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Laneway Festival – Brisbane – 4 February 2011

In complete contrast to a month ago when it was “precipitation nation” at Sunset Sounds, Brisbane’s fourth St. Jerome’s Laneway festival could’ve been subtitled “Boiling Brisvegas”. We predict that in twenty years local dermatologists will be doing a roaring trade based on the day’s UV damage. While at the same location as the previous two Laneways, in the industrial area of Fortitude Valley, the layout had been substantially rearranged since our last excursion which proved confusing initially. Unlike many festivals who fill their bills with a series of mediocre acts and a couple of heavy hitting headliners, Laneway 2011 had a remarkably consistent quality, in fact it was almost too jam packed with “must sees”, so regardless of the weather it was always destined to be a scorcher.

Rat Vs Possum are the first act to break in the Car Park Stage; a daunting task when you realize people are possibly only here so they can be shaded from the raging afternoon sun. Pint-sized Daphne Shum immediately proves to be completely engaging to watch, complimented by the bizarrely ‘80s clad Matt Kulesza. Together their vocals are backed by the ambient blips and harmonies the Melbourne band is fast becoming known for. “Animals”, a highlight of the set, sees each band member madly thrashing synchronized rhythms on their respective sets of drums. The atmosphere this creates is euphorically intense and although it’s a shame there aren’t more people around to appreciate it, it gives those who are a taste of what the band is capable of.>

Beach House has the unenviable position of playing with the afternoon sun beating down on both the crowd and straight onto Victoria Legrand and Alex Scully (the touring drummer is spared). The wistful organ of “Walk in the Park” washes over the crowd, and along with Victoria’s gravelly Christie McVie like vocals, sets the tone for the rest of the Teen Dream heavy set. Legrand may have the prerequisite cool leopard style shades but with a thick white coat, possibly borrowed from Bryan Ferry, on top of a black collared shirt, I can’t help think she must be absolutely baking. Maybe ice bricks have been sewn into the seams though because Victoria maintains her cool and barely breaks into a sweat. I leave after Scully’s slide guitar during “Silver Soul” sends much needed shivers down my spine, and head for a more shaded space as for Hot House, er Beach House, it’s a case of right band, wrong time.

That’s not to say I wasn’t intending to watch The Antlers, it was always on the cards as their beautiful if slightly disturbing Hospice rates highly at Webcuts. Peter Silberman slings his guitar over his neck like an oversized necklace due to its only periodic use, instead he chooses to use his arms and hands for more important activities such as emoting (a.k.a. mincing) throughout the set. Luckily he’s got a sonorous falsetto, imagine Conor Oberst repeatedly whacked in the testicles, but it means a lot of the musical heavy lifting is left for the drummer and keyboardist who can only fill so much space. A new song is aired which places more emphasis on groove but it’s the quiet/loud histrionics of “Sylvia” (“Sylvia, get your head out of the oven” rings throughout the baking arena rather ironically) and the infectious indie-folk of “Two” that hit home. Emote away Peter but pack a bassist and extra guitarist next time perhaps.

A quick 200 metre stroll later I catch the latter half of Warpaint’s set and it’s amazing what a difference having two guitarists and a bassist makes in a large festival space. Unlike Beach House these ladies are working up a visible sweat, with the last vestiges of the afternoon sun still having an almighty kick in its tail. They’re from LA though so they’re prepared and dressed accordingly, and don’t really give a damn anyway, as each member of the group are in their own little world spending more time with their eyes closed than open. The layered guitar lines and shared vocals are compelling but it’s Jenny Lee Lindberg’s brooding bass (and hip swaying) and Stella Mozgawa’s complex drumming that prove to be the focal point. Drawing on The Fool for most of the set including a sparse “Majesty” and Exquisite Corpse‘s more rousing “Elephants” to end, their laidback ambient take on post-punk is beguiling but I’m left wishing I’d was seeing them in a club with great lighting design. Oh, and air conditioning, that’d be nice too.

Group consensus is to ditch Blonde Redhead to see Ariel Pink, mainly due to the Redhead’s last album Penny Sparkle being widely panned but I dissent, having never seen the band in concert, and the gamble pays off from the get-go. Blonde Redhead, along with Les Savy Fav are the elder statesmen/women of the festival, having been at this for close to twenty years and they’ve honed their live performance to a fine art. Retina burning lighting, and the most expansive sound of the festival with the three piece New Yorkers augmented by a bassist and keyboardist, they hit all the right buttons. Even the two songs from Penny Sparkle which bookend the set are beefed up and sound better than on record. It’s the songs from 23 and Misery is a Butterfly though, such as the trance like “Dr Strangluv”, the reedy “Falling Man”, and aptly titled “Melody” which has co-lead vocalist Kazu Makino and the audience shaking their bodies in rapture.

Over on the Car Park Stage watching Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is like the adult version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. A sizeable crowd has accumulated to watch the abomination of a waste of a tea time slot. Ariel Pink are the epitome of scenester cool, the new kooky band that you must love somehow ‘cause they’re doing something different. What they actually give us is their lesson in how simply dressing up and acting a little craaazy should be enough. Sadly it’s not. The tunes feel like unfinished jams, recorded at an acid peak before the comedown realisation, forgetting that time signatures and singing in tune are sometimes a good idea. If they were an art installation it would be understandable but really I just wander off bored and uninterested.

