Melbourne Laneway Review

Yesterday, the indie crowd of Melbourne congregated at Footscray Community Arts Center for one of Australia’s favourite music festivals, Laneway. Having relocated this year to allow for stages that the crowd can actually see, and boasting a lineup that read like a who’s who of ‘it’ bands, this was certainly a festival to savour.

All photos were taken by me. Please do not reproduce them without asking permission. You can click on them for full-size versions. If you enjoy this review please leave a comment as it took a while.

-The Venue-

Melbourne Laneway had a lot of problems with its venue last year, so the decision to change the venue for 2010 was met with a mixture of skepticism and relief. The organisers made a wonderful decision however, because the new venue was absolutely perfect.

The Footscray Community Arts Center could not have been better suited to the Laneway music festival. With the use of fencing and closing off roads, a small musical haven was formed, encompassing grassy slopes, gardens, a railroad running through the middle of everything, a carpark, and even a laneway (well it was actually a street but for the purposes of this festival we’ll stick to laneway).

It was the exact right mix between comfort, space, and atmosphere. Although naturally everything got a bit crowded as the day went on, at no point did things get ridiculous when moving between stages, and there was always an area with some shade to sit down and just relax if you were feeling tired.

The diversity between stages was fantastic. The Moreland St Stage was at one end of the laneway, while the crowd could spread as far as the eye could see back towards the other end of the laneway. Meanwhile the River Stage was situated in front of a huge grassy bank, making for the perfect viewing spot, and overlooked a gorgeous backdrop of a river and palmtrees. Finally the Car Park stage, the smallest and strangest of the stages, was situated in a carpark with the backdrop of a busy highway. There really was an amazing and unique atmosphere.

Particularly at the start of the day, my mate and I were perfectly satisfied to just find a spot in the stage overlooking the River Stage and soak in the atmosphere and watch as people slowly arrived. As my first Laneway festival, I could not have been more impressed with the venue.

-The Frowning Clouds-

Opening the day’s music was local Victorian band The Frowning Clouds, who were added to the lineup courtesy of Triple J Unearthed. They played at the Car Park stage, which perfectly suited their brand of 60’s garage rock.

Sounding and looking surprisingly like The Beatles, the band drew a respectable crowd for the first act of the festival, delighting with their cover of Shout! to close their set.

The band seemed surprised at the support that they received, repeatedly telling the crowd “You’re too kind”. But really they deserved no less, and did their spot as Triple J Unearthed representatives justice. They made it worthwhile to arrive to the festival on time, and got the day off to a great start.

-Oh Mercy-

I was first introduced to Melbournians Oh Mercy when they opened for Lisa Mitchell at the Corner Hotel. At the time they were very underwhelming as a live act, seeming like they just weren’t into their own music at all and wanted to get off the stage as quickly as possible. Maybe they just had an off night, because they were great at Laneway.

They played on the River Stage, before the majority of people had arrived at Laneway, so it was easy to find a spot in the shade to just sit down and enjoy the music. The band’s opening request of “It’s okay to stand up” seemed to go mostly unheeded by the sizeable crowd who were already struggling with the heat, however a small group of eager fans amassed around the barrier.

After a bit of a shaky start the band found themselves and seemed much more enthusiastic, playing an impressive set encompassing songs from their debut album, the magnificently titled ‘Privileged Woes’.

The band were gracious and appreciative, and their music was very enjoyable. They finished their set by saying “Make sure to hang around for Kid Sam, because they’re fucking incredible. You don’t need us to tell you that though”. And they were spot on.

-Kid Sam-

Next up on the River Stage was Kid Sam, who had impressed the country with their debut album, which earned a Tripe J nomination for Australian album of the year, and impressed me personally with their performance opening for White Rabbits at the Corner Hotel.

Their Laneway performance however was to far exceed their Corner Hotel gig.

While at the Corner Hotel they played an entirely electronic set, they began their Laneway set with lead singer and one half of the duo Kieran Ryan on acoustic guitar. Meanwhile his cousin Kishore Ryan manned the drums, as always. A special guest (I didn’t catch his name) was on stage as well, complete with an iconic melodica.

Their opening song, The Sunday Bus, was simply magical. The meldocia microphone was unfortunately not turned on, so it was barely audible, however having to strain to hear it only made the song more surreal and more special for the decent crowd that had assembled at the barrier.

