Because let’s face it, there’s daylight between Laneway Festival and any other one-day festival on the touring circuit at the moment. This is reinforced by the effort that they’ve put into correcting past missteps – the city venue, while well intentioned, was impractical; and the first year at the brilliant Footscray site was fine as long as you didn’t need to eat, drink, or go to the toilet. That the festival in its current format is a triumph of organisation shows a deep respect for the punters, not to mention a deft hand in the booking front; Aunty Meredith has had to work a lot harder to stay ahead of the pack since Laneway came on the scene, and the competition probably benefits both festivals in the long run.
But this review is not a history lesson, we’re looking at the show that went down on the 3rd of Feb in Melbourne. Knowing that Norway’s Kings of Convenience were playing early (to take advantage of a quiet site apparently) was more than enough reason to get there as gates opened. After a couple of sneaky Sierra Nevadas outside the gate we were primed for action. Heading straight down to the main ‘Dean Turner’ stage (named after the deceased Magic Dirt bassist and widely reported nice-guy) the Kings of C came on stage and proceeded to open the day gently with their Simon and Garfunkel-esque nordic folk. It was beautiful stuff from the two amazing vocalists (one of which being Erland Oye – the Whitest Boy Alive) and a great start until they stopped mid song for a ‘medical emergency’ as someone fainted at the front of the crowd. The punter was quickly rushed out, hopefully to safety, and it put a weird mood on the band and crowd. They (KOC) handled it perfectly, waiting until they could see that she’d received assistance, before starting gently. Regaining momentum quickly, the set was already incredible, and THEN the rest of the band took the stage. Easily the happiest bunch of musicians I’ve ever seen, the mood suddenly went all disco as the pace was lifted. Pure joy was radiating from the crowd and the stage as they kicked out the jams on an extended version of ‘Boat Behind’ (complete with solos) which sent the crowd into rapture. It was incredible, and then a huge version of ‘I’d Rather Dance With You’ to take things into a next level. It was so good that we could have left right then, happy that we’d received our money’s worth.
Leaving with ear-to-ear grins, we headed down to the river stage to catch the ‘High Highs’, who sounded kind of like a mix between Grizzly Bear and the Antlers. Not bad at all but we went for a walk to check out ‘The Men’ on the carpark stage, which was now on the other side of the road – significantly increasing the site size. It was a massive stage, and a great move from the organisers. The Men were rocking in a slightly shambolic way. They go hard on stage, which is good because their sound is…pretty scratchy…. to put it mildly. Still, it’s what they do, and ‘Open Your Heart’ was pretty cool. Some friends went to see the Twerps, who apparently sucked again (Meredith was the other time). They’re done for me now, squandering two opportunities by being poorly rehearsed is no longer just your schtick – it’s lazy and disrespectful to all the other bands who would sweat blood to put on a good show given the bookings that these guys have received. We were the only people game enough to walk up the front for Julia Holter due to the heat so took some hilarious selfies of the gap between us and the crowd and went up towards real estate.
It’s worth commenting at this time that the site was starting to fill up, and still none of the bar, food or toilet lines got out of hand. This continued for the rest of the day and was thoroughly excellent.
Real Estate were pretty good, if not incredible, but played a nice run through of most of their excellent Days record from 2011. With Cloud Nothings starting soon we headed back to the other end of the site. As they walked on stage and launched into a bangin’ distorted, and totally LOUD version of ‘Fall In’ to open, it became obvious pretty quickly that this was going to be a good set. It takes a brave band to play their two biggest singles in the first 3 songs but in the hands of a live outfit as breathtakingly incredible as Cloud Nothings, singles mean nothing. They farking slayed it. The sort of set that wasn’t just entertaining; it was visceral, exciting, exhilarating.
It’s now 4pm and we’ve already seen two bands that have blown the lid off the place, with plenty more to come. Caught a couple of songs of ‘Holy Other’, who was a bit too ambient after Cloud Nothings but still sounded good. Grabbing some food we checked out Polica, who were kind of cool. The singer reminded my a bit of Tracy Thorn, and not just because she had short hair. Not bad, but we went to find some crew up with the rest of the festival on the main stage for Of Monsters and Men. OMAM and undoubtedly 2012’s ‘Mumford & Sons’ with their folk-influenced joyous songs (and exploding debut record). We managed to get up pretty close before the bulk of the crowd got there but by the time it filled in we were sandwiched and couldn’t see anything. They opened withDirty Paws, played King and Lionheart pretty early, and that’s about all I remember. Took a photo by holding my phone above someone’s head and that’s about the only record I have of how the band looked!
