REVIEW: The Smith Street Band at The Cambridge Hotel

Fellow Novocastrians know the feeling too well. You’re doing your morning rounds of the internet when you see that your favourite band has announced an Australian Tour. You click the link in a heartbeat to see that, of course, they’re not coming to Newcastle.

It’s a raw deal. Sure, it could be worse (sorry Perth), but you and I both know that the 1am train from Central to Hamilton is rough as guts after a big show. So it’s perplexing (and downright infuriating) that when national and international touring acts come into town, that they are treated with disrespect. Newcastle is a city that’s changing, and the live music scene is thriving in a way that it hasn’t in years, but maybe we still have a ways to go.

The Smith Street Band, with two international touring acts and a Melbourne Soul outfit in tow, brought their latest Australian Tour to a sold out stop at The Cambridge Hotel on September 10th. A band that is building a reputation for a strong touring ethic; this tour following a sold-out appearence Poison City Weekender and a three-month tour of Europe and the US. The Smith Street Band have been regularly visiting our city since the bands inception, with each show being bigger than the last.

The Crowd Nearly Ruined The Night

There was a vibe in the room that seemed a little off, an unexplainable tension that was hanging in the air. It didn’t take long for this feeling to physically manifest itself, as The Sugarcanes took a quick breather onstage, a member of the audience broke the silence with an unwarranted sexual comment.

From that point on there were several moments in the evening that were plainly disrespectful. From the unnecessary heckling of the opening act, to people loudly and rudely talking over bands that have travelled thousands upon thousands of kilometres to play in Australia for the first time. Some people in the crowd were acting in a way that showed no consideration for the people around them, even having a fight break out at one point.

When the show wrapped up (and what a show it was) I went home to bed, and woke up not to a tour announcement, but to a tweet from The Sugarcanes.

It’s a feeling that was reflected by The Smith Street Band too. When I went to express my disappointment on Facebook, I was joined by friends who had similar anecdotes to my own; a story that stood out was someone overhearing crowd members say “these chicks are going to get so punished, we are going to fuck them up” in regards to people waiting to see the next band hit the stage.

It’s disappointing and embarrassing that crowds like this still exist. The idea that buying a ticket to a show is permission for you to act however you please is archaic and dumb. Everyone is there to have a great night, and the poor actions of a few can really ruin it for other people. Actions like this also give Newcastle a bad name; if a big band finally gives Newcastle a chance and adds us to their tour, would they come back after behaviour like this? Violence and sexual harassment is 100% without a doubt unacceptable, and have no place at a gig, or anywhere else for that matter.

But The Show Saved The Day

However, as The Sugarcanes and The Smith Street Band pointed out, these actions are from a few bad apples. It would be unfair to just focus on the negative aspects of the evening, especially when the talent on stage was at such a high level.

Melbourne five-piece The Sugarcanes opened up the show. Fronted by Lucy Wilson, the band were the odd act out on the punk-dominated lineup, but from the opening note controlled the room with a series of Soul tunes that called to mind everyone from Amy Winehouse to Alabama Shakes and Etta James. The band played a tight set, only made more amazing by the fact that their guitarist had only joined the tour at the last minute. Lucy Wilson was the star of the band, using her backing band as a platform to let her vocals soar from track to track.

The Sidekicks hit the stage next with a series of bouncing and infectious emo tunes, with mesmerizing near-falsetto hooks thrown out left right and centre by guitarist/singer Steve Ciolek. People were still filtering in at this stage, but Sidekicks set to converting everyone in the room, and they damn near succeeded judging by the line at the merch table. The majority of their songs came from their latest album Runners In The Nerved World with their live performance letting the songs dance a little harder than their recorded counterparts.

Andrew Jackson Jihad had a small but passionate following up the front as they started. This was their first time in Australia, and their set was a reflection of that, with song selections from across the bands career; most noticeably People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World and their latest album Christmas Island. A band that started as a folk-punk 2-piece has now evolved into a 5-piece juggernaught that handle delicate moments and blown-out anthems with ease.  The softer songs in the set, such as ‘White Face/Black Eyes’ were lost on some members of the crowd, but they had everyone dancing to ‘Kokopelli Face Tattoo’ and ‘Distance’.

It’s no surprise that the stars of the show were The Smith Street Band. The crowd erupted into applause when Wil Wagner took to the stage, even if it was only to set up his gear. When the band finally did hit the stage (walking on to the theme from Jurassic Park no less) the crowd went wild, and from the opening chord it was a series of sing-a-longs, dancing, and finger pointing.

From that moment the songs came hard and fast, with the band only taking a beat (and sometimes not even that) before launching into the next song. It must have been halfway through the set before the band finally took pause. The band smashed through songs like Surry Dive and Surrender as well as playing older cuts like Rooftops. With sets like this, it’s hard to argue that The Smith Street Band don’t have the potential to become one of the biggest bands in Australia, and the sold out shows across the country reflect that.

The crowd was lively the whole way through, with everyone in the room singing and dancing. Crowd surfers regularly flew overhead, and at times there was a tense feeling in the air. Unfortunately, towards the end a fight broke out in the crowd during the bridge of ‘I Love Life’. Wil Wagner stopped the song and kick the offenders out, pointing out that they were the kids getting beat up in school, not the jocks beating people up (to which the crowd cheered).

The band briefly left the stage, only to quickly return with Lucy Wilson in tow to play their latest release ‘I Scare Myself Sometimes’ as well as ‘Young Drunk’ which drew that biggest sing-a-longs of the night.

It’s perplexing that during a song called ‘I Love Life’ someone would feel the need to attack another person. The Smith Street Band have always been an act that look after their fans, and want to create a positive environment at their shows. The people who acted so disrespectfully at this show must enjoy the band to some degree, so how can they be singing along to ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’ one minute, and then be swinging a fist the next?

It’s upsetting that so much of this review is reflecting on the actions of the crowd. The four bands that hit the stage were world class musicians. From fist-in-the-air anthems, to Soul-influenced vocal theatrics and Folk Punk ramblings, this was a diverse lineup that delivered on all counts. Everyone on stage brought their A-game, it’s just a shame that the crowd couldn’t.

This story was submitted by Spencer Scott. If you would like to submit a review to Newcastle Live, drop us a line at

Written by Spencer Scott

Spencer is a singer/songwriter from Newcastle. He's also a Triple J Unearthed Super User and writes for many national publications.

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