St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (02.03.08)

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So I went to what will hopefully be my last gig for a long time on Sunday (I seriously need rehab for my full-blown gig addiction) – St Jerome’s Laneway Festival was splendid! There should be more micro-gigs in Australia where independent and unsigned bands are given its own prime space for the year. That said, there have been a rather ridiculous amount of festivals coming through in recent years: Future Music, Parklife, Good Vibrations, V Festival, and that’s all on top of the annual Big Day Out, Homebake, and inaugural Splendour In The Grass (for which tickets are freakin’ impossible to get!). It seems that jmag got it right with their latest issue – “electro is killing pub gigs”.

But it’s not just electro – music itself seems to be moving in the digital direction, as downloads of both the illegal and legal kind taking its toll on CD and record sales, thereby significantly reducing the average income for musos. So really, what choice do they have other than to tour, and tour often. Not that I’m complaining – the microbyted quality of an mp3 is nothing compared to the atmosphere at a live gig. And what better way to sample all of this mind-blowing music than via a festival. The only thing you have to worry about is time clashes like Gotye being on at the same time as The Presets and The Brunettes, or Broken Social Scene being on at the same time as Dan Deacon – clashes of which I fiercely shake my fist to.

Anyhoo, below is a gig review I drummed up for Sunday’s glorious event. I submitted it to FasterLouder, but it didn’t get published because the editor of The Brag (Elmo Keep) got in first. Grrr..

Photos are on my Facebook by the way! And there are a gazillion if you look them up on Flickr.

——-

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival

Circular Quay, Sydney

02.03.08

With the onslaught of music festivals in recent years, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is a little ray of sunshine in a darkened alley of otherwise mind-numbing genres. Indeed, the clouds threatened a downpour as punters rocked up in their decidedly individualist garb – flannel shirts and wayfarer sunnies in equal parts please.

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But no matter, the sun proved its staying power and was cheerfully helped along by the power pop sounds of a suit-wearing trio. Performing to a handful of early Sunday morning risers on the stage closest to the entrance, The Basics gave a charmingly observed set as the first act of the day. Wally de Backer, a.k.a. Gotye sat hidden in the back, possibly to give his long time band mates Tim Heath and Kris Schroeder some time in the spotlight. Despite their shining tunes, it was clear that Wally quietly outshone his crew with his stunning vocals and mild drummer gymnastics, the drum kit left shaking from his beats.

Ghostwood have been playing the live scene for a good 18 months, and their punk rock drawl often brings a fairly strong crowd to their shows, curious onlookers included. That said, they did little to maximise the laneway space of Reiby Place to their potential and left a promising sound quite unfulfilled. On a similar plane, there followed The Devastations who unfurled their own brand of moody rock to a politely intrigued crowd. Unfortunately, I wasn’t intrigued enough so it was back to the Park Stage for some swing dancing via Little Red.

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The Melbourne boys of Little Red continued the do-wopping trend set by The Basics as they filled the canopied area with sweet tunes of holding hands and monogamous relationships. With the joyous fizzy dream of an ice cream soda, their marriage of The Kinks ’ pop-rocks and Beach Boys groove sent a growing crowd to partake in their own brand of toe-tapping, though their rock star swagger and throbbing bass lines provided a curious sexual lining to their otherwise innocent personas.

Indeed, the Laneway Festival provides a platform for new and upcoming bands to strut their stuff to a smorgasboard of indie enthusiasts where music tastes are as diverse as they are intriguing. Perhaps the most curiosity-driven crowd arrived when Manchester Orchestra took the Reiby Place stage, and with a name as poetic as that, one almost expects a string ensemble to join their otherwise tempered rock. With vocals reminiscent of Placebo, Manchester Orchestra gave Sydney a solid performance to their music on the back of their, ahem, virgin record, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. The crowd threw appreciative applause as lead singer Andy Hull bestowed his pleasantries on them to see his band.

