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[LIVE REVIEW] OCEAN GROVE and Justice For The Damned at Corner Hotel, Melbourne on 12/08/17

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Kicking off tonight were a group called The Beverly Chill, who I couldn’t make heads or tails of and who everyone else seemed to love, if not tolerate. A punk group with a drum machine and a singer who loved talking about all the drugs and booze he has, is, and will consume, I thought I’d been transported back to a high school rock eisteddfod where they have to give everyone a go if they’re enrolled. They were a super odd choice to open the bill, and I’m not sure why I or anyone else was forced to sit through the start of such a band’s career at a sold out Corner Hotel show. But good for them, they sometimes looked like they were having fun.

Broken were up next and were yet another reminder that falling out of touch happens quick, without you noticing. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but I personally didn’t think they were so exceptional as to warrant the amount of petulant crowd killing that was taking place. Playing an old school, no bullshit, “straight edge” (I think I heard yelled at one point) hardcore set to a hometown crowd worked a treat for everyone under 25 but left me wondering why these dang kids don’t fix their dang guitar tones and spend more time practising. So far, the gig felt like it should be taking place at a PCYC.

That changed when Justice For The Damned got up. Everyone who has seen live music knows that each band has more or less of an undefinable “It” factor, which makes them more impressive than the sum of their parts. JFTD have it almost leaking out of them, presenting as a ferocious and precise buzzsaw from the second they start to the moment they finish. They played so tightly and with such conviction that they undeniably deserved to be there: that there is no argument anyone could level against their high billing.

While the crowd’s energy took a noticeable upswing when they started – with circle pits and crowd surfers galore – it struck me that I had a completely skewed view of this band. I’ve been jamming their new album Dragged Through The Dirt for weeks before its release, because I was lucky enough to review it, and I’ve come to know it inside and out (it’s my new album of the year for sure). But for everyone else in the crowd, the album had only been out for a day, and to a Corner Hotel crowd, they were a relatively unknown band playing relatively unknown songs. This meant the mosh pit didn’t hit as hard as I was hoping and expecting, which honestly fucking irked me, cause the songs translate live super well. In retrospect though, I think the crowd went off more than they should have; the only reason they moved at all is that JFTD knows how to work it. Their stage presence is killer. They’re well on their way to being effortless headliners, once they figure out the best way to reduce dead stage time. And special mention to their drummer, who has some of the tightest blast beats I might have ever heard.

The one question I left the show with was: when the fuck did Ocean Grove become rock stars? The last time I saw them, they were headlining an All Ages hardcore festival, and they came across as a slick, professional and fun band for some kids to chuck a mosh to. Apparently, in the space of less than 12 months, they’ve transmuted into a burgeoning iconic Aussie rock band, with the slightest nod to their heavy roots still ensuring the crowd will lose their collective tits between the big epic singalongs, the fun little interludes, and the frankly mesmerising live show.

In the same way JFTD looked more “professional” than the openers, Ocean Grove looked like another level above them, and I honestly think this is what the middle point between “obscurity” and “your parents might have even heard of them” looks like. They had everything a big ol’ rock band needs – a considered and delightful light show, an intro that could’ve worked in a stadium, songs with more earworms than a stray dog, and a deliberate set that was paced perfectly. I only listened to their album a couple of times when it was first released, and I was surprised at how well nearly every single song had lodged in my brain; I knew them all, as did everyone else. The songs are custom built for a big, enthusiastic crowd, and a sold out home crowd is nothing if not that.

The main thing I never realised, however, was how definitively and iconically “Australian” their sound is. Maybe I was listening to the wrong thing on the record, or maybe it translates better live, but Ocean Grove are following in a very prestigious tradition of Big Aussie Rock, and they’re doing it justice. There is a sound that’s hard to describe – it sounds like a lazy Sunday arvo, or a Hills Hoist with a magpie on it, or something – and Ocean Grove has it. I always thought they were going for the “nu metal meets metalcore” sound, but I was wrong. They’re going for the “Next Big Thing” sound, and goddamn if they’re not crushing it already. If tonight was any indication, their crowds are about to become twice the size and full of people I fucking hate, which is a shame because I would’ve liked to have seen them live again. But that’s the price of success. Back to my bullshit elitist underground death metal gigs I go…

Photography by Bree Wallace

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