Now in its 17th year, the annual Falls Festival has grown from a one day event in the middle of the Great Otways National Park to a multi-day event held across two states.
This year’s event kicked off with the Funk Soul Revue. An evening of smooth grooves and beats from the likes of DJ Kano, Deep Street Soul and The Bamboos.
Day two began with many of the campers arriving to the venue and setting up home for the next three days. By late afternoon, the main festival arena was surrounded by thousands of tents, camper vans, pergolas and even a teepee!
Sarah Blasko came on stage to the sun setting over the trees and let her mystical, ambient voice drift over the valley to really start the festival. Sarah was chilled and relaxed as she played tracks off her latest album As Day Follows Night plus some older songs from her 2004 debut record The Overture And The Underscore.
Lyrics Born managed to get the crowd up off their feet and dancing as he ripped through a set of beats and rhymes. Pausing briefly to give a Michael Jackson tribute before running headfirst into a great version of Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’. While I’m not a huge fan of Lyrics Born, he did provide a good set to a growing Falls crowd.
Norwegians Datarock took to the stage as the air turned crisp. I was not impressed with Datarock. Boring, cliched, over-sexualised, moronic lyrics and pretty ordinary songs. The crowd loved them, however, except for the guys next to me who kept yelling out “how about you play something good?” Ending a set with ‘I Had The Time Of My Life’ while they stood on stage thanking the crowd just proved to me they don’t have enough good original material to fill a 50 minute time slot (and no it wasn’t a cover, they played the original version of the song!)
To end the night, the comeback kings of 70s-fueled guitar rock, Wolfmother, hit the stage. Playing hits like ‘Woman’ and ‘Joker And The Thief’ plus cuts from the new album Cosmic Egg. For me, hearing ‘New Moon Rising’ live was a thrill. The song is the first song of Wolfmother I have heard which I couldn’t trace back to either a Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath track. They really rocked out the valley to end the cold night.
Day three opened with the sun blazing down, erasing the cold of the night before. Today felt like a summer’s day and perfect festival conditions. Hot sun, cold beers, good music. Jordie Lane started it off inside the tent of The Grand Theatre with his blues/folk songs. The sound was muddled through no fault of Jordie’s as the tent seemed to reverb the P.A. Despite the stage sound, Jordie Lane proved he is a great singer/songwriter. Tracks like ‘Deep Straight Through’ and ‘Heart Like Lady’ show maturity in melody and subject matter. Worthy of checking out.
The shy, diminutive figure of Lisa Mitchell walked out to the Valley Stage to a healthy crowd. The indie singer’s debut album captured a lot of people’s attention in 2009. Today she wandered the stage, chatted with the crowd and danced around between playing tracks like ‘So Jealous’, ‘Stevie’, and popular single ‘Coin Laundry’. As she is playing a lot of festivals this summer, I think 2010 will be huge for Miss Mitchell.
The View from Scotland played an energetic set of brit-flavoured rock. Not knowing anything about these boys, they sounded good.
The Herds’ Urthboy took to the Valley Stage for some mid afternoon hip hop. After a sluggish start that didn’t really impress me, Urthboy kicked it into gear with some great beats with the track ‘Let The Good Times Roll’. The rest of his set had a bit more energy and bounce that I’d expect from a hip hop set and I left impressed with what I heard.
Dan Sultan took to the stage and played one of the better sets for the festival. The indigenous singer/songwriter plays heavy, rock-oriented blues with great songs and an amazingly powerful voice – without losing key or tonality. Playing tracks off his album Get Out While You Can, the highlight of the set was ‘Walk Through My Dreams’ and ‘Old Fitzroy’. Definitely one to check out in 2010.
I caught about ten minutes of White Rabbit in between lining up for beers and food but I wasn’t digging their sound so went out to catch a bit of Little Red. Playing a mix of 50s style pop and rock n’ roll, Little Red looked a little lost playing late afternoon on a large stage in the heat. The Grand Theatre would’ve suited their sound more. But they did sound interesting.
