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Homebake 2009 Review

Homebake, the annual all Aussie (and Kiwi) music festival, was held in The Domain in Sydney last Saturday. And by nearly all measurements, it was a resounding success.

I travelled up to Sydney from Melbourne for basically the sole reason of attending Homebake. I had heard glowing praise for previous Homebake festivals, and the lineup was to die for. Needless to say, I was expecting a fair bit from this day. Just like the other 20,000 people at the festival, I was not disappointed.

All photos here were taken by me. Please do not reproduce them without asking permission. Thankyou.

First Impressions

I arrived at the venue just as gates were opening, and so did half of Sydney by the looks of things. The line to get inside was massive, but this was inevitable, but others in the line made their own entertainment (one brave guy ran up and down the line in front of police officer yelling that he was selling ‘Sniff And Win’ tickets).

It took about 30 minutes to get inside, which actually wasn’t that bad considering. Security was pretty tight I thought, including getting patted-down as entering, and police sniffer dogs circling the lines. It was also good to see that the festival wristband was a proper wristband, not a stupid sticker. The weather was absolutely perfect for a festival: not too hot, and not wet (although I imagine there would be a certain epic-ness to a festival in the rain).

Once inside, me and my mate who had travelled up to Sydney with me headed eagerly to the first act of the day.

Philadelphia Grand Jury

The reason I had arrived early was so that I could see these guys play. They were added to the Homebake lineup as part of the second announcement, and were one of the main attractions of the festival for me.

I saw these guys ages ago when they opened for Yves Klein Blue (who also played Homebake, more on them later), and they were absolutely and completely mental. They even passed out their instruments to the crowd and got us to play along to the song. I was looking forward to a dose of Philly J insanity to start off the festival.

Unfortunately, it turned out that one-third of the band (they were a duo when I saw them open for Yves Klein Blue, but they have since recruited a drummer), MC Bad Genius, had bronchitis, and was feeling pretty under the weather. Probably as a result of this, coupled with the fact that their style isn’t really suited to outdoor venues, they seemed fairly underwhelming.

Berkfinger, singer and guitarist, did his best to keep the energy up, but the crowd was just warming up, and their set never really got going. the Philly J’s debut album, ‘Hope Is For Hopers’, is a great LP, and the best song off it, The Good News, was undoubtable the highlight of their performance. However their trademark insanity (which saw Berkfinger break his own glasses when opening for Yves Klein Blue) was still missing.

I Don’t Want To Party (Party) went over well with the crowd, which was perhaps surprising given that its message was in direct contrast with what we were all feeling. They closed with Going To The Casino (Tomorrow Night), where some of their insane genius was revealed, but it was probably too little too late.

Although I still enjoyed their show, my mate and I found that we’d prefer to just sit in the shade nearby and listen, rather than stand in the crowd, because there really wasn’t much energy around. It was a pretty chill start to the festival, then, and it is very disappointing that MC Bad Genius had bronchitis and the Philly J’s couldn’t do themselves credit. Plus, of course, they had an extremely hard time-slot, opening the festival on the main stage.

I look forward to seeing them live again when they’re feeling a bit more like themselves.

Boy & Bear

Wow. Where to start with these guys?

Boy & Bear won the Triple J Homebake competition to earn their right to play at Homebake, and it’s hard to imagine them not going from strength-to-strength after this. They played to a packed Hopetoun stage area (more a massive tent than anything), and the crowd seemed to know their stuff fairly well, despite them having only truly released one single.

This is a band in their absolute infancy (lead singer Dave Hosking pointed out that their bassist was loosing his ‘festival virginity’ at Homebake), but they are incredibly tight live, and have what seems to be quite an impressive array of as-of-yet unrecorded songs.

Having not heard them properly before, I struggled to think of ways to describe their sound while I was watching them play. They definitely are heavily influenced by Fleet Foxes in particular, but closer to home sound a bit like Leader Cheetah and The Middle East as well. I settled on Mumford And Sons, without the banjo.

