Smith Street at the Boot and Saddle in Philadelphia
Aussie punk favorites the Smith Street Band made a stop at the Boot and Saddle in Philadelphia last week as part of their extensive U.S. tour promoting their new album More Scared of You Than You Are of Me, which was released in April. The show sold out in advance of doors, and the bar-slash-venue was packed to the gills with fans looking to escape the rainy weather long before the festivities actually started. Kicking things off was indie hip-hop artist Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell) who had the crowd jumping within a song or two, thanks to his insanely catchy beats and dynamic stage presence. The audience erupted when Smithies frontman, Wil Wagner, made a guest appearance to sing back up on one song, which required him to push his way to and from the stage through a room that had already filled up. Astronautalis further endeared himself to the crowd when he jumped into the middle of it at one point, exhorting people to move closer and dance, before closing out his set with a Philly-centric freestyle rap that had the audience laughing and cheering. Bothwell’s combination of intensity, lyrical prowess, and humor made him riveting to watch and wowed even the most hardened of skeptics.
Sufficiently warmed up (in the literal sense as well as the figurative – there were a lot of bodies stuffed into Boot and Saddle’s small performance area), the audience didn’t have to wait long for the headliners. The band, comprised of Wil on guitar and lead vocals, Lee Hartney on guitar, Michael (“Fitzy”) Fitzgerald on bass, and Chris Cowburn on drums, came onto the stage, tuned their instruments, and with no fanfare at all and catching a few people by surprise, launched into “Forrest,” the opening number on the new album. From that point on, the set was a nonstop frenzy of energy, each of the thirteen songs bleeding into the next, pausing only briefly so the band could banter with fans or mop the sweat from their faces. The night featured even mix of new tracks and old favorites, hopping from “Birthdays” and “25” to “Surrey Dive” and “Young Drunk,” the new tunes fitting in seamlessly with the older ones. Halfway through the set, Astronautalis returned the favor by jumping on stage to join in on for “I Can’t Feel My Face,” inserting a freestyle rap that felt so organic, one would swear it was meant to be a part of the song from the start.
While their fan base in the States is smaller than in their native Australia, the Smithies are slowly but steadily building a following here, thanks in equal measure to fantastic live performances, intensely personal, relatable lyrics (the Jeff Rosenstock-produced More Scared of You Than You Are of Me charts the progression of a real-life breakup), and high visibility opening slots for artists like Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and the Menzingers. The happiness that the band derived from playing to a room full of ecstatic people who loudly sang along, their arms slung around each other with drinks in hand, was obvious. Despite cutting a rather imposing figure, Wil seemed almost childlike in his joy, a teddy bear of a man fronting a group of punks singing pain-filled songs about difficult life experiences. It’s that odd, unlikely combination that makes the Smith Street Band unique and so much fun to watch – they deliver a hard message in tender package, and we’re shown that even through the darkest times, there is always cause to smile.
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