Future Of The Left played in the Grand Theatre and were troubled by sound problems as were most of the bands playing in the theatre that day. Blending post-screamo hardcore with elements of electronica and pop/rock, the vocals bleeding into the guitar sound made it almost impossible to enjoy completely.
I had earmarked about three acts that I really wanted to see over the festival. First of these was The Temper Trap. On the back of one of the best albums of 2009, Conditions, the Melbourne 4-piece have had an amazing year. Opening with the best five tracks of the album with ‘Rest’, ‘Down River’, ‘Sweet Disposition’, ‘Love Lost’ and ‘Fader’, the latter provided the first goosebump moment of the festival: seeing 10,000 people jump and sing along. At one point singer Dougy asked the crowd throwing thongs, shoes and hats on stage whether “they were throwing things because you hate me or because you like me.” Playing the big songs early meant the end of the set wasn’t as strong as the beginning but overall still a great performance.
With the sun setting again, inside the cursed Grand Theatre Bertie Blackman came out and stole the show for the day. Her voice reminded me a little of headliners Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, strong and impassioned. The set rocked. I was expecting more folk/indie chick songs so when the band kicked in and Bertie picked up the guitar, I was really surprised. She didn’t seem to have the same sound problems other acts in the tent had and ripped through a well constructed set that kept the crowd entertained. Having heard she delivered a killer set at Peats Ridge Festival the next night, Bertie Blackman is one to see live in 2010.
I don’t mind saying that Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is sexy. Not in the way of looks or beauty but sexy in attitude and cool. Sauntering onto the Valley Stage with her band mates the crowd waited for what we hoped would be the set of the festival. The band started and Karen O started to jump and dance and run, but you couldn’t hear a goddamned word of what she was saying. The vocals were drowned out at times, at other times she appeared breathless and couldn’t get them out. After the first four songs I thought this was going to be a disaster. Then the keyboard riff to ‘Zero’ began and it all fell into place. and from that point on until the closers, the beautiful ‘Maps’ and ‘Off With Their Heads’, the band delivered the performance we’d hoped for. A couple of costume changes, Karen screaming and singing with intent and purpose and the crowd got into it with a big mosh pit and loud singalongs to tracks from this years album It’s Blitz. Disaster was averted by the end of the night. Phew!
Final day, New Years Eve. Surprised by the fact that my pale white skin didn’t burn during the baking of the previous day’s heat, I got stuck into it by catching Hungry Kids Of Hungary. Playing a style of infectious indie pop, these Triple JJJ favourites played a good set to a modest morning crowd. Being first up on the day is always tough. People are generally hungover and a bit dusty from the previous night, plus after yesterdays heat, most people took off to the beach at Lorne.
Sydney indie punk band Philadelphia Grand Jury played with a lot of passion and energy, even if most of the crowd didn’t get them. Content to have some pre-recorded funny voice do the in between song banter (that’s actually lead singer Berkfinger – he pre-records on-stage banter for every one of their shows – Ed.), the three-piece settled in to play music. Sounding like a cross between Helmet and Sonic Youth, the band gave it 100%.
The John Steel Singers have been rapidly growing a fan base since I saw them open for The Grates in 2008. Their blend of catchy eccentric pop songs mixed with hints of jazz, big band, and rock have seen that fan base grow. However, today something lacked for the band. Starting and ending a 50 minute set with 10 minute jams show off their musicianship, but doesn’t keep the crowd interested. The songs sounded flat with the only excitement coming from the new track ‘Overpass’. Even when a dozen costumed dancers flooded the stage, you still couldn’t get hooked in which was a shame for a band who generally are very infectious.