They had the whole crowd, which they said was easily twice as big as their previous biggest ever crowd, in a trance with their gorgeous three-part harmonies and catchy folk guitar hooks.

The two songs that they have up on their Triple J unearthed page were received very strongly by the crowd. The Storm builds up from a chillout song à la Jon Swift to a very intricate song that can’t help but stir memories of The Middle East, and it worked absolutely amazingly live. Meanwhile Mexican Mavis is very very Fleet Foxes, although I probably prefer it to anything that the Seattle folk outfit have ever done (*ducks head from incoming projectiles*). Its more rock chorus suited the Hopetoun Tent perfectly.

I can guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about this outfit on Pluck. I can’t really post any more about their set, simply because I don’t know the names of any of their other songs. I look forward to their recordings and any other chance to see them live, and for me, their set signalled the true start of Homebake.

It was a beautiful, beautiful performance, and it is little wonder that these guys won the Triple J competition.

The Middle East

Unfortunately, despite my new-found love for Boy & Bear, I had to leave their set a few minutes early to ensure that I could get a prime position for The Middle East, who were playing at The Dome, at the other side of The Domain.

I had seen this outfit live before, and the fact that their lyrics inspire the name of this blog should give you some idea of how much I love them. They were one of the main drawing cards of Homebake for me, and it was obvious I wasn’t alone in thinking this.

The Dome was an interesting stage, essentially a smaller version of the massive Main Stage, but not as intimate as Hopetoun. A few minutes late, members of The Middle East appeared on stage, all seven of them. A few beards have been trimmed since last time I saw them live, but as they started their first song, it was immediately clear that they were still the same band I fell in love with.

The Middle East have decided not to rush into their debut full-length album, but rather spend their time touring around the country and building a very strong fanbase. Their most recent show in Victoria, at the Corner Hotel, sold out in only a few days, so their strategy certainly seems to be working. However it would be nice to see the album sometime soon, as if their performance at Homebake was anything to judge by, they easily have enough stellar songs to work into an album.

The thing that struck me most about The Middle East’s performance was how truly humble they are. The seven of them just stood and sat on stage and worked their craft, heads mostly down and eyes sometimes closed. For many people I’m sure this would be a bit of a downer, but it suits their sound so perfectly. The crowd just chilled and swayed, and it was magical.

They are all amazingly talented musicians as well. Each member changed instruments after virtually every song, making for a wide variety of sounds from song-to-song. The Darkest Side was a mid-set highlight: the moment when Bree starts singing the lead vocals will never fail to send shivers down my spine, especially when live.

The atmosphere of the crowd would probably have seemed strange to anyone not familiar to the band: I’m hard pressed to remember a more relaxed, surreal sensation at a massive music festival. It was made only stranger by the loud sounds emanating vaguely from the Main Stage. It was a great and unique feeling, and I’ll remember it for a long time to come.

Of course, the highlight of the set was Blood. There’s not much about this song I can say that hasn’t already been said, but suffice to say that it is a song of pure and absolute beauty. Live, it is simply majestic. Unfortunately the band forgot the words halfway through, which is strange for such a well-travelled live act, but indicative of the pressure they must have been feeling as a quiet folk band playing at a huge rock festival.

The mistake meant that I didn’t hear my favourite line of the song, that which is the title of my music blog, but it strangely only served to make the show more… special. The band didn’t disappoint, and some new of their more rockier songs sounded very promising and will be great recorded.

The Middle East were a bit of idyllic beauty in the madness of a 20,000 strong festival crowd. And how I love them for it.

Paul Dempsey

Another big reason I travelled up to Sydney was for Paul Dempsey. He is the current lead singer of Something for Kate, who have produced a string of consistent records including moments of true inspiration, such as single Déjà Vu. However he has also recently released his debut solo album, ‘Everything Is True’, which is an absolute gem of an LP.

