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Live Reviews : Mammal, Rival Fire, Crystal Ignite @ Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne, 6/03/2020

By on March 7, 2020

StKilda’s world-famous Esplanade Hotel is back. Well, it’s partly back to its old glory. The front section looks extremely different, and the fact that the front band bar is gone is saddening, but at least the mighty Gershwin Room has been left more or less untouched. And what a gig for this writer to return to the Espy for!

Opener Crystal Ignite is re-igniting her career after the demise of her band Bellusira, which split asunder a few years back when they were just on the cusp of international success. And if her new single, Black Mamba, which she is launching tonight, and this live set are anything to go by, she is back in a big way.

Her set tonight is short, sharp and overflowing with a positive energy. The band Ignite has put around herself for the next phase of her career is highly skilled and the individual members appear to be having the time of their lives on stage with her. And the woman herself looks amazing, is singing better than ever and obviously has an almighty fire raging in her belly, a fire that fuels her desire to create, perform and succeed in this most cut-throat of businesses.

A couple of old Bellusira classics and a teasing showcase of some of her brand new material and her set is done. This night is set up beautiful, the rapidly expanding crowd hungry for more.

Rival Fire light up the Gershwin next, completing a flame-driven double-shot opening to the main act. This band just keeps getting better and better, the Melbourne four-piece delivering their smooth, dulcet-toned alternative rock with seemingly effortless panache. The band is lockstep-tight and again, appear to be having a ball onstage, while frontman Rob Farnham is an enigmatic focal point, belting out his lines with passion and bantering easily with band and crown alike between tunes. Their song Riot, which also kinda serves as a title track for the band itself, is always a highlight of this band’s live set, and tonight is no different.

By late in Rival Fire’s set, the crowd is almost capacity.

Over the coming 20 minutes or so, ‘almost capacity’ becomes ‘jam-packed and climbing the sweating walls’ as fever-pitch punters await the main course. And they are not disappointed, the curtain draws back and Melbourne’s mighty Mammal veritably explode.

A quick history lesson for the uninitiated. This band was highly active on the local scene back in the late 2000s. During that time, on the back of scintillating performances, their illustrious live reputation spread more quickly than the coronavirus and its resultant idiocy is now, and again, just when they seemed on the verge of true national and international stardom, the band fell apart, leaving a burgeoning legion of fans bewildered.

Now, the question must be asked: are they as good now, or even better than they were then? They have certainly lost nothing whatsoever, they play just as well, both as individuals and collectively, the older songs hold up timelessly while the newer material they have unleashed recently is pretty much just as strong, the sound is just as huge and the energy pouring off the stage and infecting every member of the sold-out crowd just as devastating as ever. So the answer can only be a resounding ‘YES!’

The overwhelming exuberance and breathtaking energy of band and crowd is tinged with a little sadness this night, as it is the last Melbourne appearance of long-time bassist Nick Adams as a member of Mammal. However, it is more of a celebration of his enormous contribution to the band than a sob-fest, and he takes centre stage for a moment for an impromptu bass solo, which delights both crown and ballistic frontman Ezekiel Ox.

Despite the loss of a highly valued member, let’s hope things stick for Mammal this time. A spot in the big leagues still beckons for them.


Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine,, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.