As an Adelaide Uni alumni, I’ve many fond memories of the former UniBar on Level 5 of Union House, jugs of pale, cheap parmis, and roughed-up decor indicative of the space’s colourful history. Having the bar relocate to the ground floor, however, has left the space largely abandoned, an empty relic of times past when many a rock band graced its humble stage.
No doubt many folks were delighted then at seeing Melbourne pub punk rock band Amyl and the Sniffers bring the room back to life as part of their 2020 tour. A bold choice by RCC (and former Adelaide Festival and Unsound) artistic director David Sefton, the ensemble delivered a phenomenally high-energy set, relished by a packed room comprising old and new generations of the punk community alongside regular punters.
Even for the non-punk attendees, the band’s initial stage presence is captivating and charismatic. Much of this energy derives from vocalist Amy Taylor, who commands the stage with impressive gusto, donning a bucket hat and assorted wardrobe of singlet and short shorts, accompanied by blue eyeshadow and bright red lipstick that is stunning even from the back of the room. Her performance is likewise beguiling, with vocals delivered in a rapid fire broad Australian strine, with dance moves that make Peter Garrett seem lethargic. This isn’t to say the other members of the band—guitarist Dec Martens, bassist Gus Romeo and drummer Bryce Wilson—are any less engaging. Consistently tight as an ensemble, each of the boys dons a mullet, clearly enjoying themselves and taking us along for the ride.
Much of the show is filled with songs from the band’s discography: their 2019 ARIA-winning self-titled album, alongside the earlier EPs Giddy Up (2016) and Big Attraction (2017). Most tracks are relatively short (lasting less than three minutes), which lend themselves to a streamlined performance, each tune barely ending before the fast tempo drumstick cue catapults us into the next number. While at times, such an approach made each song difficult to parse for the unfamiliar, this lent itself to a hold-no-prisoners stream of consciousness address on aspects of the band’s everyday lives. Gacked On Anger encapsulates frustrations of living rough, whilst Control offers a sardonic critique of authority figures. Melbournian references also abound, such as in Westgate, which details the difficulties of a breakup whilst walking to the eponymous Westgate Gate Bridge.
With a keen attitude and band name to match, Amyl and the Sniffers offer space for both blunt punk critique of contemporary Australia (and the world at large) alongside a fun-loving pub rock aesthetic. Again, Taylor embodies this, taking an early stage dive over the mosh pit (singing all the while) and later, treating her microphone cord like a skipping rope and lasso. At once both loveable larrikins and conduits for civil disobedience, Amyl and the Sniffers are clearly at the forefront of the late 2010s punk rock resurgence, a worthy act to breathe life back into the Adelaide UniBar once more.
Reviewed performance: 5 March 2020