Gig Reviews

Harvest Festival 2012 – Werribee Park, Melbourne 11/11/2012

I preface this review with some reservations in regards to last year’s Harvest Music Festival. Indeed, promoter AJ Maddah copped a lot of criticism for one of the most awkwardly run festivals of the year.

It had a stellar lineup featuring the greatness of both Portishead and the Flaming Lips, alongside big names TV on the Radio, Mogwai and Bright Eyes. Where it fell down was in the things you don’t really want to think about when planning a festival. Lines for food and other amenities were massive, sometimes taking up to an hour according to some accounts of the festival.

This really did sour what would have been a perfect experience otherwise.

Fortunately, I can say that this year it was run without a hitch and as such became my favorite festival.

Walking into Harvest, there was a different vibe from Big Day Out or Future Music Festival. Sometimes the vibes there can seem a little trashy or unpleasant. At Harvest, it was all love as you walked through the gates – past massive signs that emblazoned words like ‘GRIN’ or, funnily enough, ‘HARVEST’ in bold capital letters – and into The Great Lawn.

Harvest in Werribee is without a doubt the perfect venue for the festival: swooping trees everywhere, a grass-covered terrain, and a massive castle overlooking the entire festival.

It’s more than a music festival. As you walk through the grounds you see all kinds of art installations, there’s a full carnival, and there are plenty of interesting sideshows, including marching bands and the bizarre crepe stand with a folk band playing on its roof. No one pushes eachother and there’s no animosity, people are just there to enjoy the tunes.

The atmosphere is truly magical: how you imagine a festival should be.

I started my day at Harvest with Winter People, whose debut LP I reviewed just recently. I wasn’t blown away by A Year at Sea, but live is a completely different story, with their harmonies becoming enriched within the live setting.

I departed the Great Lawn soon after because my most-anticipated act of the day were set to take to the Big Red Tractor stage, which unfortunately lacked a big red tractor. Dark Dark Dark are a little-known gypsy folk band from Minneapolis, who weave amazing compositions and craft an environment throughout their performances that is enchanting to say the least. The set was comprised mainly of material from their latest record, Who Needs Who, opening with Patsy Cline and moving into It’s a Secret and Meet in the Dark.

Musical genius’ Dexys were next on my list as I grabbed a feed and headed to the Windmill Stage. Their brand of shamelessly over-the-top theatrical pop had the whole crowd dancing.

I raced back over to the Great Lawn to catch some of the Dandy Warhols set, which was probably the most disappointing of the day. For a band that talked themselves up in their interviews, the set was largely dull apart from the two singles we all waited for – Bohemian Like You and We Used to Be Friends.

As they finished their set, it was time for Silversun Pickups, who brought in the afternoon with their brand of alternative rock. But the man to catch in the afternoon sun was Mike Patton and his Mondo Cane, which saw a full string ensemble take to the stage with Mr Bungle himself, to perform classic Italian pieces with the Patton twist on them.

Beirut took to the stage after Mondo Cane and soundtracked a relaxing afternoon whilst I waited for my main man Beck to get himself onto the stage. He waltzed on to rapturous applause and burst into Devil’s Haircut, which had the crowd dancing. He played through a greatest hits set, pulling largely from Odelay!, to which no one really raised any kind of complaint. Highlights came in the form of Guero single Girl, and a very funky version of Where It’s At, which was the unintended final song of the set as the band were kicked off before being able to play staple-closer, E-Pro.

The announcement that Grizzly Bear’s set was moved to no longer clash with Beck was welcomed warmly by all as the pilgrimage to the Windmill Stage occurred. The Democratic Republic of Grizzly were in fine form smashing out a set that was comprised mostly of tracks from their latest release, Shields, but featured the hits like Knife and Two Weeks.

One more band to go and then I was set to head off. To be honest, I’m criminally uneducated in the music of Sigur Ros, but my god they were good. They were really bloody good. Epic doesn’t begin to describe their performance. Three projector screens in tandem with a massive orchestra made for an incredible audiovisual experience.

And with that, it was done. Harvest was over for another year, and it was without a doubt the greatest festival experience of my life.

Time to start doing recon for next year’s lineup.

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