What better way to spend Easter Sunday than with a beer in hand, friends all round, and music in the ears? With this in mind, I happily rocked up to the Inner West Festival at The Sandringham Hotel to spend the afternoon. It was a smorgasbord of musical styles and a window into our fantastic Australian music scene. It was mostly a rock-fest, and for some reason also a sausage-fest (there wasn’t even one girl who played), but I’m not complaining. My ten hours spent at the Sando was so satisfying, I got home with my ears ringing and four CDs in tow.
Somebody had come up with a really good idea: let’s have two stages (the smaller Music Feeds Stage and the Main Stage), and get the bands to consecutively alternate between the two. Each band was given around half an hour to capture the audience’s attention and affection. For someone with suspected ADD, I enjoyed experiencing fresh music by the half-hour.
Acoustic musician Braden Evans brought his beautiful voice to the stage nice and early, just as the festival was preparing for the afternoon ahead. With most people probably still waking up or having their brunch, he performed to a small audience. For such an unassuming guy in jeans and chucks – what a voice! He inhabited the stage and the room, playing an engaging set with personal lyrics and a genuine demeanour. Even though it was a casual and somewhat improvised set, it was a really special performance.
I was soon off to the Main Stage to see Suite Nonchalant, who gave a very musically-varied performance and handled the different styles well. Nice and loud, their sound transitioned from rock & roll to a sort of country/funk sound to hip-hop. The audience was riveted by Suite Nonchalant’s raw energy and passion. Tin Can Bloom followed, the four-piece playing their brand of melodic rock. On an instrumental level, they were excellent. They had good guitar lines and a fantastic drummer. One thing they needed to sharpen was the vocals. They were too muffled and, to be honest, I don’t think their lead singer can actually sing (no offense, just stick to the guitar dude). With some fine-tuning and definitely a new vision for their vocals, these guys have great potential.
The hilariously unexpected appearance of the Bayonets for Legs drummer naked, wearing a wolf mask and brandishing only a sock over his pee-wee, was perhaps one reason why they garnered such a large crowd. In comparison to naked-drummer-man, the rest of the band were normal-looking. Back to the music – they had a well-developed alt rock sound with catchy melodies and outstanding guitar. Lead singer Damien Cullen gave solid vocals with his subtle and, according to my friend, “sexy” voice. A band worthy of more exposure, and not only for their sexcellent band name.
By now I was really getting into the festival. It was time to shuffle into the Music Feeds stage for The Mick Hanna Band. We were bopping straight away, with Mick performing a very 1950s rock and roll song complete with twisting and the shaky foot thing going on. He enamoured the audience with his music, which graduated into a bluesy sound and eventually a sort of gypsy jazz. They even had a Queen moment (and not the only one of the festival!) The band had a good hold on their music, pulling off complex compositions with shifting time-signatures well. The performance left a smile on everyone’s face, giving us music that was very different to the rest of the acts, in a very good way.
Donnie Dureau was up next, representing his band Ribbons Patterns who weren’t able to make it. It’s a shame the rest of the seven-piece Melbournian band wasn’t there, because that would have brought the girl tally up a notch. Donnie did well for the team, playing an acoustic set that captivated the growing audience. The catchy melodies and melancholic chord progressions of the Ribbons Patterns’ songs were well-executed with heartfelt vocals and beautiful guitar-playing. In between songs Donnie was quite chatty with the audience, telling stories and quips to keep them happily amused.
House of Beggars brought a wacky set to the stage with their creepy toy baby head, producing a dark yet intriguing sound with electronic effects, drums and guitar. The red lights and their black suits and sock masks enhanced the theme. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a messy sound because of the seemingly unformed, unstructured nature of their songs. It was more like an experimental jamming session, and I think that’s what they were actually going for as a sound. It wasn’t really my thing, but I applaud their audacity and innovation.
