The Smith Street Band

support Forever Unclean
author TL date 20/08/15 venue UnderWerket, Copenhagen, DEN

Other than The Menzingers, is there a young band more loved in the international punk rock underground these days than The Smith Street Band? Maybe, but the Australians are certainly up there, so their return to Denmark as headliners for the first time figured right from the start to be an evening to look forward to. Even more so because their gritty storyteller-punk is exactly the kind of music that fits a warm day in UnderWerket's basement setting, lending itself well to rowdy, beer-soaked singalongs. As such it is no surprise to see most of Copenhagen's punk show regulars come out for the event, getting the first couple of beers in them and catching up outside while anticipating tonight's first band.

Click to find more photos by Lykke Nielsen

Forever Unclean

"This is the first time we play UnderWerket! ..... this week!" Forever Unclean have been here countless times, although many of them was when they had an extra guitarist and were called Stars Burn Stripes. Since reforming under their new name, however, the guys have branched out from playing lightspeed skate punk by the numbers and have started working more anthemic and catchy moments into their songwriting. So where once they primarily shredded away with blinding speed, now there's a better chance you can pick up something more to sing along to fairly quickly, and it feels like there are also more clear riff signatures to get to know the songs by. Particularly the frequent implementation of Red City Radio-style sharing of vocal duties helps things feel more dynamic.

Despite the good developments, though, the instrumentation is still occasionally a little too busy for its own good, and at times it feels like the band is even struggling to restrain the urge to play even wilder and louder. But it would do them more good to focus on getting singer Lasse Mikkelsen's lyrics more clearly through the mix, as his high and characteristic, Chris Conley-inspired delivery is currently screamed rugged in contention with the instruments, to the point where you have little idea what he's singing.

Grading the show is a bit weird since half the people in UnderWerket know the band members personally and have likely seen them at least ten or twenty times. The mood is obviously good-natured, and people are bobbing their heads appreciatively. So here's the thing: The guys in Forever Unclean seem so strongly founded in their skate punk background that it wouldn't crack their identity, rather it would only help it pop more, if they inject even more of the new, catchy songwriting elements and focus on delivering those more carefully. They are already this solid, friendly punk-rock band that can play tiny venues here and elsewhere in Europe probably whenever they feel like it, but their songs are starting to show some potential to be able to have a life beyond that.

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The Smith Street Band

Moving on to The Smith Street Band, their performance beckons the rhetorical question: "What is a live concert meant to do?". Arguably, the point of a good show is to bridge the gap between artist and audience and make it feel like everyone is coming together in a celebration of the songs performed. Sometimes the circumstances for this are better than others: A band may simply have better songs, they may have better sound and they may have a more devoted audience, making it easier to attain this atmosphere. Such are the breaks, and The Smith Street Band catch themselves a break tonight, finding themselves among a family of strangers after what they describe as a weird tour where they've played a lot of festival shows in front of sparsely populated fields. So frontman Wil Wagner's diction might not come through all that well in contention with his band's instruments either, but when most of the room knows most of the lyrics as soon as they hear the starting lines, this is less than a hurdle than it could be.

And so the singalongs commence, as the show quickly turns into exactly the kind of experience fans could expect. The band seems to be rushing through songs a bit, but Wagner takes several moments to connect and share his appreciation for the crowd. Meanwhile, the quality of their songs does work as well. The band's style of atmosphere-building instrumentation is unusual in the punk rock scene, and though it rarely gives you an obvious riff or vocal melody to latch onto, it sets the perfect setting for Wagner to deliver his lively and relatable lyrical stories. And people here do relate, with casual newcomers seemingly in the minority tonight, while lines such as "I can't feel my face, but I can feel yours!" get howled back at the band at the tops of dozens of lungs. The potential power of the instrumental side is also on display when the quiet/loud dynamics of "Throw Me In The River" drops the loud part like a hammer on us towards the end of the set.

So overall, while finesse might not be a quality that has too much room in the fuzzy mix tonight, The Smith Street Band delivers exactly the kind of performance that it's known for. The kind where the songs have done tremendous work for the band ahead of time, and where people thus show up ready to come together and repay the band with appreciation, quickly making for a synergy that guarantees a good old time.

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