Falls Festival Byron | reviews

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Lunatics on Pogosticks
New kids on the block Lunatics on Pogosticks (pictured courtesy Lamp Photography) rocked the gates open on day two of Byron Bay Falls Festival. You wouldn’t think it to look, but the majority of the band are under 18. That’s right, the members of Lunatics on Pogosticks have either just finished or are in the process of finishing high school. This opening slot was a big deal for the NSW band and they didn’t take it for granted. Relishing every moment on stage, they belted out hits from all their EPs including breakout track Picasso’s Saddest Love which helped them become winner of triple j’s prestigious Unearthed High competition for 2013. Set highlight was their latest garage noise piece Blood Clot –recorded in Triple J studios after their Unearthed win. During the early morning set, the boys had some musical wisdom to impart on the Falls audience. Calling it their “ode to American garage rock” they played a medley of FIDLAR and Ty Segall songs which fit seamlessly into their mixture of slacker/garage rock. Speaking to the lads after the show, they mentioned that some of their biggest influences come from the LA garage rock scene such as Ty Segall and Wavves as well the Orwells and the Sonics from Washington. They also mentioned that Falls Festival was in fact their 10th official show as Lunatics on Pogosticks – while there are screws still to be tightened, this is definitely a band to look out for in 2014.

Violent Soho
I’ve been lucky enough to catch Mansfield boys Violent Soho on a handful of occasions now but not since the release of one of 2013’s heaviest records to come out of Australia, Hungry Ghost. If they were impressive the last few times, now they’re just showboating. Their set was energetic, bouncing, rough and the crowd ate it all up. A literal tornado of punters and dust filled the Forest Stage for Violent Soho’s mid-afternoon set that was packed with hits from that recently released third album such as, Dope Calypso, Lowbrow and Covered in Chrome which turned out to be the set highlight – I could easily mosh to Covered for the rest of my days! Feeling pretty chuffed about themselves, the band announced to the crowd that they were the heaviest band on the 3-day lineup. With no complaints on this side, Violent Soho injected Falls Festival with some much needed heavy rock and left everyone wanting more – by which I mean wanting to hear Covered in Chrome three more times for the encore.

Big Scary
Having been able to only catch the first half of Big Scary’s set in order to see the War on Drugs, I was blown away by the magnitude of captivation. Right from the get-go, Big Scary had me by the reins and didn’t let go. It was a powerful struggle to walk away mid-set from such talented Australian musicians. As I was walking up the hill away from the Amphitheatre stage, I was left in utter beguilement. Similar to their records, Big Scary use very minimal instrumentation on stage whereby Tom Iansek would switch between guitar and keys while Joanna Syme would remain behind the kit (extra point for female drummer). What left me so mesmerised were Tom and Jo’s breathtaking harmonies with the simple, yet clever, use of instrumentation. Songs like Belgian Blues made an early set appearance with added goosebumps from Tom’s vocals. The band oozes Jeff Buckley – from every bass kick from Jo or soaring yelp from Tom, Big Scary were nothing short from hypnotic and played a set full of hits from both 2013’s masterful Not Art and debut Vacation.

The War on Drugs
Playing on the Forest Stage after some comedy, the War on Drugs were a big selling point for the festival for me. Yet while I was front and centre on the barrier with a hundred-odd groovers behind me, it was difficult to determine the amount of people who actually pack the Forest Stage’s prominent grassy knoll. Led by Adam Granduciel, the band rolled on through Byron’s heat to play some finely tuned Americana shoegaze wonders. Each track flowed brilliantly into the next – but thankfully Adam stopped to chat between most songs otherwise it would have been fairly difficult to decipher when one song stopped and another started. After the epic use of harmonica in Baby Missiles, Granduciel wished the Falls audience a happy new year and asked them their new record contain more of. With the obvious answer, ‘More cowbell’ shouted, there was also ‘More weed’ thrown into the conversation. Granduciel happily obliged the fanatic crowd member and continued into Brothers, another hazing track from 2011’s Slave Ambient. The set highlight came from the Bruce Stringsteen-esque Red Eyes, the band’s brand new song which had its live debut in Australia. The track suited the beautiful environment in which it was performed as its soaring melodies and hazy approximation of Americana stretched over Byron’s scenic greens.

