Report: Parkway Drive, Brisbane 2012

Parkway Drive
Riverstage, Brisbane
Friday 14 December 2012

Some nights, even a powerhouse musical performance leaves you a little cold. This is one of those nights. As good as Parkway Drive are tonight, playing to a near-full hill of heavy music fans, I leave with a lingering feeling that something’s missing. I’ve cherished this band’s music for eight years, and seen them live half a dozen times since 2005, but this might be the show where we part ways. After 70 minutes of being blasted with some of the finest metalcore songs you’ll hear anywhere in the world, the overall effect is a little numbing. As a unit, the Byron Bay-born five-piece has improved in seemingly every measurable way across their four albums – songwriting, musicianship, showmanship, popularity – yet I can’t shake the feeling that I might have finally outgrown this music.

Personal grievances aside, there is very little to fault on the second night of the band’s first Australian tour following the release of Atlas in late October. (The previous night, they played at their old high school in Byron.) Parkway Drive played this same venue two years ago, touring third album Deep Blue; surprisingly, they’ve dialled back the scale of production a little. In 2010, we saw them tossing a football into the crowd (to be cashed in for $100 in band merch at the top of the hill), and enlisting their friends to navigate inflatable rafts atop the moshpit, casting fishing lines into the crowd, taunting rabid fans with the temptation of free Parkway shirts. None of these antics are present tonight: five performers and the enormous lighting rig aside, there’s little else to look at. The projector and screen in use is largely ineffective: it displays a few variations on the band’s logo throughout the set, as well as some film clips, but these are barely visible behind the bright lights.

This lack of gimmicks means that the songs are the stars, required to stand alone – and they do. Five from Atlas, including the album opening combo of ‘Sparks’—played over the PA, while the band walk out to a hero’s welcome—followed by a scintillating rendition of ‘Old Ghosts/New Regrets’, while hundreds of eager fans jostle for position down in the pit. An excellent spectacle, no doubt; an early highlight that’s not quite matched by the ensuing songs, including old favourites like ‘Romance Is Dead’ and ‘Gimme A D’. The Atlas tracks sit comfortably between Deep Blue fare like ‘Boneyards’ and ‘Karma’, as well as Horizons cuts ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and final encore ‘Carrion’. The en masse singalong moments—‘Home Is For The Heartless’, ‘Idols and Anchors’ and ‘Wild Eyes’—call for thousands of voices to sing the harmonies, and thousand comply. This is one of the band’s most interesting songwriting decisions since their 2005 debut Killing With A Smile: by introducing stadium-rock tropes to metalcore aesthetics, they encourage a fairly inscrutable audience—mostly young males—to indulge in what would likely be labelled uncool at a U2 or Coldplay gig. Parkway are cool, though, so the fans don’t question it for a moment tonight.

Special mention belongs to ‘Dark Days’, the first single from Atlas and frontman Winston McCall’s most remarkable achievement thus far: writing a song about our planet’s most serious matter—human-induced climate change—and making the audience care. It’s aired mid-set tonight, and it’s a fantastic moment. McCall sidesteps his familiar lyrical obsessions of dysfunctional relationships and maritime imagery (?) in favour of lines like “What will you tell your children when they ask you ‘what went wrong’?” and “The clock is ticking / can’t you feel our days are numbered?”. While the band marches to a typically aggressive beat backed by metallic guitars, McCall raises his fist aloft and yells “I can’t watch it burn!” during the breakdown, while thousands of fans mimic his gesture. Whether or not the song causes much true introspection among the carbon-consumers in attendance remains to be seen. But full marks to McCall for writing about a hard-headed topic in such a compelling and engaging manner.

It’s difficult to picture how the band might continue to build upon the constant momentum that has marked their now decade-old career. Parkway Drive’s ascension to the top of Australian heavy music culture is one of the more remarkable occurrences in recent years. But I wonder how much more ground is to be gained. Will they continue to attract bigger audiences, or have they hit a ceiling? It seems a certainty that youth will always find the pure aggression of their sound attractive; my friends and I certainly did, and there’s no shortage of eager youngsters in the crowd tonight. As fans like myself outgrow the band, though, will we continue to be replaced by the next generation of willing Parkway fanatics? Will the under-agers one day replace the over 18s at all ages shows like this? Questions for another time perhaps --  the five grown men on stage tonight evidently believe in what they do. More power to them.

Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok)
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