Laneway Review

Yesterday, my favourite Australian one-day music festival, Laneway, returned to Melbourne. With a lineup boasting a wide variety of big international acts as well as a few nice surprises, and considering that the festival remained at the same excellent venue as last year (the Footscray Community Arts Centre), Laneway this year looked to be as close to a sure thing as you could possibly get.

And perhaps this is part of the reason why, looking back on my day, I am ever so slightly disappointed. However it’s probably only natural that the festival didn’t meet my lofty expectations after the absurdly good day I had last year, and all in all I still had a great day that was well worth the money, albeit scattered with a few let-downs.

In all fairness, part of the reason why I didn’t have an amazing time was completely personal- I was feeling a bit lethargic the whole day for some reason, and pretty much every decision I made in terms of clashes I almost immediately regretted. The bands I missed but wish I saw include Bear In Heaven, Warpaint, Holy Fuck, and !!!.

The venue was also much more crowded than I remember of last year, although this may just be in part due to me whimsically looking back on the day that was. Punters were much more keen to get to the front of stages and less chilled out- whereas last year you could stroll up the front of stages without a problem, getting a good spot for any act this year required a bit of effort. It’s not really a complaint, because of course it also means that everyone was more enthusiastic about the music, but it’s certainly something worth noting.

A large part of this was probably because of the weather. It was a very cool day for a summer festival, which I have absolutely no problem with, and it amazingly didn’t rain once throughout the whole event, despite many proclamations of ‘rainway’ earlier in the morning. Without the heat to worry about, everyone seemed much more prepared to crowd around stages, creating for a more bustling atmosphere than I was accustomed to at Laneway.

The venue was still magnificent of course. The diversity between the three main stages- unofficially known as the laneway, river, and car park stages- was fantastic, and the river stage in particular was just spectacular, with the stage positioned in front of a large grassy slope, and overlooking the Maribyrnong River. Splendour aside, it is probably the most enchanting stage setup I have ever seen at a festival.

Getting to the festival was no problem, and free public transport for those with a Laneway wristband was a nice touch.

First on the agenda for me was Brooklyn’s The Antlers. I was glad to see that a sizable crowd had developed to watch them at the river stage, because to me they didn’t seem like a band likely to draw a huge audience at an Australian summer music festival. The weather for Laneway however perfectly suited their dreary and atmospheric tunes.

But for some reason, the band felt the need to rearrange all the tracks off the brilliant concept album ‘Hospice’. I suppose it’s understandable- they’re not exactly the type of songs that go over well at festivals- but it would have been a ballsy move to the have played their songs true to the studio arrangements, morose vocals and all, and I think it would have made their performance much more enjoyable.

Instead we were left with a kind of compromise. The music of The Antlers still certainly wasn’t upbeat, but it also wasn’t as atmospheric and disturbingly honest as ‘Hospice’ is. The magic of the concept album was somewhat lost in this live show.

This being said, it was still a fairly enjoyable set, and the closer of Two was spectacular. I just can’t escape that The Antlers aren’t really a festival band, and the unfamiliarity of some of their live arrangements and vocals certainly did not help.

Up next was Cloud Control, returning to Australia temporarily following their relocation to the UK. The crowd for these guys was absolutely enormous, in fact it was probably the biggest crowd I was a part of for the whole day (given that I mostly avoided the main stage). It probably warranted giving Cloud Control a later time-slot, but everybody seemed more than happy to make do, and the enthusiasm of the crowd ensured that Cloud Control was the first real party of the day.

I should say that this was my tenth time seeing Cloud Control live, and given that the band have no new material, it is only natural that I was a bit underwhelmed by them at Laneway. They were still as solid as always however, and had the huge crowd in the palm of their hand.

The highlight of their set was a reworked version of Death Cloud which was simply superb, and their great cover of Pursuit Of Happiness was also a whole heap of fun. There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight actually saw a mini-mosh develop, with the sound of heavy feet hitting the soggy ground ringing out very loudly.

I was slightly confused by bassist Jeremy’s antics- every time I’ve seen the band live previously he seemed perfectly content to be your archetypal bass player, remaining in the background for the most part, however for this performance he seemed to decide that he wanted to be the frontman of Cloud Control. He took over most of the mid-set banter, assumed responsibility for getting the crowd into songs, and even left the stage to jump into the crowd at one point, which was met more with confusion than it was with excitement.

This being said, Cloud Control were of course excellent, even if I didn’t enjoy them anywhere near as much as some of the other times I’ve seen them.

I departed the river stage quickly in order to see the majority of Beach House over on the laneway stage. Unfortunately a lot of people beat me to the punch, and an enormous crowd had already gathered, stretching back an eternity from the stage.