The John Steel Singers
I’ve heard the John Steel Singers through radio play and late night Rage-a-thons but have never listened to an entire record of theirs. That all changed once I saw the John Steel Singers put on a blistering show full of psych-dripped beach jams at the amphitheatre stage on day three. Dressed for the occasion (the whole band draped in Hawaiian beach wear, bucket hats and minimal footwear), they strung out sun-drenched tunes to satisfy even the smallest of Pink Floyd fanatics. Having small knowledge of their back catalogue, I was pleasantly surprised by how easily relatable their music was. The pounding drum beats and blissful guitar licks had me reminiscing early Tame Impala, but the breezy summery edge was in similar vein to New Jersey slackers Real Estate. While the John Steel Singers did take the spot of fellow Brisbane indies Hungry Kids of Hungry due to the breakup of the band, guitarist and vocalist Dean McGrath was invited up on stage along with the Preatures’ front woman Isabella Manfredi to smash out a couple of tracks on the vocals. Their appearance was literally the cherry on top of the cake for me and affirmed the band’s greatness.

Having seen POND a couple weeks back in Brisbane in support of their Hobo Rocket tour, I was salivating to see some more loose psych rock jams from one of Perth’s most acclaimed offsprings. It was a set filled to the brim with songs from their latest release with two older tracks thrown into the mix – Betty Davis (Will Come Down From the Heavens to Save Us) with a seamless build up into Beard, Wives, Denim’s Moth Wings –not to mention the brand spanking new track which found its way into POND’s set. The new track Soon, which can be found on the album Man, It Feels Like Space Again yet to released brought a surprising, yet welcomed, change of pace with front man Nick Allbrook taking a steadied break from his limbless, frolicking stage presence with an acoustic guitar in hand. It was a great way to break the flow of powerful psychedelic rock jams but the moment didn’t last long and the band were right back into an all guitars blaring standoff. The crowd was ready and willing the entire set, perhaps a little too much during Giant Tortoise where the mosh pit was so intense, several people left the with bloodied faces and noses. While crowd appreciation was a little to the right of violent, there’s no doubt that POND’s set was arguably the most enjoyable from the festival. Tame Impala front man Kevin Parker was also spotted side of stage rocking his chinos off.

Violent Femmes
It was with trepidation I joined the throng ready for Violent Femmes. It’s been a decade, maybe two, maybe more since I’d seen the Femmes and I wasn’t really sure how I felt about seeing them as aging rock stars (my 18yo companion had already pigeonholed their sound as dad rock). And when the unmistakeable riffs of Blister in the Sun got the half-drunk crowd moshing, I was more concerned than ever. But, when the lads followed up with Kiss Off and Please do Not Go, my spirits started to lift. A friend said “oh my god, I know every one of these songs,” and it dawned on me that we were hearing the Femmes’ first, self-titled album in its entirety. The impossibly young crowd bopped away to every song, although I couldn’t help but notice only two sing-alongs (when Add it Up was thrown into the mix). With the on-stage additions of brass for Confessions, xylophone for Gone daddy Gone and violin for Good feeling, we were reminded how it was that the Violent Femmes became such rock icons. When Gordon Gano wrapped up that last song, he threw us aged punters into a whirl by reminding us the album is 31 years old. “We never imagined we’d be playing for you decades later … looking at all these beautiful faces. Thank you very much,” he said. The lads wrapped up their set with Held you in my arms, Black Girls and Gimme the car. One very happy dad rock fan, right here – Samantha Morris.

So comes the final act of Falls Festival 2013 and I couldn’t think of a better way to close out a successful festival than with the most blissed out psych beats direct from Connecticut’s MGMT. I want to start off by saying just how incredibly visual this performance was. The band began using visual elements in their music as an added bonus on their newly released self-titled third album The Optimiser. These projections have now seeped into MGMT’s live show and have powerfully enhanced the musical experience. The two cameramen’s projections are displayed on the big screen with some crazy psychedelic patterns and textures layered on top of that. Not to forget that front man Andrew VanWyngarden operates a handheld camera of his own which is again layered on top of the other visuals on the big screen. All of this combined ensures an amazingly trippy and atmospheric element to MGMT’s already spellbinding series of songs. It was a set that focused on all their material, both past and present, but it was obviously clear that their newer tracks felt unappreciated as apposed to their smash hits Kids, Electric Feel and Time to Pretend. It was a real shame that the audience didn’t get into the other songs in the set because they were truly astounding. Songs like Aliens Days and Your Life is a Lie may have fell under the radar but if you weren’t into MGMT’s music, you had nothing to complain about in the visuals department. A performance I won’t soon forget.


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