Sunset Sounds Day One – Wednesday 7 January 2009

January to March in Australia is much like June to August in the Northern Hemisphere — a time when every artist with half a brain (or a half decent good promoter) gets themselves on a summer festival bill. For bands the positives are obvious: the days are hot and sunny, the sets are short and the vibe relaxed. The money’s not too bad either. This year saw several new events try to get some of the festival pie but you have give the Sunset Sounds promoters full credit for such a ballsy move of creating a two day mid week festival. Still with  three stages and a diverse drawcard it has the potential to hold its own against the more established events.

Sara (from Tegan and Sara)

An entry line that snakes for several hundred metres past the Botanic Garden entrance hinders our efforts to catch the start of our first day “must-sees” Tegan and Sara but we arrive just in time to hear their signature tune “Walking with a Ghost” waft, somewhat anaemically, across the Riverstage. There’s a sizable crowd and we can’t help but wonder why the twins weren’t allowed a later time slot. Quibbles aside it’s a pleasure to finally see the sisters (plus three capable but rather anonymous looking blokes) plough through one of Webcuts’ favourite albums of  2007, The Con. The songs which rely on acoustic guitars,  (e.g. “Where does the good go” and “Call it Off”), carry across the arena best, as the percussion and moog heavy numbers are a tad murky. An unexpected but welcome excursion into their back catalogue comes when “Hop a Plane” segues into “Superstar”, a song from their ten year old debut. While the humorous stage banter between the Quin’s is largely absent, much like shade, given a choice between songs and patter, I’m glad they chose the former.

Nathan Hudson from FakerApparently Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings put on a crowd pleasing show but Webcuts stays put for Faker whose Be The Twilight was also one our picks of 2007. The trouble is that they’ve been touring that album for eighteen months solid and cracks in Faker’s “fiery indie rock set” (© Webcuts 2007) façade are beginning to show. Exhibit a) only three songs from Addicted Romantic are aired, the rest are fairly obvious selections from …Twilight b) Nicholas Munnings has moved to lead guitar and a dude resembling a roadie on speed is now playing bass and c) Nathan Hudson’s clamber up the speaker stacks and subsequent jump down is no longer the thrill it used to be.  A new song is aired, which indicates a possible down-beat electronic path for the band, before they round up the set somewhat predictably with “Sleepwalking” and commercial radio/TV promo stalwart “This Heart Attack”. We would advise Faker to remember the three R’s — Rest, regroup and re-fresh.

Luke Pritchard from The KooksAs night falls and copious amounts of alcohol and to our surprise, corn on the cob, are consumed thousands descend upon the Riverstage to await the arrival of The Kooks. Webcuts isn’t too excited about the The Kooks to be honest. If it was fifteen years ago when Britpop was all systems go then their English accent vocal inflections, mix of Kinks acoustic guitar and staccato strummed rock anthems, a la Supergrass combined with fifth form poetry would’ve seen us up the front. It is 2009 however, and like DC Root try as we might we just can’t warm to Luke Pritchard’s delivery. They band play a tight set though, cherry picking selections from their two albums and seem to push all the right buttons. As we look around and notice the ear to ear grins spread across the crowd, we realise maybe it’s just us.

The Hives however, proceed to blow all proceeding artists — both the good and the average — completely out of the water. Marching out into the staid air with immaculate white dinner jackets, black shirts and trousers and striped ties, they immediately gain points for their admirable, if foolish, favouring of form over function. Careering into “Walk Idiot Walk” singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is almost a blur whipping around the stage like a rabid animal, part Jagger part Iggy.

His bravado and frequent arrogant mouthing off would be idle boasting if The Hives didn’t have the songs to back it up. They do: “You Dress Up for Armageddon”, “Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones” and “I Hate to Say I Told You So” apart from having long titles in common, are three minute blasts of classic garage rock — simple riffs, whip sharp percussion and shout-a-long choruses which make perfect festival fodder. Halfway through the set the sound is abruptly cut, due to amp damage or time restrictions, no one’s entirely sure, but it gives Pete material for the rest of the set continually reminding Brisbane that “You don’t cut the power on the Hives’. In-fucking-deed.

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist from The Hives

Day Two: Thursday 8 January 2009

Sunset Sounds Day two is slightly less populated and thus a more relaxed affair. Although the grey skies threaten to unleash their bounty they never do but at least make the heat more palatable although the humidity still reaches sauna like levels.

