One stage, no clashes, a wildly eclectic lineup, utterly intoxicated revellers in elaborate costumes, and a wonderfully convivial atmosphere, all make up the standard Meredith Music Festival experience. Amidst all the ornate costuming, this year a new theme among attendees appears to be ‘businessman chic’, with many guys sporting pin-striped suits and briefcases throughout the campsite.
For a music festival with as effusive and dedicated a following as Meredith, it’s fitting that Cable Ties open the festival Friday afternoon ten years after bassist Nick Brown’s “first spew” here, or so he tells us. They kick off a typically varied line-up with a proper dose of local rock ‘n’ roll, frontwoman Jenny McKechnie impressing with her wailing vocals and furious, politically-infused spoken-word rant. The crowd meets their frenetic DIY sound with boots in the air, and, thanks to a barrage of stellar performances, these will continue to appear throughout the festival.
Throughout the day on Friday we’re treated to the introspective Cass McCombs, the sensitive Californian singer/songwriter whose folksy and slightly funky set comes off like a slow-motion spaghetti Western. Later, The Triffids bring some classic Australian tunes to the amphitheatre.
In the coveted sunset spot, Kelela takes the night to new, dance-laden highs with an immaculate set of beats-driven RnB. The stunning songstress also impresses aesthetically, with a pastel pink velour outfit and matching, arm-length gloves.
Surf-psych-rock juggernaut and Meredith regulars, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard then hit the stage, showing off tunes from their latest album, Nonagon Infinity. Performing for increasingly excited festival-goers, at one point the band themselves even ask moshers to calm down. This excitement will tide them over well for the various dance, house, and techno acts that take us through the rest of Friday night, highlighted by virtuosic drummer and ex-Prince-band-member, Sheila E.
Saturday offers a full sleight of music with a plethora of winners, proving the stronger of the two days overall. Getting down to the stage by 11am proves a worthy feat with a solid dole-wave set from The Goon Sax. These Brisbane youngsters’ upliftingly twee, cowbell accented pop-rock partially soothes those morning-after bad feelings.
Shepparton’s Archie Roach brings the mood back down again, in the form of a slow and solemn set that touches on dark political themes, his husky voice laden with heartbreak. A victim of the government’s Stolen Generation, it’s incredibly moving when he dedicates a song to the victims of Nice’s Bastille Day attack. There’s no denying Archie Roach is a man for all people.
Sheer Mag follow with a heady dose of sassy, DIY punk. Tina Halladay is a wholly impressive front woman with those screeching, in-your-face vocals and that unapologetic withering stare, which really comes through in ear-wormy offering Nobody’s Baby.
Later, Canada’s BadBadNotGood show off their skills with a virtuosic lounge/jazz performance. Selecting songs which favour long, free-form spates and lack vocals, the crowd struggles at times to maintain enthusiasm, though they do warm up to the outfit’s beatsier stuff later in the set.
Follow-up Angel Olsen has no trouble keeping festival-goers captivated with her folk-rock stylings and amazing, soaring vocals. The end of her set sees an impromptu dance circle take place in the middle of the crowd, in which revellers make space to let random people take turns doing cartwheels and acrobatics, to varying degrees of success.
The night’s three headliners seem like a strange choice back to back, but perhaps in virtue of the festival’s scheduling, the timing turns out to be perfect. First, Canadian duo Japandroids demonstrate their brand of sincere, anthemic rock, throughout which frontman Brian King’s hair billows in the wind dramatically like he’s in a Pantene commercial. Despite sound issues, the pair push their set to the time limits, closing with The House That Heaven Built to the crowd’s chanting and gleeful moshing.
They’re followed by the most impressively orchestrated and entertaining performances of the festival. Peaches’ set is an ecstatic extravaganza of sexual liberation, as she dons various sexually explicit costumes, from a vagina-shaped hat to a nude-coloured leotard with elaborate novelty nipples and stuck-on pink pubic hair. She’s backed up by two fetishistic dancers in chains and leather.
Her proclivity for sexual openness in her outfits and lyrics encourages women in the crowd to straddle others’ shoulders and free their nipples. Her set crescendos with a gigantic inflatable penis gracing the stage, and by the time she closes with Fuck the Pain Away, she has everyone in the audience eating out of her proverbial nipple pasties. A fantastic and totally out-there performance from a unique music icon – this is the Meredith ideal.
Following this, Jagwar Ma’s set of beats-heavy, danceable hits is a definite crowd pleaser and a smooth lead into the electronic portion of the festival’s last night.
While the Sunday of Meredith is always a hard slog, it’s worth gracing the amphitheatre just for Terry, headed by one of Melbourne’s music scene’s busiest and most beloved bandmates, Al Montfort (see Dick Diver, Total Control). Entertaining a seedy and sunburned crowd, the band sports matching cowboy outfits as well as a random behatted stage-guest who intersperses each song with some off-brand humour.
It definitely feels right that comedian Judith Lucy should host the annual Meredith Gift this year (a nude race around the amphitheatre). With her deadpan delivery and (presumably) Peaches’ inspired bodysuit, she’s another notch in the belt of an exciting and varied festival in which myriad talented, eccentric female artists and front women shone. ‘Till next year, stay freaky.
Photos: Meredith Music Festival 2016/ Nikki Williams