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Live Review: American Football w/ Birthmark & Hollow Everdaze

American Football’s gig at the Zoo on Friday night had actually received the biggest promotional boost months before, in the form of Brisbane punters so enthused by the idea of what was very likely the first and only opportunity to see the cultishly revered band live that they forced a venue change from the Brightside to the Zoo. As it was, the Zoo’s hallowed, sweat-stained walls were groaning at the weight of pulsating humanity. It was a steaming mix of a surprisingly youth-skewed audience; of course, there was an older crowd, the first generation of American Football fans, but those cheering loudest were undoubtedly from the second generation, those that missed the wave but keep on paddling behind the crest.

With such fervour from the crowd, what can we make of American Football’s decision to open with “Five Silent Miles”, “The One with the Tambourine” and “Letters & Packages”, the three songs that comprise their self-titled (and only) EP? The logic was sound enough, seeing that the band was trying to fit in almost two decades of the band’s story into an hour- but what an “Honestly” or a “But the Regrets are Killing Me” would have done as a catalyst to an eager crowd sends shivers down the spine. In any case, the live performance of the EP served as a reference point, a firm handshake upon meeting someone you’ve heard so much about, and it would be churlish to criticise any part of a once in a lifetime gig. I still wonder, though.

The answer was provided when “Honestly” and “You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon” were played in quick succession. I’m not even necessarily sure they needed the earlier songs to find rhythm on the night as a band; the truth is they put not a step wrong the entire night. Technically, they were faultless (not unexpected for a band that spent their career walking the tightrope between generic obscurity and emotional accessibility). “Honestly” felt like a valediction of all the rehearsing to get the ship in shape for 2014’s reunion tours: 2015 is the lap of honour. Every one of Steve Holmes’ thrumming down strums was a minor musical epiphany.

With an EP, a beloved cult-classic of a studio album and an hour of play time to work with, the gig’s second half was always going to play something like a greatest hits medley. Truly, we are both blessed and cursed to have waited so long for an American Football live show in Australia. “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional”, “But the Regrets are Killing Me” and “Stay Home” were all performed and received well, the latter in particular shared more in common with a particularly poignant, bittersweet moment in life than merely a band displaying their chops.

American Football looked like students who had forgotten their homework when they sheepishly trotted off stage, the gaps in their set-list blindingly obvious to everyone in the room. That there would be an encore was so ordained that large sections of the room didn’t bother taking up the chant for one more, instead opting to use the brief gap to dart off to the bar. “The Summer Ends” was moving, not least because the summer of American Football was ending for the majority of fans, whose appreciation of the trio (quartet on the night) will now be confined to studio releases. Can you guess what song they played last? Of course. “Never Meant” was plump with meaning, with the hellos and goodbyes said in the space of a night.

Sixteen years since releasing their first and only LP, revered around certain circles as the quintessential math album, American Football used a series of reunion shows in New York as a springboard to tour the world, including places they never would have during their active career. For hundreds of people, sixteen years is nothing, because they got to spend a night with American Football. Who saw that coming?

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