Music

Polaris’ Sydney Show Was Game-Changing, But Their Fans Need To Check Themselves

Reports of punters allegedly abusing drag queens outside the venue marred an otherwise excellent show from Polaris.

Polaris photo

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The week of Harvey Weinstein’s incarceration, it’s curious to see Alpha Wolf in action again.

As one of the few Australian acts to experience consequence of the #MeToo movement, the band removed their now-former vocalist on assault allegations in 2018 — which, coincidentally enough, forced them to be taken off a tour in support of tonight’s very headliners. With a fresh line-up and a motivation to do things right this time round, the Melbourne band — to their credit — have kept their noses clean since. It’s worth reconsidering Alpha Wolf in this new light, as they have clearly not taken this second chance lightly.

Their stage presence recalls Limp Bizkit — a frontman oozing swagger, an eccentric guitarist, an engine-room rhythm section — but the five-piece are more interested in you breaking stuff in a slightly different musical medium. Alpha Wolf are modern-day metalcore merchants, their guitars churning out thick downtuned dissonance while they bark explicit belligerence atop pummelling drums.

It’s down to a formula, certainly, but it’s one that’s given them proven success — and, as they proceed into their long-awaited second album, one they may continue to develop and strengthen as the process continues on.

As entertaining as Alpha Wolf are, they’re soon to be blown out of the water — fitting, really, given the band that does so is named after a body of it. Crystal Lake hail from Tokyo, and tonight marks their first-ever performance in Sydney. For many in the room, it’s a first impression. Thankfully, the band makes a lasting one, commanding the now-packed Enmore as if it were their own show. Although in a similar wheelhouse musically to the bands they’re sandwiched between, there’s a greater sense of atmosphere within Crystal Lake’s sound. It makes for bigger payoffs and startling dynamics within their six-song set.

It feels like there isn’t a second the band are on stage where they don’t have at least one of its five-piece ensemble with both feet off the ground. Vocalist Ryo Kinoshita took this to the furthest extremes, leaping off the stage several times to get directly in the face of fans both long-serving and instantly-converted. It’s been said that a shark cannot stop moving, else it will die. Consider Crystal Lake in the same foodchain — hell, if they keep up this level of energy and fist-wielding conviction, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

In the 1999 classic 10 Things I Hate About You, it was hypothesised that although one could be overwhelmed or underwhelmed anywhere, you can only be simply “whelmed” in Europe. If Floridian band Wage War are good for anything, it’s for proving that’s not true — with their performance tonight in Australia, they are well and truly whelming.

Perhaps it’s the increasing fatigue of seeing such a narrowly concentrated bill of bands in such quick succession, or it could be the band’s lack of imagination with their songwriting. Hell, it could just be the fact they have to follow Crystal Lake – which, as it turns out, is a hugely unenviable task. Whatever the case, Wage War give listeners very little to write home about. Nothing is even that explicitly bad about them — truthfully, that might be even better than what we’re given. At least that would require a degree of deeper analysis. Not so with Wage War — as far as a live performance goes, there’s barely a reminder that they’re actually there in the room with you.

Quick maths: There’s well over 2000 punters in the Enmore Theatre tonight, a sell-out crowd. As the anticipation grows for the headliners to arrive, it seems everyone has a Polaris story. Some saw them kicking about at The Lucky Australian (AKA “The Lucky Oz”) in St. Mary’s. Some saw them opening for Northlane at a venue that the band would later headline in their own regard. Some got on board purely by the chance of them getting daytime triple j airplay.

Whatever your entry point, there has never been a better time to get behind the Sutherland Shire natives. This, their hometown show, is the biggest of the six (also sold-out) shows on this run. 24 hours after this show, they will enter the ARIA Albums Chart at number three — beaten out solely by boy-band megastars BTS and fellow Australian heavy giants The Amity Affliction.

Polaris are having a moment. They’re expanding into a commodity of Australian music. And yet, they still feel entirely real, homegrown and down-to-earth.

Polaris are having a moment. They’re expanding into a commodity of Australian music. And yet, they still feel entirely real, homegrown and down-to-earth.

For those around hardcore scenes, it’s easy to see yourself in Polaris. They’re the kids who you got burnt copies of Underoath and August Burns Red albums from in 2006. They’re the kids you got the train to Soundwave with, sharing earbuds on an iPod listening to all the bands you were going to see. They’re the kids you’d trek out to Chatswood Youthie with on a Sunday afternoon — heck, if they were lucky, their band might even get a chance to play sometime.

That’s how you know. When vocalist Jamie Hails looks out at the Enmore Theatre and expresses his absolute awe at what he sees before him, you know it’s genuine. He’s not reading off a teleprompter. This isn’t scripted. This was never meant to happen to a band like Polaris — and yet, they emerge on-stage tonight as the heroes of this tale. It’s nothing short of inspiring, and what tonight proves is twofold: Polaris had the work ethic and the elbow grease to get themselves to this point, and they have the songs and stage presence to keep going beyond it.

Their number-three album in question, The Death of Me, is as strong a follow-up to 2017’s The Mortal Coil as one could have hoped for — it’s a sharp, ambitious and uncompromising LP, and hearing its key moments premiered in the live environment give it an even bigger boost. ‘Pray for Rain,’ as it opens the album, so too begins the set. It works wonders in both contexts, setting the scene for something big to come and then impacting at just the right time.

‘Vagabond,’ too, is a serious contender for the best singular moment within the Polaris canon. It charges out of the gates with an alt-metal bounce before rolling into a punchy post-hardcore chorus, care of bassist Jake Steinhauser — the vocal yin to Hails’ yang, smoothing out the rough edges but never dulling what the band does.

Polaris had the work ethic and the elbow grease to get themselves to this point, and they have the songs and stage presence to keep going beyond it.

Tonight also serves as a victory lap for the band’s past accomplishments. ‘The Remedy,’ which was their kingmaker track back in 2017, still sounds as all-encompassing and world-conquering as it did then. The band also pull out ‘Unfamiliar’ from their 2016 EP The Guilt & The Grief, acknowledging their earlier days as a stepping stone — were it not for making songs like these, they may have never ended up with such a wide, captive audience.

Everything has been stepped up here — be it the light show, the gusto with which the quintet perform or the bombastic rock-show excess of steam and confetti. Watching it all come together feels momentous, a point of pride for saying “I was there” of equal worth to that of seeing a band when they were just starting out. Make no mistake about it: Polaris are alive and kicking.

There’s one downside to the evening, and it’s something that was out of the band’s control: shortly after the show, reports began circulating that some fans had allegedly verbally and physically abused drag queens at a bar next door to the venue.

The band immediately called out the behaviour, describing it as “abhorrent”.

“This is so awful and upsetting to hear. We’ve always taken pride in having a fanbase that’s mostly forward thinking, diverse and loving, but sadly we don’t get to choose who comes to our shows. Please understand that these people do not represent us in any way,” they wrote on Twitter. “To anyone who behaves like this: Do not come to our shows. Do not wear our merch. You are not welcome where we play and we don’t want you in our community. If you can’t treat people who are different to yourself with love and respect.

“[It’s] a timely reminder that there’s still a lot of growing to be done and a reminder of why events like Syd Mardi Gras are so important,” they continued. “Wear your colours, wear your glitter and don’t let anyone take this weekend from you.”

As an LGBTIQ+ person, it was heartening to see Polaris take a stand on the matter. Hardcore was built by oppressed people, and if you don’t support the marginalised then get the fuck out of the scene.


David James Young is a freelance writer and podcaster. Find out more about David at www.davidjamesyoung.com.

Photo Credit: Sandra Markovic