Stepping into Howler, tucked behind a Brunswick car park, you're enveloped with warmth. The glowing orange ambiance of the front bar crooks and twists, with tables and greenery poking between all the hustling bodies. If you emerged onto a balcony in the middle of summertime, this would be it.
You follow the labyrinth, your right side glowing from the backlit bar and your left side glowing from the indoor heaters, until you reach a dark corridor. As the large black doors sigh inwards and the band room greets you, you're struck by how cosy it is, like an exaggerated bedroom. Towards the back is a hoisted lounge area, equipped with overgrown pillows and plants to compliment the front's Garden of Eden theme. The punter space isn't deep but it's wide, as is the stage, which is only slightly elevated. The bar is tucked in the back right corner and there are few standing tables pockmarked throughout the gathering masses for Horrorshow's second sold-out Melbourne performance.
To your left, performing to the crowd like a pyjama clad trouble-maker rapping to his mirror after bed time, is Queanbeyan rapper, poet and author, Omar Musa, aka A$AP Laksa. The Big Village signee, fresh of the release of his EP Dead Centre, welcomes the crowd to the arena with his poetic and political middle-finger to the Pauline Hanson school of thought in new single Freedom and then ignites the flame and sprinkles the spice with party rocker LAK$A.
After a couple drinks to extinguish the palette, Horrorshow's Elefant Trak label-mate B-Wise glides across the stage and with the help of DJ Klasik douses the room with the Sydneysider's Casanova meets Prince Akeem swagger, combining slick cadence with tongue-in-cheek charm on Risk It and heartfelt personal narratives from new single, No Questions.
As the crowd grows and the expectant noise fills the room, you find yourself in the middle of the longest wait of the evening, staring at the pink sky backdrop where the purple print Horrorshow taunts you with the promise of what's to come.
"Melbourne, tonight we're gonna take you on the wild side"
There's no big announcement. No melodramatic arrival. Adit, production mastermind and one half of the Sydney hip-hop duo, nonchalantly strolls onto the stage behind the decks then smiles into the microphone, "Melbourne, tonight we're gonna take you on the wild side". Then those sweet lingering bass notes trickle out the speakers. It's not their song, but it's a tune all hip-hop and non hip-hop heads recognise as an uplifting invitation. Like his DJ and producer counterpart, Solo, the emcee and second half of Horrorshow casually rolls out in front of their fans, grin beaming out from beneath the peak of his cap, and he simply asks a question... "Can I Kick It?"
The crowd detonates and the answer reverberates throughout the snug band-room, "Yes, you can!" It's a response heads around the country have been ringing out since The Grey Space, their debut album, dropped back in 2008 and the album's popular cut No Rides Left opens up the show after their tribute to A Tribe Called Quest. Solo's smooth cadence allows you to catch every single play on words and punch line as if he had a PowerPoint presentation displaying the lyrics behind him, but all that's back there is Adit, perfectly juggling hyping the crowd, cutting up the songs and hyping his counterpart with ad-libs and overdubs. After blessing the evening with a selection from their debut, the boys jump straight into their last album with the title anthem King Amongst Many, and Solo's smooth harmonies sit effortlessly atop the accompanying hook blaring out the monitors and the crowd, who are singing along as one.
"Melbourne, I fucking love you,... I'm gonna have to fuck around and move here."
During tours it's common for acts to compare each location to the previous city. But that wasn't the case Saturday night at Howler. The rivalry was with its own city. For this was the second show, the Friday night previous being the direct competition. "Melbourne, I fucking love you," Solo said as he stared over the crowd, his smile nearly engulfing his eyes. "I'm gonna have to fuck around and move here." To which the crowd swooned and Adit replied, "I'm coming with you bro".
When they weren't serenading the city with Grill'd lunch-date invitations, the Elefant Traks artists were jumping in and out and all around their discography with our without guest performers, repping their One Day supergroup with reggae infused public transport protest S.D.R.O and riot starting battle cry Choose None sans big man Joyride or Jimmy Nice of Spit Syndicate, or as Solo described them, "these two Polo wearing motherfuckers".
To name one highlight of the evening would be an insult to the energy and heart of the duo's work, but what was evident was no matter the vibe of the track, Howler's crowd was hell-bent on upstaging their peers from the night before. Arms waved and voices cracked during ballads All Summer Long and Walk You Home and then fists bumped and heads nodded during Dead Star Shine and Did You Hear? Happy to spoil the adoring horde, peppered in amongst the well known favourites were exclusive cuts from the upcoming album, but you wouldn't think they were new considering the crowd never quietened or relaxed for even a millisecond. Not even during Any Other Name, the duo's letter to Australia Day controversy, did the crowd let the severity of the message sway them into melancholy, instead they answered with defiant unity and solidarity as they sang the hook.
The crowd had well and truly decided it was the superior audience to Friday, but if they hadn't, the reception to The Rain from the duo's second album Inside Story would have sealed it. "I'm gonna tell you a story, Melbourne," Solo introduced the epic. "And it takes a long time, but as it builds and builds, I want you to get crazier and crazier and when that beat finally drops I need you to completely lose control." And as Solo's slick tongue told the story of him encountering a wise old men who looked like an older version of the Inner Western Sydney boy, the crowd were already bouncing and prancing, but as the snares came crashing down all the punters in the room seemed to lift themselves above the clouds as Solo and Adit bellowed the chorus and plastic bottles soared through the air, blessing all those in the front couple rows with droplets of water.
"No song and dance, just a quiet retreat. But the crowd weren't buying it."
Not long after blessing us with another exclusive from the new album, the pair left the stage like they had entered. No song and dance, just a quiet retreat. But the crowd weren't buying it. This was the If You Know What I Mean tour after all and yet we were yet to hear the latest single from their upcoming album. Surely enough the boys graced the stage once more to take us on a trip into Solo's dojo. "This a song about feeling yourself," Solo teased. "Are you feeling yourselves, Melbourne?"
Despite Thelma Plumm, Urthboy, One Day and Jimblah not being in the house, the boys made you forget any of these feature artists were absent all throughout the evening, but they capped off the night by making the last song a family affair. Inviting Omar Musa and B-Wise back to the stage for a night-cap performance of their promo single Right Here there was no question as to which crowd felt they had earned the title of Melbourne's best.
Solo echoed this sentiment before the boys left the stage. "Melbourne, I'm not just saying this, I need to move here. I fucking love you all. I want you to know that." And you knew why. As the house lights beamed up and Solo and Adit jumped behind the merch desk to sign t-shirts and pose for photographs, with the crowd thinned out and the doors to the front area wide open, you were struck once again with the feeling that you were at home. And Horrorshow had walked with us there.