REVIEW: Laneway

Laneway has blossomed from its roots in Melbourne’s Caledonian Lane into arguably the coolest one-day festival in the country, renowned for its tastemaker lineup.

It’s hard to imagine that just nine short years ago, the Brisbane leg of Laneway didn’t exist. After the festival rocked Singapore and Auckland, the capital of the sunshine state played host to the first Australian Laneway date for 2015 – and it felt so goddamn right. The sky was clear (for the most part), the punters couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces, and – this should go without saying – the acts absolutely killed it.

The festival grounds were much bigger this year than they were in 2014, moving across the road to a different section of the RNA showgrounds that houses showbags and Sideshow Alley during the Ekka. This was a great decision – although there were less shady areas for the masses to avoid the harsh Queensland sun in, it definitely made for a less sticky/cramped/ dusty experience.

Triple j Unearthed winner for Brisbane, Olivia McCarthy, aka Joy opened the Good Better Best Stage (which was, mercifully, under a large pop up pavilion, alongside neighbouring stage Never Let It Rest) to a small but decidedly curious crowd. Joy’s ubiquitous synths and slap-to-the-face percussive beats melded appealingly with her breathy yet powerful voice, belting lyrics like “you confused me from the start”. There’s no two ways about it: Joy has some serious songwriting skills. Alf and Jacob from locals The Cairos joined Joy onstage to round out her sound a bit for the remainder of her set – not that it needed it; all this addition did was show that Olivia McCarthy is just as natural a frontwoman to a band as she is a solo artist.

Right next door, Sydney electronic three piece Mansionair commanded the building audiences’ attention with their warping, bubbling sounds. There’s something inescapably summery and nostalgic about Mansionair. It was tough to imagine a better band to play the masses through the hottest part of the day. Much to everyone’s delight, their achingly emotional take on Future Islands’ Seasons made its debut for the very first time since its appearance on triple j’s Like A Version. But Hold Me Down, Mansionair’s wildly successful first single, was the unmistakable highlight of the set.

Although it was her very first festival appearance (not having been on the bill for Auckland or Singapore), Eves The Behaviour had generated plenty of buzz prior to her commanding opening set on the Red Bull/Future Classic stage – and for very good reason. Despite her slow burning dark sound she had all the sensibilities of a pop superstar, storming the stage with her head thrown back and one arm wildly waving around in the air. Eves The Behaviour’s set brimmed with fearlessness and vulnerability; her blend of 80s musical watermarks with modern introspective electronica was reminiscent of Sky Ferreira, who she supported on her national tour last year. Partway through, Eves The Behaviour introduced herself and told the audience, “I hope you’re well. It’s okay if you’re not”, something her smart/sad-girl lyrics reiterated. Breakout single TV saw her extra-terrestrial voice take the spotlight, wowing the crowd with her incredible ability to allow emotion to overtake her without any element of her performance suffering. If anything, it only made it better. You’d be well advised to keep your eye on Eves The Behaviour in 2015.

Dune Rats immediately ripped into their set with boundless energy, which was unfortunately sullied a fair bit by a low lead vocal mix that was so quiet it was almost like Danny Beusa’s microphone was off. Once the volume was turned up enough to hear strained ode to the caped crusader himself, Superman, Dune Rats’ live show perfectly emulated their endearingly lo-fi recorded work. That said, it was their onstage antics that made for a suitably filthy experience – Australia’s favourite dropkick heroes spat into the crowd, encouraged a circle pit and burped into their microphones with crazy grins and bloodshot eyes. And of course, it wasn’t long before the smell of marijuana permeated the air; never more than during nonsense drug anthem Dalai Lama Big Banana Marijuana. It was a thoroughly scummy, good-natured set rounded out by a cover of Violent Femmes’ Blister In The Sun that Dune Rats insisted the audience join them in singing because some of the notes (and, honestly, Dune Rats themselves) were “too f*cking high”.

Probably the tightest, shiniest set of the day came from the king of perfectionist pop, Andy Bull. Andy gets a lot of airplay on our national youth broadcaster, but it can be easy to forget just how many hits he has. He spent his synth-driven set wailing out track after track that the crowd seemed to know every single word to, and kept his cap on – backwards – the whole time. A reworked cover of Everybody Wants To Rule The World was an obvious nod to the part Tears for Fears have played in shaping Bull musically. There’s a certain too-cool vibe about Andy Bull, but his willingness to put his insecurities on display, even in his typical veiled manner, makes him just relatable enough to be the beloved icon that he is, and to draw the crowd that he drew at Laneway.

Festival announcers gave everyone cause to worry with the warning of a thunderstorm, complete with hail, threatening an early end to the day. Thankfully, nothing of that severity occurred, but what did ensue was easily the crowning moment of the entire festival.

Royal Blood

Royal Blood took to the Mistletone stage as the sky darkened, and it was a damn good thing the stage was an outdoor one because the pavilions covering the three others wouldn’t have been able to contain the massive sound the English duo brought to the table. Three songs deep, Figure It Out’s chorus hit the crowd exactly as gigantic raindrops began to blitz the festival grounds – and, understandably, everyone lost their minds. The rain gave punters permission to kick, shake, strip, punch the air, and forget all social norms that usually go hand in hand with being in a public place. The recording-perfect performance pulled off by Royal Blood, who really sounded more like maybe five guys rather than just two, demonstrated that these guys are one of the most cohesive musical units out there today. It was a straight-up assault on all five senses, and the crowd loved every minute of it.

