Saturdays at the Tote promise good music, good times and a steady stream of cold beer. The carpet may be a little cleaner these days but that doesn’t mean the place has lost any of its dingy charm since its now famous stoush with liquor licensing and subsequent change of ownership back in 2010. Tonight, sonic rock heavyweights The Nation Blue are celebrating fifteen years as a band, with guests from Sydney Lo! and Firearms supporting, along with local act Bodies.

Bodies’ set starts off amid technical difficulties, which continued to be a problem throughout the set. Their music borders on instrumental,a heavy mix of staccato guitar rhythms and thick bass riffs, the singer’s growling vocals sparingly punctuate the songs. It would be interesting to see what these guys are like without the sound issues that dogged their set.

Sydney three-piece Firearms play a fast, catchy brand of rock in the vein of bands like the Bronx. Their music has plenty of swagger in it, the guitarist’s raw vocals balanced by the bass player’s more measured delivery. They kick through their set with attitude and style, well worth checking out next time they’re in town.

Lo! are up next, with their unusual style of hardcore, filtered through doom metal and thrash, sitting somewhere in the room with bands like Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan. Lots of heavy riffs work around their singer’s death growl vocals, tied together with solid drumming from Adrian Griffin. It’s good to see a hardcore drummer that doesn’t blast the room with double kick, it’s apparent these guys know what else is out there music-wise, and are setting out to do something a little different.

The lights are dimmed as the Nation Blue take the stage, fifteen years since singer Tom Lyngcoln and drummer Dan Mckay first got together to play in Hobart, before picking up bass player Matt Weston. Opener ‘Bossanova(Southern Gale)’ edges into the set, followed by ‘Heart is a Phantom Limb’, both off of their 2001 debut album A Blueprint for Modern Noise. ‘Heart’s’ manic guitar intro wraps around Weston’s heavy bass riff, singer Tom throwing himself around the stage with the manner of a man possessed.

The jarring rhythms of ‘I Want a Divorce’ are like a kick in the gut, Dan McKay’s drumming moving through the changes in the song without fault. Their set is diverse, playing songs from all four of their albums with a feverish intensity. The Nation Blue’s live performances are always an immersive experience, each member’s skill with their instruments bringing a uniqueness to every set. ‘Murder’ creeps into the tail end of the evening, the nervous guitar and drums with the unsettling first line my skeleton speaks to me / sends instructions to my hands to dig holes in the ground ramping up the intensity in the room before heading into ‘Damnation’, both songs off of the 2004 album of the same name, with plenty of people singing out the chorus of We’re gonna burn your whole town / gonna burn your fucking whole town down before dropping it to half speed for the last part of the song, a rendition that’s become a set staple at their shows.

As they wind up amid a feedback-drenched wave of noise it’s a wonder, with Nation Blue shows few and far between, when we’ll get to see them again, because the crowd are eager for more. Age certainly hasn’t done anything to dull the edge of their music, even their older songs still sound like nothing else around at the moment. The Nation Blue is definitely an experience that sticks in your mind, and not to be missed out on, so hopefully, with the weight of fifteen years behind them now we’ll get to see more of them in the coming months.

–       Shaun Thatcher