Gig Reviews

St. Jeromes Laneway Festival, Melbourne – 03/02/13

As the morning broke on the day of Melbourne’s Laneway Festival, many would have gone straight for their jumpers, jackets and poncho’s with the hope of avoiding what looked like another dreary Sunday afternoon. No sooner would they have looked themselves in the mirror, complete with skinny jeans and obscure band T-shirt of a band you’ve never heard of (and certain don’t actually exist) than the sun would have broken through the grey clouds and the promise of direct sunlight on their pale, pale skin would have created its own complications. But the joys of experiencing another blockbuster line-up that the St Jerome’s crew had put together would surpass all other minor obstacles that would attempt to get in the way of one of the most anticipated festivals of the year.

First up on the Eat Your Own Cake stage, Los Angeles five-piece The Neighbourhood made their way through a pleasurable, if not unremarkable set, that hardly set the world on fire, but gently eased punters into their day. Singer Jesse Rutherford could have been mistaken for Aussie hip-hop act 360 had he wandered down the street, complete with tattoos (up his neck and covering seemingly every inch of his arm), baseball cap, sun glasses, and Michael Jordan basketball singlet, he looked nothing like the frontman of a soft indie rock band that barely issues a word in anger. Performing songs from their latest EP I’m Sorry, the band were a soothing introduction into a day that was bulging at the seams with talent, and while the crowd was understandably sparse at such an early hour, their appreciation of the band didn’t go unnoticed.

Over at the River Stage, The High High’s played to a crowd more content to sit on the hill than venture closer and engage in some meaningful interaction with the band. But then again, that probably suited them down to the ground, with their hypnotic melodies leaving the audience safely rooted to the ground, without the fear of floating off over the Maribyrnong River and off into the ship yards in the distance.

Moving stage once again, the Dean Turner Stage saw local soundmakers Twerps gave the crowd their first real dose of something to move about to. Martin Frawley possessed all the awkwardness you’d expect from an indie rock frontman, and while constant references to his bass playing fiancée Julia MacFarlane got a little tiresome, their onstage demeanour was infectious, as the local residents who danced on their balconies would attest to.

Seemingly being amongst impromptu high school reunions of sorts from all directions, it was back to the Eat Your Own Cake stage to see fellow native Melburnians and radio darlings Snakadaktal performing to a burgeoning crowd, which was easily the largest to date. Rising from the triple j Unearthed competition in 2011, the five-piece operated with a fluency that saw songs seemingly roll out of the stage with effortless ease. With songs like Dancing Bear weaving through the air, Phoebe Cockburn’s vocals soothed the crowd now basking in the afternoon sun, and as the band left the stage to a generous applause, it was time to venture through the masses once again.

Over at the Future Classic stage, Nite Jewel started their set to the crowd, who were content to sit under the shade of the surrounding trees. But like a scene out of The Walking Dead, the crowd, like zombies, slowly started the short walk forward to the front of the stage to get their grooving shoes on to the soft electro that oozed out of the PA. Despite its more than pleasant Sunday afternoon dance feel, there were bigger fish to fry.

Hailing from Cleveland Ohio, Cloud Nothings were one of the bigger drawcards of the festival bill, and their set did anything but disappoint. Drawing largely from their latest album Attack on Memory, the band, led by singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi, churned out their melodic indie rock, laden with angst and emotion, with the songs given an extra level of the rawness that their sound has become synonymous with. Pulling no punches, set opener Fall In provided the perfect intro, with Baldi’s rough vocals the perfect accompaniment to the brash guitars that he and fellow axe grinder Joe Boyer ripped out. Not to be outdone, Jayson Gerycz probably had the fastest hands of any drummers on the bill, and he continually outperformed his drum kit and maintained his frantic work throughout their allotted time. Stay Useless was performed with all the energy and more that is conveyed on the album, while the energy was increased 10-fold amongst the crowd with the introduction of Wasted Days, which saw fervent action up the business end of the crowd. Closing out with the slower brooding number No Future/No Past, Cloud Nothings delivered one of the standout sets of the day.

Catching a breather, I ventured over to see The Rubens performing the Root’s classic The Seed, with special guest Seth Sentry providing the vocals, and while it’s no Cody Chestnutt and Co, it was certainly performed with the respect that the original deserves. It was a fun festival moment that both artists and fans alike will recall fondly.