Beach House played a great set full of favourites from their magnificent 2010 album ‘Teen Dream’, but once again I couldn’t really escape the feeling that these guys just aren’t a festival band, and those around me towards the back of the crowd showed no interest at all in listening to the music, which significantly lessened the atmosphere that Beach House relies so heavily on. I definitely wish I had sacrificed seeing Cloud Control to get a better spot for these guys, but hindsight is a beautiful and terrible thing.

Once again, despite my misgivings, it was a good set. Victoria was utterly enchanting, even from a great distance, and her voice was sublime live. The highlight of their set was Used To Be, a song that I declared one of my favourites of last year, and one that lost none of its magic when played live.

Whereas The Antlers played around with their studio arrangements, Beach House were admirably dedicated to them. Given my distance from the stage, they could have simply been playing a ‘Teen Dream’ CD, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. It was quite remarkable and, given how much I love the band’s studio work, very welcome.

Zebra was fantastic, as was 10 Mile Stereo. The band were very charming, and seemed appreciative of the warm response they received from those at the front of the crowd.

I have no complaints about Beach House’s performance in itself whatsoever, but I certainly wish I had been closer to the stage in order to fully appreciate it, or indeed that I had caught them at their Melbourne sideshow.

I tried to catch the end of Warpaint, but only managed to see their last song. Everyone I know who opted to see them have declared them the highlight of the festival, so I’m rather disappointed that I missed them. I was very grateful however to see that the festival organisers had fixed the atrocious food situation of last year- thankfully there were plenty of food stands, and the longest queue was still very bearable and infinitely shorter than the hour-long waits experienced at the 2010 event.

My most anticipated act of the day was next, Local Natives. And they didn’t disappoint, putting on a stellar set that was miles ahead of anything else on the day.

I managed to secure a spot in the first few rows, which would usually be fine, except that in this case the ground was so soaked and saggy that it actually sloped down from the stage for a while, meaning that the view of the stage wasn’t great. However considering that this was the worst side-effect of torrential rain the night before the festival, I think the organisers need to be commended for the job they did dealing with the conditions.

Local Natives played a brilliant set derived entirely from my favourite album of last year, ‘Gorilla Manor’. The way they shared lead vocals was at times mesmerising, and the moments with all of the band harmonising were breathtaking.

Wide Eyes was fantastic, and saw the band assume a dual-drumming setup that created a very full sound that would have reached all the way to the very back of the grassy slope. The stage was full of energy, with bandmembers jumping around and occasionally even swapping instruments, and it was great to see that this energy was reciprocated by a very excitable crowd.

My personal highlight of the set was the spectacular World News, which saw the entire crowd singing every word along with the band, as we did our best to dance in the muddy ground.

“Oh as you think, the bad feeling so bad makes the good so GOOOOD!”

There was an intangible ‘specialness’ to Local Natives. While their music certainly isn’t revolutionary, it always seems to have these extra little elements that make it stand out heads and shoulders above everything else. The overall feel of their live performance was just so upbeat and infectious that it was impossible not to get caught up in the energy of their show.

Airplanes saw the stage get involved in a large-scale sing and clap along, while Who Knows Who Cares was slightly less upbeat but still thoroughly enjoyable.

The band seemed to be loving playing to such a warm crowd, and looked like they didn’t really want to finish their set, but eventually they had to do just that. In terms of ways to finish a set however, Sun Hands must be right up there with the best. It was a euphoric moment, climaxing in the hundreds of people gathered around the river stage outstretching their arms towards where the sun should rightfully be and screaming “AND WHEN I CAN FEEL WITH MY SUN HANDS” along with the band.

Those who passed up seeing Two Door Cinema Club over on the main stage were rewarded with a truly excellent set that was easily the standout of the festival for me. I’m now even more excited for catching Local Natives’ sideshow on Tuesday night.

While the next clash- Yeasayver vs Ariel Pink vs Les Savy Fav- was a bit of a concern for a lot of people, I wasn’t overly fussed about seeing any of the acts. I like Yeasayer but saw them a few of months ago and wasn’t overly impressed with their live show, so opted to grab something to eat and drink and just chill out within hearing distance of the car park stage for Les Savy Fav with a few mates.

I’m very glad I did, because it was probably my second favourite set of the day. Even from a distance, you just couldn’t help but marvel at lead singer Tim Harrington’s insane stage presence. He began the set with his face painted in tie dye colours, and proceeded to crowd surf head first, rip the protective covering of a speaker off, marvel at an apparently naked person in the crowd, claim ownership of “that fucking awesome tree”, strip to his underpants, and sing Happy Birthday to himself enthusiastically.

In the meantime his band simply carried on playing, seemingly oblivious to anything out of the ordinary happening. This climaxed with Tim jumping off the stage, vaulting the festival fence, and jumping into the Maribyrnong  River, emerging a minute later dripping wet, only to jump back onto the stage and remark that “Your river tastes funny”.

