The triumphant horns of ‘Gonna Fly Now’, the theme song from Rocky, blasted through the PA at the top end of The Domain as The Chats arrived on stage at Laneway Festival. It’s the ultimate feel-good song, a track immediately associated with victory, overcoming the odds and standing tall. Sure, three scrawny bogans from the Sunshine Coast of Queensland might not be the best parallel for a heavyweight boxer, but The Chats operate in a similar position of being the perennial underdog.
There are bigger bands in Australia, certainly. Smarter bands. More technically proficient bands. More straight-up professional bands. With The Chats, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group currently on the circuit that have more fun with what they’re doing onstage. Theirs is an unbridled, unfiltered and unapologetic take on brawling, boozy pub-rock – equal parts high-octane and hilarious.
‘How Many Do You Do’ turned a night out on illicit substances into a rousing chant, while ‘Bus Money’ hit incredibly close to home for anyone who’s grown up rural and regional with notoriously unreliable public transport. No matter what the group fired off at their well-and-truly packed Laneway crowd, it was met with a rousing reception.
This was an audience that was frothing for the band in a big way. ‘The Clap’, the band’s single about venereal disease, was only released a fortnight ago, but the singalong that ensued gave the impression it’s a tried-and-true festival classic.
On the note of the crowd, it would be impossible to detail the ensuing chaos of The Chats’ performance without addressing the elephant in the room – or, more specifically, up the tree. Two brave and agile teenagers scaled a nearby oak halfway through the set, which scored a huge cheer of encouragement, but was later met with an equal amount of boos when police intervened to remove them.
As lively as the Laneway crowd had been up to this point, with sets from the likes of Spacey Jane and Pist Idiots, no band had riled up their audience so much that they’ve been compelled to start climbing like monkeys. The power that The Chats hold is nigh-on primal.
Their propulsive, urgent and insistent stage energy was a joy to behold. Having been playing together since high school, The Chats’ chemistry means they’re able to run a tight ship while keeping things loose when the moment calls for it. Case in point: at one juncture, the band all subbed out their instruments to Sydney garage-rockers Crocodylus to complete the song so they could stagedive. Vocalist/bassist Eamon Sandwith busted himself open in the process, but soldiered on regardless – now that’s rock ‘n’ roll.
All this, by the way, took place before the band had even pulled out their two biggest hits. Sandwith doesn’t even bother with the first chorus of ‘Smoko’ because he knew that it belonged to this crowd – it’s the first truly all-in singalong of the day, and it gives one the impression that The Chats almost definitely should have gone on the main stage this year.
With one last rousing rendition of ‘Pub Feed’, our brief encounter with bogan-rock’s great new hope came to an end. For all their mock-grandeur and self-deprecation, The Chats have a lot to be proud of when it comes to their live shows. Robert Forster once claimed that “the three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression”. He may as well be referring to the Queenslanders in their element.