Review: Amyl and the Sniffers Bring Their Monsoon Rock to the Vic
In a contemporary punk landscape that’s dominated by hardcore, at least in the relative mainstream, Amyl and the Sniffers are a breath of fresh air; or rather, a sniff of their namesake amyl nitrite. While bands like Turnstile and Gulch have brought heavy metal-infused hardcore to the masses (very effectively I might add), Amyl and the Sniffers’ sound harkens back to a pre-hardcore era of punk, favoring pogo-friendly mid-tempo aggression and four-on-the-floor drum patterns to the breakdowns and NYHC (New York Hardcore) rip-off riffs that have dominated the scene in recent memory. Fans of '70s punk, the riot grrrl movement, or just fast rock and roll in general, will undoubtedly fall in love with Amyl and the Sniffers just like I have over these past few years.
Due to predictably unpredictable CTA nonsense, I unfortunately missed Ganser, the local band who opened the show. While I can’t in good faith give a review of a performance I didn’t see, I’ve seen Ganser a handful of times before, and can confidently recommend them to any fan of post-punk who’s looking for a new local band to get excited about.
I did, however, make it in time to catch the absolute neutron bomb of an opening performance from London’s Bob Vylan. The vocals-and-drums duo, aided by a backing track of furious, full-bodied distorted guitar, ripped through a set that left many in the unsuspecting audience (me included) absolutely stunned. The lead singer’s vocal delivery, which is heavily informed by both grime (a UK-specific strain of hip-hop) and traditional punk and hardcore, served as a riotous call to action, punctuated by ravenous live drums. Though I’m not sure how thrilled they’d be with this distinction, Bob Vylan’s sound is unapologetically nu-metal. However, unlike bands like Limp Bizkit (who, for better or worse, are the closest sonic landmark to their sound), Bob Vylan actually embraces and promotes the radical politics and morally righteous violence that is integral to both hip-hop and punk. This may seem like hyperbolically high-praise, but I think we may finally have a true spiritual successor to Rage Against the Machine.
The first time I saw Amyl and the Sniffers, at Wicker Park Fest 2019, they were the frenetic Australian upstarts at making punk fun again. Three years later, and they’re headlining the Vic, packing the floor with their well-deserved (and broadly inter-generational) cult following. It’s rare to see an audience that spans an age range as wide as 16 to 60, but the Vic on this evening looked like a massive cool-teacher/parent and rebellious teen PTA meeting. This just goes to show that fast, fun rock music and reckless charisma never really goes out of style. Speaking of charisma, lead singer Amy Taylor has it in almost comical abundance, casually taking her throne as the coolest person in the 1,000 person room the moment she stepped on stage.
After bursting onto the scene with their 2019 self-titled record, Amyl and the Sniffers fully came into their own on their 2021 project Comfort To Me. With this album Amy Taylor truly cemented herself as a deserving entry into the legendary lineage of punk rock leading women. While this designation may seem reductive, I believe gender provides important context to art, as women can write songs from a fundamentally different perspective from men. Additionally, gender and sexuality (and the power structures that come with them) heavily informs the songwriting of not only Amy Taylor, but her predecessors as well. Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna; these women and many more laid the feminist bedrock of punk that Taylor and the rest of the Sniffers continue to build upon, and triumphantly so.
Amyl and The Sniffers roared into the Vic with a bang, opening their set with “Control” and “Snakes,” two powerful, driving anthems from their first and second albums, respectively. Despite taking occasional intermissions, Amyl and the Sniffers were able to blaze through their 19-song set in just under an hour, playing a good number of their songs almost a full beat faster than they appear on record (no complaints here!). All frills were checked at the door, as angry (yet bounce-inducing) punk rock filled the room; the riffs were tight, the crowd was rabid, and the band understood exactly what the assignment was for this all ages over-at-10pm gig: get in, kick the audience and stage in the teeth, get out, and make sure as many patrons as possible are dripping with sweat as they depart into the chilly September eve. They accomplished this task masterfully.