The young, the old and the hipsters in between arrived early to welcome Melbourne locals The Rolling Blackouts to Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal. To set the scene, I find myself behind an enthusiastic group of women in their 50s. They’re swaying from side to side, clapping in time with the five-piece’s lively brand of tough pop. They’re only slightly more into it than the UDL-fueled underagers at the front, who at this stage, are already guarding their spot near the stage. But it’s for good measure; The Rolling Blackouts are fluid and fun with their surf-inspired rock, putting all four of the guitars on stage to very good use.

Young guns The Creases take their place. The Brisbane Triple J Unearthed winners wear polo shirts over skivvies and the drummer rocks the best (or worst) mullet I’ve seen in a long time. A woman in the bathroom said they look like Hanson, which makes her feel old but seems true in a sort of mod inspired way. Despite this confusing sartorial display, the synth pop wizards deliver a dynamic performance. Things get even better when they celebrate keyboardist Luke’s 18th birthday. We sing Happy Birthday and someone from the crowd passes him a beer. Before the set is over, a second beer and sweaty looking kid in an Akubra hat find their way onstage. The hat kid gets his moment with a tambourine to finish up an explosive set.

The Preatures frontwoman and all round human hurricane Isabella Manfredi makes appearances throughout the night. She sits on the side of the stage and drinks wine, bobbing her head to the opening acts. But it’s only when she enters with her band that punters push forward to the barrier, joining the eager teens at the front. “Coloured right, coast to coast”, Manfredi opens, crooning to the infectious bassline of ‘Somebody’s Talking’. She wears a leather jacket well, and tonight’s no exception; a tasseled jacket meets high waist silver pants. This isn’t an outfit you should try at home, but Manfredi more than pulls it off. She finishes with a handstand before transitioning to ‘Manic Baby’.

‘Whatever You Want’ and bass-flavoured standout ‘Rock and Roll Rave’ see Manfredi lay on the ground and perform sections horizontally. The crowd is completely enthralled: she’s captivating, delivering a stage presence like no one else, even when standing still for slower numbers ‘Two Tone Melody’ and ‘Business, Yeah’. The tambourine kid from The Creases’ set reappears when Manfredi takes his hat. “This is a fucking great place”, she says. “We don’t have anything like this in NSW. People actually care about each other here. And the hats are great as well”.

“Listen up you ratbags, are you ready to dance?” Manfredi asks in crowd favourite ‘Is This How You Feel?’. She pours water over her face (totally pulling off the slightly drowned look) before hurling into a cover of The Angels classic ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, which was met with the mandatory crowd chorus “no way, get fucked, fuck off”.

Manfredi urges punters “to protect what you have here”, referring to the stunning space of the Theatre Royal, before launching into the upbeat drive of ‘Cruel’. Carrying on from that momentum, the band leaves the stage before returning to show off a new, slower number. “I wrote it,” Manfredi begins, joined onstage by lead guitarist Jack Moffitt. “It’s about the sort of music we play, it’s about simplicity”, she says. Manfredi said she’d like to take risks and be more personal on the band’s second record, and this track sounds as though they’re heading in that direction. ‘Take A Card’ sees the full band return to the stage and lift the mood for the final number. Guitarist and vocalist Gideon Bensen is given more room to show off his vocals here, and it’s a nice way to wrap things up.

The Preatures were stunning. I walked away in awe of their inferno of a set, grateful that I was able to experience it in such an intimate setting. Because after all, as Manfredi put it, we need to appreciate our local venues. And although not many acts can pull off a small space as well as The Preatures did, it’s important to cherish what we’ve got.

Cover image by Teresa Pham.