Melbourne’s heartbeat returned on Saturday night as Play On Victoria saw the Sidney Myer Music Bowl come alive with the sound of music.
There to greet it were thousands of eager, live-music-starved Melbournian’s, who responded to incendiary performances from a stacked lineup headed up by King Gizzard and The Lizzard Wizard, with the enthusiasm of kids opening presents on Christmas morning.
From the moment that you cleared the various check-in points and entered the grounds, you could feel the excitement exuding from the pores of every attendee, all of whom wore a smile as wide as the eyes could see as they sank their first tinnie. From inner-city hipsters to ageing rock vets, skater punks and families with picnics, the diversity of the crowd was a joy to see, visible proof that music is the social connector of humanity.
Grace Cummings had the honour of playing the first set, with a timeless voice and knack for songcraft making fans out of thousands. Backed by a seven-piece backing band, that voice is an absolute force to be reckoned with. After witnessing Cummings play, it would be hard not to be excited about the impending arrival of her debut album, Storm Queen. I’ll definitely be checking it out when it is released.
Vika and Linda followed Cummings onto the stage and casually went about doing what they do, putting on a world-class, soulful performance that had the still growing audience entranced. As a rainbow appeared in the sky, Vika Bull shed tears of joy, as the reality of playing a live gig to an actual audience again kicked in as they played through a set of originals and covers that showcased the unmatched beauty and power of their vocal tandem. Introduced as ‘Fitzroyalty’ before they went on, not even the intermittent rain could stop the crowd from paying reverence, standing ovation and all.
Celebrating the release of his feverishly anticipated debut album Gela, Baker Boy took to the stage with unbridled enthusiasm, launching into an energetic performance of ‘Meditjin’ that had everyone up off of their feet. Backed by a live band anchored by superstar drummer Benny Clarke, and flanked by two backing dancers, the ‘Fresh Prince Of Arnhem Land’ had the audience in raptures. Displaying his frantic but smooth flow, impressive dance skills and yidaki mastery, the proud Yolngu man oozed charisma and positivity as he tore through the likes of ‘Mr La Di Da Di’, ‘Cool As Hell’ and ‘Butterflies’. Referring to the crowd as ‘you mob’ Baker Boy’s set was an all-inclusive dancy party that also doubled as a glimpse of the future of hip-hop in this country. Closing with ‘Marryuna’, Baker Boy received a thunderous send-off. You get the sense that festival headline spots are this man’s destiny.
If anyone in Aussie music can follow the energy of Baker Boy, it is Amyl and The Sniffers and the punks wasted no time capturing the crowd’s attention with their unrelenting pub punk sound. Fronted by the most electric frontperson in Aussie music right now, Amy Taylor, the mulleted maestros bring a sense of danger to proceedings that had the bowl feeling like The Tote front bar in seconds as they ripped through the likes of ‘Guided By Angels’, ‘Freaks To The Front’, ‘Security’, ‘Got You’, ‘I’m Not A Loser’ and a fun cover of Patrick Hernandez hit ‘Born To Be Alive’ in a frenetic sixteen song set. With Taylor doing what Taylor doest best, stomping across the stage and getting amongst it in the front row, without missing a single shark shrieked note, the concept of social distancing temporarily escapes many as they engage in some good old pogo action. On record it can be hard to pinpoint what it is that has catapulted Amyl and The Sniffers from Collingwood dive bars to the main stage of major festivals but live they are undeniably unfuckwithable and absolutely worthy of the hype. Closing out with a pointed run-through of the anti-violence against woman anthem ‘Knifey’ the band leave an amped-up crowd with something to think about.
Given a hero’s welcome, headliners King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard put on a completely different yet no less captivating performance than Amyl and The Sniffers, displaying their impressive musicality and wild genre-hopping abilities across a set that draws on material from across the 18 albums they’ve released in the last 11 years. Opening with the dizzying three punch combo of ‘I’m In Your Mind’, I’m Not In Your Mind’ and ‘Cellophane’ the prog/psych rockers immersive soundscapes and trippy visuals are hypnotic. ‘Shangai’ gets its live debut as the band goes from rocking out one minute to blissing out the next and it is clear King Gizz have the crowd in the palm of their hands as they transition seamlessly between musical modes. ‘Gamma Knife’, ‘People-Vultures’ and ‘Muddy Water’ are masterful displays of their instrumental dexterity, while ‘Work This Time’ is received with the warmth you’d expect for a song with over 28 million streams on Spotify.
Despite the deep back catalogue the band still finds room for a new song, a blisteringly heavy, drop b tuned metal groove that suggests that their metal side is about to make a turn to the nu side of the genre, if this new track is anything to gauge it by, they’ll master that too, just as they mastered traditional metal with ‘Self-Immolate’ which serves as the penultimate song this evening. Closing out Play On Victoria with a suitably epic, extended jam rendition of ‘The Bitter Boogie’, King Gizzard and The Lizard Gizzard exit the stage and let us all out into the night, utterly amazed by what we just saw.
The undeniable success of this COVIDsafe 4000 cap event has to be seen as a positive sign for the future of live music in Melbourne. Hope is on the horizon for one of the most important cultural institutions this or any other country has to offer. Live music is back, now long may you, play on, Victoria.