Well it’s only February, but I am going to go all out and make the call that St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is Brisbane’s festival of the year. Sorry to tell you, but summer is coming to an end and not all that much happens until December. If you missed it, make sure you get a ticket for next year’s event.
While I am at it I will also award Laneway the “most improved festival award” as well. The 2008 model was simultaneously one of the best and worst festivals I have ever been to. While it had a great bill it suffered from poor sound quality, logistical issues and The Presets. Organising a music festival in the middle of a bunch of city streets may sound like a novel idea but when you add a few thousand people trying to move between awkwardly placed stages into the equation, it can quickly lose its appeal (as evidenced by the discontent with this year’s Melbourne leg).
This was not the case for Brisbane this year though, as the new surrounds near the RNA show grounds was a fantastic location. It provided loads of shaded area, lots of space for easy access to stages or to get away from the hordes and best of all more relaxed noise restrictions. While I am complimenting their efforts, I will also add that the crowd that they managed to pull was more than agreeable as well. It certainly felt like a much more relaxed place than I imagine the Big Day Out would have been, if I hadn’t sworn off going to them years ago.
After a frantic morning effort I arrived in time to catch the last half of Perth buzz band Tame Impala’s set. Impala play a heady mix of lengthy ’60s and ’70s inspired psychedelic rock jams. They pull this off with enough authenticity, to make you wonder how they could have gained their musical tastes at such a young age. There is certainly something to be said for heavy pot smoking parents who bring their children up on a diet of stoner rock.
Still Flyin’s multitude of members come out next onto the car park stage looking a bit like a special ed class version of the Polyphonic Spree. Still Flyin are all about celebration, their stage show is similar to the party atmosphere that early Architecture In Helsinki gigs had back in the day. Not surprising really as they boast a couple of that band’s former members amongst their bloated ranks. Dub filled reggae infused jams aren’t really my cup of tea at the best of times, but it’s hard to resist the temptation to want to jump on stage and join in by banging on a pot with a wooden spoon.
Yves Klein Blue is a completely improbable band. In fact I wikied it and discovered that the having red hair occurs in roughly one in twenty five people. To form a band with three ginger haired members who aren’t related to each other runs somewhere in the likelihood of one in 15,625. Yet despite defying the odds to grace us with their presence, the band’s reddish pigmentation in their scalps fails to spread and set the stage on fire, for me at least. In all seriousness, YKB did give it their best shot. They played energetically and were certainly appreciated by a sizeable contingent of the crowd that had assembled to watch them. Unfortunately, their mix of rock touchstones that forms the base of their sound is too reminiscent of all the reasons why I have to quickly turn JJJ off after five minutes.
I will have to admit, that if I have been a little hard on Spiral Stairs since the demise of Pavement, it is only because I have always wanted the best for him. I had always hoped that he would emerge from Stephen Malkmus’s shadow, in triumph with some sort of masterpiece, like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. It’s tempting to imagine that the secondary song writer in a band has a double album’s worth of awesome songs that they have been holding onto for their first solo outing. The first Preston School of Industry Album quickly put all these hopes to bed by only being…well…just okay. His first tour, for reasons that escape me now, left me a bit cold as well.
Eight years later and with lowered and more realistic expectations, I am pleased to say that I had an absolute ball watching Spiral Stairs. Between his contributions to the Pavement catalogue, the two Preston albums, and his soon to be released solo outing, Spiral has more than enough material to pump out a set that is littered with highlights. Spiral also knows the proper ratio (and placement) of Pavement songs to maintain the interest of a crowd not as familiar with his solo work.
Opening with the classic “Date with Ikea” he quickly drew the punters away from the bar queue and over to the stage. It might not be Pavement but after ten years it is refreshing to hear anyone competently air those songs again, and for now it is all we have… until the inevitable reunion. Highlights from his non-Pavement works, such as “Falling Away” are played, with a Pavement song thrown in for good measure every third or fourth track. Joined by members of Still Flyin, Spiral closes with a crowd pleasing rendition of “Two States” and leaves the stage having convinced more than a few people that they should have been paying more attention to him.
