Esplanade Park & West End, Fremantle
Saturday, February 8, 2014
In antithesis to all the disparaging festival talk of late, if there’s one event returning to WA next year, it’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, which relocated to a new home in Fremantle. After outgrowing its space in the Perth Cultural Centre but also to make room for more Fringe World and Perth Festival activities, the move proved to be a great choice on the grassy Esplanade Park and adjoining West End streets – to still keep that urban vibe.
The Growl had a hell of a time last week, but must have somewhat buoyed by the fact that appeal for injured bassist Marc Earley – who suffered a vicious and unprovoked attack after the Sydney Laneway show – raised in excess of the $20,000 they were aiming for. Pond’s Nick Allbrook stood in on bass and The Growl were as usual led in all their manic splendour by Cam Avery, taking it to the hometown. Our best and warmest wishes to Marc for a speedy recovery.
Cass McCombs is often spoken of in glowing terms for his songwriting prowess, yet few of his songs get the accolades of the singer himself. This was again evident in his set as the tunes are adequate enough on their own, but maybe they are too cerebral for a festival event, being better suited to coffee shops where people can scratch their beards and ponder. There were some nice moments, particularly in the form of Angel Blood that had some delightful pedal steel and the spritely country pop of Brighter. When McCombs turned to the more blues-based tunes his voice sounded forced and the set lost some of its mid-afternoon sun appeal.
Drenge are a punk rock duo comprised of a set of English siblings that are meant to be this year’s answer to Japandroids. Rory and Eoin Loveless certainly cornered the market on dirty fuzzed out guitar and solidly hit drums, yet some of the tunes had less than inspired arrangements or melody. That said, they made up for lack of finesse with some almighty power and a set that got better as it went along. Each member faced 45 degrees to the stage and involved themselves in next to no recognition of the crowd opting to let their brazen tunes do the talking.
Early in the afternoon ex-Mercy Arms member, Kirin J Callinan played provocative tunes like Embracism and The Toddler solo – with just vocals, guitar, pedal looping and backing track. While a fascinating performer to watch, his genius was lost on most curious onlookers.
Trevor Powers’ bedroom recording outfit Youth Lagoon has grown into a four-piece live experience. From close to the first note it was apparent that this day’s set would display a sound that is considerably larger than records would suggest. Powers is a Jad Fair lookalike (and sounds somewhat like him) who works over at least three keyboards and is constantly adjusting knobs, hitting various organs with a closed fist, setting off samples and playing chords. These indie nuggets were presented with a surprising wall of sound from a crack band with extended arrangements that saw time for only half a dozen songs pulled from both Youth Lagoon albums in a set that wouldn’t have got tired had it gone on for hours. An exceptional little band.
The US hip hop acts on the bill were all big draw cards, with revered member of the Odd Future collective Earl Sweatshirt making a return to Perth, along with first time visitors Run The Jewels and rapper Danny Brown (aptly wearing an AC/DC t-shirt in Bon Scott’s hometown). Brown was one of the festival’s highlights, getting the party started as night fell and dropping 25 Bucks and the hectic, Dip – taking party-goers to the next (excited) level.
It would be hard to find a band that were having more fun than Dick Diver at this year’s festival. Bassist Al Montfort wearing a home-made Hawthorn t-shirt greeted the crowd with shouts of ‘Freo Heave Ho’ and when that feel on deaf ears, cries of ‘Rove, Rove, Rove’. Montfort would later get in the crowd’s good books by sledging Adelaide. With the truncated set size, Dick Diver went straight into their better known tunes. Water Damage came out early, and Steph Hughes stepped out from behind the drums to lead Standard Time. Continuing to be the leaders the Dolewave indie crew New Start Again was aired. Such was the appeal of their bright pop tunes that the punters pushed a fence in during their set seeing 50-60 people scamper into the venue. Naughty!
Vance Joy aka James Keogh was all smiles in the sunny sunshine and it proved infectious indeed. While he’s admitted to nervousness as a live performer, Keogh’s earnestness and humility in songs such as Play With Fire is a real crowd-winner, though it was clear the people were dying to hear that song, the triple j Hottest 100-winning Riptide. And when they did? Well, memories are made of such things.
For a bunch of Scottish lads caught in the afternoon sun, Frightened Rabbit sure do put on a show. The bands tunes may be introspective and downright miserable at times, there was no signs of impending doom or a predisposition to self-harm in the way that they churned through their songs. Scott Hutchison bounced around in energetic fashion as he worked through a wave of melodic songs about heartbreak. Using the breadth of their catalogue, Frightened Rabbit delved into their finest record The Midnight Organ Fight for much loved tunes like the self-deprecating My Backwards Walk.
