Alexisonfire @ The Horden Pavillion, Sydney (11/12/12)

“This is no time to be sad, this is a fucking celebration!” was the proclamation on Tuesday night from Alexisonfire frontman George Pettit. And what’s a celebration without all your closest friends along for the party, too?

It’s no secret that Alexisonfire have a fondness for Australian crowds and this devotion was returned in spades at the band’s first farewell gig. Fans had driven overnight from country Queensland, flown over from Perth and Adelaide, and many had tickets to both the Sydney and Melbourne shows.Thousands of devotees flocking together for one last goodbye.

When FL spoke with Dallas Green about this farewell tour, he clarified that this was a chance for a proper send-off. Fans were unaware of the impending breakup when the band was here last year and so these two shows were a chance for the crowds to celebrate. And celebrate they did, on a two-hour journey through 10 years of high-energy, rowdy post-hardcore interspersed with moments of genuine tenderness

Chants of “Alexis! Alexis!” punctuating the air, as an extended piano intro tune reminded all that there was a melancholy note to the night; the sad end of an extremely successful and diverse musical career. However, once the five band members took the stage and tore into anthemic track ‘Young Cardinals’, there was no stopping the juggernaut.

A diverse and extensive back-catalogue was dealt with expertly as the band weaved in and out of all four albums with little difficulty. While some were questioning Pettit’s ability to reach back to his traditional screaming vocal technique, which so dominated Alexis’ earlier albums, as soon as he started belting out ‘Pulmonary Archery’ all doubts were quashed and the moshpit erupted into a frenzy.

It was fascinating to observe those in the pit and imagine them 10 years ago, surly teenagers finding solace in the songs of Alexisonfire. Since then, most would have found fulltime jobs, completed university degrees or found and lost young love. Even as we walked into the Hordern, a DJ spinning the hits from our youth had many confessing “man I haven’t heard this song in ages!”. The air of nostalgia was only fitting to close this chapter of our lives.

Onstage, the guys spared no energy in making sure they left a lasting impression on Australia. Bassist Chris Steele was drenched with sweat within a few songs and pulling his trademark (and somewhat frightening) “bass faces,” while Pettit was ripping off t-shirts, as if trying to rid himself of excess luggage.

For the most part Dallas Green remained relatively still on the side of the stage – the only hint of any personal grievances or tension that may be present. Whether it was tiredness or something more, he seemed, at times, somewhat detached from the proceedings. A few songs in, he loosened up, throwing a stray smile at the crowd and even trying out a few dance moves with Steele.

The split vocal duties between Green, Pettit and guitarist Wade McNeill has always been Alexisonfire’s main strength, and the multi-faceted nature of their songs had fans singing, swaying, moshing and screaming in an endless and passionate farewell. Every lyric was screamed, spat or sung back at the band. Strangers embraced. It was a humbling and exhilarating experience. At one point Pettit almost stopped a song to interrupt what he believed was a fight in the pit, but which turned out to be two guys grabbing each other by the heads and screaming the lyrics of ‘Control’ into each other’s faces.

Each member took a turn on the mic to express gratitude to their Australian fans, with McNeil explaining, “We wrote half of these songs in my Mum’s basement, so it’s just crazy and such an honour to be playing them on the other side of the world all these years later”. Whether it be in anti-poser track ‘Get Fighted’, slow burner ‘Rough Hands’ slave hymn homage ‘The Northern’, or the heavy pit-friendly b-side ‘Dog’s Blood’, the band showed off all their shades one last time. Uncompromising is perhaps a perfect word to describe Alexisonfire, and for the capacity crowd at the Hordern, there could have been little more to ask of the band. While fan favourite ‘Happiness By The Kilowatt’ drew things to a slightly more sober conclusion, there was no denying the positive atmosphere and sense of mutual gratitude between band and fans when the lights came up.

As each of the band members goes onto their own projects, personal or otherwise, it seems like we will always be stuck wishing for the yesterdays of Alexisonfire – but a more moving, unifying or satisfying celebration of a band’s career you’d be extremely hard pressed to find.