I hadn’t seen him live previously, so I was looking forward to hearing this Homebake stalwart. He had the unfortunate timeslot that clashed with Eskimo Joe on the Main Stage, however The Dome was still absolutely packed, a tribute to his constant drawing power.

Opening with an acoustic guitar and aviators, both of which would later be shed, Paul Dempsey started with some more acoustic songs, however this was not a solo show; he was accompanied by a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, unlike some of his other shows he has been doing around the country.

The acoustic songs washed over the crowd nicely, however Paul was having a few problems with sounds that interrupted the flow of the set. The sound of Eskimo Joe was also clearly audible over the sound of The Dome, especially during quieter songs. Paul swapped to an electric guitar mid-set, which helped the problem a bit.

My favourite song off ‘Everything Is True’, Ramona Was A Waitress, worked perfectly live, as the crowd chanted “At all, at all, at all, at all, AT ALLLLLL” along with Paul. Out The Airlock was another highlight, as was Bats, which Paul dedicated to bats he had seen around The Domain.

The only disappointment was the lack of Paul’s excellent cover of MGMT’s Time To Pretend, however I guess this only really appears during Paul’s solo shows, usually as an encore.

Paul Dempsey’s set was very enjoyable, especially as he rocked out a bit more to compete with Eskimo Joe. He was very appreciative of the crowd, noting that they chose his stage over “all kinds of other cool stuff” that was going on. It was great to see him having such a good time. The packed stage proved both the universal attractiveness of ‘Everything Is True’, and the longevity of Paul as one of Australia’s great musicians.

Yves Klein Blue

I honestly believe that Yves Klein Blue are one of the best live bands you can see in Australia at the moment, including all the great international bands that are touring.

I was thrilled to see them live for a second time, and even more thrilled that they were playing the smaller Hopetoun Stage. They were one of the few bands today that I was perfectly happy to sacrifice seeing another act to get a good spot in front for. And it was a good thing I did as well, because before the band had even taken the stage the massive tent was completely full, with the crowd spilling out into the surrounding grass areas.

The atmosphere was electric.

They took the stage, opening with Silence Is Distance, off their EP ‘Yves Klein Blue Draw Attention To Themselves’, but left out from the debut LP ‘Ragged & Ecstatic’. Straight away you knew that this was going to be a special show. Night was falling just as the band started playing, making for a beautiful scene outside the tent. Everyone’s attention was a bit more focused on the band, however.

Yves Klein Blue belted out a set full of absolutely brilliant songs from their album, and they are a truly awesome live act. If it was possible, they have developed even more as a band since I saw them earlier this year. It helped that the crowd was absolutely into it, as it was the perfect time of the festival and everyone had consumed a fair amount of expensive beers. Credit to organisers for putting Yves Klein Blue on at such a perfect time, in the perfect location, and with an hour-long set.

The longer set allowed the band to explore some deeper cuts, including playing old favourite 19, which was a highlight. They also ripped out their tried and tested cover of The Boss’ Born To Run, which was absolutely exhilarating. Lead singer Michael’s solo effort with About The Future was also amazing, the way he manages to work such emotion into the song every time he plays it is a credit to him as a performer.

Without a doubt however, the best moment of the show came as the band played those unmistakable opening keyboard strokes of Getting Wise. Words cannot really describe the atmosphere at the front of the crowd for this song. Not only was every single person singing along, to the point where Michael’s voice was almost drowned out, but there was genuine moshing. The energy was unbelievable, considering that Yves Klein Blue aren’t really a heavy rock band.

The band seemed to feed off the energy in the tent, and its hard to imagine this wasn’t one of the most exciting live shows they’ve ever played. Michael pointed out that the band were very proud of their tent, and as they should be, because no matter what was going on at the Main Stage, it couldn’t have possibly been as good as this.