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From there, this reviewer inched back towards the Park Stage with sausage and notepad in tow to witness emerging Australian darlings The Panics. The sheer volume of the crowd became apparent as the path to the front barrier was quickly obstructed by devoted fans sitting put and staking their claim to the popular stage. The Panics are quickly becoming infused into the Australian music psyche, not unlike the lads of You Am I. With a third album firmly latched under their well-worn belts, The Panics launched into the oh-so-familiar tracks from A House on a Street in a Town I’m From, and Sleeps Like A Curse. A faulty keyboard threw off their performance with a “ghostly” jarring to their otherwise melodramatic blend of rock and psychedelia. As the stage crew attempted to replace the keyboard with what sounded like a second faulty one, lead singer Jae Laffer unleashed a torrent of F-bombs, a testimony to his admission that he doesn’t “work well under stress”. But worry not, for all was forgotten as guitarist Julian Douglas led an arm waving of support as the familiar opening chords of Don’t Fight It filled our ears. Technical glitches cut the set short, but the adoring crowd really couldn’t give a flying fuck – pleasing is as pleasing does.

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Soon after, Stars blended dreamy pop tunes with the ever-melodious Torquil Campbell. The trees lining the area provided a fitting atmosphere for the stronghold of fans – one girl sang along word perfect to each and every one of their musical offerings. Amy Millan stuck a decided brash rock chick persona, her part balanced by Torquil’s exuberant singing and clapping – an action that’s seemingly become a crucial part of indie pop. Indeed, the fun was just beginning as Torquil introduced a song about “fucking someone to death” with a well-observed Australian accent, providing a violently prosaic tinge to their set with One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead).

A last minute change and clash to the timetable meant there was no way I was forgoing the next band for Dan Deacon, no matter how amazing people say he is. Kevin Drew emerged with the ever-expansive Broken Social Scene. To say that this band is a supergroup is a profound understatement. There is definitely something brewing in those Canadian waters – the sheer quality of musicians coming out of that place over the past few years is mind-blowing, and Broken Social Scene are no exception. If you thought their gorgeous layers of orchestral joy and guitar noise was splendid on CD, then seeing them play it live is like a whole new revelation.

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Opening to the chorus of audience anticipation, the band dallied across the stage, their fingers articulated in concentration. Stars And Sons provided the first high of the set as Leslie Feist , Stars, and a slew of other members clapped their way into the hearts of an already adoring crowd before skipping off to the sidelines, their figures still visibly dancing. 7/4 (Shoreline) was another highlight as Feist gave us another reason to love her wily ways amidst the stunning cacophony of brass-wielding members. Torquil came out with his trumpet and a nod to his own Australian idol via his emblazoned t-shirt – “I Miss Grant McLennan” – as the air practically hummed with euphoria.

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Feist
Part Three of the Broken Social Scene takeover of Sydney came as Leslie Feist took the stage for her solo act leaving Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to puncture her ballads and iPod passengers from the Reiby Place stage with their stellar guitar. That said, Ms Feist radiated powerful Joni Mitchell vibes as she came on stage soon after sunset with her lantern. So interchangeable she seemed that the blues guitar of Janis Joplin, the soft lilting voice of Jane Birkin, and even the brash persona of Stevie Nicks came soaring through her performances. Feist cruised through most of her latest album, jarring the spaces between songs with the odd “fuck you” to the doof-doof sounds of neighbouring stages.

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The Presets

But enough Canadian joy for tonight, as a handful of punters shuffled back to Reiby Place to catch The Presets last performance before their stint in the UK. I would’ve liked to have seen The Brunettes, but the Basement was decidedly out of bounds having reached full capacity about 3 hours previously. That said, a night with The Presets is a guaranteed night well-spent as the electro duo shot through their tracks with the precision of a dance sniper – so compelling were their beats that one really had no option but to dance. Are You The One? and My People proved the biggest hits of the night as the crowd sent St Jerome’s off to the musical ether for another year.

As the dispersing crowd headed for the exit, Gotye finished up at the Park Stage with the closing sounds of Night Drive. And so it was with the rising chorus and sheer joy of his mantra Learnalilgivinanlovin ’ that this punter headed home with gleefully imploding back muscles and a day’s worth of aural splendour.

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