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March 26, 2017 Music , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GP2017: The sup’ that Jack (& Mary) Built

I never met Jack Nolan. In the 13 or so years of visiting the Supernatural Amphitheatre I’ve never had the guts to walk myself into the Nolan stand for a chat. You’d think it would get easier with repeat attendance but it’s been quite the opposite: Every year I leave more and more of my soul in that magical place, and every year I appreciate more just how much of the Nolan family’s soul has been, and is continuously shared with the attendees.

It’s unfathomable how much of their collective spirit is embedded in that farm, it’s unfathomable to consider what Chris’ relationship with the festival means to Mary & Jack, and it’s unfathomable that they have continued to welcome us all so thoroughly for so long. Jack’s shadow loomed large over this year’s GP, and I guess if I had the chance to meet him now I’d just say thanks. My sincerest condolences to the family, and a ginormous thank you for everything you’ve given to us.

With this noted, I’m still kicking myself that I missed the opening ceremony. I expect the words were poignant and the tears were many, but a slightly longer than usual travel time & setup meant I was distracted by the unmistakable feeling of melting stresses that oft consumes my initial few hours in postcode 3333.

Good mate Alli getting into the spirit: Can't stop, won't stop

Good mate Alli getting into the spirit: Can’t stop, won’t stop

Thanks to the new sound system and a favourable wind direction, you could hear AusMuteants from the tent and they sounded RAD, which was soon confirmed by a few witnesses. Margaret Glasby & Benny & the FlyByNiters contributed to a very solid opening stanza but things took a huge lift when Cash Savage took the stage. I’ve never been a huge fan, but this was undeniably her time on the sup’ and over the course of her set she wound the crowd in, up and over with a forceful performance that people were still talking about by the end of the festival. Camp Cope aka’ I can’t believe it’s not the Smith Street Band were up next; and a couple of years I would have meant that description as a bit of a sledge. Now, however, the emergence of Camp Cope has made me warm to the Smith Street Band; so the likeness they share is, like both bands’ songs, earnest. Despite best intentions I missed the set, which was moderately received but I heard a few people say that they seemed like they were still learning how to fill the bigger stages that they’re now playing.

Finally getting myself in permanent position for Kurt Vile, we all shuffled forward to see… a well-intentioned but totally ill-timed performance. The spirit was right, and it was a damn sight better than last time he graced the sup’, but the quiet introspective songs played even quieter and more introspective than usual was out of whack with the revving first night crowd. You only need to listen to one of his records to realise that Kurt exists very much between his own ears, and someone that introverted just didn’t have the firepower to capture a crowd in that state.

After the Kurt Vile downer things were looking a little grim for the first night: enter ‘The Damned’, who absolutely ripped the lid off it. I mean, I really enjoyed the Buzzcocks at the last GP and I didn’t think that any of the other bands from that era could be any better but holy smokes the Damned were incredible. A perfect mix of power-shredding and rock opera that in the space of 40 minutes turned the first day from ‘ok’ to ‘on fire’. Highlight (aside from Improv rock Opera on the hill) was singing along to Ignite and their classic banter: “We may be old farts, but we can still kick arse. Anyway, here’s a song we recorded in nine-teen-seventy-seven”. I missed J A Z Z Party but by the reports I didn’t miss much (to put it more eloquently I’ll quote my mate Murph: A jazz party don’t sound like the sort of party I wanna go to) and now it was time for Nicolas Jaar.

When the program dropped, there was a lot of chat about ‘Nico Jaar is on too early’. I disagree. There is no one in the world who makes music like Nicolas Jaar, either on record or in the live arena, and it was entirely the right decision to put him in front of as many people as possible. Before the set I tried to explain it: it may not be your cup of tea, but you’ve gotta see it because it’s so unique (if you want a good starting point, check out his glorious, meandering composition on the BBC essential mix a couple of years ago).

I need not have worried about his set being esoteric. He killed it. With a smoky, back-lit light show he captured the attention of the entire crowd in with about 6-8 minutes of film-score-ambient before embarking on a journey through space and time that had the entire crowd absolutely losing it for the last 20 minutes of the set. By the time the set climaxed and the smoky blackness turned into the brightest lights you can fit on the stage, the place was in meltdown. Phenomenal.

