By all reports Mikey had a pretty good day, but he doesn’t pull any punches with this review of the Melbourne leg of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.
Words By Mikey Carr
Photos By Kurt Davies
Now I suppose the question on a lot of your lips is ‘why the fuck did you go to Melbourne?’ Well, it’s simple: Dirty fuckin Three. Yeah boi! Anyway, more on them later, let’s get down to business, put aside the bullshit and start with the so-called journalism.
Melbourne Laneway is amazing. I never went to the old venue and the new one doesn’t exactly have that many laneways, but sweet Muslim hating Jesus was it a great place to have a festival. There were some issues on the main stage with getting an even half decent view of the big draw cards like Mumford & Sons, Dirty Three and Florence & The Machine, but compared to the mother of all shit fights that was trying to get into to The Basement or to the front of the main stage of Sydney Laneway last year it was nothing.
The first band I had the pleasure of seeing was two piece Kid Sam, joined by electro-folkist Nick Huggins on melodica, which unfortunately nobody could really hear. Losing Nick in the second song, singer/guitarist Kieran Ryan did an impressive job of channeling a mixture of Neil Young, Thom Yorke and Paul McCartney’s souls into his gullet and using the disembodied spirits to deliver a performance somewhat reminiscent of The Smiths if they listened to too much Death From Above 1979.
Drummer Kishore Ryan (they’re cousins) did a stand up job of keeping a steady flow of visceral and jangly percussion throbbing through the set, which along with Kieran’s solid guitar work gave the two piece an impressively filled out sound considered how stripped back what they do is.
It was great to see a singer/songwriter type band with some fucking balls for once instead of the usual limp-wristed whinging artist with a chip on his shoulder from living off his parents and Centrelink while trying to ply their way through the music industry with a series of artistic and sexual compromises. Kid Sam tear the head off this stereotype and vomit down their throats like real men.
Hockey were very energetic and tight but uninspired. They sounded like a diluted mix of Temper Trap and Kings Of Leon with some Datarock funkiness thrown in as an afterthought to get the punters moving. The vocalist was just so fucking naff. I only saw their last two songs but if that’s how they close a set I can’t imagine how mediocre they are when they’re not feeling it. Seriously, it seems to me indie bands have all been screwing each other for the last ten years and what we’re left with now is a whole bunch of their inbred and deformed offspring. They had the crowd pumped though so who am I to judge.
Bridezilla were as always a highlight, even if seeing them outdoors loses a bit of the impact in the quieter moments. They still managed to deliver their trademark sonic waves of interlaced vocals and instrumentation when they needed them, showing that while they could have used a few extra decibels here and there, they still know how to conjure up a hell of a blissful racket. It’s always a pleasure to see this band, and even if they did play the same set they always do, they outshone a lot of the international acts on the bill.
Mumford & Sons pulled the biggest crowd of the day bar maybe headliners Florence & The Machine, with their recent triple j Hottest 100 No 1 Little Lion Man causing hordes of people to clog up the main stage, with some people even resorting to climbing trees to get a good view. While I don’t want to sound like a cynical journo arsehole, I am, and I’m sorry but Mumford & Sons are painfully mediocre. Sure the singer has a good voice and his lyrics are clever and easily digestible, but all the songs sound the same to me, mainly because it all has very similar furiously strummed uplifting acoustic guitar and transparently heartfelt vocals. They sound like The Pogues if they had all the balls and originality sucked out of them and then got raped in the arse by The Killers and all that was left was a loose folk skin and litres of watered down commercial pop-rock semen.
Little Lion Man popped up halfway through the set, and I have to admit that from what little of it I heard through the clamor of the sweaty masses they did a very good job of recreating the song live. However it still lacked that sense of passion and involvement that sets a decent band apart from a truly great one. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying they’re terrible, just terribly boring.
Daniel Johnston was a surprising delight, as having not heard his songs before or seen the documentary I assumed he was going to be another singer/songwriting bitching about his neurosis. Instead he fucking rocked; contrasted to Mumford & Sons his music was Phar Lap-ish in how much heart it had. Then he brought out the band and just straight rocked, like balls out swinging in the wind rocked. They sounded part early Bad Seeds or Drones, with careening blues infused guitars smashing about the stage amongst furious organ and bass, and the other part Flaming Lips, mainly because Daniel’s voice has a distinct Wayne Coyne-ness to it.
He even treated us to a stirring rendition (I always wanted to say that) of The Beatles ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, adding to it a certain fragile insecurity that really suited the song. (I apologise for the bout of pretentiousness.)
Eddy Current Suppression Ring absolutely destroyed their set. Starting out with all the members on stage, kinetic dynamo of a front man Brendan Suppression soon left the stage to jump over the barriers and delight all and sundry to his very own brand of spasmodic rock godderry from the other side of the fence. The secos even rocked up on their little scooters, assumedly believing him to be a desperate fan intent on gaining entry illegitimately.
I can’t tell whether this band are a bunch of relaxed geniuses or idiot savants with playing abilities no man with a full complement of chromosomes could equal, but either way they serve up heady bowls of rock and after their performance I was fucking gagging for some more of their hot broth. Oh yeah, and I’d like to suck them off too.
