Amyl and the Sniffers open an embattled Sydney Festival

Amyl and the Sniffers lead singer Amy Taylor holds court at the band's Sydney Festival opening show on Thursday, 6 January, 2022. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

Review: Amyl and the Sniffers, Speakers Corner, Sydney Festival – Thursday, 6 January, 2022. Reviewed by editor-at-large Gary Nunn.

★★★★

Last time an LGBTQI themed concert happened on the council-owned forecourt of St Mary’s Cathedral – Heaps Gay Live & Queer, a year ago – it resulted in a mass pray-in protest by activist group Christian Lives Matter and a complaint from Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher.

The idea was to drown out the offending queer music with their hymns.

Last night, the opening night of the Sydney Festival, such protestors would’ve had to have gripped very tight to their rosaries as Amyl and the Sniffers – a band named after a drug used to enhance anal sex, beloved by bottoms everywhere – opened festivities.

And any hymns would’ve needed mega megaphones; this punk rock band is LOUD, in the most vivacious, life-affirming yet rage-releasing way.

The band (vocalist Amy Taylor, drummer Bryce Wilson, guitarist Dec Martens and bassist Gus Romer, who are from Melbourne and formed in 2016) opened the festival with pure rock ’n’ roll: melodiously screeched lyrics, cans of VB messily necked and dancing like Omicron was an insistent beat. 

It must’ve been a relief for organisers to finally get the show going; the festival has been beset by Covid related cancellations with showcase productions such as Qween Lear scrapped due to infections among cast members, and a pro-Palestine lobby organising a boycott over the festival accepting money from Israel. No mention of that tonight, though. 

This was a classic head banging affair. Gloriously expletive ridden lyrics echoed at the outdoor Speakers Corner venue, across Hyde Park and over the bells of St Mary’s.

The opening number, ‘Guided by Angels’, celebrated the earthy over the ecclesiastical; such angels “aren’t heavenly, they’re on my body and they guide me.”

The entire band oozes talent, but make no mistake: this is the Amy Taylor show. She makes Courtney Love look like Enya, Beyoncé look lazy and Freddie Mercury look like a charisma free zone.

From the minute she comes out on stage in a tiny bikini top and fluorescent hotpants, Taylor’s energy is relentless. She headbangs so hard her sunglasses fall off, multiple times. Her distinctive long blonde mullet shoots in every direction like the urine flow from a Prince Albert and her expressive face shrivels into a cat’s arse as she yells lyrics like a poet denied a publisher: “Security will you let me in your pub? I’m not looking for trouble, I’m looking for love.”

‘The entire band oozes talent, but make no mistake: this is the Amy Taylor show,’ writes Gary Nunn. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

At one point, when singing about women feeling unsafe walking home at night, she takes down her hotpants, hikes up her thong and snarls.

She balances precariously on smaller speakers and clambers on top of the bigger ones, then dances like she’s been sniffing that amyl for a month solid. She strides other speakers in a power-pose lunge, then collects every mic on stage and sings into all three of them. The thrill of the night is that not only do you never know what she’s going to do next, you absolutely know she’s going to get away with it.

The crowd lap it up, headbangers to the front, and the atmosphere is perfect. You have to feel for both the OH&S officers and Covid marshalls though. After ushering people back to “please only dance in your designated seating area” they eventually give up, overpowered by Taylor’s uniquely magnetic stage presence, which draws them forwards.

Before that, Taylor comes out to them, screeching lyrics into their delighted faces with a borderline irate energy, then winking at them as she jumps back on stage for some more distinctive drunk-rocker-in-grunge-pub style dancing which gets the entire audience on their feet.

“Hello to the boy on the hill!” Taylor calls out, as the crowd swivel to see a choir boy dancing on the steps of the cathedral, his corruption, these days, more likely to come from inside that building than from the potty mouthed punk band hiking up thongs and necking bitter on stage.

Amyl and the Sniffers rock Speakers Corner at the Sydney Festival, Thursday, 6 January, 2022. Photo: Jacquie Manning/supplied.

The entire band have recently recovered from Covid, their energy clearly resumed. Taylor’s stage energy would be ideal in a grungy sweat club rather than the politely socially distanced neat white chairs of this forecourt; there was an out of place feel at points. It felt wrong that the audience were actively discouraged from reciprocating her almost unfeasible energy, even though everyone understands life is different in these strange living-with-the-pandemic days.

But she compensated by transforming charisma into chutzpah and singing her rage with the occasional mischievous glint which made the growing shadow of the vast cathedral, as the sun set behind humid clouds, that little less formidable. 

The Sydney Festival continues until Sunday, 30 January, 2022. Visit www.sydneyfestival.org.au for details of further events.

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel.