LIVE REVIEW: St Jerome’s Laneway Festival @ Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney (02/02/13)

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by Chris Familton

The biggest thought on most punters minds as they awoke was how the weather was going to affect the Sydney leg of this years Laneway Festival. Showers and wind were forecast, a contrast to previous years of hot sunny days encased in the sandstone walls of Rozelle’s SCA. The anticipated weather did intermittently sweep through the grounds but as is usually the case it served to galvanise the crowd and create a roll-with-it mood amongst the sea of plastic-clad revellers imbibing cider and sliding down slippery grass slopes.

On arrival one of the first tasks was to orient oneself with the new layout. The site had been expanded outside the immediate college buildings and now included the large sloping field near the entrance housing the main stage and a smaller adjacent one. The Courtyard Stage had always had issues of sight-lines and acoustics for the bigger acts so these changes were an excellent development alongside further diversification of the food on offer.

Much had been said about the curious timetabling decision to have Norwegians Kings of Convenience open the day but they were given a generous hour long set and they proved to be the perfect way to ease into the festival vibe with their sublime acoustic-based folk and endearing sense of humour. They added a full band for the 2nd half of their set, showcasing a wider angle to their sound.

Kings of Convenience
Kings of Convenience
Henry Wagons
Henry Wagons

Henry Wagons, in contrast to the twee openers, was his usual ball of humour and country rock. Playing tracks from his Expecting Company album and a superb Wanda Jackson cover he encouraged audience participation in the form of hangman’s noose death gurgles as he danced and lurched through the first few rows.

Twerps and their jangly US pop cousins Real Estate played back to back and though their music is perfectly suited for outdoor listening Real Estate’s sound mix meant they didn’t quite gel compared to the blissed out guitar pop of Twerps whose Dreamin’ was the first song of the day to hit the audience sweet spot.

Diversity has always been a hallmark of the festival curators and this year the harder, faster and heavier end of the spectrum was filled by The Men, Cloud Nothings and Japandroids. The latter two enjoyed the larger crowds and some fervent crowd surfing and projectile throwing due to their spots later on the bill but The Men were the more revelatory of the three, locking in with a rush of punk and psych-rock intensity and dalliances with country music. Japandroids were suffered a muddy kick-drum heavy mix but the fans were oblivious, caught up in the anthemic punk maelstrom.

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With the larger acts programmed on the new Park Stage it become the focal point for the crowds who draped themselves over the hillsides and it must have been a magical sight for the musicians gazing up the palm tree dotted slopes. In the wake of Hottest 100 success The Rubens, Of Monsters & Men and Alt-J drew predictably large and celebratory crowds. They sat on shoulders, swayed and screamed along but musically he first two offered little in terms of musical highlights. They sounded like generic music for a generic festival audience but that is the whole point of Laneway, it caters to many tastes from people there purely for the music to those there for the communal festival experience.

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Julia Holter

Hitting the smaller stages meant discovering artists with a smaller core fan-base. Julia Holter’s sublime voice cut a path through the drizzling rain offering respite from some of the grand gestures on the main stages while EL-P showed just why he is so respected as an underground hip hop artist with his intense rapid fire rhyming over a live band that created some futuristic and often dystopian beats. Jessie Ware was probably the oddest inclusion on the line-up in the sense that hers is a contemporary R&B sound but she proved another highlight with a voice that killed it live and a band that knew the importance of less is more and the power of bass. The crowning glory of the Future Classic curated stage came late in the night with Nicolas Jaar who drew a surprisingly large crowd seeing as he was up against local hero Flume. The sonic clarity of his futuristic electronica made for a wonderfully immersive set that impressed with its musical details rather than big beats or crescendo build-ups.

While Bat For Lashes entranced the majority of the audience with her elegant and creative pop music, Divine Fits were putting the exclamation mark on the festival playing their superb debut album and musically summing up the sounds of the day with their mix of pop melodies, inventive rhythms and an equal dose of rock. The twin vocals of Britt Daniels and Dan Boeckner rang clear into the night and their last song, a cover of Rowland S. Howard’s Shivers felt like the perfect conclusion to a day that saw the expansion and improvement of the Laneway Festival while still retaining a firm hand on the pulse of eclectic contemporary music.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: The xx, Flume @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (20/07/12)

by C. Familton

Local gent Flume had the task of warming up the arriving punters at the Metro and he received a surprisingly generous response from the audience. Not surprising because he didn’t deserve it, more that support acts and particularly ones at electronic gigs often get ignored and treated as glorified DJs. In Flume’s case he had the floor nodding their heads to his fractured electro soul and hip hop tinged electronica and squealing at the mention of his collaboration with boy wonder Chet Faker.

After a extended wait past the advertised start time The xx finally arrived on stage in a sea of smoke, blue and white light and bathed in the near hysterical welcoming applause from the Sydney crowd. They bravely began with Angels, the first single to emerge from the forthcoming new album Coexist. Though the track has only been out for a week or so the crowd sang along loudly in unison. It was a stark moment of realisation about how quickly music seeps into the wider population these days. For a song so stark and minimal it has obviously been embraced as a real continuation of the high quality of music The xx have released. The repeated hook of “They would be as in love with you as I am” was communally chanted by the audience and it felt like a magical moment to start the set, connecting the fans to the new material before venturing into some of the better known tracks from their debut album.

Going straight into the comparably upbeat Island switched the crowd’s focus from their heads to their feet and reminded how well The xx bridge both cerebral and dance-floor electronic music. Theirs is melancholic dance music yet the biggest response seemed to come from the vocal interplay between bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley-Croft whose voices surprisingly never got lost in the volume of their instruments. Another new track, Fiction, had Sim ditching the bass and shifting centre stage with his glowering, slow-prowl vocal style looming over the front rows. As the set evolved and we heard more of the new tracks like Reunion, Sunset and Tides it became apparent that the newer songs are musically darker, with more electronic depth and percussive variation. There were some subtle nods to club and house music and also the stark  mechanical rhythms that Portishead have explored.

Though Jamie xx has built a profile in the last few years with his remixes and solo releases he still feels like the silent third partner on stage. That probably stemmed from him being the only one without a mic as he was by far the busiest of the three, switching from synths and rhythm and beat modules to a variety of drums. Like a mad scientist conducting secret experiments he busily moved between his instruments creating robotic accents and textures and in Fantasy a miasmic sea of rumbling bass that was one of the high-points of the set as it rattled the Metro’s fittings and sent subsonic waves through our bodies. Madley-Croft’s guitar playing also proved to be one of the central touchstones of the night. It is quite impressive that she can conjure so many variations on melancholic melody with pretty much the same guitar effects throughout the set. New Order and Interpol no doubt figure high on her list of stylistic influences, as would the cinematic moods of Angelo Badalamenti.

At times the Metro felt like a football terrace with the audience singing along en masse to tracks like Shelter and though it was a sign of the audience’s devotion to the songs and appreciation of the performance it often felt incongruous with the type of music the band creates. The crowd could also have shown a bit more respect when the music was reduced to its most skeletal moments. Witnessing their performance at Laneway Festival a few years ago was memorable for the quiet attentiveness of the audience that allowed the music to hang in the air, spotlighting The xx’s glorious use of space and silence.

This was a performance that completely dismissed any thoughts of the band being a one album wonder. The older songs still sounded intimately epic while the new ones sounded like both a consolidation of their strongest elements and a creative progression. This was one of those shows that truly whets the appetite for a band’s new album and hopefully a return visit for a full tour in the near future.

this review was first published on FasterLouder