Taking a seat in the VIP bar, I sat and listened to the Dappled Cities set. In hindsight, I should have gone out to see them because I was thoroughly impressed by their alternate/folk sound. Tracks like ‘555’ and even older songs ‘Cream’ came across well and their sound suited the Falls Festival. Having played the event a few times, even singer Dave Rennick mentioned to the crowd: “Falls is our favorite festival to play”.
Walking back into the Grand Theatre, I caught the end of Andrew Bird’s set. Nice mix of folk/pop songs with a lot of whistling. Someone I will aim to check out some more of in 2010. Following was the comedy set and today featured new Triple JJJ breakfast host Tom Ballard, who spoke about being gay, facebook and people criticising what they play on radio. He was followed by one of my fave comedians in recent years Arj Barker. A packed tent was in stitches as Arj talked about pot and poked fun at the Aussie language.
Back to the music and Oh Mercy! showed off to the crowd at in the Grand Theatre their unique ability to mimic bird sounds. The songs showed little variety however and with the large number of artists playing that indie/folk style at the festival, Oh Mercy really needed to stand out and they didn’t.
Canadian Patrick Watson is a very talented musician and songwriter. He makes full use of different instrumentation ranging from guitars, to percussion, to piano creating a dreamy expansive soundscape for the songs. On top of this is great voice that floats within the songs. Having a reputation for wandering out into the audience to perform, Patrick decided the band should give an impromptu jam session, in the middle of the crowd. Impressive stuff.
The Paper Scissors play a mix of catchy pop/rock songs which have seen them gather some success over the last few years. However, completing with Art vs Science on the Valley stage meant only a handful of people saw them. The band played some new tracks with ‘Thick Water’ displaying a deep heavy bass. ‘We Don’t Walk’ received a warm response from the small crowd. Shame the timing of their set couldn’t be better, as they have a great sound.
Jamie T and The Pacemakers came out as the storm clouds rolled overhead. His often quirky yet infectious blend of punk, indie rock, and urban beats have captured the imagination of Australian audiences. Playing a mix of tracks of his debut Panic Prevention and new album Kings And Queens Jamie T got the crowd dancing as the rain hit halfway through his set. I even got out into the rain for a bit of a boogie to the Skatalite/Rancid cover ‘Policeman’. Good fun set, despite the rain.
The second of the three acts I really wanted to see was Xavier Rudd. Now teamed up with members from African ensemble Izintaba, Xavier relished the outdoor performance in the rain. Starting with crowd favourite ‘Messages’, he jammed and stomped along through tracks off the 2008 Darker Shade Of Blue album before delighting the crowd with ‘Let Me Be’ to end the set. A cleaner, more trimmed Xavier Rudd was the most animated I have ever seen him. He got out from behind his set up of didgeridoos and guitars to dance around the stage and looked invigorated by his new band members. After seeing this today, I can’t wait for a new album and another chance to see him play again. Definitely a highlight.
I really had little expectation and absolutely no desire in seeing Moby. I figured, how interesting will it be to stand in the rain and watch a skinny bald headed guy stand behind a couple of computers and samplers reliving the days when we thought he was cool? So imagine my surprise when a full band came out and Moby began slamming on a guitar and rocked the stage. As a guitarist, he’s pretty good. With little use of loops and samples, he turned his songs into something that suited a live festival environment. Clearly tracks of the multi-platinum Play got the biggest response but I couldn’t fault any part of his set at all.
Seeing out 2009 was Adelaide’s premier hip hop outfit, the Hilltop Hoods. Suffa and Pressure MC paced around the stage as they delivered rhymes and raps to a packed Valley stage crowd. Counting down to the start of 2010 the boys gave us favorites ‘The Hard Road’, ‘Chase That Feeling’, ‘Clown Prince’ and ‘Nosebleed Section’. New tracks ‘HillaToppa’ and ‘Farley’ sounded good live, but the song of the night was hearing the crowd sing along to ‘Light That You Burn’. The set was a bit of a best-of for the boys which kept the drunken crowd happy and closed the festival in a great way.