I Heart Hiroshima are well regarded in Brisbane but their trebly mix, partly due to lacking a bass player, rudimentary blues riffs and shouted vocals make this reviewer break out in a cold sweat as we are transported back to the riot grrrl movement. Though tracks like “PUNKS”, which has some semblance of melody, have an awkward charm and show more promise.

One of Santogold's dancers
Dancer recruitment 101
Brooklyn, New York, several months previously: Santogold – “Hey, I need two dancers to keep me company on stage. All you have to do is look badass and sporadically dance like there’s a thousand volts coursing through your body. The rest of the time, just stand real still. It’s like Public Enemy’s SW1 crew but, yknow, female. You’ll get flown to around the world, free drugs, as much bling as you can wear and best of all, get paid. Oh and you’ll be wearing some killer shades even at night”. Dancers –“Shit yeah, were in!”.

We were looking forward to Santogold as both aurally and visually she stands out from most of the acts gracing Sunset Sounds’ stages but we can’t help but wonder how she’ll translate live. As it turns out half her set is taken up by a DJ mashing up a pedestrian mix of rock and hip-hop before Santi White, resplendent in a gold outfit, treads the boards. This is a PA performance so she sings over the top of her records while an imposing female dancer on either side fills the stage. The new wave pop “L.E.S. Artistes”, dark dub of “Anne” and even the MIA style hip-hop “Creator”, are admirable songs delivered with relish, although obviously they don’t stray too much from the recorded versions. Ms White recruits a dozen audience members onto the stage to gyrate inanely for the last number and then it’s all over. Admittedly Santogold only has enough material for thirty-five odd minutes but we still feel a little short changed by the whole affair.

Patience Hodgson of the GratesWebcuts has a wander to check out the other stages and discovers the leafy surrounds of the Botanic Gardens stage and Melbourne’s Blue King Brown. Now reggae/roots/blues isn’t really our bag but we’re impressed by the blue striped eye makeup of singer Natalie Pa’apa’a and the undeniably talented twelve piece band on stage. It’s just not enough to hold our interest for more than a couple of songs though and so we trundle back to the main arena for homecoming heroes The Grates. We’re perturbed initially to see the usual energetic, jumping jack flash singer Patience Hodgson sitting down on a golden throne but all is revealed when Patience explains the situation is due to a rock move gone wrong at a previous gig causing a sprained ankle. That she still manages a wide eyed, jubilant performance is a testament to her talent and permanent jovial demeanour.

Apart from the throne fit for a queen the stage is decked out with giant revolving stars, multi-coloured pillars and inhabited by an assortment of dancing characters (the grim reaper, astronaut, rabbit and er, a chicken) which just add to the sense of fun. For the band to be playing a homecoming gig with thousands in attendance all going apeshit and shouting the words to punk-pop anthems like “Science Is Golden”, “Aw Yeah” and “Burn Bridge” must be truly — wait for it — gratefying.

The Hibiscus stage is the smallest of the three stages and a perfect place to sit down and relax away from the sweaty hordes. In this setting we are introduced to locals The Boat People and find they are the perfect soundtrack for our evening meal. Catchy indie rock — like a grungier Lucksmiths – three part harmonies and self deprecating humour between sets. What’s not to like?

Alex Kapranos of Franz FerdinandThe Hives’ performance is still the talk of the festival so it is with an air of expectation that the four members of Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand stride onto the main stage. Suited and booted in matching red and black attire Alex, Bob, Nick and Paul are certainly not going to be outdone sartorially wise. As they launch into boisterous hit “You Could Have it so Much Better” it’s apparent they’re also going to give The Hives a run for their money musically as well. Career defining singles “Dark of the Matinee” and “Take Me Out” are early highlights but we begin to wonder whether it is a smart move to play the crowd pleasers so soon. Our fears prove unfounded as songs from their new album Tonight – Franz Ferdinand such as the steely, electro-disco thump of “Ulysses” and dark techno odyssey “Lucid Dreams” sound terrific and appease the masses.

Any suspicions that Franz Ferdinand would do a Kraftwork and be situated behind a row of laptops prove unfounded as Alex swaps between front man and knob twiddler roles seamlessly. The pounding, choppy guitar masterwork of “Michael” proves a mid-set crowd pleaser and as the epic closer “This Fire” morphs into an instrumental wig out, everyone leaves tired but elated eager to get home to their laptops and download the new album.

Sunset Sounds — you successfully lived up to your name and proved that a once unthinkable concept of a mid-week, two day festival in the heart of Brisbane city could be the surprise hit of the summer — we salute you!

View many more Sunset Sounds photos at Charlyn Cameron’s website or Flickr site.