Entering into its 13th year, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival isn’t premised on some secret science or grand formula. The minds behind Laneway have it figured out. It’s about the music. Combining a blend of magnetic performers, once in the lifetime appearances, usual festival suspects, breaking local acts and others too hip to ignore, Laneway is that friend that nudges you (usually after a little protest) towards something you haven’t heard but knows you’ll love. No matter your festival trajectory it’s bound to be loaded with those scattered amalgams of half-remembered moments and impressions that make it something truly special.
Appearing on the adjacent Good Better Best and Never Let it Rest stages there may have been a hint of competition between homegrown talent Julia Jacklin and Chicago’s Whitney. The former drew her set to a close with the arpeggiated melancholy. Debuting live her recent cover of The Strokes’ ‘Someday’, Jacklin supplanted Julian Casablancas’ swaggeringly blasé delivery with the mercurial depth of her own pained vocal holler. “I say alone we stand, together we fall apart/ Yeah I think I’ll be alright” she drawls with a defeated resonance. Her signature single ‘Pool Party’ followed, yet no sooner than her meandering harmonies trailed off into the expanse of the festival’s main marquee did Whitney fire up with one of their own meticulous ballads. Something in the sonic similarity of the group’s opening choice seemed to be, at the very least, a sly nod to Jacklin’s own style. Their soulful shuffle hit it off, with guitarist Max Kakacek dishing out some of the twangiest fretwork imaginable. Replete with brassy builds, reedy organs, soulful falsettos and a swinging bar band dynamic, you could almost feel the vinyl crackle as the group wove their rootsy sound. Natural closer ‘No Woman’ drew focus inward. Dramatic pauses, rolling guitar lines, swinging bass grooves and thumping percussion fed the furore of mid-sized audience.
Even between sets, the Future Classic Stage emanates a siren song of silken hooks and flowing rhythms. This said NAO grooved hard. There are bands which command quieted contemplation and then there’s those who make people want to dance. The Londoner and her backing band fell effortlessly into the later. Realising her production heavy breakthrough ‘For All We Know’ live, the singer’s energetic stage presence and acrobatic R&B melismas were pushed forward by a hotbed of funk and paisley ’80s pop. While the brassy triumphalism of ‘We Don’t Give A’ sent a surge of electricity through the crowd it was the moody, majestic and percussive blasts of ‘Bad Blood ‘and ‘Girlfriend’ which met with the most euphoric response.
The Brisbane showgrounds which hosted the event offered little respite from the swelter of the staggering midday heat. Outside of the sauna-like conditions of the stage floor, shade was a commodity. The leafy and elevated surrounds of the triple j Hottest 100 Party offered many some much-needed respite. Few could question the veneration of the countdown as the nation’s most important musical kudos. Those checking in on count lounged and danced as the station’s disc jockeys pattered on.
Despite sauna-like conditions, D.D Dumbo impressed with his funkified world beat weirdness. King Gizzard hit the festival circuit hard in 2016, but in 2017 there’s no slowing of their relentless pace. But then again their audience keeps coming back and in response, they delivered an energising set.
AURORA’s pixie-like stage persona and icy aesthetic brought an almost fey presence to the Spinning Top Stage. Ice and sparsity form a core part of her musical persona, but there’s something warm beneath. Below the surface aesthetic, there’s a slick and infectious conventional pop mechanic. Delivered by the singer’s expressive vocals and surprisingly hard rocking live band ‘Running With The Wolves’ played out like an eerie but resonant incantation.
The appearance of Virginia’s Car Seat Headrest was an exciting prospect. There’s a sophistication about the group’s eclectic creative force Will Toledo. On stage he emits a pared-down indie frontman eccentricity, a Jarvis Harris or Calvin Johnston sort of subdued swagger. The set swerved between stripped-back introspection and powering instrumental thrash. There was plenty of guitar led rockers to stay the teeming crowd, but it was the lazily anthemic lo-fi shred ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ which made the most impact. Groaning and melodic, the leading single from his 2016 LP Teens of Denial offered the festival its perfect indie meets pure pop moment.
With such an extensive and varied body of collaborative work preceding his 2016 debut 32 Levels, fans might have wondered what New Jersey native Michael Volpe (Clams Casino) would serve up live. While his greater body of work is versatile bordering on chameleonic, the producer shied away from his spacier blends of off-kilter hip hop. Volpe took a direct approach a clear focus on the HITS. ‘All Nite’’s beat-driven undercurrents evoked dance euphoria while Vince Staples’ disembodied flow rang out over those in attendance. The crowd went wild.
Post-Currents and following a year of touring off the back of the LP, Tame Impala’s signature sound came across more concise than ever. ‘Let It Happen’ has never sounded so colossal; ‘I’m A Man’ never so slick. While there are still elements of the group’s amorphous psychedelia present, blasting percussion, massive power hooks and synthetic sound stood toe-to- toe with the group’s meticulous recorded sound. The poppy hooks and textured sound painting of the daydreaming ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ was equally nostalgic and euphoric. Parker’s vocals cut through the mix with perfect clarity while confetti blasts and walls of sound offered an invitation for mania and joyful release. The stomping dance groove of ‘Elephant’ pounded hard. With an audience ecstatic to receive the band under any circumstance, the collection of former Perth locals took things to the bliss point. The set crystallised the fact that this is a group that’s hitting their prime. While Tame may be slipping into hibernation prior to their next album cycle, it’s difficult to shake anticipation for what comes next.