Underpinning all the insanity was some really great music however. I only really knew one track from the New York City band, Let’s Get Out Of Here, which was wonderful, however I was surprised at how many tracks throughout the set that I half -recognised, and even those I had never heard before provided plenty of entertainment.

It was a fantastic and ridiculous set that left the crowd unsure of whether to applaud or to run away. The stage presence of the band was indomitable, and I will most definitely be checking out more of their music when I get the chance.

I opted for Deerhunter instead of the rescheduled Blonde Redhead next, and kind of wish that I chose differently to be honest. While Deerhunter were technically flawless live, I found that they had very little stage presence, and their extended jams got ridiculous at points, especially when they decided that the best way to finish their set was with a ten-minute instrumental outro.

They made it very difficult to get excited about their music. For the most part it was stand-and-deliver from Bradford Cox, who seemed content to let his bassist take over frontman duties. Whilst Deerhunter music has always been pretty sparse in terms of vocals this was exaggerated even further live, and it was to the detriment of the performance.

On the rare occasion when the band decided to play a song, it was usually pretty great. Agoraphobia and Helicopter were definite highlights, but both were overshadowed by the monotonous and hazy jam sessions. I hesitate to even call them jam sessions, because it was more just playing the same one second of music over and over again- it was as if the band had a running bet on how long they could play the same thing without the entire crowd leaving.

Say I ‘just don’t get it’ if you want, but I’m not sure I want to ‘get’ live shows like this. The instrumental outro in particular was just absurd, and ruined what otherwise would have been an acceptable set. I don’t know if that’s just how Deerhunter usually finish their shows or whether they were trying to fill in time, but either way they would have been better served by just ending a bit early.

It was yet another case of a band who aren’t really a festival act. I may have appreciated Deerhunter in a small and dingy venue with twice as many speakers, but as it was, on the idyllic river stage, their music could not have felt more out of place, and I was left a bit disappointed by a set that I found very hard indeed to get into.

Following the departure of Bradford and his band it was time for people to make their final choice of the day: what headliner to see. For me this was a tough tossup between Gotye and !!!, and ultimately it was the location of the river stage that convinced me to opt for Gotye.

I had seen Wally de Backer live several times, but always with The Basics as opposed to as Gotye. I had to marvel at his stage setup, full of electronic devices that I didn’t even know the name of, and the river stage made for a beautiful sight with the setting sun.

Right on time (which is more than can be said for the other stages apparently), Wally and his two bandmates walked onto the stage, and wasted no time in breaking into newest single Eyes Wide Open, which was brilliant. Wally’s voice was perfect, just as it had been the times I had seen him with The Basics, and he somehow seemed more suited to this role as frontman rather than being stuck behind the drums for a whole set.

Opening with Eyes Wide Open was a risky move, but Wally justified it by playing a very solid all-round set with very few downswings. There were plenty of technical problems, but this was hardly a surprise given the intricateness of the stage setup, and Wally dealt with them in a very entertaining manner.

His stage banter was spot on, and only demonstrated further that he’s pretty much the nicest guy ever. There were heaps of new songs in Gotye’s set, but it was one of the older ones, Heart’s A Mess, which got the biggest response from the crowd, even though I personally was a bit indifferent to it live.

For his last few songs Gotye called a saxophonist onto stage, and this addition saw a much more upbeat end to Gotye’s set that had the river stage dancing away the night. The closer of  Learnalilgivinanlovin in particular was all kinds of fun.

Gotye was a great end to Laneway. I’m never going to absolutely love his type of sample and tracking heavy music, simply because I always prefer actually seeing people play the instruments on stage rather than calling them into being with the press of a button, no matter how creatively this is implemented, but for what this set was it was fantastic, and the river stage could not have been a better backdrop for it.

So, that was my Laneway.

I have mixed thoughts, as you can probably tell by now. If this had been my first Laneway, I have no doubt that I would be raving about it, however given the experience of last year I was left slightly disappointed. The atmosphere and crowd inexplicably just weren’t quite what I remember.

This was compounded by the fact that, while there were undoubtedly a myriad of amazing bands playing, many of these just weren’t festival bands. I was left feeling very underwhelmed by the whole experience at times, however Local Natives and Les Savy Fav were unquestionably the highlights of my day, and both were worth the ticket price alone.

But I’ve over-analysed things (as a reviewer has to). Ultimately I had a really fun day and enjoyed some good and at times great music while surrounded by friends. Everything else is just white noise.

2 Responses to “Laneway Review”

  1. nice review mate. definitely agree – the warpaint/local natives double on the river stage was by far the highlight of the festival.

  2. what time was that, it all looks like 80s

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