There was no looking for the exit sign as Hilltop Hoods, Godfathers of Aussie hip hop, took on a sold-out Rod Laver Arena earlier this month.
As pioneers of the genre, with a 25-year career that’s seen five #1 albums, nine ARIA Awards, countless sold-out shows, and 19 songs in the Hottest 100 (with the potential to overtake the record-holders), there was no holding back as they bought a bloody storm into Melbourne, celebrating their recent release The Great Expanse, which broke yet another milestone debuting #1 on the ARIA Album chart. Yep – that’s now six #1 albums, which is an ARIA record for the most #1 albums by an Australian band. What can we say though? These guys know how to make quality music.
With a glittering resume like that it only makes sense that they would put the same amount of energy and passion into their live show, especially when it happened to be the trio’s first national headline tour since 2016.
Here are some of our absolute favourite moments.
It wouldn’t be an honest review of an epic show if I weren’t to mention the esteemed Mojo Juju first and foremost, who was on warm-up duty for the night. It marked a special occasion for Mojo Juju, having literally just been awarded Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year at the NIMA indigenous Music Awards for her defiant epic ‘Native Tongue’ and its title-track, telling a story of loss, anger, and yearning for connection to traditional culture and language.
Gracing the stage with her brother Steve on drums, Mojo Juju performed songs from her breakthrough album Native Tongue, including was the song she dedicated to Peter Dutton, ‘Think Twice’ and title track ‘Native Tongue’, alongside older tracks like ‘A Heart Is Not A Yo-Yo’, captivating the arena with her incredibly powerful voice and meaningful songwriting.
It was a powerful and moving set to kick off the night, and it was a great choice by the Hoods to expose such a diverse audience to an amazing talent like Mojo Juju.
THE SETLIST FELT LIKE A GAME (a good game!)
It’s no secret the Hoods have a highly energetic set, but in all their live shows, it’s as if each song they perform is bigger than the last, especially when it’s a setlist that takes the audience through a mammoth chunk of a career that’s more than two decades.
It almost becomes a game with the punters around you – ‘which song could possibly be next, surely that was their biggest hit?’ It makes you realise how many hits they actually have… Seriously, check out their Spotify playlist and you’ll see what I mean.
From opening tracks ‘The Great Expanse’, ‘Chase That Feeling’ and ‘Leave Me Lonely’, to ‘The Nosebleed Section’, ‘1955’, ‘I Love It’, ‘Clark Griswold’, ‘Exit Sign’ and ‘Won’t Let You Down’, the Hoods skilfully celebrated the release of their latest album, alongside a healthy dose of older tracks, in a high-energy performance which saw everyone singing the same song at the top of their lungs for the entire 90 minute set, right up until the massive closing number, and perhaps best cut of the night, ‘Cosby Sweater’.
A STADIUM WORTHY PRODUCTION
Having seen these guys on a few festival stages in the past, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the production value of the show; Rod Laver Arena requires an entirely different beast to the humble stage at Bendigo’s Groovin The Moo. Within five seconds of the trio taking the stage, any uncertainties were debauched with the onslaught of confetti, pyrotechnics, loads of special guests and a high-energy performance which gave the sold-out crowd everything they could want from an arena show.
To be honest though, their music doesn’t desperately require the frills (while still appreciated), as their stage presence is enough to keep you visually entertained, with MC Suffa and MC Pressure, dressed in casual clothing, bolting up and down the stage as fast as they could belt out lyrics, bouncing off each other with ease for the entirety of the show. Backed by DJ Debris (Barry Francis), a live drummer and a three-person brass section, they made it look all so easy, turning their best tunes into stadium-filling singalongs. Safe to say, the crowd was putty in the palms of their hands.
THE GUEST ARTISTS
A highlight of a Hilltop Hoods show is that you always get more than what you expect, with their penchant for welcoming guest artists to share their stage. It’s a regular play from the guys, but it’s these shared moments that truly elate the crowd each and every time. This time around, Illy, Ecca Vandal, and Nyassa joined the Hoods on stage for ‘Exit Sign’ and ‘Be Yourself’, alongside the appearance of Adrian Eagle for ‘Clark Griswold’ and Briggs during the mammoth set-closer ‘Cosby Sweater’.
THE DIVERSE CROWD
With 25 years behind them, nine ARIAs, multi-platinum sales, countless tours, and festival appearances, half a billion global streams and songs cemented in Australia’s DNA, Hilltop Hoods was always going to attract a diverse audience. While you could argue that being a group which dates back nearly a quarter of a century to probably before you were born would reap quite a few fans over time, the diversity of fans could also be linked to when HH smashed into the mainstream with their third album (and break out record) The Calling in 2003, which turned the heads of rock fans, dance music devotees and everyone in between.
And boy, did Melbourne’s gig prove that there are no bounds as Hilltop Hoods fans showed up in full force, with most aged somewhere between maybe 12 and 75. Legitimately.
On the floor, younger fans crowded the front stage and engulfed the room with a vibe that paralleled an energizer bunny on steroids, while further back people your Dad’s age (and maybe even your grandpa) chilled with Jack Daniels tinnies and left just enough space around them to get a bit of a groove on. It between and up in the stands though was literally everyone else. Families. Couples. Friends. Age wasn’t a factor; the animated crowd were simply fans of classic hip-hop, brought together by the pull of the reigning royalty of a genre.
Hilltop Hoods came, they conquered and they certainly rattled the keys to the Australian hip hop Kingdom.
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Saturday, August 10
Photographed by William Adam Russ