The crowd seemed drawn to Kid Sam’s music, and a few songs into their set my spot on the barrier, which I had obtained just a few minutes before the band took the stage, was under high demand from the masses of people that were all of a sudden standing up and moving towards the stage.

Naturally Kid Sam also played some of their Radiohead-inspired distorted rock. Down To The Cemetery was met by smatterings of applause from the crowd when it began and overwhelming applause when it ended, as Kishore played a drumkit that incorporated several pieces of cookware, creating that unique drumbeat to the track.

Likewise We’re Mostly Made Of Water was of course impressive, however it was once again their acoustic songs that impressed me. Close Your Eyes And It All Goes Black saw the guest reappear on stage to play xylophone and was absolutely gorgeous in its soft-spoken beauty. No matter what he did, there is no denying that Kieran has an absolutely amazing voice.

Kieran was very appreciative of the warm reception, saying ‘Thank you so much” to crowd, while also explaining how much he loved the Laneway festival. They earned all the praise they received however, with an exemplary set of contrasts between acoustic songs and distorted electronic songs. They seem like a band that is bound to go from strength to strength, and can now count me as among their many devout fans.

-Bridezilla-

I sacrificed seeing Pluck favourites The Philly Jays in order to get to the Mumford And Sons stage an hour early so as to get a barrier position. Leave me alone, I’ve already seen them live three times. I’m sure they were spectacular on the Car Park stage however.

The spot before Mumford And Sons was probably the most desirable one on the timetable, as a truly massive crowd began to assemble at the Moreland St Stage. Given the heat punters weren’t exactly keen to push up against one another, my mate and I were able to find a comfortable spot a few rows back from the stage, and prepared ourselves for what would still be an undesirable wait in the sweltering heat.

The wait was made easier by NSW band Bridezilla, who entertained with an energetic set full of violin and high heels. Pleasing the crowd that was mostly waiting for Mumford And Sons was never going to be an easy ask, however the girls (most of whom looked younger than all of the over-age crowd they were playing to), however Bridezilla managed to win over many new fans and satisfy those who already liked their music with a very satisfying set.

-Mumford And Sons-

Mumford And Sons were of course the main attraction of Laneway for me. They are probably one of the biggest bands that could possibly tour Australia at the moment, on the back of their insanely successful and popular debut album ‘Sigh No More’, which I deemed my second favourite album of 2009.

The band is impossible not to like, unless you are put off by their mainstream success, in which case that’s a real pity, because this is some truly special music.

Lead singer, guitar player, and percussionist (all at the same time) Marcus Mumford appeared on stage to help set up the equipment and organise the sound check, which is in itself rare, and was met with a resounding round of applause and screaming from the crowd, which had now grown beyond belief. A smile crossed his face, before he pretended to run away from the crowd, playing on his own reputation as a softly-spoken and shy frontman.

The crowd no longer cared about the heat, and were packed together very closely. A few people fainted because of the lack of fresh air and sweltering heat, and for some reason seemingly everyone that did so was directly in front of me and my mate, meaning that we were able to secure a spot virtually in the front row, standing on the metal platform extending from the barrier, with an absolutely amazing view of the stage and the crowd stretching back an astounding amount behind us.

You couldn’t help but pity the acts that clashed with the softly spoken boys from the UK who play folk music with a banjo.

The stage setup took all of the allocated time, with Marcus’ trademark floor percussion kit that he plays with his feet proving a bit tricky, while various members of the four-piece came and went from the stage, each met with huge amounts of applause. The crowd was really really into this gig, even before it had begun.

Finally, all four band members took the stage and prepared their instruments. The crowd went absolutely mental, as thousands of people screamed wildly and shouted out dedications of love. Failing to repress their smiles, Mumford And Sons broke into opener Sigh No More. It was just awesome, in every way the perfect opener as it built magnificently to the climax where the entire crowd screamed at the top of ours lungs: “Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free”, growing louder every time it was repeated.

Being at the front was pretty special- those around us were just as excited to see the band as we were, and knew every word to every song just like we did, so you were able to sing your heart out without feeling strange. It was a great atmosphere.

Second song Awake My Soul was brilliant live, beginning laid back and then building into a magnificent climax which saw the crowd singing at the top of our voices once more and the boys absolutely tearing it up on stage. Their energy was just incredible, and the energy in the crowd was just as impressive. It was impossible not to move around to that infectious banjo playing.

Obviously I am in love with the band’s studio stuff, but their live performance is just stellar. They play their songs using the same arrangements, but just with more energy; more enthusiasm. Theirs is a well rehearsed, faultless live show that will leave no-one disappointed and get the crowd excited no matter what. It doesn’t hurt that their songs are perfectly suited for live performances either, with stunning crescendoes, musical interludes, and plenty of excuses to dance and sing like a lunatic.

Of course the highlight of their set was Little Lion Man. This song won Triple J’s Hottest Song of 2009, and if you haven’t heard it then you should probably get out of your cave which oddly has internet access. The sound that greeted the unmistakable start to this song was deafening, and caused those at the front o look at how far the crowd extended with disbelief.

The singing of those at the front nearly drowned out the very powerful voice of Marcus, and everyone was almost jumping up and down with excitement. The magnificent buildup of “Aaaaaah”s which has come to be associated with the song was just spectacular, as the massive crowd took overs singing duties and did a spectacular job, as the song built to that gorgeous finish. It was perfect.

Shortly after Little Lion Man technical problems rudely interrupted the gig. This was a real pity because the gig was gaining momentum and no-one wanted it to finish prematurely. There was poor communication with the crowd, and no-one really knew what was going on, as the band left the stage saying “Hopefully we can continue the show”. It sounded very foreboding as people screamed out mixtures of support (“We still love you Marcus!”) and disappointment.

One quick punter yelled out “You really fucked it up this time”, much to the amusement of everyone, while someone else lamented that it was “Pyramid all over again!”. However we didn’t need to be worried, because the band reappeared after five minutes to huge applause, with Marcus saying “We don’t know if this will work, but fuck it, we’re going to try anyway”.

As it turns out the left stack of speakers was no longer working, which I’m sure would have been frustrated for those further away from the stage, but for us at the front the band could still be heard loud and clear and the malfunction did nothing to disturb the gig. Everybody pointed at the right speaker stack and cheered. The Cave was of course brilliant, as was White Blank Page, both of which saw the crowd get our singing voice back into full swing.

The only break we got from singing and generally acting like lunatics was when the band played a new song, which saw Marcus playing a fully fledged drumkit. Is there anything that man can’t do? Even though the new song was great, it was still a tiny bit of a downer given the fact that no-one in the crowd knew the words for a change.

The band then broken into Roll Away Your Stone, one of my favourite songs of their debut album, which was greeted with applause and sounded magnificent. Just as Marcus sung my favourite lyric of theirs, “But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works”, which has always had special meaning for me, the left stack of speakers sprung into life once more, adding more depth to the sound, and creating a truly special moment, as we screamed, arms outstretched, the lyrics, while others cheered the return of the speakers.

Mumford And Sons closed their set with a new song, Whispers In The Dark, which was an odd choice for a closer but yet was absolutely magnificent. It sounds like the band already has soon good stuff in the pipelines. All too quickly, their set was over.

Not only was the music utterly stunning, but Marcus and the rest of the band were charming and gracious, seemingly uncorrupted by their sudden and overwhelming success.Marcus regularly thanked the crowd for the massive amounts of support, was very apologetic when the band had to leave, and said shyly “They’ve told me to tell you that the if the guys in the tree don’t get out they’re going to pull the gig… whatever that means. Well that’s my responsibility done”. Those who didn’t love him already would have by the end of this set.

Marcus finished by saying what an amazing festival Laneway was, and how lucky the band were to be in Australia, and how they wanted to return as quickly as possible (“Play Splendour!” screamed one punter). To see a man who has produced one of the most acclaimed albums of 2009 be so humble and so softly-spoken was truly inspiring. His band members likewise seemed like great guys, and were as energetic as you could possibly hope.

Mumford And Sons are impossible not to love, and live they are a true force to be reckoned with. They even broke into a brief hoedown at one point. Seriously, who doesn’t love this band?

-The XX-

Up next was The XX, on the River Stage, and there was a mass exodus of fans from the Mumford stage to the river. Being at the front we were naturally one of the last to arrive, and the crowd that had assembled was staggering, reaching all the way to the end of the grassy slope and beyond.

Amazing, what internet hype can do.

Following Mumford And Sons was never going to be easy, but if anyone could pull it off it was The XX, one of the biggest bands of now. It is often the case with many of these hyped bands that their live shows are a bit disappointing. It is also often the case that bands whose music is best listened to in a dark room by yourself such as The XX are not suited to outdoor venues and a large crowd. Finally, bands that loose a member tend to take a while to adjust their live performances. Thankfully, all three of these generalisations are off the mark when it comes to The XX.

It is impossible to overstate how massive the crowd was as the trio took the stage. Without further ado they set about performing a set full of favourites from the debut album ‘XX’, and didn’t the crowd just love them for it. I was expecting quiet, introverted performance, but the group rock up their music just that tiny bit when playing live, just enough to get the crowd dancing and jumping.

Really though, the band almost could have been playing their own record. Their performance was well-rehearsed and clinical as they played superb renditions of nearly all of their songs, from Infinity and VCR to Islands. Oliver Sim on bass was immediately very likeable, saying “We’re having a great time” and appearing genuinely grateful of the massive crowd that had turned out to watch the band. I wasn’t expecting much banter between songs but I was mistaken.

Crystalised was definitely one of the highlights of their set, with that impossibly catchy chorus, however Basic Space just stole the show for me, and was one of the many great moments of Laneway 2010.

The XX were full of surprises, from their very proficient live performance, to their friendly banter, and even to the reaction of the crowd. I wasn’t exactly expecting still bodies, but what I really wasn’t expecting was people dancing around like maniacs and jumping up and down mosh style to the music of The XX. To me that’s never been what their music is about, and if anything it lessened the mood for me.

This being said, the band were very impressive and very likeable, and the hype is, in this case, certainly reflected in the bands live performance.

-The Very Best-

I love The Very Best. They were yet another of the attractions of Laneway, and I thought that they would be perfectly suited to the Car Park stage. Sure enough the band didn’t disappoint, turning that car park into a massive dance party.

Esau Mwamwaya took the stage to a respectable but not overwhelming crowd, and immediately his charm had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he started chants and praised Australia and Laneway. One half of DJ/Producer group Johan Hugo manned the discs at the back of the stage, however the second half of Radioclit DJ Tron was nowhere to be seen.

It took a while, but finally the band broke into their first song, and straight away the crowd was dancing in a sweaty, tired, but fiercely energetic way, if that is even possible. Esau was then joined on stage by another African singer (I didn’t catch his name and probably wouldn’t be able to spell it even if I did), as well as two dancers. Immediately the atmosphere lifted even more as the band flawlessly worked the crowd.

Whoever he was, the guest was certainly onto a winner with repeatedly spraying water out onto the crowd.

Surprisingly the guest singer stayed on stage for the majority of the performance, taking over lead vocal duties on most songs. Esau was left to sing backup and interact with the crowd, which was a bit disappointing. However the quality of the music did not lessen at all, as the very tight unit on stage worked their magic.

It’s hard to imagine The Very Best not just killing it at a club.

The backing video on the screen behind the band suited the mood perfectly, except when it temporary changed to the “You are now running on reserve battery power” screen:

Hey, at least they use a Mac.

To be honest, even though I love The Very Best’s album ‘Warm Heart Of Africa’, I only really recognised one song, which was of course Warm Heart Of Africa. The song went off without a hitch and had the crowd dancing at a whole new level. As the band constantly chanted “Very” and the crowd responded with “Best”, the name of the band was fitting for their live performance.

-Dappled Cities-

By this point I was fairly wiped: Big Day Out and Laneway within a week certainly takes it out of you. Normally I would love to be front an center for Sydney indie rock band Dappled Cities, but because I was so tired I settled for a comfortable spot in the shade conveniently located near the free drinking water. Many other people seemed to agree with me, as the barrier was virtually deserted leading up to the arrival of the band.

Once the band walked out in shiny gold jumpsuits however, the people came.

The band played an enjoyable set full of a mixture of songs mostly from their latest album ‘Zounds’ and their previous work ‘Granddance’. Holy Chord was certainly the best moment of their set for me, as the band sung that great line: “The battery thinking chain”.

