Max Watt’s, Melbourne VIC
February 25th & 26th, 2018
Support: Bukowski and Struck Out
Not that it’s reasonable to dislike them by elitist comparison, but if the Foo Fighters blazed through town on a much fatter marketing budget while busting out back-to-back nights in each town as they flawlessly slayed the most beloved four albums of their dizzying discography, folks across the board would revere and herald them as kings of rock beyond all mortal measure. Well, they didn’t… but Say Anything did to an audience of deeply ingratiated fans that – quite literally – knew every single fucking word of the four CDs of music they bashed out over a staggeringly epic FOUR-AND-A-BIT-HOURS over two huge nights in Melbourne. Though technically a 10th Anniversary Tour for their incredible 2-disc 3rd album effort In Defense Of The Genre, there’s no denying that all four of the compact discs Max Bemis and his exceptionally talented band executed while remaining true to the track orders of each were relished with aplomb.
Night one saw a larger crowd, presumably because it was both a Sunday, and the night where early-2000’s punk/rock/emo album titan Is A Real Boy was being delivered. The album is an underrated jewel in the crown of punks aforementioned era, and those who took it up upon its original release fell bewitchingly under the spell of Bemis’ open-hearted, bitter, dark, funny, and deeply perspicacious lyricism and musicianship. The infamy surrounding his loss of sanity, bipolar diagnosis, and damaging substance abuse while almost single-handedly recording the record only compelled fans to dig their heels in harder and make sure their new musical superstar friend was doing okay. As a result, Max has truly made close friends of his monumentally dedicated fans, and openly admits to such a fact while on stage.
Firstly, though, was the comparatively jauntier first disc of In Defense…, and before that were affable local supports Bukowski. Though not as subversive and consistently imprisoned by the FBI as the genius poet after whom they are named, Bukowski put on a ripping, evenly-paced set of emotionally driven anthems that suited the evening’s fair to a tee. Replete with an ironic Nickelback half-cover, and a full one of Taking Back Sunday’s classic tune ‘Make Damn Sure’ amidst their anthemic, emo-rock originals added memorable pep to their swift half hour set. They self-deprecated with great regularity between professionally delivered tracks, and even humbly admitted that the lyrics from one of their more popular songs were actually misprinted on their merch tees up the back. Jolly good show, dudes. You were a huge hit with an initially indifferent and still-arriving crowd. From a reviewer who has been watching supports at The HiFi/ Max Watts for around 18 years now, I can safely say that doesn’t come easily. Nailed it.
In Defense… was spawned during a time in Max Bemis’ life where he’d spent large chunks of it in both mental hospitals, and a state of perpetual, pitch-black depression spurred from heartbreak and substance abuse. Luckily, he’s fine, and what came out was disarmingly positive, while still retaining Bemis’ penchant for grim, corporeal, darkly fantastical, and autobiographical lyrics amongst the glimmers. The first disc of Say Anything’s 27 track epic is noticeably more poppy and coherent, so punchy hits ‘No Soul’, ‘This Is Fucking Ecstasy’, ‘Shiksa (Girlfriend)’, ‘Baby Girl, I’m A Blur’, and the rollicking ‘People Like You Are Why People Like Me Exist’ were met with particular elation. That said, the majority of the crowd really did know every single word to every song across both nights, so nothing really deflated the energy across the board.
Bassist and Bemis brother-in-law Garron DuPree is a hair-swinging demon who tag teamed wondrously on stage left with guitarist Kenny Bridges in successful efforts to upstage the spasmodic, ceaseless stage presence of Max himself. A writhing, dancing, sprinting, jumping ball of energy, Bemis hasn’t lost a step since this reviewer first saw the band at The London Brixton Academy in mid-2006. That’s no small feat after 12 hours of live shows. Keyboard/guitar/MicroKorg/multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Parker Case cannot be praised enough. He runs the on stage electronic samples, and breezily drifts between instruments between and during songs so effortlessly, it’s hard to even notice he’s done so throughout the set. The man is a fucking dynamo, and it’s a privilege to see him at work.
