Report: Laneway Melbourne 2012
DOUG WALLEN and NICK ARGYRIOU review 64.7 percent of the entire bill of Melbourne’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival at Footscray Community Arts Centre on Saturday. (Fans of Girls, The Panics, The Horrors and SBTRKT send your grievances to PO Box 475, Prahran, VIC 3181, or just wait for the Sydney review.) Photos by MICHAEL BAINBRIDGE.
The ominous clouds that “greeted” punters at last year’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival were replaced by near-perfect skies and a mercury that hovered above 30 degrees all day. For the third year running, the festival returned to the Footscray Community Arts Centre along the banks of the Maribyrnong, with views of the city skyline reminding us of its humble beginnings in dingy Caledonian Lane (now a Myer loading dock) and, for one overly ambitious year, across the entire CBD.
Despite some inevitable sound issues and bottlenecks – it’s an outdoor festival, by the by, not a show in a concert hall – there’s no doubt the Footscray site is the best fit for Laneway. Which makes the vision of a multi-level apartment building towering over the Windish Agency Main Stage more than a little unsettling. (Organisers will now have to deal with an influx of an estimated 200 new residents.)
A sparse crowd at the start of the day was more an indication of the weather than the reported sluggish ticket sales, with the event at its throbbing peak (around 10,000 people) during M83.
Tinpan Orange: Opening the day over at the Eat Your Own Ears Stage, the Melbourne roots unit melds acoustic and Alex Burkoy’s chimey electric guitar to rouse the wandering crowd. With Burkoy alternating between weeping, Western European-style violin and supplementary exhaust brakes from passing trucks on the bridge behind, the band highlight is a gloomy cover of the ‘Round the Twist’ theme – complete with squalling feedback guitar and ghostlike vocals. – NA
Drunk Mums: Tapping that San Franciscan-via-Cairns kind of elongated vocal delivery, Drunk Mums tend to channel a Ween/Rolling Stones bedroom tapes-vibe. While a tambourine is always out of place among big guitars, Isaac Forsyth finds other ways to entertain courtesy of his paroxysmal dance routines. Delivering self-confessed songs for drug dealers, Drunk Mums’ jittery, three-part harmonies and muffled drum mix sets a nice and manic platform for the day. – NA
Geoffrey O’Connor: Entering the stage in his now celebrated flashy manner, Geoffrey O’Connor is surrounded by a bevy of synth-playing beauties and solo artist Ben Montero on bass. Yet another suave, sexualised ’80s dream pop set ensues with O’Connor even attempting a low-level, almost anesthetised version of Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted To Love’, which he dubs a “traditional”. ‘Whatever Leads Me To You’ hits the spot at just the right time. – NA
Total Control: Against a remorseless one o’clock sun, Total Control set to work on a glowering set that sees their stiff intensity work in their favour. Their recombinant sound absorbing any number of cult punk and post-punk strains, they hammer away rhythmically as singer DX dwells on his foreboding lyrics and Mikey Young plays it deadpan in a goofy summer outfit. That they end with a song whose refrain was an eerie laugh made it all the more of a contrast to the carefree day. Even if it’s never stated, it feels like a fitting send off to the late Brendon Annesley, one of the earliest champions of the band. – DW
EMA: A languid early sound drifts into the afternoon heat and two girls pass out before Leif Shackelford pulls out the violin and sonic levels increase. Erika M Anderson’s vocals soon open up into a rant with the Breeders-esque feel of ‘Anteroom’ feeding into an obscure Allman Brothers Band cover. During a name-dropping of The Tote and Melbourne’s love of rock, a truck passes overhead horning ‘Jingle Bells’. – NA
Austra: Her voice may lend itself to Kate Bush (and even Bjork) comparisons, but Austra frontwoman Kate Stelmanis spearheads a baroque dance-pop vibe closer to Bete Noire*-era Bryan Ferry. Backed by drums, synths, bass and two dancing back-up singers, Stelmanis is most powerful when her songs coalesce in an undeniable chorus. The rest of time, she’s simply interesting to behold. – DW
Pajama Club: Almost the oddest entry in a musical field that manages to share at least one common denominator, the dad-rock of Neil Finn’s Pajama Club still achieves several tidy highlights. Whether it be Finn’s almost Krautrock-style on guitar that spawns the Sea And Cake-y ‘From a Friend to a Friend’ to member Sean Donnelly’s choice of beanie on a baking day, Finn and co. (including The Grates’ Alana Skyring and his wife Sharon) are a surprise hit. – NA
Active Child: Pat Grossi’s sighing choral-R&B translates better live than expected, although the whole sounds seems tailored for the acoustics of a grand indoor space. Still, his androgynous croon and shimmering harp melodies sits well against his bandmates’ bass lines and effects-softened drums. And a surprising amount of people know the songs from his only album. (Especially the single ‘Playing House’.) With his pale skin and solemn countenance, Grossi might have been better suited to a night set, but his work is blissful enough where it stood. – DW
Laura Marling: For a singer just turned 22, it feels like London-based Laura Marling has been present on the scene since, like, 1965. Delivering her folk icon warble complete with accented cello and banjo, there’s always something quite Pentecostal about the whole Marling operation when in full swing. But alone with just her just a pure vocal and Spanish guitar is right where I want her to be. A bewitching set overall delivers the first crowd sing-along of the day. – NA