Courtney Barnett

National Treasure/your girl Courtney Barnett, she of the unashamed hair tossing and slacker rock brilliance, has always been a fantastic live performer; but her onstage confidence has very visibly improved since Splendour last year. That probably has something to do with all those live US TV gigs. Backed by her always rambunctious band, she filled the gaps between songs with her trademark banter with bassist Bones. “Where are your glasses?” she asked him after a more textured, surfier rendition of Don’t Apply Compression Gently, “Can you even see how many people are here?” “Are you calling me a nerd?” he playfully bit back. Courtney’s tendency to forgo traditional song structures works exceedingly well in a live setting, lending an improvisational quality to the experience. Avant Gardener turned into a jump-around riot; and Pedestrian At Best, the first single from Barnett’s recently announced upcoming album, was even more cacophonous in person.

Mac DeMarco

All-round legend Agnes DeMarco took to her MC role by announcing the impending ciggie-pop tunes of her son on the Good Better Best Stage. Mac DeMarco opened with crowd favourite Salad Days, and it was clear that he was the perfect follow up to Courtney: both are pioneers of the lovable-goof movement that’s becoming pervasive in today’s music industry. Mac’s chilled out summery vibes accompanied a picturesque setting sun, but his audience was anything but relaxed – he elicited the most squeals out of any artist on the lineup (and the most cult-like copycat outfits). In spite of the hysteria, Mac’s set was sanguine and quirky but undeniably beautiful at the same time. It’s said that Canadians share a laid-back jokester temperament with Australians, and Mac DeMarco and his awesome mum are proof that’s true.

Banks

If US sensation Banks’ performance at Laneway took you on a date, it would be to a dark, secluded whiskey/cigar bar packed with plush red couches and potted ferns, and you’d be subjected to some seriously sexy banter and heavy petting in the most private corner of the room. Banks knows exactly how to control her crowd, as she constantly built tension from her stock-still delivery of Waiting Game to closing out the set with hit single Beggin For Thread as she strut around the stage, resplendent in black lace. Her bewitching presence and that voice had the boys swooning and the girls – no, probably the girls swooning too.

Jungle

Neo-soul-pop collective Jungle were delightfully bouncing and energetic. Hits Busy Earnin’ and Time were clear highlights of the set, and sounded just as vigorous live as they do on their self-titled debut record. Not one of the seven members of Jungle was static or underused, with everyone bringing their bells and well-placed whistles to the table. There wasn’t a single still body in the crowd, either. Shout out to the girls with the light-up fluorescent hula hoops who swayed in time with the brassy, bold music.

St Vincent

It’s been said before that St Vincent just doesn’t get the attention she so completely deserves in Australia, and that was painfully evident as she took to the Mistletone stage and faced what was a fairly modest crowd, considering how absolutely massive her legacy is. It probably didn’t help that she clashed with Caribou, and the audience did grow in size as her set continued, but it was a sure-fire sign that a lot of Aussies may not know the work of Annie Clark so well (take pity on those people). For the blissfully aware, St Vincent put on all her airs and displayed her total showmanship, punctuating Rattlesnake with rigid movements and static guitar riffs. It’s no secret that Annie is a master shredder, but her liquid-smooth control of her instrument as she tore through each solo was mesmerising. St Vincent conveyed a sense of complete effortlessness, despite the technical complexity of the music itself. She was ever the dynamic performer, dropping dead and coming to life exactly when she meant to, pulsating with her guitar and giving it life, treating her audience to a true piece of oddball art rock theatre rather than just a set.

FKA Twigs

FKA twigs is the music world’s new darling and this was her first chance to show Brisbane why that is. She did not disappoint. Smoke and lights pervaded her set, creating an intensely dramatic mood – something that is crucial to the overall experience that Twigs (Tahliah Barnett) cultivates. She bended and writhed her way through the set, quietly hypnotising and intimidatingly cool. Like with St Vincent, there was as much too look at as there was to listen to, thanks to Barnett’s off-the-charts stage presence. Despite the flashing strobes and gawking crowd, FKA Twigs managed to make her set feel almost inappropriately intimate, particularly during Two Weeks. Couples embraced, friends twirled their hands in the air, but everyone was transfixed on Twigs. How can music that at first listen seems so sleepy be so electrifying?

While Flying Lotus was busy bending the space-time continuum at the Red Bull/Future Classic stage, Flight Facilities well and truly brought the party. If the crowd was big at the start of their set, it well and truly tripled when Two Bodies dropped. Flight Fac are fan favourites for extremely valid reasons – they’re a total earworm factory, and have a set so snappy it’ll give you whiplash. Clair De Lune was expectedly dreamy and fanciful, with guest vocalist Owl Eyes breathing life into the song. The iconic Flight Facilities logo (once a real logo for a real airline) beamed down on the masses, and the performance felt like a truly immersive experience, like being on board a plane – but when Flight Fac are onstage it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. The unstoppable duo didn’t quit for a second, filling each potential moment of silence with their cruisey grooves that included a sparkling mashup of Stand Still and Major Lazer’s Get Free, all the way up until the end of the night, when weary but beatific punters streamed out of the festival gates in search of a taxi and a greasy kebab.

 

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