Newtown Social Club, 01.02.17
Mustering up the strength to go to a mid-week gig after work can take a hell of a lot of effort at the best of times, but it’s a particularly difficult pull when your hometown is in the midst of a stifling heat wave. Still, when you love a band as much as a few hundred Sydney-based White Lung fans, you’ll fight through fire and fatigue just to get a glimpse of your favourite musicians.
On nights like this, an energetic opening band is of vital importance. Unfortunately Phantastic Ferniture’s warbly, wavy, reverb-heavy rock was the polar opposite of punk – a bland, lifeless performance made up of fairly basic songs better suited for lazy Sundays at the pub. While they’re not necessarily bad musicians, the 80s-esque pop vocals were particularly cool, their simple song structures and awkward, reserved, barely audible banter just didn’t fit the bill.
So when White Lung decided to skip the whole interaction thing and get straight to the point, the punters at Newtown Social Club became a lot more enthusiastic. There was little conversation, save for a mid-set whiskey shot request from frontwoman Mish Way-Barber, just 14 cuts mostly from 2016’s Paradise, crammed into 45 minutes. Yeah, White Lung don’t screw around.
They’re a band that effortlessly combines the then and now. Their style, sound, and the attitude of an era where riot grrrls ruled the Sunset Strip, combine with a maturity to address important social topics without the blind rage filter. Even after 10 years, Way-Barber still gives next to no fucks about what anyone else thinks, yet she’s found a way to clean the grit from her noisy outlet and push away the temptations of a nihilistic bend. Sure the music seems bleak at first, but when you see them on stage, it becomes blindingly obvious that Way has made it her personal mission to make people sit up and pay attention to the complicated shit that’s happening in the world.
You could never really accuse White Lung of writing derivative music, but their move to a somewhat more experimental realm within post-punk, one that adds elements of alt-rock beneath the shiny veneer of pop, has added another layer of complexity to their sound. And it seems that they’re still finding their live feet with last year’s record. Early tracks like ‘I Beg You’ and ‘Narcoleptic’ hit a few bumps, as Kenny William tried to wrangle his complicated guitar chords, but by the time Way-Barber was hitting the big peak in ‘Below’, White Lung had everything under control.
With so many modern bands trying to recreate the indifferent attitude of so many 90s legends, it’s refreshing to see a current group actually pull it off. All but Way-Barber remained relatively emotionless, dutifully fulfilling their roles on guitar, drums and bass with little-to-no movement and barely a glance at the audience. Way-Barber, however, frequently flittered between frenetic flicking of her head and arms, and graceful movements about stage, befitting of a performance in an Art Deco theatre. Who knew punk could be so elegant?
But while White Lung make a point to bring lyrical substance to their songs, it’s pretty damn hard to digest the message when vocals take a muddy back seat in the mix. Sure a fair slice of their sound rests on the music, the band members seem to draw attention away from themselves for that very reason, yet Way-Barber’s vocals are an integral part of the style and someone at Newtown Social seemed to forget about that. When ear-bleeding tones like the chorus of ‘Paradise’ were supposed to scream through the venue, Sydney heard a muffled harmony instead. Even older tracks like ‘Down With The Monster’, which should have been a destructive closer, lost their punch under bassy imbalance.
Fortunately that didn’t detract from the performance. Far from chaotic but just as confronting, the only real downside was a set mostly built on one album that ended up sounding pretty samey. Still, the new chapter in White Lung’s book brought the typically raw punk performance into a manageable package that forced everyone to pay attention, rather than encouraging them to run in a circle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but hey, sometimes it’s important to actually listen to what someone’s saying.
When did you start shooting? I started doing gigs about 7 years ago. Before that, photography had always been in the house – my dad was a serious enthusiast. Way back when, I did a semester of photo journalism as part of my Bachelor of Journalism at Uni, so I bought a digital cameraLearn more about Peter Zaluzny