REVIEW: Unwritten Law at the Small Ballroom

Newcastle’s been called a “rock town” and we sure have our fair share of brooding metalheads. But there was a time in the late ‘90s when a high-energy and ultra-melodic wave of punk rock swelled off the shores of California and finally crashed on Newcastle’s main beach.

The anthems of NOFX, Blink 182, Rancid, The Offspring, Pennywise, No Use For a Name, Lagwagon, Guttermouth, Goldfinger, and Face to Face (not to mention Swedish ring-ins Millencolin), effortlessly infused with Newcastle’s sun-drenched surfing and skating culture.

Amongst this high-speed onslaught was Unwritten Law, whose 1998 self-titled record, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, holds a special place in the hearts of Newie’s Gen Xers. Following a 2016 tour in nostalgic tribute to their 2002 hit record Elva, which they played in its entirety, the So Cal punks have now returned to give Unwritten Law the same treatment.

It’s evident that tonight’s sold out Small Ballroom show is an opportunity for Newie’s punk lovers to turn back the clock and indulge in beers and wistful reminiscence. The two decades since Unwritten Law’s release may have delivered work hang-ups, mortgages and kids, but tonight’s about time travel – a wormhole back to simpler times.

And this is what the band delivers. Original members, singer Scott Russo and drummer Wade Youman, and more recent additions, guitarist Chris Lewis and bassist Jonny Grill, evoke a 20-year-old soundtrack. Their set time promises a two-hour set and they fill that time with apparent ease.

The first half of the show is Unwritten Law’s self-titled record in full and, from opening track ‘Harmonic’, the crowd sings every word with deafening enthusiasm. Russo’s got one helluva tan these days, and bleach through his oft black hair, and wears the grin of a man who’s up for a party.

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Russo doesn’t have quite the same energy on stage as he did in Unwritten Law’s heyday, but tonight the crowd is doing all the work for him. The frontman jumps on the foldbacks, and keeps the room in full voice through ‘Teenage Suicide’, ‘California Sky’ and the sweeter ‘Cailin’, a tribute to his daughter. Russo’s voice has held up after 20 years, and tonight he’s comfortable, in cruise control, as if we’re all at a kegger in his backyard. It’s a different energy, no less engaging, and the intimacy of the Small Ballroom allows it. Behind the kit, Youman goes about his work with understated efficiency.

Written by Nick Milligan

Nick Milligan embarked on an entertainment journalism career in 2002. Since that time he has become one of Australia's most respected film and music pundits.

His articles have appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, Hotpress, Frankie and Smash Hits.

Milligan is the former editor-in-chief of Reverb Magazine and the former Music and Film Editor of YEN magazine.

He has interviewed and profiled a wide array of entertainers and writers, including Matt Damon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alice Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Ice Cube, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Marlon Wayans, Joe Perry, Pete Townshend, Marilyn Manson and Bret Easton Ellis.

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