Tent Pole
Pavement at Tent Pole Music Festival | Credit: David Jackson

Tent Pole Review – Pavement Headline Inaugural Geelong Music Bash

Tent Pole Music Festival took place at Mt Duneed Estate, Victoria, on Saturday, 4th March. Dylan Hyde reviews performances by Pavement, Spiderbait and more.

Tent Pole Music Festival was a fabulous showcase of heavier and cerebral rock. The crowd size made it possible to move around easily and find a good vantage point to watch the bands, and adjacent stages meant that one band immediately followed another.

The Schizophonics | Credit: David Jackson

San Diego three-piece The Schizophonics had astounding energy. I couldn’t find fault in the description of The Schizophonics as the “wildest live band in America”– their sound and antics came close to The Cramps.

Guitarist and vocalist Pat Beers, perhaps a bastard child of the Ramones with a measure of Iggy Pop, did not stand still. With the temperature hovering close to 30 degrees, Beers, in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, bounded back and forth across the stage and into the crowd, at times tumbling end-over-end with his guitar still howling.

Charley Crockett, from Waco, Texas, looked resplendent wearing a Texas Cattleman, aviators and a set of pearly white teeth that could probably be seen from downtown Geelong. He sounded every bit as good as Carl Perkins. Swapping acoustic and electric guitar with banjo, his performance of honky tonk, blues and traditional country was blistering.

Charley Crockett | Credit: David Jackson

Crockett’s band, the Blue Drifters, were also sporting sunglasses in the shadows of the stage. Comprising upright bass, a honky tonk pianist, who also played trumpet and accordion, exquisite pedal steel, second guitar and drums, the Blue Drifters raised Crockett’s already astonishing voice to near divine.

Crockett has released an impressive ten albums since 2015 and his bio is almost mythic. Raised by a single mother in a Texas trailer park, he hitchhiked and rode freight trains around the country as a young performer, later living “on the streets of Paris” for a year before returning to America where he was convicted of two drug felonies. In 2021, he won the Emerging Artist of the Year award at the prestigious Americana Music Awards in Nashville.

His performance of ‘Trinity River’, that “dirty little river” that flows with Crockett’s tears, was searing: “Sure to keep you honest even though you’re selling lies.” At the performance end, he turned his guitar cable into a lasso and swung it towards the audience.

Spiderbait’s Janet English | David Jackson

The storm clouds gathered as Spiderbait arrived on stage with the Marshall stack stage right. The charismatic Kram, behind the drums, immediately had the crowd in the palm of his hand. They followed his every instruction and echoed his every chant and howl – and the Spiderbait fans knew just when to holler.

Like the Schizophonics, Spiderbait made a mighty lush sound for a three-piece band. They played with an energising, steamrolling pace that never let up. The contrasting vocals of Kram and bassist Janet English were a delight, and the sound mix was superb.

English took her place behind the drums for their hit, ‘Buy me a Pony’, with Kram up front on the microphone, and then came back to the bass to belt out her anthem, ‘Fucken Awesome’. Kram introduced the infectious ‘Shazam’ as “a glam rock song” and the crowd erupted.

Spiderbait – ‘Buy Me a Pony’

Kram momentarily played drums one-handed, poking a finger into his ear to master the vocal lines of ‘Tonite’ as the sun set behind the stage and a fan Facetimed the performance to his partner lying sick in bed.

‘Footy’, dedicated by Kram to “all the women footballers,” received an enthusiastic reception. They concluded their set with an extended mix of ‘Black Betty’, during which the lighting around the stage lifted into the air and exploded in a flash of red.

On the adjacent stage, Magic Dirt immediately launched into song with the black-clad Adalita front and centre. Her voice was rich and piercing and she sounded every bit the gal from Geelong with her Bellarine accent and liberal obscenities. It was a tough ask to follow the frenzy of the Schizophonics and Spiderbait. But while Magic Dirt’s sound is more restrained, it was a rich contribution to the evening.

Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus | David Jackson

We then moved to indie rock royalty, Pavement, on their second international reunion tour. Despite being a Californian band, their sound is more akin to the East Coast art school set. They’re serious, cool musicians, all now in their mid to late-50s. It was a slightly tepid start, but as the set progressed, the sound elevated to an ethereal plane.

“I was a bit nervous to mention our missing band member, but I guess you noticed,” singer and guitarist Stephen Malkmus quipped a few songs in. The band’s percussionist and “hype guy”, Bob Nastanovich, had slipped off the stage into the orchestra pit during their show at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne the night before (reviewed in Music Feeds) and injured himself. They were perhaps a little subdued in his absence.

Malkmus was in fine voice, looking and sounding like a Tom Verlaine redux. Their sound, too, is suggestive of Verlaine’s sophisticated Television, with its driving melodic basslines, and then a hint of Sonic Youth and Howard Devoto’s Magazine.

These piques of recognition, though evident, started to trouble me. After all, it’s a lazy critic who describes bands by means of comparison. It came upon me that the sound that was so familiar was that of Pavement. The band has an obvious hybrid of influences but have themselves become very influential.

Pavement – ‘Gold Soundz’

There is much musical deliberation, composure and complexity to Pavement’s songs, down to the minute detail of a triangle being tapped intermittently, hardly contributing to the sound in any obvious way, but such is the fine detail of their music, so tightly performed. Pavement plied a more cultivated sound than I had anticipated, and like other bands on the bill, took their expansive musical interludes.

They soared during renditions of ‘Gold Soundz’, with the keyboard shimmied in the same fashion as the introduction to The Cure’s ‘Caterpillar’. Renditions of ‘Fight This Generation’ followed by ‘Range Life’ and ‘Summer Babe’ were the stand-outs, and of course ‘Cut Your Hair’, which the crowd sang along to with gusto. Though, strangely, there was an underwhelming reaction at the song’s end and muted applause after others. Perhaps it’s a Pavement thing.

From the grind and discordance of ‘Stereo’, they moved to the slow and zany ‘We Dance’, anything but a dance song. “That was very pretty, Stephen”, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg told his childhood friend Malkmus when the song finished.

The stream of consciousness ‘Fin’ concluded the set as well as Pavement’s Australian tour and the first-ever Tent Pole festival. Pavement has both a musical and a film about them in development, but it may be the last time we see them in Australia.

Further Reading

Pavement Review – Cool Detachment Meets Raucous Energy in Melbourne

Kram On The Past, Present & Future Of Spiderbait

Charley Crockett Announces Second Melbourne Date On 2023 Australian Tour

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