-by Ben Smith
There was a time when pop punk ruled the airwaves. When Blink 182, Green Day and Fall Out Boy received constant airplay, and the likes of Panic at the Disco, Paramore and All Time Low were the main drawcards at Vans Warped Tour. Whilst the “golden age” may have come and gone, the genre has undergone an underground resurgence in recent years. Two of pop punk’s biggest and brightest torchbearers in recent years have been Wales’ Neck Deep and New York’s State Champs. In a stroke of good fortune, The Rosemount Hotel was the venue for the opening leg of the pair’s co-headline world tour.
Despite being the support act, With Confidence arrived on stage to an enthusiastic reception. Having signed to American label Hopeless Records a day before the show, the young Sydneysiders set about proving their worth. Despite having just half a stage to work with, the quartet made the most of it, bouncing around the stage as they tore through their set. Vocalist/bassist Jayden Seeley danced all set long, whilst the guitar-work of Luke Rockets and Inigo Del Carmen had the crowd tapping along. The pop sensibilities of ‘Say You Will’ and ‘We’ll Be Okay’ went down a treat, as did a cover of Blink 182’s ‘Feeling This’.
Two and a half years ago, Neck Deep were teenagers playing for fun; now, they’ve released two albums, are in possession of a frenzied fan-base and were personally asked to open for Blink 182. It took little time for them to stamp their authority on the Rosemount stage. Opening song ‘Citizens of Earth’ caused chaos, with Matt West’s muscular guitar the signal for the breakout of mosh pits galore. Despite the enthusiastic crowd response, frontman Ben Barlow struggled early. His gruff, barked vocals struggled to rise above the rest of the band and the noise of the fans. However, when he did hit his straps on ‘Gold Steps’, it was proof of a band at the peak of their powers. Combining a fast and furious, hardcore-influenced rhythm section with Barlow’s gravelly vocals and an infectious chorus, the five-piece had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.
Barlow was a source of constant energy on stage, always dancing around and talking to fans in between songs. Whilst his voice may not be as sickly-sweet or melodic as many of his contemporaries, his rasping singing works well within the band’s frenetic take on pop-punk. On songs from last year’s excellent ‘Life’s Not Out to Get You’ album, where the band dialled down the pace slightly in favour of appealing hooks, he blossomed, leading the crowd in sing-a-longs like ‘Lime St’ and ‘Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors’. In fact, it’s during the flat-out assault of earlier songs like ‘Growing Pains’ and ‘What Did You Expect?’ where Barlow struggled slightly, lost amongst the power and pace of his bandmates.
Whilst most of the fan adulation was (as is often the case) directed towards the frontman, special mention had to be paid to West and recent addition Sam Bowden on guitar, whose high-octane riffs meant every song was another opportunity to crowd surf. A particularly brutal rendition of ‘Serpents’ saw bodies flying all over the floor, as the powder-keg drumming of Dani Washington and the bass of Fil Thorpe-Evans drove one of the band’s darker songs. With their time coming to a close, the band chose to dial it down for a charming ‘A Part of Me’, before delivering one final call to arms in the form of ‘Can’t Kick Up the Roots’.
Whilst Neck Deep are all raw pace and powerful riffs, State Champs couldn’t be more different. Bursting into ‘Secrets’, the New York quintet are a welcome throwback to the pop punk bands of yesteryear, channelling the likes of New Found Glory and Yellowcard to wonderful effect. Where Neck Deep are on the punk side of the spectrum, State Champs are all about charismatic hooks and pop melodies, although they never sacrifice energy or tempo along the way. Derek Discanio’s higher-pitch was in direct contrast to Barlow, as his large vocal range allowed to him to nail the pop-orientated choruses and bring their songs to life.
Whilst the crowd took a while to get into the flow of things, a run through of ‘All You Are is History’ marked the first sightings of crowd surfers. Guitarists Tony Diaz and Tyler Szalkowski nailed every hook and gave the band a powerful sonic punch whilst bassist Ryan Graham kept the rhythm section tight. His backing vocals also helped on the occasions when Discanio’s voice was drowned out by his band. Newer cuts ‘Losing Myself’ and ‘Perfect Score’ were warmly received as Evan Ambrosio’s drumming continued to drive the band onwards.
Despite the crowd being slow to get into things, by mid-set they had returned to the full-throttle energy of the Neck Deep performance. The affable Discanio’s call and response on older songs like ‘Deadly Conversation’ and ‘Simple Existence’ was perfect; he commanded the crowd like a seasoned veteran, despite his meagre 23 years of age. He didn’t even have to be there for the monster chorus brought about by ‘Remedy’, as every word he sang was screamed right back at him.
After leaving the stage, they re-emerged for a richly-deserved encore, leading fans in a dash through one of the heavier songs in their arsenal, ‘All or Nothing’. However, the biggest roar of the night was reserved the finale. As the opening chords of ‘Elevated’ rang out around The Rosemount, the floor became a sea of carnage and punters roused themselves for one last mosh.
As State Champs departed and fans filtered out, many left knowing this could be the last time they got to see Neck Deep and State Champs in such a small venue. With both bands still young, but gaining popularity by the second with fans and critics alike, it would not be a surprise to see either band explode in the next few years. Whilst pop punk may never reach the popularity it did in the early 2000’s, as long as Neck Deep and State Champs are around, it’s be in safe hands.