Monday, February 13, 2012

Laneway Festival at Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle

Heidi Pett and Bobby Townsend headed to Sydney’s Laneway Festival and did their best not to melt in the sun. Here's Heidi's review and Bobby's photos: 

Sydney’s Laneway on Sunday had all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from the now national festival, which continues to expand from its beginnings back in Melbourne several years ago. A noticeable lack of denim underwear clamped tight to orange thighs, an impeccable lineup and a polite crowd of music lovers. You would think this might be par for the course at a music festival, but unfortunately it’s often not. In marked contrast to the heaving trains funnelling hordes of teenagers to last month’s Big Day Out, soundtracked to a chorus of “where’ve ya hidden yer flask?” the bus to Rozelle was populated by excited chatter about favourite acts and planning a day of feverish stage-hopping. It’s very obvious that most Laneway punters go for the music. Well, that and the fah-shon. Picking our way through lush grass and fig trees on the way into the Sydney College of the Arts in Rozelle, we were greeted by friendly volunteers at the gate before heading into the college itself, the sandstone buildings already radiating heat as the strains of Husky’s History’s Door drifted across the site. Beautifully dressed, bright-though-already-wilting young things were clinging to the shade, pressing themselves into the walls.

A quick wander around the site led to the Carpark Stage, where The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were breezing through an enjoyable set of their trademark sweet-but-not-saccharine, noisy indie pop. As EMA was all rolling drums and red tights on the elaborately-named Eat Your Own Ears & Young Turks Stage, Jonti - a bouncing, flourishing little explosion of energy - was certainly having a good time over on the Windish stage. Portugal. The Man (below) were similarly energetic during a powerful, infectious and very danceable pysch-folk set that would prove to be one of the day’s highlights. They wore good shoes too.

Despite decades’ worth of songs etching his name into zillions of hearts, Neil Finn is not above being his own roadie, pottering about the stage helping out during set up. His current outfit, Pajama Club (above), purveyed a fuller sound than punters may have expected if they were looking for a reincarnated Crowded House, but as bassist Sharon yes-she’s-Neil’s-wife Finn so eloquently put it when I interviewed her recently, “they can get fucked”.

The band were entertaining and very much at ease, with Neil suggesting at one point that, “Sean might provide some small ambient moment while I tune,” at which they keys player issued a growling sort of hum into the mic, drawing laughter from the crowd, before the band resumed a set populated by songs which, although very different to the pop of Finn’s earlier projects, nonetheless showcased his knack for great melodies.

The six members of Austra whirled on stage, complete with pretty indie dancing girls (below), even though for many in the crowd it was getting too hot to stand, let alone dance, at that point. By the time Laura Marling (below) arrived, looking serene and composed in a white shirt and sunnies, the mid-afternoon sun was relentlessly attacking those watching her perform, burning the pale skin of Sydneysiders no longer accustomed to sunlight, and searing through skintight jeans. While Marling’s dark, brooding subject matter and steadily building folk tunes were perhaps not built for delivery in the blistering sunshine, her set was still simply beautiful.

Anna Calvi (below) arrived a vision of red and black elegance and worked her way through some dark indie tunes in which she illustrated her virtuoso guitar skills as boys and girls alike swooned. Elsewhere, Glasser was getting an enthusiastic audience moving and Yuck (pictured, top) belted out a fine collection of songs which combined fuzzy post-grunge with the indie sweetness of Teenage Fanclub.

The Drums were good fun, their set populated by crowd favourites including latest hit Money, as well as breakthrough Let’s Go Surfing. Unfortunately, the sound seemed a little off, rendering their indie surf tunes muddy and indistinct.

Feist put on one of the standout performances of the day over at the Carpark Stage; this tiny, sharp, angular woman was surprisingly high energy, jumping about and thrashing her guitar through a set which featured a nice mix of songs from new album Metals and old favourites, including I Feel It All, which had the crowd singing along. It was a mesmerising performance, as she played down-tempo, dramatic versions of many of her songs, including opener My Moon My Man, accompanied by the girls from Mountain Man on backup vocals, in borderline cultish matching dresses. It all seemed to end too soon, and indeed the short set concluded at 7pm instead of the scheduled ten past, leaving me with Limit To Your Love stuck in my head in anticipation.

After The Horrors put in a fairly solid yet somehow uninspiring display, M83 (below) closed the Carpark Stage with a fantastic stage set-up, brilliant lighting and sound so loud that it threatened to rip the head from the shoulders of anyone who dared venture too near an amp (just ask Bobby, who was in the photo-pit and still can’t hear out of his right ear a week on).

The rush was then on to make it to the central stage for SBTRKT, who conveniently started twenty minutes late due to sound issues which seemed to plague a few acts throughout the day. Eventually, the masked producer had the exhausted crowd dancing on their last legs to end what was a long, hot but enjoyable day, with the opening beats of single Wildfire greeted by roars of approval.

The main complaint from Laneway punters seems to be the incredulous “Whhyyy would they put Fantastic Band X and Amazing Band Y on at the same time?”, but clashes are difficult to avoid with this kind of lineup, which this year was peppered with a strong showing of female artists who took out the highlights of the day. With impressively daggy new t-shirt tans we trooped back out the gates, reluctantly dragging feet sore from a day of dancing and running from stage to stage.

Review by Heidi Pett. Pictures and a bit of gushing about Laura Marling by Bobby Townsend

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