Live Review: Polish Club, Melbourne 23/04/22

Polish Club. Credit: Tom Wilkinson
(Image credit: Tom Wilkinson)

WHERE: The Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne VIC
WHEN: Saturday April 30th, 2022
REVIEW: Matt Doria

After being delayed twice from last September, April 2022 saw Polish Club finally able to showcase their third studio album – the bright and bouncy (albeit rather underwhelming) Now We’re Cookin’ – live in concert. Melbourne came lucky last on the duo’s itinerary, with the eight shows preceding this set at the Croxton effectively serving as warmups for this big, bombastic blowout of scorching hot rock ’n’ roll.

It feels right to have ended things here, partially because Press Club – who’ve held tightly onto this tour through every punishing setback, and only missed the first two shows of it when one of their own came down with The Spicy Cough™ – hail from the concrete jungle of culture and craft beer that is Brunswick, just a creek away from the Croxton’s home of Thornbury. Having seen the band play in a handful of cities up and down the east coast of Australia, we can say with certainty that it’s here in Melbourne – at home – that Press Club shine the brightest.

No stranger to this stage, frontwoman Nat Foster slinked around it like she was possessed by the devil, every honest and heartfelt lyric belting from her chest with a stunning mix of ferocity and finesse. Her tenor soared, scratchy and raw like she’d forcibly wrenched each line from her soul and sacrificed it to the masses in realtime. Matching her zeal was Greg Rietwyk, who despite being Press Club’s only guitarist, held the entire set on his shoulders with his crunchy and convulsive shredding.

While distortion sits at the core of his tone, there’s a melodiousness to Rietwyk’s playing that elevates what could’ve been otherwise basic pubcore tunes into colourful – almost cinematic – punk anthems. There was a handful of those in the setlist that we’d never heard before – one very fittingly called ‘Cancelled’, a painfully relatable cut for any artists in the crowd – and if their recorded counterparts are even half as eruptive as they sounded live, we already know the band’s new album will outright destroy its two predecessors.

The most memorable new song is one that built progressively in vigour, from a slow-burning pseudo-ballad into a vicious punk rager, with a melodic hook that felt tailored for singalongs at future gigs. Padding out the set was a handful of gems from 2018’s Low Teens – ‘My Body’s Changing’ remains one of the most poignant punk songs of the last decade, and there’s a good reason why ‘Suburbia’ is still Press Club’s go-to set closer after four years. It felt like 2019’s Wasted Energy was unfairly snubbed in the setlist, but with a headline tour fast approaching, there are hopes we’ll see more love shown to that record there.

Nevertheless, Press Club were tight and on point for every second of their 40-minute set. The same, annoyingly, can’t be said for Polish Club. They started off on a roll: flanked by touring axeman Dan Cunningham and bassist Wade Keighran, the Sydney duo’s sound was rich and expansive, with the blistering bite of ‘Whack’ and fiery grooves of ‘Stop For A Minute’ – the two best songs on Now We’re Cookin’ – making for one hell of an explosive opening.

We’ll admit that we didn’t walk into this show with the highest hopes. For the first few gigs we saw Polish Club play as a four-piece, they were less than stellar – it felt like they’d simply piled more ingredients onto their well-refined formula, overly complicating something that was always meant to be simple. But it seems they’ve since bashed out the kinks, with Cunningham and Keighran now adding colour and texture that elevates the tried-and-true Polish Club sound into a much more dynamic and exciting version of it.

The classic ‘Beeping’ was a perfect example of this, with its punkish, rockabilly-inspired runs given a swaggering wallop of theatricality. Ditto for Iguana highlight ‘Clarity’, which soared with an extra lick of shimmer from Cunningham’s melodically charged fretting. Of course, the star of the show was still singer/shredder David Novak, who – armed with his solidbody Gretsch Duo Jet, which hit the mix so much harder than his old staple, an Epiphone Sheraton, could ever dream to – had the crowd’s attention clutched tightly in his palm for all of Polish Club’s 75-minute set.

The way Novak and Cunningham gelled with their dual-axe attack was simply marvellous, bouncing off each other’s notes and trading solos with the ardour of brothers. And of course, we’d be remiss not to praise the one-of-a-kind chemistry between Novak and drummer John-Henry Pajak, who at times make the set feel more like a musical comedy act. This was best exemplified by the new cut ‘Boys On Vacation’, a stomping Thin Lizzy pastiche that fiercely hit out at our piss-poor excuse for a Prime Minister.

It was also then in the set, though, that Polish Club’s tightness seemed to unravel. A schlocky cover of Werner Thomas’ ‘Chicken Dance’ felt painfully forced, and a ‘70s hard-rock reimagining of ‘Come Party’ – one of the biggest highlights from the duo’s full-length debut, Alright Already – was almost impressively messy. ‘No Heaven’ also fell rather flat as the set’s closer, with plenty of other cuts in the Polish Club echelon – ‘Moonlighting’, ‘Broke’, ‘We Don’t Care’ and ‘Able’, to name just a few – much better suited for the honour.

On the note of slow jams, one set-saving moment in the latter half was their Like A Version cover of Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’, flipped into a sexy, sauntering slow-burn replete with a gloriously over-the-top solo. That, bleeding smoothly into an improvised jam section, went on for an impressive stretch of time – we want to say maybe four or five minutes – and honestly, they could’ve gone for another two or three more.

Aside from their few errant hiccups, Polish Club put on a very solid, thoroughly enjoyable show – par for the course, really. Now all they need to do is bring in a second kick-drum, swap the Gretsch out for an Ibanez, and let shit truly hit the fan for the Now We’re Cookin’ In Hell touring cycle. That record, by the way, lands on June 10th via Dew Process. May Novak and JH have mercy on our souls.

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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. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…

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