Nico Jaar: Backlit beauty

Nico Jaar: Backlit beauty, dark like the night

After that, Total Giovanni put on some sleazy fun times that kept the crowd on a high, Habits played some abrasive electronica that I liked but most didn’t, and Brooke Powers took it home as we loped up the hill to bank a few hours’ sleep.

*Sun Rises*

Walking out of my tent at precisely the moment the bacon and egg truck drove past, Sunday felt good from the get-go. Catching the first act (excellent indigenous act whose name I don’t have written down) while getting ice (ahem, frozen water) and writing ‘thanks’ on the Jack Nolan wall, I steadied myself for the day ahead. With a 40th birthday celebration about to kick off up at campsite (Happy Birthday Gemma!) first order of the day was ‘delicious drinks’, a tradition started by some mates with whom we combined camp sites this year. Having seen some of these so called ‘delicious’ drinks in the past I was dubious (in year one, the delicious drink was ‘Up-N-Go & Vodka’, and I’m vomiting a little bit in my mouth right now just thinking about it), but everyone brought their A-Game and by 11:30am I was about 3 genuinely excellent cocktails deep with another 3 sitting on the ground in front of me. I guess this level of organisation means we’re all getting old…

The deliciousness of said drinks and a few catch-ups with friends was not however conducive to moving down the hill so I’m relying on others to tell you that Oren Ambarchi split the crowd (brilliant/horrible/ sounded like a walking clock / wish he’d played Classical Gas were a couple of descriptions I heard), Olympia drew a solid crowd to a set that started slowly but finished very strongly (and not just for the cover of TV on the Radio’s ‘Wolf Like Me’ that she closed the set with), and the mysterious Confidence Man retained their mystery (I could not tell you what they sound like) but everyone who saw them raved about them.

Moving down to the stage for the entertaining Billy Davis & the Good Lords, it was Chain & the Gang who we were really there to see. A huge historical link to the sup’ here; the band are fronted by Ian Svenious who was in a group called ‘The Make Up’ who were the first international to ever play the sup and were so good that Aunty is still talking about it. Well I tell you what, I don’t reckon he’s been to bed since that set, not that it lessened his ability to put on a cracking show. The band were tight and deadpan in their slick shiny suits while Ian climbed stage barriers and launched himself into the crowd. It’s clearly a character-based performance piece, but the art is a beautifully uncomfortable as it’s impossible to distinguish how much craziness is ‘character’ and how much is ‘2 decades of shooting speed’.

There was no such ‘life imitating art imitating life’ confusion for Orb, they were simply fucking excellent. Holding the stage in tight garage-band-stance they powered through a heavy, Black Sabbath influenced set that perfectly positioned the afternoon for the night ahead. It felt not so much that they were trying to sound like Sabbath, it was just that was how they are. If you were trying too hard to sound like Sabbath you’d stuff it up, and Orb had that bit of swing in the drums where the beats don’t hit perfectly on time and it gave the whole thing this little bit of groove that took it to the next level. Closed with a 15 minute tune off their latest album (can’t remember the name, maybe ‘My Reflection’) and we were all screaming. Get the record. Go see them.

Somewhere around this point (I’m sketchy on the time) was THE interstitial set. You know the one; the volume is up, the crowd lathered, and the hits come out to rapturous ‘shout singing’. This year, the tune that got the sup’ fully turnt was ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Midnight Oil. They’re on tour next year around GP time and I believe they have a slot in the schedule, the mind boggles.

Teenage Fanclub were up next and there were so so so many people who were excited about this. I don’t have quite the same history with them as many others and went to get changed about half way through the set just as the guitars got a little more distorted and they started to delve into their grunge-era material. Sounded good, and made a lot of people happy, but I had to make a sacrifice and it turned out to be totally worthwhile.

Most of the words written about GP11 have ignored what happened next, but for me it was arguably the set of the festival so I’m going to give it a decent run.  Worth noting that my knowledge of all the song titles mentioned below happened after the set; I didn’t go in as a massive fan but listened to these albums intently as a result of this performance.

We all still split hip hop into ‘Hip Hop’ and ‘Australian Hip Hop’; with the ‘Australian’ tag signalling “it’s a bit shit still but they’re trying really hard and sometimes the shows are pretty good”.

Remi is different. He has unmistakeable flow, and his songs cover complex territory: like taking drugs to self-medicate your depression (Substance Therapy), and your realisation as a school kid that you have been racially profiled when talking to your friends about a run in with the police (Lose Sleep).