Everything I just said about all these dudes happened non-stop over both nights. What a gargantuan effort.
After a short break, the band returned to bash out Is a Real Boy in its chronological entirety, and my word the place fucking lost it. There is no album even remotely similar to the unforgettable and idiosyncratic effort Max and Co. churned out some 1/6th of a century ago. It’s lightning in a bottle from an entirely original mind, and the result is white-hot, faultless dynamite to see strung together live. Throughout the set, Max battled a contemptibly errant microphone cord that no anxious and zippy stagehand could seem to subdue. It regularly slipped out and cost him his main vox outlet, though the guy – ever the veteran professional – would simply flog Parker or Kenny’s mic until his came back to life. This happened a dozen or so times during songs, but the crowd was singing so loud no one gave the slightest of fucks, least of all Say Anything. There’s not much else to say except the boys fucking killed it, and no one went home unhappy. Conspicuous in its absence was fan favourite ‘Wow, Can I Get Sexual Too?’; the opening track from a second disc released with most copies of Is A Real Boy…, suitably titled ‘Was A Real Boy’.
It’s catchy as fuck and very provocative, but a tweet from Max not long after a bunch of rich, old, fucked-up celebrity men were caught doing inexplicably evil shit to ladies last year stated he had retired the song due to its lyrical capacity to potentially be negatively associated with aforementioned events (in particular, Louis CK wanking down the phone like a real twit). Evidently, Bemis has nobly stuck to his word, though it’s unfortunate that those fuck head rapist/sex fiend old shits have cost us SA fans a really fun live song. Still, one must accept Bemis position, and commend his thoughtfulness (which extended to several other potentially hurtfully cynical lyrics throughout both sets over both nights). The guy didn’t cut out the swearing, nor did he ever, EVER write anything piggish, but the intentionally pitch black pictures he can verbally paint could sound ugly in this relivedly more equal and feministic world yawing from back in 2000’s debut decade when the guy was much younger and angrier. It’s awesome but unsurprising the extremely thoughtful (and now Dad to a daughter) Bemis has adapted to our ever-changing social paradigms. Lead the way, Max.
After a quick rinse and a spot of Mortal Kombat 3 on Super Nintendo, it was time to head back to Max Watt’s for night two on the Monday. Fuck Mondays, am I right?
I’ll save your time and undisputedly decree in short that night two was as fucking great as night one. Disc two of In Defense… is more of a slow burn, but as impassioned as any other Say Anything release. Resultantly, everyone still had a big ol’ fat, great time belting out ‘You Should Lie With Me’, ‘About Falling’, and balladic closer ‘Plea’, before the customary break and delivery of the band’s self-titled uplifter was executed and devoured as feverishly as all three, album-length sets preceding it. The optimistic and inspiring ‘Do Better’, and cynically hilarious ‘I Hate Everyone’ were particular highlights.
Their opener band Struck Out were also kind, slick-looking young men who seemed genuinely humbled to have their brand of engrossing, melancholy and disarmingly abrasive emo rock punched out to a dedicated clump of followers all smiling up front.
Both evenings ended with Bemis busting out impromptu solo guitar efforts when the band had run out of songs, and night two even had a quick drum duet from Bemis and the flawlessly capable Remington DuPree; backbone and driving force behind much of both night’s rollercoastering energy. So, yeah, Say Anything are an unstoppable behemoth capable of the most marathon efforts of global touring this reviewer has ever seen. They’ll never (deservingly) play The MCG, but who the fuck cares? A fan base cultivated to be so intimate and friendly with a band that deeply loves them suits venues like Max Watts just fine. Don’t be strangers, Say Anything. After all, we’re all really good friends, and have been for a long time.
Review and Photo Gallery by the legendary Todd Gingell
Please credit Wall of Sound and Todd Gingell if you repost.
Say Anything – In Defense Anniversary Tour
Thursday March 1st @ Factory Theatre, Sydney
Friday March 2nd @ The Triffid, Brisbane
Sunday March 4th @ The Zoo, Brisbane