Karnivool haven’t played in Australia for over a year, which is far too long for the faithful and last night was like a reunion of life-long friends whose circumstances had isolated them from each other. With around 900 die-hard fans it was a crowd size that hits that right balance between being intimate, and encouraging maximum crowd involvement. Having sold out three straight shows here and one in nearby Geelong, some fans were no doubt making up for the abstinence with a flurry of action, and in the end this was one hell of a sing-along.

This was my first time to a Karnivool gig. I’d heard their songs over the years, but I was really there to see sleepmakeswaves, a Sydney progressive instrumental band who had been able to get the first support slot for the Melodias Frescas tour. I do want to get a negative out of the way straight up. I don’t like when support acts get a lesser quality of sound mix than the headline. Small pub gigs don’t tend to suffer this, but once you get to the bigger venues and bands it seems to be a fact of life and in this case there were guitar riffs from sleepmakeswaves that couldn’t be heard and the singer of Redcoats was barely audible at times. That said, it certainly didn’t ruin the night and thankfully the sound and lighting for Karnivool was some of the best I’ve ever seen.

A lot of people don’t think to listen to instrumental rock and I can see why some of the slower bands don’t appeal to many. sleepmakeswaves, on the other hand, have a habit of impressing the hell out of anyone who happens to see them by chance and last night was no exception. Playing a short set of 30 minutes they showed their usual explosive energy and contrasting delicate guitar lines to the generally surprised and wholly appreciative early crowd, which was already filling up (I love an early crowd).

Against a background of glitchy samples Alex set up raging bass lines as Kid and Otto layered guitar from gentle picking, chiming and tremolo, through to power chords and chugging metal riffs. All the while Tim carried the beats through the loopy and rhythmically challenging passages as well as the frenetic rolling explosions in ‘a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’ and ‘(hello) cloud mountain’. These guys have recently toured Australia and played South by South West and dunk!festival, and this is the fourth time I’ve seen them in just over six months. Their performances just get better and better and if you’ve not yet seen them play their intense and uplifting brand of progressive rock, like ‘to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest’, then make sure you do.

Next up were Melbourne four-piece Redcoats, made up of single guitar, bass, drums, vocals, long hair, tight jeans and more snakelike and grinding moves since Robert Plant and Bon Scott. From what I could hear of singer Emilio with this mix, his voice was clear and theatrical, well suited to the bluesy, heavy psych/prog rock. Loops and pedals expanded the great work on the bass and, apart from when I was watching the cobra at work, it took up most of my attention. Guitar laid down great noise walls and provided plenty of flamboyant melodies. Hell, we even saw a 12-string brought out for a song. Drums were solid and consistent although not as inventive and technical as I like in my music, but that’s more about taste than skill.

Not knowing their music, I can’t name most of what they played I’m afraid, but ‘Dreamshaker’ was there and it’s an awesome tune. ‘Kaytrucker’ and ‘Giants’ also got an airing (I think) and the tight 45 minute set got the response it deserved from the crowd.

The posted half hour wait while the big light show was tweaked and sound checked and rechecked was nearing the 25 minute mark when a section of the crowd started an impromptu rendition of one of Karnivool‘s songs. A few minutes later the chant had gone up for the acclaimed Western Australian rockers and when they did walk onstage the response was thunderous. My wife took an immediate liking to drummer Steve Judd. Apparently even if the band were going to be shit, she would have something to look at for the next hour and a half. As it happens it took about four bars into ‘Fade’ to know this was going to be a great set.

The musicianship was superb, the timing spot on, and the feeling on stage one of relaxed professionals enjoying themselves, with plenty of chatter, smiling and laughing. Drew Goddard‘s lead lines were inventive, the riffs and shredding sounded so clear with no drop-out or unintended feedback. Mark Hosking‘s samples, vocals and guitar filled out the harder rocking passages while providing great counterpoint to Drew‘s guitar and Ian Kenny‘s voice at others.

Their set blended the powerful hooks and riffage of the hard rock/ nu-metal sound of their earlier releases with their more inventive and progressive later work. Songs like ‘Shutterspeed’, ‘Roquefort’ and ‘Themata’ lay perfectly among the likes of ‘Umbra’ and ‘All I know’, leaving no feeling of sameness and repetition. Throw in a couple of new tracks at the right spots and this was a crowd-pleasing set.

On any night you would have chalked this up as a very good gig, but when you factor in the crowd it became something else. We’ve all been to the shows where the crowd knows the single off last month’s release and the number declines the further into the discography you delve. We might sing along to a few choruses as the singer holds out the mic or cups their ear inviting our participation. All wonderful stuff, but this is the first show I’ve been too where most of the crowd new all the words to pretty much all of the songs. Kenny didn’t have to invite participation, or stop singing for a few bars so the crowd could hear themselves, it just happened, ‘New Day’ garnering some of the most enthusiastic participation. The mix meant that Kenny‘s voice was never drowned out by the almost one thousand backing singers as he hit every note perfectly and every word was heard. This was no rock crowd, this was the Karnivool family.

When all was said and done, most of the buzzing crowd wound their way up the stairs out of the bunker. Some didn’t want to go home, the human dynamo who had been flailing the rest of the mosh with his long dreads warmed down by circling the floor, and a young couple walked off looking at the setlist they had bagged that would no doubt be proudly shown to friends and provide a unique memento. There was a truck-load of love in the air last night.

Try finding that in a night club.

sleepmakeswaves – Facebook Page

Redcoats – Facebook Page

Karnivool – Facebook Page