Tim Harrington from Les Savy Fav at Brisbane Laneway 2011If I told you the highlight of the day was watching a chubby bald man wandering through a crowd wearing only tiny jean shorts and pink tights, while painted silver and singing noise rock in people’s faces you would be within your rights for wondering what the fuck happened. Well Les Savy Fav and frontman Tim Harrington happened. Never have a band been more apt for a festival than this Brooklyn five piece. The band consist simply of blistering indie rock punctuated by Harrington’s at times barely audible vocals, but that’s understandable because he’s busy multi-tasking as he climbs poles and rummages in his props bag for his next low rent fix. The set is mostly drawn from recent album Root for Ruin, although “Patty Lee”, “What Would Wolves Do?” and the rather appropriate “Let the Sweat Descend” also get an airing. Even without the on and off stage antics the band sound great but while they play the tightest of concerts, never dropping a beat, you are left transfixed by Harrington for what he’s going to do next. Ending the set hoisted aloft on a crowd barrier like an indie messiah, while screaming “Let’s Get Out of Here!”, Les Savy Fav leave us with the biggest grin and for half the crowd silver hand prints on random body parts to wear for the rest of the evening.

Popping out of the Inner Sanctum, yeah it’s a stage name, to grab a drink and some food it’s time to kick back and catch some of Cloud Control. On the day’s smallest stage and down a side street from the rest of the action the place is packed, and unsurprisingly so. Hailed by some as Australia’s next big thing Cloud Control don’t disappoint. Their blissed out folk rock is the perfect foil to the indie and electronica elsewhere on the bill. They have everyone eating out of the palm of their hand and look completely assured for a band who has only recently released their debut. Who’ll take bets next year they are higher up on the bill?

You will perhaps remember that Foals snuck into this year’s Triple J hottest 100 at number 98. This low position doesn’t seem to correlate at all with the amount of crowd buzz before they take to the Alexandria Street stage. As soon as the first chord is struck, the lush and distinctive sound of Foals’ guitar effects cut through the wash of red lights and fog, all the while frontman Yannis Philippakis struts about the stage to spur the crowd on. Tracks from their debut Antidotes, “Olympic Airways” and “Cassius”, are instantly recognizable and serve to generate a solid response and momentum amongst the audience. The expectation for “Spanish Sahara” is high, the negative space of its opening filled with chants to the lyric “it’s future rust and then it’s future dust”, only for the song to later swell to its zenith with Philippakis’ vocals erupting against Jack Bevan’s thunderous drum backing. At the close of the Foals set there is a mass departure through the adjacent exit gates despite there still being several bands to come, proving that at least for some, Foals would’ve been a worthy headliner for Laneway 2011.

Heading back in the Inner Sanctum, Canada’s Holy Fuck show that with electronica you don’t necessarily need expensive visuals to keep a crowd interested. Stripped down to simply a drummer, bass player and two guys on every weird and wonderful electronic instrument you can think of, and some you haven’t, Holy Fuck play like a proper live band should. Leaving a trail of fuzzy bass and feedback their scatterbrain noise seems almost discordant at times but considering their name is unsurprisingly apt. Machine gun drums go off and is joined by complex soundscapes from keyboards that resemble kids toys. Whatever, it sounds great. The energy given off by these guys is intense and half way through the set even the most cynical watchers near me have been won over. It’s not supposed to be pretty but they show that even the most experimental of music can be danceable. Heck even Tim Harrington is pulling shapes in front of me.

Ending the day with Cut Copy seems like a bit of a letdown. Recently released album Zonoscope seems to be well received from a mini straw poll of three people we speak to, but translating this to a headlining slot may take some work. Confession time: I’ve never been the most overt fan of the band, but they are an Australian headliner at an Australian festival which is increasingly rare these days so deserve some support. Unfortunately they come across like a danceable Coldplay, a bit too safe and bland. If Cut Copy were a colour they would definitely be beige and neutral, like Switzerland. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that per se but what I want from music is something that will kick me up the arse, make me take notice, change my mood, lose my pants… you get the picture. From the cheesy lit up door they walk through to come on stage, to the hackneyed pub singer hand gestures of frontman Dan Whitford it does seem like they have put a lot of thought into their performance, it’s just when it comes down to it their music just doesn’t cut it. They tell us it’s the first night of their world tour. Hopefully by the next time they roll round the show will be a bit more risqué and the setlist more compelling.

It’s nearing midnight and while it’s cooled down the humidity clings to us like silver paint so we trudge through the gates, past the irritated police officers trying to control the thousands of jaywalkers (hey, good luck with that officers) and reflect on the indie dream bill of the day and come to the only logical conclusion that for Laneway next year Les Savy Fav have to headline. And the year after that and the year after that…

Text: Lee Gwyn (Rat Vs Possum, Foals), Garry Thompson (Ariel Pink, Les Savy Fav, Cloud Control, Holy Fuck, Cut Copy), Caleb Rudd (All others)

Photos: Lee Gwyn

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