Dappled Cities invited Sarah Blasko on stage to sing a few of their songs, an entirely strange move given that punters wishing to hear Sarah could have caught her earlier set on the Moreland St Stage. People at the River Stage were clearly here to watch Dappled Cities, but Sarah is a pretty great performer so no-one (except for me obviously) complained.

It was a good set at a difficult timeslot, as everyone was tired from the day and reserving some energy for the final party of Florence and co.

-Florence And The Machine-

The crowd for Florence And The Machine on Moreland St Stage was staggering, reaching back nearly to the entrance of the festival. And this was a good 15 minutes before she was scheduled to appear on stage. Maybe this was partly due to the fact that she was billed as the headliner, but it was also proof of the appeal of her magnificent debut album, ‘Lungs’.

The immense crowd made it impossible to enjoy Florence in her prime however, and this is the first time that this has ever happened to me. Without getting pushy, which I didn’t want to do, there was no way I could even get a view of the stage. The entire street was packed.

I was planning on staying for the entirety of Florence And The Machine, a huge international act, however after having heard Kiss With A Fist and Drumming Song and being fairly underwhelmed, the call of one of my favourite Aussie bands The Middle East over at the smaller River Stage was too much to resist.

-The Middle East-

Walking away from Florence towards the River Stage was almost serene- night had finally fallen and lights were illuminating the pathway right next to the traintracks, and the river was glistening ever so slightly- it was rather beautiful. It was also almost deserted, with everyone busy congregating around Florence’s stage. Just as we were walking alongside the railway, we heard, very faintly, the start of Blood.

It was magic, and we arrived at the stage a minute into the song, and even managed to get a spot literally on the barrier, much to our surprise. Most of the crowd were opting to just chill on the grass, which may seem disrespectful to some bands but suited The Middle East perfectly. I finally got to hear “And pluck your strings”, the band having screwed it up at Homebake, and the ending of Blood was as magic as always.

A midset Blood was a bit different, and indeed the band played around a bit, performing a few new songs, one of which saw Bree take lead vocals with typical grace and another which was an unmistakable rock number. The band said “Thanks for coming, we’re having such a good time”, and this sentiment was echoed by all those who had chosen a more chilled end to Laneway than the massive Florence crowd.

The Darkest Side closed the band’s set and was an absolutely magical end to the evening and the festival (for us, at least). The setting of the River Stage at night complimented The Middle East perfectly, and the band further proved that they are the Australian band to watch out for in 2010, especially with their new songs. This was my third time seeing them live, and they have lost none of their enchanting magic.

How, oh how, could I have ever considered passing up on seeing these guys live two times within a week?

-Final Thoughts-

Walking towards the festival exit, we managed to hear Florence And The Machine play Dog Days Are Over, my favourite song of hers. Talk about perfect timing.

Laneway was a music festival done right. Massive names (for the indie world, much bigger names than the Big Day Out even), but yet a comparatively small and pretty chilled crowd, an absolutely perfect venue, over age only, shaded areas, free water, diverse stages, no designated drinking areas, and even free public transport to and from the event.

The only negative aspects were the heat, which of course the festival organisers can do nothing about, and the appalling lines for food, which meant that my mate and I went without dinner until we got back into the city. And of course the Mumford PA outage, but that was dealt with relatively well.

What a full day; what a musically satisfying festival. Marcus Mumford called it a “Special festival”, and, as always, he was right. Seeing Mumford And Sons from the front was special, and The XX, The Very Best, Kid Sam, and of course The Middle East put on stellar shows.

Laneway is one of the few festivals I can imagine planning on attending regardless of the lineup, because, no matter who the organisers get to play, it’s impossible to imagine this not being an incredible festival every single year.

3 Responses to “Melbourne Laneway Review”

  1. Just letting you know, the guest for Kid Sam was Nick Huggins who produces Kid Sam’s music, as well as Seagull and, though I’m not sure if the is still the case, Whitley. He also does Ototo, and Hazel Brown when she is solo. He plays lovley music himself. They seem like a lovely family of musicans.
    Wonderful write up.

  2. Hi, nice review. Just thought I’d let you know that Nick Huggins was the name of Kid Sam’s guest. In case anyone was wondering :) He is a solo artist in his own right.

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