On a humid and rain-drenched night in Sydney, Luna Park's Big Top played host to the first international tour to our Aussie Shores since the pandemic hit.
Pulling this thing off was no small feat.
Navigating the perplexing Covid protocols, shifting restrictions, mounting frustrations from ticket holders who'd been waiting on this event for almost three years and then, on top of all that, the usual chaos, complications and unforeseen madness of bringing four overseas rock acts out for a massive nationwide tour.
I seriously doubted we'd ever see the lights come up on the show. But here we are and the excitement is palpable.
Massive respect to the hard work and dogged determination of the promoters who orchestrated Under the Southern Stars 2022.
LA-based garage rockers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club kicked things off with their ferocious mix of pounding blues and psychedelic rock - provoking a tense, yet energetic reaction from the steadily growing crowd. Those who'd managed to navigate Sydney's wild weather to be here as the show began were stiff and out-of-practice at this live music thing, awkwardly shuffling in the shadows with no idea what to do with their hands.
The punishing attack of the drums was a blessed assault to the senses - I've missed that percussive thump you feel in your chest. Guitarist and co-frontman Peter Hayes performed the set in a black face mask and hoodie - looking like a demented cross between the Unabomber and Paul Dano's Riddler. He took time to thank the stage crew for their heroic work over the last 24 hours that made this show possible, reminding us all how lucky we were to be here tonight.
When the three-piece ripped into Spread Your Love it finally felt like the tension lifted, the crowd began to loosen up and it felt like 2018 all over again. By the end of the set, the crowd had doubled in size and there was a buzz in the building - this was gonna be a special night.
Next up, a band that needs no introduction... led by the snarling, intertwined guitar/bass duo of Robert and Dean DeLeo, Stone Temple Pilots smashed out the undeniable set-list of the night - going from banger to banger with the confident swagger of a gunslinger with more confirmed kills than Billy the Kid.
Plush (dedicated to the late Scott Weiland) and Interstate Love Song brought the biggest reactions - raised fists and the choruses sung in unison by the thousands in attendance. Again, time was taken to commend the efforts of exhausted stage crew, slumped in the darkness and nodding their heads along to the riffs. As brilliant as it was seeing these killer songs live, the band were clearly a bit rusty from their time in lock down - but let's be honest, aren't we all?
New vocalist Jeff Gutt is an commanding presence and intense frontman. He gave his everything to imbue these songs with the fire and fury they deserved - but there was still a feeling that something was amiss. With some extended time on the road, these veterans will no doubt tighten their hooks and sharpen their tools - can't wait to see where they're at next time round.
Rock n' Roll royalty, Cheap Trick were next up and they treated the crowd to a glam-rock spectacle, quickly dispensing two years worth of guitar picks into the crowd. (Did someone forget to cancel their monthly order during the pandemic?)
Their set was punctuated by sing-a-long anthem; Dream Police, power ballad favorite The Flame, If You Want My Love and I Want You To Want Me had the ladies in the audience remind us it's OK to dance in a crowd.
The older punters in the crowd pushed their way up to the front to hurl their aged bodies skyward once more - as if the amplified music was some magical elixir of youth. Whilst this band did feel a little out-of-place in tonight's lineup - replacing previously-billed Live - they certainly delivered a pungent and satisfying dose of retro-rock for those who engaged - they haven't sold 20 million records worldwide for nothing!
It was a thing of beauty, but I'm sure there's gonna be some sore knees in the morning!
Then came the evening's headline act...
By the frenzied energy that they possess, you could easily have mistaken Bush for an up-and-coming band, hungry and out to prove themselves.
They have lost absolutely none of their rock charisma, vocal tone and passion for putting on a helluva show.
They started with a bang, but it didn't last long.
A complete power failure brought things to a grinding halt just two songs in. This gave Gavin Rossdale a moment to get up-close and personal with the crowd. Sitting on the edge of the stage in the almost total darkness, he spoke of the trials and tribulations leading up to this show. "They changed dates, changed lineups, changed the venue, but you know what? We're the same band." He underlined how grateful and thankful they are to be back here - in a place that has welcomed them many times before. As he talked, he smiled with genuine affection in this strange, quiet moment - the eye of the hurricane.
When the power kicked back in - we were beyond ready for the streamlined explosion to follow... Bush's set featured a thrilling performance of new songs Blood River and Quicksand, which stood confidently with where it all started - Everything Zen. The band took a little breather while Gavin delivered a potent solo performance of Glycerine, its words hitting just a little harder then normal. Then, the band returned and the bombastic rock show resumed, closing the night with the emotion-filled Comedown, a reminder of those endless nights that dared the daylight to intrude on the good times, and for a moment, we were there.
When all was done - we'd had a few beers, rocked-out in a crowd alongside like-minded strangers, listening to some of the greatest songs ever written.
A few times in the past years, seeing international live music, shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed-out crowd felt like something we might never experience again.
Tonight felt like a rebirth - and what better way than with the majestic music we've been listening to for decades, guiding us back to that happy place.
I think we are going to be OK.
Check out the full photo gallery by Josh Groom: