At 12:30 on the dot, the club music fades out. The crowd starts cheering as the curtain rises, revealing a darkened stage and four fashionably disheveled Australians who promptly launch into the power-pop chords of “Right on Track,” off their debut album Be Impressive.
I’ve been in KOKO for a good half-hour before it hits me quite how normal everyone looks. I’m a punk-rock fan at heart, so I’m a little out of my element here among the 20-somethings wearing polos and ironic T-shirts. I do a double check of each of KOKO’s four levels, but don’t see a garish facial tattoo anywhere. There isn’t anyone sporting a mohawk taller than his head. I don’t want to be presumptive, but as I look at the sea of dancing, casually laughing bodies on the floor, I can’t help but feel that a mosh pit won’t be in the cards tonight.
I check my watch. 11:55. I’ve been here for 20 minutes, and I’ve still got plenty of time before the Griswolds are due to take the stage at half past midnight. The crowd may not be garish, but the energy level is high, and a distinct sense of Friday-night fun permeates the scene. I head down to the dance floor to soak in the DJ set. There are enough bass drops and throbbing renditions of radio hits to make it an enjoyable experience, even for a misanthropic pop-hater, and by the time “Just Like Heaven” pops up in the mix, I’m in the party mood. As the clock ticks steadily past midnight, the crowd begins to pack in tighter and tighter, so I push my way to the front row.
At 12:30 on the dot, the club music fades out. The crowd starts cheering as the curtain rises, revealing a darkened stage and four fashionably disheveled Australians who promptly launch into the power-pop chords of “Right on Track,” off their debut album Be Impressive. The lights flash on to reveal a surprisingly hard-rock-looking group—singer Christopher Whitehall seems to be channeling Kurt Cobain with his stubble, battered guitar, and tangled blond curls—but the songs are pleasantly light fare.
As the band stomps straight into their second number, it’s clear that high energy and an easygoing mood are the order of the night. For the rest of the set, ballads and lengthy dirges are avoided in favour of bright, danceable guitar pop and Whitehall’s emotive, soaring vocals. “Now you’re fucking crazy,” he coos on “Beware the Dog,” letting the crowd echo the “crazy, crazy, crazy” refrain in a choir of enthusiastic cheers.
The music is pleasant, but doesn’t reinvent the wheel; luckily, the Griswolds provide an abundance of rock-concert fun. Guitarist Daniel Duque-Perez jumps up on the drum riser, guitars and basses lock necks, and Whitehall struts across the stage with the mic stand, drawing fresh waves of cheers. Less-desirable cornball behaviours are thankfully avoided, too: no long instrumental jams, no overly elaborate band-member introductions, no hammy theatrics—just song after song of crunchy pop.
The set was short, clocking in at only about 35 minutes. This felt like the right length, though; the songs came quickly and steadily, but the sun-stroked Aussie strummers knew enough to bow out before their somewhat similar-sounding catalog started to feel stale. They went out with a bang, though, concluding with a kinetic performance of “Heart of a Lion” that saw Whitehall jump down from the stage and be embraced by fans (including yours truly).
It was an easygoing, high-energy night at KOKO, and while there wasn’t any moshing, I still walked away impressed. You could do far worse for £6 on a Friday night.
Watch Jess's interview with the band here!