“The Fighters, the Survivors. Against the grain, and against the odds. A new breed. Self-managed, self-made, self-defined. The last band anybody saw coming. The underdogs”.
The documentary rightfully claims that the metal scene’s “Old Guard” are slowly taking a back seat, so it’s high time newcomers started headlining festivals. And not just any events, but the most important metalheads’ gatherings, attracting fans from all over the world. That’s why you’ll see footage from the biggest and loudest places Parkway Drive visited in 2019: the UK (i.e. the famous “Ally Pally” in London), Spain (Resurrection Fest), Belgium (Rock Werchter) or the US (Hollywood, baby!).
But there’s nothing quite like Wacken Open Air in Germany, described in the movie as “the pinnacle of music festivals [in the heavy metal world]”. The docu emphasises that “the road to the stage cannot be bought. It must be earned through respect, passion and authenticity”.
Enter Parkway Drive. Not only did they top Wacken’s 2019 bill, but they delivered a sick show that both the band themselves and the fans will surely remember for a long time. Me included.
So what makes the Byron Bay five and their story special? Have they somehow discovered a magic formula to break into the higher echelons of the heavy music world?
Having seen them live, I reckon they have. Viva The Underdogs confirms that, too. And here are the formula’s six ingredients.
1: THE GENRE
“Metal doesn’t (…) need the mainstream approval”Merlin Alderslade, Metal Hammer
This one’s a no-brainer, and it’s frequently stated throughout the whole movie. Not only is rock not dead, but it’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Despite what some industry “experts” might claim at awards ceremonies and in the press.
What’s more, within the metal scene, there’s a solid fanbase that doesn’t care about high-charting albums, celebrities or fancy cars. What they do care about instead is headbanging in a mosh pit with their kind once in a while.
Capitalising on that is not a crime. And Parkway have worked their asses off to earn their rightful place in that scene, being “heavier than anybody else”, according to Brett Gurewitz (Epitaph Records CEO and Bad Religion member). To the extent that they were doubling their venues year after year.
That clearly shows the heavy music world is very much alive and kicking. And because Parkway are good at engaging their metal fans all over the world, they should keep that momentum going.
2: THE FANS
“They actually give a fuck”Chris ‘CJ’ McMahon, Thy Art Is Murder
It might sound like a cliché, but sometimes I have the impression that certain bands walk out on stage to entertain themselves or their labels, and not the audiences. Especially when they become more recognizable, play bigger venues and/or amass an impressive niche fanbase.
Viva The Underdogs proves that the above is NOT the case here. You can tell Parkway treat their live shows as an ultimate bow to their followers, thanking them for their support over the years. And they deliver a hell of a show at the same time.
In Winston’s words, “The last thing we ever want to do as a band is cancel a show. We will play tired, we will play sick, we will play with broken bones, it’s what we love to do”. Funnily, that part about being sick or playing with broken bones is not even exaggerated.
And that’s just the beginning. Add jet lag, burnout, viruses, “not feeling it”, being away from home for extended periods, or any other human emotion you can think of in your life. Despite that, the band will always try to do everything in their power to make the show happen. And make it a memorable experience at the same time.
Judging by the crowds’ response to their ‘Reverence Tour’ gigs, that feeling of respect is fully reciprocated by their fans.
3: THE PRODUCTION
“Parkway as a group always seems to be a step ahead”Stefan ‘Oise’ Ronsberger, Tour Manager
You might not know this, but the band came up with the whole ‘Reverence Tour’ show concept themselves. From arranging the music to sketching the stage layout and designing special effects. It was their biggest production to date, with the most people involved, carrying a huge financial risk as well. No wonder that they really wanted everything to be perfect, everywhere and every time.
Unfortunately, touring is not a fairy tale. Things go to shit more often than we know, even though (and thankfully) the fans might not even notice anything. With so many factors that come into play when you stage shows this big and bold, the potential for an epic fuck-up is pretty high.
Parkway’s members talk pretty openly about it. There are heaps of examples in the docu itself. When a roadie doesn’t do their job properly. When the weather doesn’t play along. The equipment on-site isn’t good enough. Or a band member just gets caught off-guard for a split second.
You’ll also see the band beating themselves about it quite a lot, even though many things are just outside their control. Like any normal human beings that care about the quality of their work, they get frustrated. But I’m sure the whole crew has learned many valuable lessons from those ‘Reverence Tour’ experiences. So you can rest assured that their future shows will be even more mind-blowing.
