On a stormy Friday night, only the brave made it out to see Mac the Knife’s final show of 2018 at the Botany View Hotel. This relatively unknown band from Sydney’s Inner West don’t have the biggest following, but they do have the most loyal. With lead singer Bryn Chapman Parish living in Perth, this hidden jewel of Sydney’s rock scene has a tendency to disappear for months at a time. However, it is a testimony to their unique sound, superb songwriting and stellar performances that they were still able to fill the Botany View Hotel on a particularly inclement Friday night.
Amid the maelstrom of last September’s King Street Crawl, we found Mac the Knife cutting through the Newtown noise, and following their Christmac show, it is clear that they are not only one of the best artists Newtown has to offer, but also a contemporary trailblazer in Australian rock music.
Following supporting acts Bruce Pristine and August Auzins, two of the band members combatted the muggy heat of the Botany View’s stuffy showroom by stripping down into red Santa overalls. Rain soaked Santa hats and special red Mac the Knife merch absorbed both the stage and the crowd, further highlighting the dedication of this local yet fiercely loyal fan base. From guitarist Curtis Vanhusslin’s opening strum, this fan base switched from young regulars enjoying an end of the week schooner at their King St pub to the head banging rock worshippers of the Mac the Knife mass. Instead of heralding the coming of a new King, the holy text of this midnight mass was the Silvertongue EP. Whether the chants of “oi” during ‘Crispy Cartoon’ or the ceremonious marching during ‘Jack and Jill’, the audience played into the performance like a secret sixth band member.
Being among a crowd of deeply invested listeners that are not shy of letting the band know their dedication is just one example of the numerous extras that can only be witnessed by seeing the band live. Their stellar Silvertongue EP and hit single ‘Wasteland’, are gateways into the band’s music, which fuses rock sub-genres to create an energetic sound and uses deep lyricism to add a thematic complexity. When performing these tracks live there is an extra allure that comes from experiencing it. The clearest example of this is lead singer Bryn’s showmanship.
The best word to describe Bryn is intensity. With eyes wide open, almost bursting from their sockets, Byrn would pull on and bite the microphone chord while tearing at his cheeks like a postmodern version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, as if the music itself was tearing him apart. Departing the stage on a search and destroy mission for the less enthusiastic, he would tower over patrons sitting down away from the mosh, bellowing his dark lyrics in their face. For the particularly emotional lyrics he would stand on the bar or tables, feeding off the audience like a lightning rod for their electricity. Similar to the way Kurt Cobain evoked the angst of the disenfranchised Generation X, Byrn channels the mentally ill millennial’s manic intensity, accepting these dark undertones to create enthralling music.
Special mention needs to go to lead guitarist Curtis, who added layers to the live rendition of Mac the Knife’s tracks. During ‘Australia’, ‘Here to Stay’ and ‘Crispy Cartoon’, the frantic pace of the guitar was no match for Curtis’ fast hand as he shredded up and down the neck. In parts, he could throw in little licks and fills to supplement his own riffs, in others he would improvise harmonies and jaw-dropping solos to keep the entranced crowd moving. In all parts, he made it look easy.
Mac the Knife’s final show was a Christmas present unlike any other, proving that they are hidden gem of Australian rock music.