PASSPORT TO AIRLIE - NEWCASTLE 'GRAND FINAL'

Posted 25 September 2017 by Adz Carter
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Six sensational weeks lead to this day, four Heats, two Semi Finals, and now, as Joey Tempest, lead singer of the 80s hair metal band Europe (who were truly The Beatles of their day…) famously sung: “It’s the final countdown”...
Twenty acts originally entered this prestigious competition, and then the twenty were whittled down to the final five who appeared at yesterday’s Grand Final. This day was always going to be a do or die affair, and each and every band competed like this battle was one to the death…

Diplazar threw the first punch in this battle, with a brief 80s-esque pop instrumental intro leading into ‘Gold Digger’, which was arguably as funky as the Kayne West song of the same name. This fresh faced, fresh sounding four piece then changed the pace with the catchy pop of ‘Someone New’. The third and fourth song, while sounding like so many different elements of rock/pop, blended seamlessly into one another, much like the entire set, which flowed like water. The intro to ‘Young And Old’ capitalized on lead singer/guitarist Trent Pepper’s silky smooth voice, before he and the entire band burst into funky rhythms reminisant of the Chili Peppers. Just as it was in Heat Two and the first Semi Final, the highly infectious ‘Down Town’ was definitely a distinct highlight. The catch cry of “DANCE!” was also an appropriate instruction, as this nifty number was impossible to keep still through. Many members of the audience were up on their feet, heeding the instruction of the song, as this was one song that could easily be slotted in on commercial radio stations alongside the likes of Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars (and compared to Diplazar, Robin Thicke can eat a…). Riding high on this wave, Diplazar rode it out with ‘Rough Patch’, using the double bass for the first time, making the already mellow melody sound smoother than ever before. During this, their third performance in this year’s Passport To Airlie band comp, Diplazer’s songs seemed even catchier this time around, as the songs had become so much more familiar, and had become a very welcome presence. Much in the same way that Seinfeld was a show about nothing, because it was felt that having the show be about something was unnecessary, Diplazar have a rule about not being locked into one type of genre, as they feel that this is unnecessary. This was proven time and time again, song after song, with oh so much genre hopping right throughout this amazing all original set.

In their intro to this battle, Viagro didn’t so much throw a punch as they did head butt the crowd like Tony Abbott, with the heavy as hell head banger ‘Sucker For A Licker’. This was a perfect song to prepare members of the unsuspecting audience for a decibel defying version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’. The fast paced hard rock original ‘Girls Germs, No Returns’ then paved the way for a retrospective review of some of the finest Oz rock from the past 30 plus years, in the form of an almost metal sounding medley including INXS’s ‘Just Keep Walking’, Rose Tattoo’s ‘Rock N’ Roll Outlaw’, Midnight Oil’s ‘Power And The Passion’, Powderfinger’s ‘(Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind’, Flowers/Icehouse’s ‘Walls’, and The Living End’s ‘Prisoner Of Society’. An unexpected cover of ‘Wild World’ by Cat Stevens was then played at breakneck speed, followed by an agro version of ‘I See Red’ by Split Enz, which seemed to actually have the Diver brothers see red, as by now they were well and truly singing and playing like men possessed. As great as the covers were, it was great to have Viagro once again treat the captive crowd to another one of their originals, in the form of the heavy yet catchy original ‘Use Your Imagination’. By now, many people, including myself, found it hard to remember that this was a duo and not a full band, with both brothers playing drums as well as their respective guitars. There are many four and five piece bands that probably wished they could rock out as much as Viagro, as the boys turned every tune up to 12 (because 11 is for pussies). As usual, Viagro’s set was sheer and unadulterated chaos, and as usual, Adam and Paul Diver proved that they very well may actually be stark raving f*cking mad!

Pot references in a reggae song? What?!! Surely not!!! Well yeah, obviously this is standard fair and a familiar subject matter for any song that rocks out with reggae, but Red City’s opening number worked dammit! What with its stop-start rhythms, rockin’ rhythms and beats, and smooth bass lines. This was a great way for this four piece to kick things into gear as they headed into the second song, which also showcased the singer’s incredible talents, all while the rest of the band moved and grooved as one. Fantastic use of distortion on the third song helped it be just as much of a celebration of reggae as it was early 90s rock and grunge, complete with one absolutely killer solo, just before the band picked up more and more speed, heading to a powerful crashing crescendo. Red City kept things moving with a mellow song with amazing riffs, then once again increased the tempo with a very high energy performance. Oh, and those riffs! Such spectacular riffs! More mellow melodies followed with “a song about getting nervous” (delivered confidently) with smooth soothing vocals, well, at least to begin with, as comparatively, the singer was squeaking like a mouse, before, at times, roaring like a lion. Red City rounded out their rockin’ set with the incredibly catchy ‘Déjà vu’, and 10CC style reggae rhythms and beats in the set’s closer ‘Jaded’, performed perfectly by the entire highly talented band, and sung with unexpected gravely vocals. As was the case in Heat Four and the first Semi Final, the entire band were firing on all cylinders at all times. I cannot say enough about Red City’s lead singer though, as he is an unimposing looking figure with an absolutely menacing voice.