The stand-out of the festival for me was the Free Agent Crew, whose brilliant combination of hip hop and rock left me in awe. These guys really know how to perform, and they played a musically complex set with flair. Swift rap vocals overlaying scratchy guitar and fast-paced drums, with some fantastic keyboard jamming thrown in formed their smooth, clear and energetic sound. They exuded maturity and professionalism, from their synchronised stage-jumping to the word-perfect lyricism. And when I thought I couldn’t love them any more, they threw in a rendition of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Suck My Kiss’…. yes!! They engaged with the audience well, exhorting us to “make money, money, money” and giving us the second Queen moment of the afternoon. The Wollongong boys were off the charts.
Back to the intimate Music Feeds stage (it was now an automatic migration between the rooms), The Go Roll Your Bones, who looked like a bunch of hipsters on stage, turned out to have a surprisingly heavy rock sound. The brooding lead singer’s slurring, screaming vocals (partly the result of the alcoholic beverage in his hand), in combination with heavy guitar and drums, produced a sound that was not for the fainthearted. They went a little mental at the end, forcing some of the oldies in the crowd to leave early shaking their heads at the rockers. If you like fast-paced heavy guitar and drums, this one’s for you.
A softer and more thoughtful sound came from Hailer, who began their set slowly and hesitantly with guitar and vocals before breaking into a catchy chorus. With a classic rock base, they wove in sweet melodies that at times sounded akin to Coldplay. Philip Orr ‘s heartfelt vocals suited song-titles such as ‘Cloud’ and ‘Angel of Snow’. On the whole, they had a unique, listenable sound. We were all considerably entertained by Phil’s drunken, eccentric ramblings throughout the set – you’ve gotta love a band with personality.
The Optionals played a solid set of fast-paced punk rock. I was impressed at the focused vocals shared between Jonny Optional and Tom Fisher, since the two were concurrently thrashing their guitars. The sound got a little repetitive as the set wore on, though. Zeahorse really blew me away on the Main Stage. They played a hard and heavy psychedelic rock set. Harsh, riveting vocals combined with fuzzy guitar and fantastic bass lines comprised the band’s progressive sound. Their songs were well-thought out and well-executed, composed and performed with a maturity well beyond their musical years. Atmospheric and magnetic, Zeahorse’s spectacular set left everybody in the room standing in admiration and appreciation.
I was considerably impressed by L.U.S.T., and this was outwardly expressed by my partly-beer-induced attempt at mosh dancing. These guys are a bunch of fun! I mean, come on; some guy singing catchy slogans like “I wanna get drunk” and “Hey, fuck you!” – who wouldn’t wanna get up and dance and join in shouting said slogans? They had a quintessential rock sound with an attitude to match. And if lead singer Mikey’s bandanna, wearing of sunnies indoors and shiny leather pants doesn’t scream rock & roll, I don’t know what does. The band had a great energy and played a solid set overall. Fans in the room, old or new (like me), had a damn good time.
Headline act The Scare came on last but evidently not least. Performing to a room decked out with fans singing along to the words and girls going gaga over charismatic lead singer Kiss Reid, it was obvious that the guys have already formed a solid fan base. By this time, the Main Stage was packed to the brim. The crowd-pleasing band doled out full, edgy rock accompanied by engaging and catchy vocals. With throbbing bass, beautiful guitar lines and kick-ass drums, their music was perfectly dance-worthy and the exuberant mosh pit showed as much. Their on-stage energy only intensified the powerful and unique sound that was The Scare.
If you’ve read this far (and if so, I admire your tenacity), you now know that on Easter Sunday, Newtown was brimming with the sweet sounds of indie. What I took home from the Inner West Fest (other than the clinging smell of cigarettes and beer) was a deep appreciation for the Australian independent music scene which is alive and well. We have world-class talent coming out of our local areas, performing in a myriad of styles. If you liked the sound of any of the bands, make an effort to check them out! They’re most likely playing at a pub near you.