No Sleep Til Sydney @ Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park (18/12/10)

Resembling a hangar or an abattoir rather than a venue, the atmosphere offered by the Royal Hall of Industries was minimal to none. Kudos, still, for adenoidal pop-punk kids Heroes For Hire for trying to get the most out of what felt like a very dead beginning to No Sleep Til Sydney. They played loud, fast pop that was upbeat often to the point of complete irritation, only scoring a bounce or two out of their audience, as well as a failed attempt at a circle pit. Though their confidence and energy is by no means lacking, the band snoozes when it comes to their songwriting crafts, save for set closer Bright Lights in Paradise in all of its bouncy, whoah-oh-oh glory. There’s work to be done, and 2011 will see whether the band could be bothered putting in the extra effort.

Avoiding using The Forum for whatever reason, the Green stage was instead out on the concrete, where Break Even sweltered while they attempted to do what they do best – play live to crowds that can’t get enough of them. Though their presence was impressive and their popularity undeniable for such an early slot in the festival proceedings, the sound was washy and droning, leaving the quartet struggling to get a coherent mix to take full advantage of.

Back to the RHI, where the self-proclaimed greatest cover band in the world, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, were set to take the stage. After watching their ridiculously fun performance, you’d be hard pressed to argue with their self-proclamation – these guys take the art of novelty covers deadly serious, and got the now-packed Royal Hall onside instantly. As they worked their way through tracks by R. Kelly, Dolly Parton, Olivia Newton-John and even INXS, the band also heckled one another in good spirits, particularly bassist Fat Mike (of course, he of NOFX), taunting the hairstyles of guitarist Joey Cape and lead singer Spike Slawson, whose hairdo was described as “lesbian Hitler.” Me First leave you with little reason to not grin and dance like an idiot: loose, rollicking punk reworkings of pop hits is their business – and business is good.

With his day job finished for the year, Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall is having the vacation of his life as he travels around with his old mates in Frenzal Rhomb and watches one of his all-time favourite bands (Descendents, naturally) every night. The band are in a laid-back, spirited mood as they thrash through a slab of old favourites ( Genius, Never Had So Much Fun, Punch in the Face et al.) to a boisterous, loud and highly responsive audience. They even cooked up a brand new song just for the tour – the hilarious Bird Attack, which documented… wait for it… being attacked by birds, and wearing a helmet to protect oneself from magpies, seagulls and ibises. As relevant and timely a subject matter as ever, no?

It takes a special kind of band to make their fans listen to a song by The Chieftains with Sinead O’Connor on vocals in full before they take to the stage. That said, if the Dropkick Murphys proved anything in their set, it’s that they are always worth the wait. Tearing into single The State of Massachusetts, the Celtic punk veterans were relentless in their bounding energy and high spirits as their adoring crowd clapped, cheered, sang along and even attempted a jig or two (including a security guard – don’t act like you weren’t seen!). Aside from previewing their seventh studio album, Going Out In Style (due for a March release), this was strictly the hits and old favourites for No Sleep Til Sydney: Sunshine Highway, The Fields of Athenry, Captain Kelly’s Kitchen and, of course, the quintessential finale of I’m Shipping Up to Boston – each received with even higher levels of energy as the one which preceded it. Sadly no Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced, but when you’ve given as good a show as the Dropkicks, it’s a small price to pay. Easily one of the standout sets of the festival.

Brooding Illinois rockers Alkaline Trio were not too keen on their sunny outdoors location, but still received a sizable crowd as they played through a selection of their better-known singles spanning seven studio albums. That said, it felt as though the band are simply going through the motions, and concrete moshpits are never a good idea. Into the cooler surrounds of the Hordern Pavilion, and Atreyu amazingly manage to work their guilty pleasure magic over a crowd that are mostly old enough to know better but are still young enough to not care. Mall-goth anthems from 2004’s The Curse such as Right Side of the Bed and The Crimson were lapped up, as even the bemused Megadeth fans seeking an early spot got onside with the band’s enthusiastic set, which also saw drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller command a circle pit and bassist Marc McKnight end up in the middle of the crowd with his wireless bass. Wrapping up with Lip Gloss and Black, the band might not have a lot going for them outside of the high-school nostalgia realm, but at the very least they are a tight rock band that loves every second they’re onstage.

Setting up camp one last time on the Red stage for a double-headed evening of punk rock royalty was on the cards. Up first, the return of Fat Mike – this time as part of NOFX – and even though he started in fine form, a strangely abusive audience was more than ready to piss him off. “Did you bring this just to throw at me?” questioned Mike as he picked up a sandal/”flip-flop” which hit him in the chest. “Are you fucking retarded?” His vitriol then lead to rants about homophobia, Dave Mustaine, Christianity, weed and even a cocktease of playing The Decline. Was Fat Mike’s banter the best thing about the set? Probably. But let’s not deter from or degrade the music itself – over the course of an hour, the band ripped through a slew of crowd favourites that appealed to the various generations of fans that had squeezed into the hall and subsequently pogoed about like maniacs to nearly every song on the setlist. Wrapping up with 2003 hit Franco Un-American, NOFX might not have been the best band of the day, but they taught valuable lessons in entertainment value – sometimes, a big mouth and a sense of humour is all you need.

The stage was finally set for the band that some amongst the audience had been waiting over a decade to see: the proud, the few…the motherfucking Descendents. The seminal punk outfit made their first ever appearance in Sydney to a huge reception, sending their audience into a frenzy with each track, recreated with a raw edginess and emphasised aggression. Vocalist Milo Aukermann – yes, he who went to college – didn’t say a great deal to the crowd, but who the hell needs to when your music has already said (and continues to say) so much? With members of Frenzal Rhomb, NOFX and the Dropkicks all watching on from side of stage, the four-piece rocked out like highly-caffinated teenagers half their age – and, for that hour or so onstage, you believed that’s exactly who they were.

As the All-o-Gistics – which were read out from a cardboard tablet – so succinctly say: “Thou shalt not commit adulthood.” Descendents eternally portray the frustrations of the awkward teenager in a far greater style than Michael Cera or any colour-by-numbers brocore outfit ever could.

This was a performance of raucous fun that summed up the spirit of No Sleep Til Sydney: Who cares if we’re in a barn? Who cares what anyone else thinks? Let’s have a good time, because we might never get a chance to see this band ever again. Call it punk rock, call it melodic hardcore, call it whatever the hell you want – just don’t dare try and devalue the impact, the heritage or the downright awesomeness of Descendents. No Metallica reject could possibly top that.