Cut Off Your Hands first graced Laneway three years ago when they were still known as Shaky Hands. Much has changed since then — they decamped to England to record their pop-tastic debut album You & I with Bernard Butler and toured relentlessly — so the crowd at the Alexandria Stage is both respectable and appreciative. Singer Nick Johnston is supremely hyperactive, like an ADD kid who’s drunk a litre of red cordial. He bounds around the stage and leaps into the audience repeatedly and later throws a snare drum that he has been pounding on across the stage. Cut off Your Hands are like the best indie jukebox ever, one heavenly pop hit after another; The Smiths merge with Orange Juice, Gang of Four and fellow countrymen The Chills et al. They falter mid-set when a couple of turgid Joy Division slash Cure style numbers are aired but wisely return to jangly guitar pop for the final stretch. Nick invites members from the audience up onto the stage, and about thirty take up his offer. He himself is lost in a sea of scenesters, but the band play galiantly on until security demands the dancing fools return to the street. They may not be the most polished act today but COYH are definately Laneway’s most entertaining. (Caleb)
No Age have some awesomely fun songs. They apparently have a leaning towards playing their ramshackle gigs in unusual places such as parks, art spaces, abandoned buildings and libraries. This makes a lot of sense as this will be probably the first and only time I will ever say this: “I would have preferred to have seen them play at Ric'”‘ (Small, infamous venue in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley — Ed). No Age seemingly enforce a level of amateurness upon themselves and while I, for one, don’t want to stop them as I’m not sure they would have the same magic if they were “professional musicians”. The downside is that when pushed into a professional environment it isn’t always going to translate well live. This was one of those days. While they weren’t terrible — they were fun and played with loads of exuberance – it felt like they were separated from the crowd and would do better being able to feed off the energy of audience in a smaller setting. No Age haven’t worked out how to fill a large space with only guitar and drums in the same way that the White Stripes can pull off a Big Day Out set. It would have been far more fun to watch audience members fall over the mic leads mid song and enable the band too have more audience interaction to make up for the sound quality/mixing issues.
A friend standing next to me commented on Jay Reatard as such: “Man, it just sounds like the Ramones”. Well duh. Jay perfectly mines that difficult middle ground between awesome pop melodies and pounding punk guitars. In celebration of Jay’s minimalist punk/pop tendencies, my review should really be summed up with Jay Reatard Owns and just leave it at that. I mean I could spend the rest of the night using the synonyms/thesaurus button on Microsoft Office looking for replacement words for ones I have already used in this review, but sometimes you just want to rock the fuck out. That is exactly what Jay did today.
His songs are short, sharp and stick in your head. They maintain a punk fury while still tasting like sugar. Hell, even when you think things are going to go quiet — when he picks up an acoustic guitar — the song is still distorted and frantic as hell. This was pretty much a set full of highlights for me, although if this isn’t your cup of tea, then you’d probably find it a bit samey. Whatever the qualities that Jay holds that makes him an indie darling, which sees him playing festivals with Stereolab and doing split singles with Deerhunter as opposed to playing to a field full of baseball caps at a Vans Warped tour, isn’t worth dissecting. Just know that Jay is the shit, and so is his rock pose sprouting bass player.
I last saw Stereolab nearly twelve years ago at Brisbane’s now defunct Chelsea venue. It was a stellar gig but one marred due to greedy promoters cynically shoehorning seven hundred punters into a venue designed for half that amount. Although the blazing afternoon heat recalls the oven like temperatures of that night the environs are, thankfully, a lot more spacious. Not that Stereolab ever break a sweat, they’re far too cool and professional for that (apart from ruddy faced Andy Ramsay on drums, bless him). Laetitia Sadier is positively glowing as she graces the stage in a figure hugging black dress, looking at least ten years younger than she actually is — which goes to show what a combination of a Mediterranean diet and good Gallic genes can achieve. Along with the band’s creative force Tim Gane, Sadier dispels any fears Stereolab are more suited to a club atmosphere as she leads the groop through their extensive oeuvre, transporting listeners from the reality of Laneway’s dusty surrounds to somewhere more exotic. The bossanova beats of “Neon Beanbag” and indie-pop of “Silver Sands” from last year’s Chemical Chords sit shoulder to shoulder with the career defining krautrock of “Ping Pong”, the storming psychedelic new wave of “French Disko” and the gorgeous almost-hit “Cybele’s Reverie”. When Laetitia coos “au revoir” everyone is saddened and it’s hard to believe that forty five minutes have elapsed so quickly. (Caleb)
In a set marred by technical difficulties (and flying snare drums), The Drones played what might be the worst set that I have seen them do. Fortunately for those in attendance a below par Drones gig is still better than just about anything else most other bands can come up with. The Drone’s status as the best currently active band in Australia is well deserved. Opening with “Nail it Down” and “Oh My’ from their latest opus Havilah the band are in fine form, with front man Gareth Liddiard’s and Dan Luscombec’s guitar hooks aggressively assaulting those in the crowd.
