Live Review: Short Stack, Melbourne 08/07/22

Short Stack. Credit: Darcy Goss
(Image credit: Darcy Goss)

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

Almost two and a half years after it was first announced, Short Stack finally hit the road for their “comeback” tour in the middle of June. It was initially supposed to be a short run of theatre shows – one date each in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, all slated for July of 2020 – with no ties to any new release or movement behind the scenes. But of course, the pandemic threw those plans into disarray, and with a bunch of free time on their hands, Short Stack knuckled down on their fourth studio album, Maybe There’s No Heaven.

Between approximately 600 postponements, the casual reunion tour grew into a sprawling album tour, with the final itinerary spanning 11 shows across June and July of this year. Melbourne scored three of those – the original 170 Russell date at the start of July, then back-to-back gigs at the Croxton a week later. We headed along to the first of those Croxton shows, sprinting as fast as possible down High Street to make it in time for the last few songs of the first set, from Perth alt-pop duo Those Who Dream. Turns out we didn’t need to worry – thanks to technical difficulties, the venue opened up over an hour late. We were ultimately relieved, if a little miffed that we did all that running for nothing.

Wielding ultra-tight, energised pop songs heavy on production and atmospheric effects, Those Who Dream made an easy case for themselves as Australia’s answer to Twenty One Pilots. There were times in the set where if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Those Who Dream fell head-over-heels for their American counterparts – some moments, like the choreographed handshake and dual bass drum-off, were lifted directly from Twenty One Pilots’ own playbook – but when they dared to be original, the sibling duo stunned without a hitch. 

Armed with a Les Paul-esque semi-hollow, Josh Meyer’s fretwork was crisp and gelled beautifully with the bassy, glitch-inflected backing tracks; some distortion would not have gone astray, but even without it, his tonal palette was rich and colourful. And although this is a guitar magazine, we’d be remiss not to gush over Cooper’s downright hypnotising prowess with a pair of drumsticks. The siblings bounced off each other with radiant aplomb, leaving not a second of dead air in their wake as they reeled through hit after hit.

In comparison to Those Who Dream, Between You & Me missed the mark by a few kilometres. The local pop-punkers came with a brilliant setlist in clutch, showcasing more than half of last year’s Armageddon record; but while those songs shine on record with sharp and considered performances, they were played here with a looseness that often blunted their impact. When it came to the banter weaved around songs and the quintet’s infectiously buoyant chemistry, that looseness was their saving grace – there just wasn’t the necessary balance between the fun and fastidious when it came to the songs themselves. 

It’s probably worth pointing out that we’ve seen Between You & Me play a handful of times in the past, and they’ve never let us down before. Of course, every band has their off nights – tonight just seemed to be one of theirs. And that’s fine! Between You & Me have a tour of their own just over the horizon, and you better damn believe we’ll be front-and-centre for their Corner show.

Altogether, with shows like this – and especially in the wake of the pandemic – it’s important to keep expectations in check. When you spend two and a half years being hyped for a gig, your excitement can mutate to a point where no matter how great the artist’s performance is, it’ll never live up to the grandiose, Hollywood-perfect version you’ve conjured up in your mind. So as Short Stack sauntered out to their buzzy electronic intro, we had to ground ourselves in reality. The band typically prioritise energy over proficiency, so bung notes and missed beats were to be expected. They have near-flawless chemistry onstage, though, so they’d lose one star from our review for every minute we spent bored. And although they have a litany of hits in their arsenal, this was, after all, a celebration of their new album, so we couldn’t expect a start-to-end showcase of “the classics”.

The first chunk of the set went exactly as expected – new cuts ‘Burn You Down’ and ‘Dance With Me’ were punchy and played with adequate fervour (and the immediate contrast between the former’s fierceness and the latter’s buoyancy made our ears prick up with delight), but they didn’t have an ounce of the power that old-school staple ‘Princess’ did when they played it next. “This in-cen-tive rep-re-sents this dim-ly lit room, just a min-ute in” – it’s admittedly super cheesy, but this opening line – and the sticky, pseudo-gothic swagger that frontman Shaun Diviney chants it with – will always trigger an emphatic response from a room full of elder emos. It’s like audible crack. And goddamn, did we dive straight for the pipe.

Try as they might to play the roles of dumb schoolmates that never outgrew their pop-punk phase, Diviney and his bandmates – bassist (and onstage love interest) Andy Clemmensen and drummer Bradie Webb – are all pretty switched-on blokes: they knew better than we did that all we really wanted was to feel like teenagers again. So their setlist was veritably stacked with those gloriously gaudy two-chord gems, including half of the tracklist from their timeless 2009 debut, Stack Is The New Black. But the way these songs were punctuated with and twined around choice cuts from Maybe There’s No Heaven – a key instance being a curtailed run of ‘Live4’ snapping into the meteoric ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ – made this set much more than a simple nostalgia trip.

As predicted, the band’s chemistry was immediately captivating. Diviney commanded the crowd with all his might, belting anthemic refrains like his life depended on it, shredding up a storm and leading his crowd in the compulsory clap- and chant-alongs, all the while laying waste to his stage and hamming it up with Clemmensen. The latter’s handiwork was equally striking, every bouncy groove and plucky jut adding a wallop of colour to the mix. And Webb, as always, proved to be secret to Short Stack’s winning formula. Towards the end of the set, Diviney and Clemmensen took a breather for Webb to play a hectic, convulsive drum solo set to Knife Party’s ‘Centipede’. 

As a grisly drumstep rager, it felt entirely out of place – but as both a showcase of Webb’s dominating talent and a way to shake up the standard “play some tunes, crack some jokes and get outta here” formula, it was perhaps the night’s biggest highlight… Well, aside from the fiery cover of Blink-182’s ‘All The Small Things’ that led the encore. 

Though he handled most of the lead lines himself, Diviney was flanked by touring guitarist Luke Lukess, who stood awkwardly at the back left-hand corner of the stage, hidden from its otherwise extravagant lighting setup. Something about this felt… Off. He delivered some of the night’s most striking passages, fleshing out the songs with crisp and crunchy shredding that made them feel truly explosive – not to mention the way his backing vocals helped Diviney’s leads soar. He was the unsung hero of the night, and should have been given just as much of the spotlight as the core Short Stack trio. 

Bar that one nitpick, Short Stack delivered a nigh-on perfect set, honouring their storied history while celebrating the present and making them collide in mesmerising ways. Was it worth a two-and-a-half year wait? Absolutely – just so long as we don’t have to wait nearly as long for the next show…

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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…