Live Review: King Stingray, Melbourne 08/10/22

King Stingray
(Image credit: Mark Grimwade)

WHERE: The Croxton Bandroom, Naarm/Melbourne VIC
WHEN: Saturday October 8th, 2022
REVIEW: Ellie Robinson

2022 has officially been the year of King Stingray. As well as a choice appearance in Australian Guitar #149, the Yolŋu surf-rockers have studded the year with a slew of milestones – the biggest, of course, being the August release of their self-titled debut album. Rolling in at #6 on the ARIA Charts, the LP was met with immediate acclaim – proven by its five nominations at this year’s ARIA Awards – and will undoubtedly top most Album Of The Year lists (ours included). Punters got around it like ants on dropped lollies, too, selling out the band’s entire tour in support of it within minutes of tickets going live.

We swung around to the first of King Stingray’s two Melbourne shows, where by the time Adelaide indie-pop luminary Jess Day had finished her (downright stunning) opening set, the 900-cap Croxton was packed from the stage right back to the merch desk. The headlining act had their crowd buzzing long before their own songs even started, leading rapturous singalongs to Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ and Wally Johnson’s ‘Home Among The Gum Trees’, then bursting out with a ripping instrumental intro. 

It echoed the kind of hype-building you see at arena shows, which makes sense: King Stingray’s two core songwriters, frontman Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu and lead guitarist Roy Kellaway, grew up together in the Yothu Yindi touring party. Part of it, though, might just stem from the band’s own skint catalogue – they’ve only released about a half-hour of their own material, so to fill out the full 75-minute set, they leant on extended intros and outros, scattered little jams and plenty of crowd interaction. 

One particular chunk in the set’s back-end sprawled a mighty 15 minutes, split between an improvised jam twined around Kellaway’s speeches to introduce his bandmates, the chorus and bridge of what appeared to be a killer new song, a call-and-response chant-along where guitarist and yidaki player Dimathaya Burarrwanga taught the crowd how to sing in Yolŋu Matha, and finally another jam that led into ‘Hey Wanhaka’. Though super fun, it admittedly stretched out a little ways past its welcome – we’d suggest slimming down the intros and chant-along.

Another new tune came around the set’s middle point, sandwiched between the soaring ‘Lupa’ and energised ‘Malk Mirri Wayin’, and feeling like a bridge between those songs’ unique styles. Notable too is that aside from the rip-roaring ‘Raypirri’, those tracks were the only ones sung entirely in Yolŋu Matha. There wasn’t much of a language barrier, though: Yunupiŋu conveyed the songs’ moods and energies perfectly in his performance – and explained their meanings before each one – with his bandmates’ controlled chaos gelling effortlessly.

King Stingray performed all but one song from their debut album – the folky and acoustic closer ‘Life Goes On’ – instead gifting the set’s one chilled-out section to their Like A Version cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’. That was expectedly beautiful (and another massive singalong moment), but it was definitely the band’s punchier cuts that proved the most exciting. The mosh sprung to life for ‘Raypirri’, where Kellaway and Burarrwanga duelled fiercely on their fretboards while drummer Lewis Stiles proved that if he ever gets tired of the Stingray life, he has a bright future in hardcore punk.

Right after, ‘Camp Dog’ brought the biggest feeling of communal ecstasy, strangers feeling like family as we all belted from the top of our lungs: “Camp dog, please! Please don’t bite me!” Therein lied the core of King Stingray’s performance – that feeling of unity – as the band regularly made it known how closely notions of home, Country and kinship are ingrained in their music. You could see this in the way the band’s five members interacted, geeing each other up when someone tore through a particularly wicked riff or poignant passage on the yidaki. Even bassist Campbell Messer got to shine with a swaggering solo of his own, and he downright stole the show with his slapped rhythm on the ultra-funky ‘Milkumana’.

Rare for a band so young, it’s truly hard to tell how King Stingray’s shows will evolve from here: their entire set was infallibly tight and meticulously paced (without ever feeling rigid or discernibly scripted), and they performed with the kind of ironclad chemistry that’s often only galvanised by decades of touring. They bounced off each other with brotherly aplomb, riding their every ebb and flow in perfect sync, and always circling the vibe back to a celebratory one. 

Aside from a shorter jam section, there’s only one change we’d make to King Stingray’s live show: how often they bring it to Melbourne. If it were up to us, they’d hit the stage here at least thrice a month.

1. ID1 [instrumental intro]
2. Sweet Arnhem Land
3. Raypirri
4. Camp Dog
5. Let’s Go
6. Lupa
7. ID2 [new song]
8. Malk Mirri Wayin
9. Get Me Out
10. ID3 [improv jam]
11. Hey Wanhaka
12. Yellow (Coldplay cover)
13. Milkumana

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…