Having only let loose their monster new single Giant Tortoise off their forthcoming album Hobo Rocket out of the bag two days before, Perth multi-instrumentalists, multi-talented and multi-faceted Pond wasted no time in road testing this new beast, opening with its bulging solos that almost needed to be heard to be believed. Kevin Parker busted out riffs like David Boon busts open a cold beer, and Nick Allbrook’s on-stage demeanour made Freddie Mercury look like a shoegazer. Body contortions that seemingly defy the laws of biophysics, to blank stares out into the distance, it’s clear why NME have voted Allbrook the best frontman in the business (not bad for a bass player!). Meanwhile, Pond bassist Joseph Ryan nonchalantly swigged on a bottle of Patron Tequila in between songs when he was not switching his bass for guitar. A medley of Betty Davis into Moth Wings was an absolute cracker, while the ‘to be released’ Million Head Collide featured a staggering bass riff that shook foundations, in speach and in fact. Closing their set perfectly with Eye Pattern Blindness off their 2012 album Beard, Wives, Denim, 2013 will be the year that Pond step out of the shadows of their shoegazing cousins Tame Impala and forge their own destiny. The world awaits.

Hailing from Vancouver, one of the most hyped-up acts to grace the Laneway stages, Japandroids, comprised of guitarist and vocalist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, delivered a sound that was uncompromising and unwavering. “There’s no rules!” King proclaims. “Let’s go crazy, I’ll see you on the other side” as they launched into a 45-minute set that could easily have been mistaken for a 5-piece band, such is the energy and quality of sound being produced. The Nights of Wine and Roses was dedicated to a fan that King ran into earlier in the day, much to that lucky punter’s delight, while The House That Heaven Built and Fire’s Highway featured more variations of whoa-oh-oh’s than Slash has guitars. Promising to be back later in the year before leaving the stage, there’s no doubt that there will be return punters and new ones alike that will avail themselves to tickets to these return shows.

Hastily making my way back towards the Dean Turner stage to witness the band with the biggest crowd of the day, British wunderkids alt-J were busy working their magic, despite some early technical difficulties, which saw the power momentarily cut completely from the stage. Not to be overcome by such difficulties, magical moments such as Fitzpleasure and Breezeblocks made it no wonder that they are already being compared to bands such as Radiohead, and with Breezeblocks coming in at number 3 in triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown just a week earlier, their timing of a return trip from their promo tour late last year couldn’t have been more perfect. As if things weren’t on a level that would seem difficult to surpass, the closing numbers of Matilda and Taro were as brilliantly performed as can be imagined. If only they had a time slot an hour or two later, an accompanying light show would have capped it right off.

Like the audiences weren’t on enough of a high after alt-J, the masterstroke of having Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R on rotation in between acts was one of the best moves of the day. But as Yeasayer finally took the stage, the yearn for live music once again came to the fore, as the Laneway alumni delivered a set equally mixed with new and old. Vocalist and keyboardist Chris Keating basked in the atmosphere that their music so wonderfully created, with their indie pop brilliance making more than the occasional appearance. New material such as Henrietta and Longevity shared the same potency as their more established hits, but perhaps it was the crowd reaction to those moments such as O.N.E. and Ambling Alp, that were in themselves highlights of the festival all up, that made the moment all the more memorable. The unashamed 80’s influence on these songs was well and truly evident, and with the dance moves going on around me, that position is well and truly solidified.

Making tracks over to the other side of the festival grounds to catch a glimpse of newly crowned No.1 on the ARIA album charts (edging out Justin Bieber no less) Harley Streten aka Flume was owning the Eat Your Own Cake Stage. Making my way through the throng was enough of a task, but early drops of mammoth hits Left Alone and Sleepless garnered the crowd support from the beginning. Having the tough choice of choosing between Flume, Alpine and Bat for Lashes, it was back to the Dean Turner Stage for what was a wondrous performance by the vivacious and colourful Bat for Lashes. Covered in glittering colour from head to toe, Natasha Khan was well and truly the centre of attention, and with due reason. Not only did she light up the stage like a lantern in the dark night with her colourful outfit, but with a musical prowess that sometimes goes forgotten when watching her. From pin-drop moments such as the haunting Laura, to the brooding Pearls Dream, there wasn’t a moment where the audience wasn’t transfixed for a second.

Once again, Laneway organisers had put an extraordinary collection of eclectic artists together on this year’s line-up, and the day went off without a hitch. Lacking the bogan factor, and the Facebook selfies crowd, the appreciation of the acts put before us was evident throughout. The only problem you have with such a quality line-up is who your favourite act will no doubt clash with. But with the quality of the acts on show, it’s always going to be a hard task to make the timetable pleasing for everyone. From the quality of the food stalls (yes I saw you Matt Preston) to the easy going nature of festival volunteers and security alike, it all made for one of the most enjoyable festival days in recent memory.

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