Newcastle Panthers, West Newcastle
Sunday October 2, 2005

What if they gave a party and no-one came?

You had to feel sorry for the local guy that promoted the second "Showdown at Sundown" festival. Last year, it was apparently a raging success but this time, at a guess, just 250 punters turned up in a room meant for 1000. It was a curious mix of kids and the middle-aged (this was an under 18s event with a bar out back for the rest of us) but that wasn't the issue. The problem was two-fold; not only was t was the Labor Day long weekend (and significant numbers of Novacastrians would have been elsewhere), but it was the night of the National Rugby League grand final. (I didn't have a dog in that race so I settled for a radio call in the car on the 2.5 hour drive from southern Sydney). Even with the game on the big screen in-between bands, people chose to stay away.

There had clearly been significant investment made in the festival, with dual stages, heavyweight production and an extensive lightshow. The writing was on the wall when you walked in past hastily amended handbills offering half-price admission after 10pm. Word was there'd been little pre-promotion and there was an arts festival of some sort down the road. Normally that wouldn't be a problem but two of the three headliners were bands that appealed to an older audience. I was struggling to find any coherent information about the line-up, online let alone a start time.

Paradoxically, the Civic Hotel two blocks away was overflowing with punk/underground-styled youngsters. I would have dropped in for a beer but my Zimmer frame wouldn't fit through the crowd.

But back at Panthers and first to Unwritten Law. This was obviously the San Diego band's own crowd. About 200 youngsters jammed the area in front of their stage, singing along and moshing to their thin-sounding mix of lite punk, quasi-hip hop rock. Anchored by a drummer who overplays and fronted by a try-hard singer who occasionally strapped on a guitar, they peddle music that touches on Faith No More and so many SoCal ska-tinged, would-be punk bands.

It went down well enough with the kids and it was a nice flourish when the singer threw his acoustic guitar sidestage for a roadie to catch after one skin-crawling emo tune about taking all the chicks' virginity (I kid you not). I'll never relate to this music (far too old) but, even from an objective perspective, the guitar mix was as thin as an anorexic's wrist and the beat-keeper beat his meat far too much.

I've never been a huge fan of The Meanies as their style of pop punk seemed a little lightweight but maybe I've mellowed or they had an off night or two, because they sounded pretty OK tonight. Of course I could be just clutching at straws after witnessing Unwritten Song - sorry, Law - but there's something worthy in Link Meanie's spastic dancing and the band's enthusiastic delivery. The Meanies are probably a band whose time has come and gone, kids being agesist and all, but it seems like there should be a market for something that's fairly timeless. Nevertheless, there was a handful of oldsters out there to relive past memories, plus potential converts.

Birdman hustles onstage, dead on time at 11.10pm, and they don't even wait for the taped music to subside before exploding into "New Race". They catch the back bar by surprise but their own modest crowd fills the available space and are into it.

It's a rapid-fire, festival style set full of familiar songs and only a handful of newies. Of them, "Connected" sounds the best I've heard it tonight and "What It's For" is well-established. "Zeno's Beach" (that's the full title, it's given tonight) appears to be a surf punk-pop classic in the brewing, although they might try it in a different key as Rob appeared to be straining.

"Golden Helmet" is the only breather and sits just fine, two-thirds of the way through the set. "Smith & Wesson Blues" is a perfect cacophony of feedback outro and energy and even draws two of Unwritten Law out from backstage briefly for a look. They strangely retreat after half a dozen fans see through their disguises of a hat and a hoodie and seek autographs.

"Burn My Eye" lifts the freneticism a notch but tonight's "What Gives?" is the most dynamic I've ever heard. New drummer Rusty is feeling at home but the whole band seems determined to let out the clutch and kick this into fifth.

"Aloha" is the fitting closer and that's it after 50 minutes. A brutal set. No encores, hit 'em hard and head back to Sydney. Since you weren't there, you can look forward to Manly Fisho's (October 14) and Yallah Woolshed (south of Wollongong, October 15). It would be well worth your while. - The Barman

New Race

What It's For

Do the Pop

Non-Stop Girls

Anglo Girl Desire

More Fun


Man With Golden Helmet

Alone in the Endzone

Zeno's Beach

Smith & Wesson Blues

Burn My Eye

What Gives?

Aloha Steve & Danno