PENNYWISE at Chelsea Heights Hotel, Melbourne, 7/2/2020

A winding line of fans snake out into the car park of Chelsea Heights Hotel and the beaming evening sun is still high over the venue. It’s naturally an older crowd, with Pennywise celebrating 20 years since the release of their album Straight Ahead (1999). Meanwhile, admittance to the venue is a little slow but steady.

Swedish punk rockers No Fun At All take off like a bull out of the gate, enthusing the most excitable fans at the front, ten rows deep, showing their love for NFAA throughout a solid set.

The first of many crowd surfers for the night seizes opportunity and gets lifted during the closing song. NFAA are noticeably stoked to have opened the show and they exit the stage with smiles and applause.

Goldfinger features as an upbeat intermission song as their 99 Red Balloons punk version plays out. It’s a mostly male crowd, with many getting their rounds at the bar, anticipating the second support.

Californian punk rockers Strung Out take on the task of further lifting the energy in the room, but their set is initially lacklustre.

Vocals by Strung Out’s frontman Jason Cruz on opening song ‘Velvet Alley’ are overshadowed by wonderfully fast hammering from their relatively new drummer of two years, RJ Shankle.

Cruz shouts “what’s up!” looking for a similarly energised crowd response, but most of the room looks on, motionless. Fortunately, Strung Out then kick it to another gear, with a real punk rock vibe settling in. Cruz then asks of this mostly pacified crowd “how you guy’s feeling?”

Now the vocals start becoming clearer over the rest of the band. By 8:05 p.m. the bar was still five rows deep at the back of the room, with blokes and their beers bustling around.

‘The Animal And The Machine’ fires up a group of twenty or more who are getting into Strung Out’s punk rock display, while everyone else don’t appear impressed.

Their set races along and Cruz surveys the sausage fest of guys around the outside of the room. By the seventh song the pace quickens, the energy lifts and half the room shift into motion. RJ Shankle is the standout out this band tonight, with his cap backward and arms that pound relentlessly.

The crowd has somewhat warmed to Strung Out’s momentum as they close their set to applause and hundreds of bodies have now literally warmed up the room.

By 9 p.m. the room is bustling with boozed- up bodies as Pennywise are about to kick of their headlining set. The chatter is now louder and the anticipation is high. Arms raise in elation as vocalist Jim Lindberg arrives and says “are you ready? Are you ready, Chelsea?” It’s an elated response from the crowd as Pennywise begin playing through their entire Straight Ahead (1999) album track list.

‘Greed’ is up first, and most people get on board for an elevated singalong. Lindberg pauses to reflect, exclaiming “twenty fuckin years later…” and the disbelief of two decades past by is echoed in ‘Can’t Believe It’. Another crowd surfer goes up, with the song ending with loud applause.

Three crowd surfers are thrown up during ‘Victim Of Reality’ and It’s well and truly crowd surf city up the front. In between songs Lindberg yells “hell fuckin’ yes…damn straight!” At one point, there were three crowd surfers up, propelled by the high-octane tenacity of Pennywise.

The punk rock express barreled on through ‘One Voice’ which was a good description of the crowd cohesion.  

Lindberg announces that “this one’s called Alien” and a familiar singalong has this crowd particularly enthused. Again, three crowd surfers are testament to the thrills that Pennywise bring to their shows.

‘Watch Me As I Fall’ is described as “a dancing song” and the punk pit goes wild as crowd surfers are tossed around like rag dolls.

Lindberg points with conviction as both he and the crowd chants “Just for you” on ‘Just For You’. He then proclaims “ladies and gentlemen, I have great news, president Trump has been acquitted of all charges…yay” before launching into ‘American Dream’.

As expected, ‘Need More’ and ‘Never Know’ are belted out, and as a “special treat” ‘Badge Of Pride’ is played for what is said to be the first time Pennywise have performed it live. Lindberg again engages the crowd, shouting “make some noise Melbourne!”

Lindberg appeases and elates after announcing “now let’s have some fun, this one’s called Fuck Authority.” ‘Society’ and ‘Same Old Story’ are killer songs played before Lindberg relates an anecdote about meeting Men At Work’s Colin Hay before Pennywise play their punk cover ‘Down Under’.

‘Bro Hymn’ is both the last song and the highlight of their set. Most of this now super- hyped crowd get involved with this fan favourite. Shortly before the end of the song, the stage is stormed by fans eager to ride out the last inebriating seconds of the set. Some fans stage dive but most bounce around exuberantly, and some stand and smile. As Pennywise exit the stage, many fans stay on as the crowd continue their chant of “Woah-oh-oh-oh…”  

Written by Mal Keecher

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