Cruised down past Schlomo, who was rocking it with some future beats on the future classic stage and hit the carpark nice and early for Japandroids. By this stage the red bull van was blasting some bangin’ tunes through the soundsystem between bands so we danced for a while and waited for the rock show. Starting early ‘So we can try and play an extra song for you guys’, the two black-wearing (and rather polite) Canadians took the stage and proceeded to swing into some epic rock’n’roll poses while banging out a bunch of excellent tunes from both their records. It was excellent, and would have been the set of the day at a lesser festival. ‘The Night of Wine and Roses’ and ‘Fire’s Highway’ were epic singalongs, but at that stage we had a horrible decision to make.
If Alt-J ∆ hadn’t released my favourite record of 2012 we never would have left. We tried to leave once but then they started playing ‘Evil’s Sway’ and we stayed longer. We ran up the hill to catch Alt-J playing Tesselate before going into something good. They sounded good but we couldn’t get within 100m of the stage and were watching the whole thing on a screen.
We got out of there as the crowd started to surge due to Chet Faker finishing early (WTF Chet? Short sets at Meredith and now here? You can do better than this, I’ve SEEN you do better than this. Don’t squander your potential) and ran back to Japandroids, where this was happening…
The pictures tell a thousand words on that one! Will see Alt-J sometime in the future, hopefully they release a good second record.
Checked a song or two of Jessie Ware and then back to get ready for Divine Fits. At this stage we looked around and realised that there were either a lot of young Divine Fits/Spoon/Wolf Parade fans in attendance, or people were already flocking in to get a position for Flume. Being that it was obviously the latter, they did well to get themselves educated on how to put on a great festival set by this excellent band. Tracks like ‘Baby Get Worse’, ‘Would it not be nice’, ‘The Saltine Sea’ sounded great live, and Britt Daniel looked much more lively than the last couple of times I’d seen Spoon play. They were obviously having a great time on stage and closed with a great version of ‘Shivers’. Yet another highlight set!
It was around this point that I thought back and realised that every band, on every stage, had fantastic sound for the entire day. No mean feat and more evidence of the care that goes into putting this show together. I reflected on this while clinging to the footpath as a tsunami of Flume fans came pouring in. We staked out a position and watched as a sea of ‘highly stimulated’ kids came in ready to party. It’s incredible how massive Flume has gotten in such a short time – and it’s totally deserved too. He’s making some cutting edge sounds that have relevance on a world scale. One of the downsides of going from bedroom producer to festival headliner in 12 months is that the live set invariably needs work. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but in it’s current form of setting Ableton (or whatever he uses) to work and then dancing around the stage for a while it’s pretty bland. Not that the majority of the crowd cared, they were there to party and Flume brought the party. Looking forward to his Golden Plains set where it’ll be easier to get closer.
We pushed through the throng in time to get a decent position for the start of Nicolas Jaar, the anti-flume. I was impressed by how many people rocked up to see something that was always going to be a little different. His 2012 essential mix was a revelation, describing it as a ‘mix’ doesn’t do justice to what was effectively a composition using a few hundred years of music and modern technology. Needless to say I was excited but nervous as to how it could be pulled off. He had a sax and guitar on stage and they started in a smoky, free-jazz, atmospheric kind of way as slowly Nico added sounds and textures underneath them. It was utterly captivating and over the course of the next hour he totally held the crowd in his hand, slowly building, then dropping, then releasing the tension and allowing people to dance (for no more than 20s at a time!) before pulling it back. He could have done it for hours and the effect was that the entire crowd were so entranced and revved that every time the tension released a huge cheer went up. It was a great example of music-as-art, as I had to explain to someone on the train home who’d come past from Flume and was ranting ‘WTF was that bullshit about?’
Lacking the energy to go and see Kings of C DJ at the toff I left it there. A sensational day, with sensational organising and sensational music. And not too much of a hangover….