Rock the Bay @ The Espy, Melbourne (07/03/2009)

The Esplanade Hotel in St. Kilda celebrated its 130th anniversary earlier this year, but judging from the looks of things Saturday afternoon, it’s not going to be slowing down any time soon!

Walking into the Espy late in the afternoon, Six Shooter were in the process of wrapping up their set. All bands, save the early Sunday morning headliners were given a half hour set to impress throughout the day. For some acts, it was over too quickly. For some acts, it felt like eternity.

Six Shooter, fortunately were one of those bands that were more then welcome to extend their stay on the Front Bar stage. Blending alternative rock elements with an energetic, appealing stage presence, it was definitely a welcome way to kick off the festival.

Over in the Gershwin Room, Italian rockers Crackhouse kept the energy levels high, despite the floundering crowd numbers, half of which were happy to camp out on the lounges adjacent to the bar, the other half appearing to be listening with half their attention on what drink to get next from the bar. In between all the social gatherings and avoiding getting into any social photographs by the roving shooters, weaving in and out of the crowd proved to be the ultimate way to dance to Crackhouse.

Down in the Basement, earplugs are a must. The price, otherwise, is (I learnt the hard way) a day or two of severely downgraded hearing ability. From a band’s perspective, however, it’s the perfect venue to blow the minds and eardrums of any punter within the confines of the cozy room. Sons of Abraham were having a ball downstairs doing just that, with –  “Ashes’ a solid favourite amongst the small scattering of punters.

Running back to the Gershwin Room from the Basement requires quite a bit of dedication and effort, in between not falling over chairs that suddenly push back from tables, to avoiding the security guards insisting that everyone stays seated and not be standing up in the area.

Fortunately, thanks to some friendly punters paving the way, Twelve Foot Ninja had just taken to stage as I finished the human obstacle course. Twelve Foot Ninja have gathered quite a following over the past few months, and those who weren’t dancing along were overheard mentioning that they were there to check out the band that everyone seems to be talking about. The Faith No More inspiration behind many tracks appeared to have them onside with a fair few in the crowd. Suffice to say, Twelve Foot Ninja kicked off one of the first mosh pits of the day, even if it was a little tame and confined to perhaps the first five rows of people.

Back out to the front bar, Sydney outfit The Third Cycle had just kicked off their set. The Third Cycle are really a band that one should listen to with your eyes closed, because whilst the music is definitely something to write home about, watching front woman Jess Donellan prance about on stage awkwardly with contrived arm flinging and intentionally provocative stares quickly induces boredom and discomfort.

The Gershwin Room was not playing host to Tread, are in the midst of their album tour for the new release Rise from Silence. Tread’s melodic, soaring progressive sound was the perfect way to ease the now food-and-drink sated crowd into what was going to pan out to a huge night of rock.

Bellusira followed Tread on the stage, playing their last set with current drummer Ryan Wall. Bellusira are always great to watch on stage, with enigmatic front woman Crystal Backman hitting every note with ease whilst retaining the breath and energy to banter with the crowd in between tracks.

The Tim McMillan Band had the front bar contingent caught between giggles and awe, as he dazzled the crowd with his clever fingers whilst entertaining the punters with his brand of super-dry humour. Speaking to Tim a little later rendered the question ‘So what do you think of my Acoustic Viking Rock sound?’ It is, possibly, the best description of their sound.

In the Gershwin Room, there was a Planet of the Apes moment happening – the boys from Rincon were decked out in gorilla suits, which, following on from the dazed hilarity of Tim McMillan’s set, fit the scene and moment perfectly. By now, the crowd was more then a little energized from food and drink, and the mosh pit was not only growing in size, but the distance of headbanging and bumping into each other doubled, with the front of the room resembling a riot.

The Violet Flames brought their indie-rock sound to the front bar, attracting a fair contingent from the Rincon mosh pit who chose to carry on in their own little corner.

If there was ever a band who completely blew away the preceding acts at a festival, and sent the bar for performances through the roof, that band was Bushido. Many rejoiced when they heard that the trio had gotten back together, and Bushido completely owned the crowd and the Gershwin Room. Seeing Bushido on stage, it was almost as if they never left to begin with.

If one is talking hair and beards, then one should look no further then Bugdust, who do the sexed-up-stoner rock thing amazingly well. Blistering riffs, pounding drums and heavy bass lines, combined with sexually provocative lyrics results in Bugdust cementing themselves as one of the local rock acts that one should definitely see. Preferably in a dark, dank room with little to no ventilation, packed to the rafters with sweaty punters.

The midnight gong was about to fall, triggering a wave of exhaustion from many, but there was no way anyone could have left before catching Rook. Rook have near perfected their stage shows, a legacy of playing gigs practically every second weekend. What is even more special about catching a set from Rook is not just the great live show from a band that you possibly have never heard of, but should have, but for the fact that one is able to witness a band that clearly enjoy each other’s company both on and off stage, and it flows off the stage, bringing an undeniable element to the set.

Closing the event on a massive climax out on the front bar were Electric Mary. Quite possibly the best rock act kicking around the local scene today, an Electric Mary set is loud, dirty and hard. The boys from Electric Mary might have years on most, if not all of the lineup, but judging from their set, the younger lads could learn a thing or two about going hard and doing it well.

The inaugural Rock the Bay Festival was a success in the latter stages of the evening/early morning. Unfortunately, many punters missed the amazing late-night acts for one reason or another, due to the exceptionally late finish, but for those who stayed, they definitely got their money’s worth.