At some point around this time things start to go wrong — the snare drum gives way and Liddiard’s guitar pedals play up due to water on the stage. These frustrations are clearly starting to take their toll on the band members. In a weird way, this adds to the intensity of the performance, and gives extra weight to each snarl that comes out of Liddiard’s mouth to form his often bitter lyrics. Crowd favourite, “Shark Fin Blues” and a brutally raw cover of Kev Carmody’s “River of Tears” are run through before they finish with the ferocious “I Don’t Want to Change” which concludes with a flying snare drum connecting with drummer Mike Noga’s (or should that be Noggin — Ed) head. Ouch.
The popularity of The Hold Steady among the alternative (read Laneway) crowd is something of a mystery to me. Their style of sing-a-long bar room rock can be heard in almost any pub, in any city, any night of the week, yet here they are pulling the Car Park stage’s largest audience of the day. Due credit to Craig Finn though, a more unpretentious and ebullient frontman I’ve yet to see — his flailing arms and general mincing around the stage is extremely entertaining. Finn’s gruff vocals may have limited range but he writes engaging, clever narratives and it’s hard not to get caught up in the band’s enthusiasm. I feel like an outsider though as I’m only familiar with one song (“Sequestered in Memphis”, which luckily they play) unlike everybody else who seem to know every single line to every single song. In a rare case of exquisite timing I venture over to the Alexandria street stage to see the last two songs of some seven piece tribal-electro band — oh, it’s Architecture in Helsinki — just as The Hold Steady’s bass amp blows out. Befuddled by Architecture’s transformation from twee-pop band to electro art rock collective I resume avoiding swaying bodies at the Car Park arena where The Steady wrap up pretty much the same way they started. (Caleb)
As I learn’t from my Hold Steady experience, unfamiliarity with a band’s catalogue is rarely a good thing. A nearly twenty minute delay waiting for a band, in this case Augie March, doesn’t help. Neither does a lack of vocals in the mix for the first few songs — Glenn Richards’s voice is underpowered enough as it is. While listening to Augie March’s austere set I try to stay awake by attempting to catergorise each song into suitable genres. Indie rock, folk, pop, alt.country, singer-songwriter — all bases are covered but after ten hours of sun burn, beer and sore limbs it falls a little flat. The ever thinning numbers confirm I’m not the only one suffering from fatigue and disinterest. After forty odd minutes of increasing numbness in my lower extremities I welcome Richard’s declaration that they have to wrap it up. He offers either “One Crowded Hour” or “This Train Will be Taking No Passengers” as a final kiss-off and despite the calls for the former chooses “Train”. This is a good move as the rollicking, country blues injects some life into the limp set. While it was too little, too late for me a friend of mine, an Augie March fan, loved the gig. Maybe it was just a case of right band, wrong time? (Caleb)
The Brisbane Laneway festival pretty much managed to get everything right this year. Congratulations guys, festivals are a hard thing to pull off. Instead of recapping and harping on about how much better things were this year, I want to leave a request for next year. Organisers, if you are reading this, please for the love of God bring Deerhunter out. While you are at it can bring their side projects, Atlas Sounds and Lotus Plaza as well, like you did with Broken Social Scene in 2008? You know you can do it.
Text Credits: Scott Daniels (except Caleb Rudd where indicated).
Photo Credits: Charlyn Cameron.