Portugal. The Man: Any man who can pull off the fashion combination of shortened khaki pants, grey socks and tanned-brown shoes – plus marrying the sound of the Scissor Sisters and Dr Dog should entice. And Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley does to an extent, yet with much of the set following a formula of crowded guitars and three-part harmonies, it’s all just buried in sound for the most part and the melodies are seriously neglected. – NA
Twin Shadow: Transformed from his album’s soft contours into an anthemic power-pop act, Twin Shadow actually rocks out, comparatively speaking. Some nuances get lost in the process, while a new song sounds like Rick Springfield – take that as you will. ‘Shooting Holes’ and ‘Tyrant Destroyed’ are easy highlights, and ‘Castles in the Snow’ gets a big response from the crowd the moment it begins. – DW
Cults: This is “cutesy with an edge” boy/girl dynamic business that starts slow before rising on the Madeline Follin vocal and xylophone twinkles. The highpoint of the set is of course the ’50s diner pop of ‘You Know What I Mean’. Cults’ almost-there melodies continue to play out to a now, mostly sunstruck/pissy crowd who are swaying and beginning to make tracks for the Anna Calvi set. – NA
Anna Calvi: Anna Calvi kills. I was familiar with the noir-ish drama of her debut album from last year but unprepared for the teeming sharp edges and rock ferocity of her live performance. Even without her trademark flamenco flourishes, Calvi makes it feel like there were still things left to say with a guitar. Complemented by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist working with a hulking accordion and assorted percussion, the English newcomer goes to similarly exciting places with her voice even while inhabiting gloomy lyrics and bashing out riffs worthy of Pete Townshend. She takes flight over the course of the patient set, handily topping each song with the next. That includes a take on TV on the Radio’s ‘Wolf Like Me’ that isn’t immediately obvious. Set of the day, without a doubt. – DW
Feist: Complete with touring partners Mountain Man in tow on spectral vocal harmony duties; Leslie Feist’s show is defined by her use of feedback-y electric guitar. Tunes from last year’s Metals, ‘Graveyard’ and ‘How Come You Never Go There’, suit the Vermont backing trio best, but overall their birdcall is a tad suppressed. But, hell, it’s Feist here, and the chance just to see her and her alone is surely more than enough. There’s no ‘1234’ in the set, but ‘I Feel it All’ does get a sweet run. – NA
Yuck: It really seems like band-banter is in all sorts of trouble lately with bands being just so nervous with it. Aside from some awkward shout-outs, Yuck is at its best when channeling J Mascis-type jams and melody, and their endearing Sonic Youth flavouring (‘Operation’). Ballads meld with shoegaze quite well here, but it’s clear that heavier is better for this London clan. – NA
Glasser: A swooping, pliable voice issues from a thin and fair-skinned woman – Glasser’s Cameron Mesirow makes an impact from the start. Even more so when she tells off an obnoxious guy after the first song: “I think you left your dick back here.” Partnered with a bandmate who handles electronics and back-up vocals, Mesirow simply sings, leaving her ethereal words to take shape in the air while beats crackle beneath. It’s a shame her time slot is up against the likeminded Chairlift. – DW
Chairlift: “Sorry about the guy in the tree,” says Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek (in reference to, well, a guy in a tree), but he was a minor attraction by comparison. In four-piece mode, the elastic synth-poppers lean heavily on their two-week-old second album Something. They open with the quietly murderous ‘Sidewalk Safari’ and close with lead single ‘Amanaemonesia’, which everyone here seems to already know and adore. They don’t play their older hit ‘Bruises’, though the dizzying ‘Amanaemonesia’ makes up for that – even if sound problems crop up partway through it. – DW
Toro Y Moi (DW): A year after their first Australian visit, Toro Y Moi detours into stricter dance music this time. Mostly, however, it’s the full-band cosmic funk-pop heard on Chaz Budnick’s second album. (As opposed to the bedroom glitch-R&B of the first.) The music begs for dancing, but sitting on the hill before the setting sun is just as ideal. My mellowness is rewarded with my favourite tune, ‘Elise’, drawn out and given new life so well that I never want it to end.
Drums: Kanye singles blaring over the PA act as the ideal crowd-warmer to The Drums. As a flight of ducks swarm past overhead, vocalist Jonathan Pierce declares that the song ‘Dead Friend’ is indeed about a dead person. (Not the activist high up on the nearby tree – yet.) Following a slew of handclaps and “aha-woo-oh-ah” narratives, The Drums complete a set that you’d happily take home to your mother, or Bono. – NA
Washed Out: Like Toro’s set before him, Washed Out manifests less as passing-fad chillwave and more as unassuming, anyone-can-do-this pop music. It’s daggy and dance-y, the band’s rejigged live set-up proves much lighter on their feet than at Meredith in late 2010. There’s barely a crowd at first, thanks to competition from M83, but it grows and consistently features lots of dancing in the front. It’s one of the day’s closing sets, and spilling over with contagious good vibes. – DW
Bullion: London producer Bullion gives the day’s most unpredictable DJ set at the micro-sized Young Turks Sound System stage, ranging from a sped-up ‘Sexual Healing’ to what sounds like a traditional Eastern European folk dance. Well played, sir. – DW
M83: The fullest beats of the day right at the death of the festival. Anthony Gonzalez and co. penetrate their sonic into the Footscray night skies, with ‘Midnight City’ almost impossible to overthrow as the song of the set. Uber-theatrical and anthem-charged, the M83 juggernaut saws through emotion like no other. It’s a fitting closer. – NA
PART ONE: Feist, Laura Marling, Girls Geoffrey O’Connor, Total Control, The Panics, The Pajama Club.
PART TWO: Yuck, The Horrors, Toro Y Moi, The Drums, M83.