Coming on stage with his collaborator Sensible J on drums and veteran N’fa on vibes, Remi was confronted with a mostly empty sup’ after all the older gang disappeared after Teenagoe Fanclub. About 15 seconds into ‘Forsaken Man’ and the place was 2/3 full, another minute and it was jumping. On stage, the kid has unmistakeable star power. It’s a common complaint that hip hop acts spend more time telling people to ‘get their hands up’ than they do entertaining the crowd: he compelled people to party without breaking stride. ‘Sangria’ had everyone vibing, a quality freestyle verse from n’fa had everyone screaming, and as the sun set the intensity of delivery just kept rising. With darkness descending and the crowd in the palm of his hand, Remi brought out Sampa the Great to duet on ‘For Good’ and I can still hear the crowd screaming in my ears, but what set this performance so far above was just how raw it got for the last couple of tunes. Clearly revved on the performance, Remi had gone from the jovial ringleader to fire breather, and he prowled the stage absolutely spitting out ‘Livin’ and ‘Substance Therapy’ a helluva lot harder than on record. It was visceral, which is not something you usually associate with this type of music.

In the first song of Remi’s debut album he declares: We’re here to change the face of Australian Hip Hop. Achieved, and then some.

Where to from here? Onwards and upwards. I’m almost ashamed to admit that when I first saw The Peep Tempel a couple of years’ back I thought they were a great band who were great in pubs but would be lost beyond that. I’m pleased to say I was totally and utterly wrong. What a band they’ve become. Their latest album, Joy, is a masterpiece that plumbs an uncomfortable emotional space not all that removed from the Drones and I enjoyed the Peep Tempel at GP more than I have enjoyed the Drones since their Havilah tour. We got nice and close for them band, with the screaming guitar of Kalgoorlie hitting us asquare in the chest. For the next 45 minutes they grabbed the entire crowd by the scruff of the neck and took them on a glorious, abrasive, cathartic ride. Carol is an anthem, Rayguns not too far behind, but Neuroplasticity took the chips for me. Bravo.

What is there to say about Neil Finn? I’m not going to give into temptation (see what I did there?) and compare his two performances at the sup’ as it is reductionist and distracts from the most important fact: To see a Neil Finn gig, in any capacity, is to see someone who will never be duplicated in this nor any lifetime. Most bands of his era trade on the memories of better times: when you hear their songs you are transported to a time and place in your life that you remember fondly. The relationship with the music is not about the artist, it’s about you.

Neil Finn’s performances, and his canon of songs, are so good that they break free of the gravity of nostalgia. No matter how many times you’ve heard it before or seen him before, to see him perform, say, ‘Fall at your Feet’ is to be confronted with the full beauty of the song as if you’re hearing it for the first time, the impact undiminished if not magnified. The experience is about the artist and the song, and the quality of both is greater than your nostalgia for either.

Everyone has a favourite, and for me that song is Private Universe. No amount of repeat listens diminish the impact, and on Sunday at GP he opened with it. Time stopped, the crowd and the chatter went silent around me, and the universe folded in on itself for just a few moments.

No time no place to talk about the weather, the promise of love is hard to ignore

I’m sure everyone who was there had a similar experience at one stage or another during his set, but my nirvana was in the first 30 seconds. He played overtime, he effortlessly charmed everyone, it was everything you wanted and more. Don’t dream it’s over.

Opening with ‘Ghost Town’ and moving through their staggering collection of hits, the specials put on a mighty fine show which we enjoyed from the hill, reflecting on what a jam packed afternoon it was.

From here, early decisions started to take their toll (see: delicious drinks) and while I remember thoroughly enjoying Wax’o Paradiso, details are thin on the ground: Thankfully their set has just gone up on Soundcloud so I can try and piece together the latter parts of the evening. We moved back home after the start of Pilotwings and while I hear Harold was exceptional, I enjoyed the few extra hours in bed.

It’s almost laughable just how consistently excellent the experience is at the sup’ every time we attend, yet never is it repetitive. Aside from a stellar bunch of acts on the stage, GP11 brought a reminder that every one of our experiences in this magical place come back to the generosity of the Nolan family and Jack’s departure from this mortal coil brings it sharply into focus that nothing is forever. I don’t know what this means for the future of MMF or GP, but I’m  sure-as-hell glad that I’ve been able to share so much of my soul with this place, and it’s been able to share just a tiny bit of its soul with me. May the plains always be golden.