A circus theme sounding instrumental intro signified that, as usual, The Pits were not about to put on a traditional safe or predictable rock show. Instead, they asserted themselves to some of the uninitiated audience with such a sensational swing sound in the first song alone, with smashing and crashing instrumentation like a band falling down a staircase, and many elements of jazz, especially with the trumpet and drums. The second song had a sound like that of My Chemical Romance meeting a 1940s big band, before the slamming German ompa style of the intro to ‘Bricks’ paved the way for more faced paced traditional hard rock. The Pits soon busted out more bossa nova and a perfect substitute for ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from ‘The Jungle Book’, and kept the with Disney theme by incorporating lyrics from ‘A Whole New World’ from ‘Aladdin’, much to the delight of many audience members. Just as they did in their previous performances, The Pits played like a burlesque band on speed with ‘Horrors’, before busting out an insanely catchy, bouncy (and witty) swing song ‘The Smaller The Penis The Bigger The C*ck’, all about someone who makes up for inadequacies by adopting the role of the tough guy/wanker (Well, we’ve unfortunately all met that guy haven’t we?). More new millennium pop like that of Panic! At The Disco was to follow with ‘A Place To Hide’, before ‘Killers’, a song that had now become a favourite amongst many members of the Passport To Airlie audience (including myself) delivered more 1940s swing, juxtaposed with emo style vocals. While transcending many genres, The Pits also transcended many time periods, paying tribute to the era of your grandparents, your parents, and your teen years as well. Because while The Pits performed like bands from yesteryear (and also the last 10-15 years), they still kept one foot firmly planted in 2017, and will no doubt have a very easy time walking into 2018 and beyond as well.

Taking the stage after four fast paced high energy bands, The Thomas Macokatic Band certainly had their work cut out for them before they played their first note. In stark contrast to every band that preceded them, The Thomas Macokatic Band’s opening number was no doubt the mellowest tune of the night, but definitely didn’t send anyone to sleep. On the contrary, as this song, like all others that were to follow, was completely captivating. A great sing-along number ‘Forty Pieces’ was like Radiohead mixed with Coldplay (but without sounding depressing), and had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. The extremely uplifting second song ‘Vision’ sounded like it could’ve been conceived by Jeff Buckley during the ‘Grace’ recordings, and was another song that, by the end, was easy to sing along to. By the time the Thomas Macokatic Band got to the start of their third song, the audience was theirs. ‘Call On You’ was another amazing song in the band’s repertoire that had a fantastic slow burn, and the epic ‘Kids’ went places that Powderfinger only wish they could go. This set, and indeed this whole competition, went out with an almighty bang with ‘Before You Go’, which was another example of a rich and deep Thomas Macokatic Band song with dark brooding vocals. As a solo artist, Thomas Macokatic was a powerhouse performer, but given the fact that he is also a gifted songwriter, he benefits more from a full band, as having a set of skilled musos on bass, drums, and second guitar, really do his well-crafted songs the justice they deserve.

After the fifth and final set of the day, this of course meant that the Battle was done and dusted. Then when the dust had settled, there could only be one winner. Like any Grand Final, it was always going to be a tough and tight comp, and it was of course no mean feat for any of the bands to arrive at this point. It really could’ve been any bands comp, but the ones to come out on top were the Thomas Macokatic Band. Big congrats guys! The boys have now won $1000 cash, four nights accommodation in Airlie Beach, and V.I.P tickets to the Airlie Beach Festival of Music. Whilst at the festival, the Thomas Macokatic Band will also be competing at the National Finals of the Passport To Airlie band comp, and you better believe that the staff here at Muso’s Garage (and our entourage) will be sticking to the band like glue and cheering them on every step of the way like the proud Novocastrians we are.
We will of course be giving you up to the minute reports on how the Thomas Macokatic Band go, so as always, watch this space!...

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