Yves Klein Blue followed Getting Wise with a song nearly just as good, their hit Polka. Michael got the crowd to sing the first verse for him, and there was something very inspiring about hearing everyone sing in unison, even if they lyrics to the song are all about the pros of doing drugs: “And if you ever take too much, or if you’re ever coming down, remember that’s much better than never ever getting enough” was a lyric sung by every single person in Hopetoun.

The band closed with Queeny, and their energy was only matched by that of the crowd, who by this point were mostly shirtless and crowdsurfing. After finishing the set, Michael followed suit and threw himself off the stage into the crowd, only to be grabbed by a few people and carried around the room, and eventually, believe it or not, out of the tent entirely.

So the show was over, with no sign of Michael getting back anytime soon. I really had the feeling that I had just experienced a unique performance, with unparalleled energy and excitement. Yves Klein Blue were just electric, with Michael as the perfect frontman, and the crowd was exhilarating.

Yves Klein Blue were far and away the highlight of Homebake for me, their gig was a true experience and the perfect festival performance.

Powderfinger

And so it was time for Powderfinger, the headliners of Homebake for 2009.

It immediately became obvious why the organisers had scheduled other big acts for the same time as Powderfinger, because if all 20,000 people had converged on the Main Stage at the same time, it simply would not have worked. So they obviously tried to distract some people away with acts such as Eddy Current Suppression Ring, which I’m sure would have been amazing at Hopetoun, and Sarah Blasko.

I’m not sure how well it worked however, because there were sure a hell of a lot of people at Powderfinger; a massive sea of people. Me and my friend managed to get about ten rows from the front, which we thought was a pretty decent effort, however there was absolutely no hope of getting any closer. Small price to pay for witnessing Yves Klein Blue in all their glory beforehand however.

Powderfiner were one of my first live gigs, back during their ‘Vulture Street’ tour. I was excited to hear their rather magnificent selection of older songs, and looking forward to hearing some songs off their new offering, ‘Golden Rule’. The band appeared on stage, silhouetted by the magnificent backdrop, to the recorded sound of El Camino De La Muerta, the introduction to ‘Golden Rule’.

They opened with All Of The Dreamers, the first single off their new LP, which grows on me every time I hear it, and works great live. The crowd was huge and were understandably very excited to see one of Australia’s premier rock groups, however it inevitably seemed like a bit of an anti-climax after Yves Klein Blue.

The opener set the mood for the rest of the set, which was dominated by new songs off ‘Golden Rule’ and the previous album, ‘Dream Days At The Hotel Existence’. Although I enjoy both of these albums, I really was hoping for a stronger showing from older songs.

Love Your Way was magical, and (Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind was epic. New single Burn Your Mind, of which I wasn’t a real fan of in studio form, was absolutely uplifting as Bernard Fanning sung “I want every single soul to know that I love you for what you are”.

The crowd seemed just a bit tired, and although this didn’t have an impact during the big songs, I got the feeling that everyone (including myself) was feeling a little weary during some of their lesser-known songs.

The highlight of the set for me was My Happiness, which is just a gorgeous song, and was awe-inspiring in a crowd of 15,000 odd people who knew all the words. That Powderfinger had not played this personal favourite last time I saw them live only added to the moment.

The band finished their performance with a very brief encore, playing only Bless My Soul, which was of course awesome. The one-and-a-quarter-hour set was nowhere near enough of the ‘Finger however. Notable absences included Sunsets, Iberian Dream, my favourite song off ‘Golden Rule’ and one I was sure they would play live, Thrilloilogy, and of course These Days (bringing out the piano for Bernard was just tantalising).

It is a sign of the skill of the ‘Finger that after such a huge day; after all the live music I had witnessed, I was left wanting more.

Despite this, however, they were a worthy headliner for Homebake, and a great conclusion to the festival. I doubt anyone in the world could not enjoy a Powderfinger gig.

