeling warm and fuzzy, this just rolled into the rest of the set and grew and grew. We proudly took the vocal reins for “Chlorine”, and then “I Can Feel It Calling” followed, with us informed that they don’t do any of “that encore bullshit”.
The journey of “I Can Feel It Calling” is a feelings fest even in its recorded form, and was decidedly one in the flesh too. With sweat pouring off John then, his vocal snarls and screams felt like an audible “Fuck you” to life and its neverending hurdles. The more gentler and celebratory moment of “Think of me when you’re alone and you can’t sleep” had me tear up, brilliantly hit home by the entire band.
The set could have easily finished there, but “You Can Count On Me” closed the night; reiterating the topic of overcoming those hurdles (“I made it out and I’m happy now!”). Lighter and cheerier of mood, it was all smiles on stage (and even in the crowd after John stagedived), and felt like a definite peak in the crowd energy.
Heartwarmed and happy, we made our sweaty ways home after such a great night of live music.