Introverted US slack-rocker, Kurt Vile kept himself hidden behind luscious locks and sunglasses, only occasionally looking up to greet those who’d gathered to watch him on his second visit to Perth. He alternated between acoustic and electric guitar, occasionally showing-off his shredding dexterity (on an acoustic no less), as he played tunes spanning his last three albums – Freak Train and The Hunchback from Childish Prodigy, Was All Talk and Jesus Fever off Smoke Ring For My Halo, and the self-titled track off latest record, Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze.
Parquet Courts bring all the energy of the city that never sleeps to their performance as the buzz band flew through tunes with ragged ease. Such is the bluster that they have recorded their material to date, the live show is a far more polished and tight affair as the in-demand band have become gig-hardened in the last 12 months. All the rock moves were there – beer bottles being used and guitar slides and the necks of instruments being rubbed along amps. Master Of My Craft and Borrowed Time got the crowd going and by the time a rapid fire Stoned And Starving had been aired, a punter had already left the zealous mosh pit with a broken nose. Parquet Court took no prisoners and made the crowd controllers earn their money.
Counter to the relaxed day, some people displayed all of their worst festival behaviour as they scrambled for room to see Haim. A dozen people linking hands and forcing their way between people is rude festival behaviour indeed! Luckily offsetting that is there are few better feel good bands on the planet at the moment that the Californian sisters. Kicking off with Falling, Este Haim’s much talked about bass face was well and truly on display. In spite of their youth Haim were the most accomplished band to embrace the big stage. No shortage of hits kept the energy high as the crowd sang along to Don’t Save Me and The Wire as Danielle showed up many of the guitarists before her with impressive chops. The three sisters all surrounded floor toms and kick drums to end the night with some high octane percussion to accompany their impressive harmonies and Fleetwood Mac like songwriting smarts. Haim well exceeded the high expectations placed on them.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s relentless touring schedule has honed this trio into something magical – you would’ve been hard-pressed to find any acts on this year’s billing that could surpass the soulful voice and technical prowess of Ruban Nielson on guitar and newest member, Riley Geare on drums. Tracks like Ffunny Ffrends and So Good At Being In Trouble are pure pop perfection and live, when combined with their extended psychedelic jams – it’s truly mind-blowing.
Scottish newcomers Chvrches appeared to come out of nowhere but have cut their teeth in bands such as Aerogramme and The Twilight Sad. With many of the bands on the bill only having one album to their credit, Chvrches were armed with one of the better set of tunes of the day but one of the least dynamic live shows. There is no disputing that We Sink and Gun are synth pop gold and sounded spectacular, they just appeared to be delivered by a trio of introverts. With two-thirds of the band behind keyboards and samplers for a large part there is not a heap to work with visually, and the tiny Lauren Mayberry being swamped by darkness on stage or hidden in strobe lights, Chvrches let their music do the talking. Mayberry has a voice sweeter than golden syrup and carried the tunes in style. Martin Doherty came out from behind the keyboard for a stunning and energetic Under The Tide, before Mayberry rounded out a sweet sounding set than again saw a considerable amount of the crowd get on peoples shoulders to ‘dance’ to Mother We Share.
Backed by a keyboardist/programmer and drummer, the Woman Of The Moment brought a mass of curiosity to the Ferris Wheel Stage as folks drained every other Laneway location to witness Lorde’s first-ever WA set. Cutting a dark, enigmatic figure, Ella Yelich-O’Connor proved quite the alluring performer, though it seemed her set would potentially prove more dynamic with a fuller band, rather than 50 minutes dancing in the shadows. That said, Tennis Court, Royals and Team were greeted with hunger and satisfaction from a crowd that was beyond party-driven.
Testament that you can shine brighter if you set yourself apart from the rest of crowd, UK post-punk four-piece Savages, opened with No Face off their critically-acclaimed debut, Silence Yourself. French vocalist Jehnny Beth has powerful and sexy stage presence to match the voice, which is stylishly backed up by the all girl group on guitar and the integral driving rhythms. In comparison to cute indie-pop vibe from most females on the festival lineup, this was raw and empowering, especially on the finale Fuckers with Beth urging, ‘don’t let the fuckers get you down’.
With a brand new album just landed, The Jezabels provided the last stand for this year’s Laneway. Fatigued from a year of recording and touring, plus more recent adventures due to last week’s release of The Brink LP, they nonetheless soared, taking the crowd with them into midnight. The End indeed, but in many ways, it’s only the beginning.
RACHEL DAVISON, BOB GORDON & CHRIS HAVERCROFT
Photography by Rachael Barrett