Feather Fest – Annandale Hotel 4 Jan 2009

Finally, after six months of establishing itself on Sydney’s live scene, The Bird’s Robe Collective assembled a lineup of some of its finest to bring us Feather Fest 2009.   Teaming up with the alternative promoter FROG, Bird’s Robe gave us a lineup of mostly progressive bands, with some surprises that one assumes were attributable to FROG’s eclectic influence.

First up on the main stage were instrumental math rockers Squat Club, who despite their 1.30pm timeslot, half filled the room at the Annandale with their most loyal.  The Squat put in a tidy performance, much improved and more confident than this reviewer’s last impression of them.  New songs added technical grooves to their set and the band certainly earnt the admiration of their fellow musicians, if slightly beyond the comprehension of those arriving early for the later bands.

Space Project struck up their brand of atmospheric, epic mood music almost immediately on the opposing stage.  With an array of instruments lining the stage, the star of the show was undoubtedly Holly Harrison whose tandem trumpet, flute and percussion playing took centre stage nearly every tune.  The band’s sound is well defined, with a bit more conviction in their performance, they could be on the main stage in the near future.

Brisbane’s Sunflower kicked off next, thoroughly emptying the room with the first few beats of their new single ‘Ready.’   Unfortunately for those punters, they missed one of the most energetic performances of the day.  Part Led Zeppelin, part Tool, part Hendrix, the lads jumped, writhed and rocked their way through some hard rocking tunes – The highlight of the set was the catchy B-side “Matchless Youth”.   Though not a prog band, Sunflower appealed with unique arrangements and despite some bum notes and a little pitchiness, they had chops. In a later time slot, they should do well on their next visit.

Male songbird Brian Campeau took to stage 2 solo, before a surprisingly growing audience. Unfortunately I missed the better half of the set to get some much needed food, but by all accounts his cover of “The Final Countdown” was legendary. As I returned to the main room, Underlapper were solid on the main stage, with plenty of punch to their performance and the band played with obvious experience behind them. Two acts I will have to check again.

Ace Squad were the major anomaly of the day, bringing a loose brand of tongue-in-cheek pop rock to the table.  The band did their best to play to the crowd with excellent keytar work, a rockin’ cover of Michael Jackson’s Beat It and a falsetto only topped by super FLORENCE jam later in the day.  An irreverent and fun performance.

Shirlow followed on the main stage, having been billed as their last ever show. The band shares some of the members of Squat Club and the relationship between the bands was not lost in their performance of mainly instrumental, heavy prog.  Shirlow played an impressive collection of their material with conviction and virtuousity, so much so that it is a disappointment they will be departing the live scene. A posthumous album release in 2009 and footage on moshcam.com should allow fans to savour their tunes forthwith.

Shanghai burst onto stage 2 with a bevy of admirers and as many band members as could fit on stage. Sounding like a mix of early-Mothers of Invention (Zappa) and Mr. Bungle, the band put on a truly theatrical performance that helped them stand out on a day featuring many unique band setups.  Constant genre changes were impressive and exciting but grew tiring towards the end of the set.   Still, this band is one to watch.

As Shanghai finished, the main room at the Annandale filled rapidly, as festival goers entered eager to get a glimpse of the first of the headliners, super FLORENCE jam.

sFj took the stage with their trademark purple shirts, stratospheric cowbells and doubleneck guitar (and bass), opening with a slow bluesy build on early track “Low”.   From there on it was into the crowd favourite “Ghetto Project Fabulous.” There was the addition a new song (which could have used some extra rehearsal) but despite a loose start, the band hit their stride on “A Spanish Doctor…”  Mike Solo pulverised the drums to the excitement of the audience and following the explosive guitar and bass work in “Dream” they were set up beautifully to end their set with their infamous technical monster “MOGAR” which preceded segues into ‘No Time’, the Can-Can and featured an outro jam on King Crimson and Zappa favourites.  With an enthralling live show, sFj pleased what was definitely the biggest crowd of the day and underscored an excellent evening’s entertainment.

Following the one-two spectacle of Shanghai and sFj was no easy task, however indie pop prog band Where’s Jerome impressed with catchy songwriting coupled with unique arrangements and use of a double keyboard setup (to combat the doubleneck guitars?).  Injured frontman Jeremy Smith was ably assisted by ex-Altona bandmate Leandro on guitar which allowed him free reign to spit out some memorable lyrics “last time that I saw you, you were drowning like a fish”.  A tight and well executed set which saw a good portion of the audience stick around.  Also with an album coming out in 2009, WJ should be on the up.

Finally, Captains took the stage for one of their last Sydney shows before jetsetting. With a devoted audience before them, the band overcame early technical difficulties to produce well-received renditions of staples “Out of Focus” and “Take a Photo of Me” as well as a rarely played track from their Captain’s Package days dedicated to Ron Baumann of Heavenly Noise/Shake Shake fame, present in the audience.  Always the consumate professionals, Captains pleased and close the main stage bittersweetly, as it may well be a while before we see them here again.

To round up the night, stage 2 presented one of the strangest acts this reviewer has ever seen.  Anklepants consisted of an inventive young man, wearing a floral dress and an alien mask with a penis for a nose. Furthermore, the penose was apparently alive and moving in time with the music… dear gosh.  This titillating experience was unfortunately cut short by technical problems.  Curious to say the least, but kind of cool…

Overall, Feather Fest concluded successfully (right on time) and boasted a bevy of fantastic performances and a delighted crowd. Despite a lull in the mid afternoon, the headliners and their supports rocked the place silly and set up what should be another good year for Bird’s Robe, bringing us the local prog rock and experimental scene in large doses.

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