The xx, being one of the worst named bands on the bill, matched their terrible name with a terrible performance. Sorry to go all journo arsehole on you all again, but am I the only one that find this band painfully passionless and utterly dull? They Sound like The Cure, but with some basic beats over the top so that the disaffected masses can groove. My only theory that would explain their popularity, a theory confirmed by the disco moves exhibited by the crowd, is that The xx fit into that niche of people who want have a gurn and have a good time but are just too conceited and concerned with not buying into anything mainstream to admit they enjoy dance music. It’s just a theory mind you, but I’d recommend saving yourself the time and trouble by listening to New Order.
Filling in for Echo & The Bunnymen, The Midnight Juggernauts were another example of a local band blowing the internationals out of the water. Instead of standing around with a sour expression strumming out basic ethereal guitar lines like The xx, The Juggers talked and joked with the crowd and generally looked like they were enjoying themselves. I can’t say I’m a fan of their music, but it is fun, and whenever I’ve had the chance to see them they’ve always rocked, not least because of drummer Daniel Stricker. Honestly, I’d rather watch him play with Sydney super-group Fashion Launches, Rocket Launches, but I’ll take any chance to watch him go mental on the skins. The man is the living embodiment for Animal from the Muppets for Christ sakes.
Dirty Three. What can I say other than AWESOME! (Fuck you Laneway for putting them on at the same time as Black Lips maybe?) Seriously, when it comes to passion and emotion in music this band absolutely demolishes almost every other band out there. Even their sound-check was more interesting than some (a vast minority but some) of the performances I saw on the day as Warren Ellis, or Waz Dog as I like to call him, took to the stage, posing and blowing kisses to the crowd and demanding the sound guy make him sound like Jim Morrison through the fold back, before shredding some dirty swamp rock riff on his violin, guitar-style, his mane of a beard shining in the afternoon sun and looking like a fucking pirate. A badass pinstripe suit wearing pirate.
Instead of just playing Ocean Songs, as they have been doing for most of their recent performances, this time round their setlist took in a lot of the other material, starting off with ‘Some Summers They’re Dropping Like Flies’, which Waz Dog described as a song about parties and death, “fitting as parties and death often go hand in hand in summer”, as well as ‘Hope and Everything Is Fucked’. After finding out they had another half hour left to play, Waz Dog exclaimed to Jim White: “shit, what are we going to play?” This then led into a series of requests being playing including ‘Red’, at my fervent fan boy request and ‘Indian Love Song’, although Wazza was a bit apprehensive about playing it, saying “that song was banned from the festival circuit on the mid 90’s as it has a tendencey to get people to crack out their djembes, and we can’t have that.”
After some pleading from the crowd he caved and urged everyone “if you’ve got a djembe, crack it out. It’s a very misunderstood instrument the djembe…
and rightfully so”, before launching into a good thirteen minute long, violin shredding filled jam with Warren lying down on the stage for vast sections of it, while Mick Turner got angrier with a guitar than I have ever seen him and Jim White dolled out rolling and thunderous drums while arranging his collection of tambourines and cowbells over his skins as cymbals, often needing the help of a roadie and even once trying to use his foot to get one of the snares.
Look, I could go on for hours about this performance, but I won’t, mainly because I’m looking at the word count on this and I figure it’s a good time to finish things up.
Before I do that I must mention Florence & The Machine. Now I had no idea who she was, other than the fact that she had won the Mercury Prize and almost every hot chick I know froths over her. Bad sign. I must say however I was pleasantly surprised. Her band were rad, especially the harp player, and the woman herself had an amazing voice and presence on stage, jumping on top of speaker stacks as her gold tassly outfit and crimson locks were blown back by the collective panting of the crowd before her. I was even more surprised when she played that fist-kissing song, where she kicks people in the teeth for fun or something? Anyway, once I heard that I realised I knew a bunch of the tunes from shitty club remixes I’d heard around the traps, and judging from those, she is a million times better live. She actually has energy and she puts on a great show, although it is disappointing to see a band as good as hers down in the mix so the vocals are clear. Despite the strength of her performance however, I was soon bored and headed down to check out The Middle East, yet another local band that could give the internationals a lesson or two in how to perform like musicians instead of listless mannequins holding instruments.
First off, unlike the name, The Middle East love harmony, or harmonies to be precise. You could lose the instruments and just do an a capella version of some of these songs and I’d be in heaven, their voices are so sublime. They have so many influences and genres floating around them it’s hard to liken them to anything other than other style melding local bands like Bridezilla or Augie March. It has that folky fragility, yet still imbued with that fire you get from all good Aussie music. They are versatile in their playing, with members switching and even leaving, with the band shifting from two members to seven during the performance. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end the day than to sit down on a hill with some friends and watch this band. They have that special quality that makes your spine tingle, a quality that on the day I only found in them and Dirty Three, that sort of gives you closure on a whole day of walking around in the hot sun. Be sure to see them as soon as you can, cos I don’t think they’ll be here in Australia much longer.