Bits And Pieces

Obviously during any festival, some of the fun is just wandering around from act to act, exploring new music and meeting new people. Although I planned out my day so that I would see as many as possible of my favourite acts in their entirety, I still had some spare time to just chill and find some new bands.

Of these, an artist called Jonathan Boulet was the greatest discovery. I really enjoyed his/their sound, which is somewhat of a more psychedelic version of Cloud Control. A Community Service Announcement is a great song and was just brilliant live. I managed to catch pretty much all of their set at Hopetoun, and will look into them more here on Pluck.

Tiki Taane, one of New Zealand’s most prolific musicians, must have been mental in the Big Top. I only caught the end of his set, but the sound under the huge Big Top was just massive, even though I was right at the back. He closed with what seemed like a Maori Chant, which would be the perfect warmup for a sports match, as it made me feel very excited and energetic. The place was just buzzing with energy.

I kind of wish I had seen more of his set, if his last song and the massive crowd were anything to go by it must have been an invigorating show. I also wish there were more acts I enjoyed playing under the Big Top, because the sound was superb (ie. deafening). I might check out more of Tiki’s stuff, although I get the feeling it won’t work as well in studio form.

Parades, who followed Jonathan Boulet, were superb, but I knew this beforehand as they have been putting out some great songs lately. I’m definitely going to try and catch them at a headline show sometime soon.

Local Sydney band Howling Bells seemed very solid, and I loved their studio stuff, but I was feeling pretty dead at the point of their show (it was before my second wind came in the form of Yves Klein Blue), so I just sat outside the Hopetoun Stage and listened and enjoyed from a distance.

Tumbleweed sounded okay from a distance, the second half of Eskimo Joe was mildly entertaining (especially their disregard for crowd safety as they encouraged people to form stacks of four and six on one anothers’ shoulders), and Hilltop Hoods had the crowd in a rapture, even if they’re not my type of music, as they encouraged each side of the crowd to yell at the other ‘Fuck you!’.

I was shattered about missing Red Riders at the Hopetoun Stage, but it was a toss up between them and Paul Dempsey, and I had seen Red Riders a few nights earlier at a headline gig- despite being awesome, I felt like seeing someone I hadn’t seen before, and Paul didn’t disappoint. I’m sure Red Riders were awesome though.

I can’t talk for the rest of the bands that I didn’t see, but I’m sure they all offered something to Homebake. All except for Short Stack of course, whose ‘sound’, I am proud to say, was mostly drowned out by that of Parades.

The Venue

I was very pleased with The Domain. Naturally, it was absolutely packed, as Homebake sold out extremely quickly. Also naturally, there was a lot of drug use: 41 drug arrests, and I would safely say the police only caught a very small proportion of users.

There were a few very clever festival ideas implemented at Homebake. One of these was free water stations, a concept which should be essential at all festivals. I got a lot of use out of my water bottle, and it was great to stay hydrated at a festival for once. Another was recycling stations. The idea is that every drink at the bar costs an extra dollar, which can be redeemed in the form of a $1 bar coupon, by handing in the empty can or bottle at a station.

Brilliant… in theory. In practice, this idea was pretty redundant, serving only to make drinks $1 more expensive, because the lines for the bars were just so massive. I’m talking probably a good hour just to get to the bar. It’s beyond me why you would go to a festival and then miss quality acts just to get a few overpriced drinks (I’m talking really overpriced), but it seemed most people were prepared to. A bit of a pity, but kind of inevitable at festivals I guess.

Toilets, however, were actually done quite well. If you knew where to go, there was only a few minute wait for a portable toilet at any time during the festival. The staff were very friendly, and the venue always felt safe. And what’s more, the people were overwhelmingly pretty cool. Food was relatively affordable and varied, and the market was interesting.

No complaints at all about the venue, I don’t think it could have been done much better. Noise contamination between stages was a bit annoying, and bar lines were impossible, but both these things are impossible to avoid at festivals.

Final Thoughts

Great city, great day, great music. Bring on next year.

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