Monday, April 02, 2007

V Festival 2007, Sydney

Does Sydney really need so many festivals? Well, probably not, but with a plethora of international talent on offer at V, punters were happy enough to stump up the cash for yet another day in a field. However, here’s a tip for festival organisers, if you want a reviewer to review the bands you are putting on display, it might be worth making sure they get in on time. I stood in a queue with of host of other Very Important People after the music had started, while stewards tried to organise a wristband to verify that I was over 18. Ironically when the wristbands arrived, my companion, who wasn’t over 18, was happily handed one with no ID check. It’s good to see the system works. Anyway, once through the gates with freedom to responsibly drink alcohol, I took in Sydney’s own Mercy Arms (below), who got proceedings off to a bracing start, with Thom’s vocals soaring over their classically-structured epics, which, as always, were played with honesty and conviction. Judging by this showing, they might just steal your heart this year. Meanwhile, Melbourne’s The Temper Trap embellished their excellent live show by adding a string section which gave nice depth to their fast-paced, invigorating guitar tunes. And yes music fans, that was indeed Bridezilla’s supercool Daisy on violin.While LA’s Softlightes made the most of the beautiful sunshine to woo the crowd with their dreamy, melodic, experimental pop, local kids The Ghosts put in another sterling performance which illustrated exactly why their star continues to ascend at pace. Gabby’s vocal has never sounded so good. This is a band that improves with every performance.

By the time Melbourne’s Muscles had made an energetic surprise appearance, the crowd had noticeably swelled in anticipation of the arrival of Phoenix. “Good evening, my friends,” said frontman Thomas, even though it was only 3.15pm. Still, we happily forgave the much-loved Frenchmen for their slightly incorrect use of English, as they played neat, tight indietronica so charming that the world seemed a much nicer place by the end of their set.
Another French act, Nouvelle Vague, offered some kitsch, instantly disposable bossa nova covers of classic indie songs, including The Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen In Love?, while elsewhere rock dinosaurs New York Dolls churned their way through an ugly set. Meanwhile, those who sought fun danced along to English quintet New Young Pony Club (above), who had the crowd practically turning cartwheels with their funky favourite, Ice Cream.
“It’s getting a bit chilly in’t it? I hope you’ve brought a cardigan,” said Jarvis Cocker in his familiar northern English drawl. An astonishing 29 years after he formed Pulp as a geeky teenager, the songwriter brought his legendary dance moves to V just as the sun was setting, and performed a collection of solo material which sounded as fresh and important as ever. Between songs, the bespectacled crooner threw confectionary treats into the crowd and chatted with such humour and affability that one would have been forgiven for thinking each and every audience member was a close friend of his. For many people, including me, Cocker (below) represents pure genius, and why anybody chose to be anywhere other than watching his wondrously beguiling performance is a mystery. Following Cocker’s majestic show, Beck really didn’t live up to expectations. He played his hits, his band members had a dance-off and the ingenious live puppet display was a clever touch, but there seemed to be a piece of the jigsaw missing. Mr Hansen was clearly lacking his usual spark, and was apparently suffering from the remnants of a bout of flu. While an off-colour Beck is still more entertaining than many fully-fit artists, the great man is capable of far, far more spectacular performances than this. After all, when the best thing about your gig is a puppet show, you know you’re not at the top of your game.
With queues for the bars and the toilets stretching as far as the eye could see, people who wanted to either expell or intake liquid were frantically checking their watches, as it was soon to be time for the arrival of two really big-hitters from overseas, who, due to the capriciousness of festival timetables, annoyingly performed pretty-much simultaneously. Purveyors of intelligent synth-pop, Pet Shop Boys (below) played hit after hit to a joyous crowd. Sartorially stunning, and with great visuals and dancers, the English duo can really put on a show. It’s also easy to forget just how many classic tunes they’ve penned, and, as the opening bars of each song rang out, the crowd yelped in utter delight. Amongst others, we were treated to Rent, Suburbia and Always On My Mind. Camper than Christmas and infinitely more fun, Pet Shop Boys’ magnificent performance was unquestionably the most enjoyable of the day. Quite simply, those who missed it, missed out.
People who tore themselves away from the Pet Shop Boys experience to finally see Pixies literally role into town might have initially felt slightly disappointed. Sure, they played absolutely faultlessly, but with a serious lack of interaction with the crowd, one sensed they were simply going through the motions. However, all it took was to hear one of their seminal songs to remember just why they are so well-loved. After all, how can anyone stand in the middle of a field with thousands of likeminded fellows singing the “oooh” parts to Where Is My Mind? and not have the best time ever?

After hollering along with abandon to Gigantic, Sydney waved farewell to the American legends, probably for good, and a jubilant crowd shuffled home in the knowledge that they’d just been entertained by one of the most influential bands of all time. So memorable was the overall experience that it no longer seemed to matter whether Pixies had come here to fulfil their desire to play to Australian audiences or merely to milk the cash cow dry.

So, does the city really need another festival? Well, any event that has the clout to offer such an impressive line-up is surely a welcome addition. More of the same next year please.

Review by Rob Townsend

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