4: THE PEOPLE IN THE BAND
“It’s two totally different worlds to be at home and (…) on tour”Winston McCall, Parkway Drive vocals
So you thought heavy metal band members are heavy metal all the time? Think again. Viva The Underdogs will show you the other side of Parkway Drive. Because they’re common people, like the rest of us.
Some (amusing) things you’ll find out from the docu:
- Who needs a game console to be happy;
- Which band member didn’t know how to play their instrument at the beginning;
- Who acts as the band’s manager and how that person feels about it;
- Which band member is the biggest “naturalist”;
- Who’d “been changing nappies pretty much all the time” before the ‘Reverence Tour’ started;
- What they do back home (and no, it’s not partying);
- Where they thought their band would be in five years (a question asked in 2004).
Notably, they also give voice and a lot of credit to their crew in the docu. So you’ll get to know the people supporting the band, in less than formal circumstances.
The bottom line is: Parkway Drive as a project is a bunch of interesting personalities. Or, in the words of one of their roadies, they’re an “absolute pack of fuckin’ weirdos”. And that’s authentic to me.
5: THE ROCK’N’ROLL IMAGE
“I’m loving being a dog owner”Jeff Ling, Parkway Drive lead guitar
I honestly doubt that footage of cleaning after a dog would make it to a movie about Beyoncé (with all due respect, B). But it’s one of the many hilarious scenes from Viva The Underdogs.
What I dig about the Aussies (these in particular and the nation as a whole, too) is their (very particular) sense of humour. They’re the definition of having fun at what they do and not giving a shit about the whole world. Pulling questionable stunts, running around naked or behaving like teenagers backstage seem like mandatory things to do for five guys in any metal band. And the Byron Bay rockers are not immune to that, either.
There are some wildly funny scenes in Viva The Underdogs, especially from their earliest years as a touring band. Since they were perceived as “a bunch of surf dudes in flip-flops” [that – interestingly – are called ‘thongs’ Down Under], they probably decided to live up to those clichés.
The already mentioned Brett Gurewitz recalls that they were “a lot more down-to-earth [and] a lot more adventure-based” compared to heavy bands from the States. And that’s definitely one of the factors contributing to their success.
These days, having families and all, they might seem a little more mature. But seeing Luke’s and Jeff’s sense of humour, I doubt they’ll ever grow up. Which is good because I’m pretty sure that the “rock’n’roll” factor helps them deal with heaps of shitty things that touring internationally entails as well.
6: THE LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
“Big shows don’t come cheap. But it’s about investing in the future.”Andy Copping, President of Live Nation UK Touring
At the beginning of the documentary, you’ll see the band discussing putting on a kick-ass show for the European summer season. It’s right before the first rehearsals for that production begin.
They all agree that headlining big festivals is where they’re headed, so they must be prepared to face that challenge: financially and logistically. “The goal is, for everyone, every night, to leave with their jaw on the floor. And, for us to prove that we’ve eared those headlining slots at this summer’s festivals”, Winston says.
It’s a lot of pressure on the band and their crew, no doubt. And the whole movie actually revolves around how they deal with that stress and high expectations. Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending.
The last 15 minutes of Viva The Underdogs is basically the Wacken performance (and Jia’s mom crowd-surfing for the first time).
That bit is really moving. You witness five mates from Byron Bay get excited like little kids when they’re about to go out on stage as headliners, making one of their professional music dreams come true. It’s a cool wrap-up of their career to date. And it makes you wonder what they’ll do next.
So I totally agree with the intro to the movie: the Viva The Underdogs’ story does take you somewhere different. It took me back to that gig I wasn’t even going to see. And it definitely makes me want to go see them live again. Only that this next time I’ll go more than willingly.
Check out the docu’s trailer below:
Parkway Drive are headlining the new Knight and Day Festival in Ballarat, VIC in December 2021. So maybe give them a chance then?
Parkway Drive, Viva The Underdogs
Available on Vimeo
Released on April 23, 2020
Running time: 1 hour 12 mins
Directed by Allan Hardy
Cover image: : PWD website
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I’ve realised something recently about this blog. If you have never lived in Australia, my talking about its music scene purely theoretically might not be enough. I get it. Words and links to songs are cool but sometimes it’s best to see something to believe it. And if travelling to Australia is not an option……