Kicking off its string of regional dates in Bendigo, festival-going types – you know, the ones in singlets, shorts, thongs and the occasional sombrero – were looking decidedly worried about the prospect of spending the next eight or ten hours beneath a threateningly grey sky that would never warm up.
Regardless, Matt Corby was the first big name on the main stage and was clearly a drawcard to get punters through the doors early with his powerful voice. “Brother” had almost every female crowd member singing along in not-quite-perfect harmony, but their adulation was undeniable.
The Maccabees, in what was to be their first gig on Australian soil, took the afternoon slot. Over the past few years the affable South Londoners have amassed some momentum abroad built around a time-honoured Britpop aesthetic, some clever turns-of-phrase and dramatic shifts in dynamics – quiet one moment, piercing twelfth-fret madness the next – but alas, their overly polite approach, compounded with the seismic rumbling intruding from the dance tent saw much of their visceral impact diminished.
Nevertheless, vocalist Orlando Weeks delivered a pitch-perfect, nuanced performance, his plaintive bleating and three-pronged guitar attack allowing for some wonderfully textured moments. Singles ‘Porcupine’ and ‘Feel to Follow’ bookending their short set.
Following The Maccabees was the inimitable Andew W. K., who took to the stage in dirty white jeans and t-shirt, with a gut that has seen more than a few large nights out. Even putting aside his esoteric music – a weird hybrid of Rammstein and Japanese game show jingles – WK’s act seemed worthy of the loonies one sometimes encounters on Fitzroy trams, but alas, this is rock and roll and who would we be to condemn nihilism or egotists in a genre that has often proved the one safe-haven for such types?
You’ve already heard about his bizarre behaviour, encouraging the crowd to bottle him.It was so incongruous with what we expect from him that his antics almost defy explanation. Given the utter lack of substance to his one-man setup, the still atmosphere, slight crowd and their proximity to the stage, things actually became pretty awkward, especially as WK began to single out individual crowd members, berating them for standing with their hands in their pockets or not dancing. Party hard or fuck off was the clear message; many took him at his word.
Meanwhile, Mutemath were whipping up a storm in the nearby tent with their competent mix of disparate genres, from funk and dub to hard rock, all performed with a surprising dexterity. Their jam band origins became obvious as members shifted positions, and attitudes, with each song. Each seemed utterly absorbed in their instruments, but it was drummer Darren King who stole the show with his manic performance, providing a rock solid foundation for the band’s relentless riffs. Despite their relative lack of obvious hooks, Mutemath definitely captured attention and won over some new fans.
Alas, back on the main stage, The Getaway Plan seemed out of their depth. For all their punk and hardcore origins, their live show lacks any measure of the reckless abandon (or even the right amount of distortion on the guitars) which can be the make-or-break difference between the leaders of the pack and the also-rans in their chosen genre. With only four thin-limbed members occupying a massive yawning chasm of a stage, they lacked presence and energy as they plodded through their back-catalogue of minor singles and album tracks. With the exception of some able-voiced hardcore fans immediately before the stage, most crowd members seemed to be biding their time before “Where the City Meets the Sea” inevitably closed out the set.
It was metalcore journeymen Parkway Drive, however, that would prove the runaway success of the afternoon. Known and respected for their prolific rural touring, the Byron Bay natives have legitimately earned the title of veterans. Frontman Winston McCall brought the crowd together against their better judgement with his typically testosterone-fuelled stage presence and delivery. For a brief moment, the only sunshine of the afternoon was bright enough to illuminate the swirl of dust that had been kicked up. Playing mostly from the band’s third album Deep Blue, not even a muffled guitar sound could detract from bangers like “Boneyards,” “Sleepwalker” or closing anthem “Carrion.”
Back in the tent, 360’s love-it-or-hate-it take on Aussie hip-hop found the entrepreneurial MC taking an all-inclusive, remix-heavy approach to the day. “Boys Like You” saw thousands of punters dancing, largely thanks to 360’s benevolent party jams and the wildly creative pillared light show.
Back outside, Ball Park Music were halfway through an energetic set in front of an appreciative crowd. Frontman Sam Cromack spent almost the entire set with a stubby of beer dangling from his wrist, his irreverant humour playing a prominent role in both the performance and between-song banter. The distinct, compact vocal melodies of “Sad Rude Future Dude” and “Happy Healthy Citizen of the Developed World Blues” were particular highlights.
The crowd was clearly building in anticipation of Dallas Green’s City and Color, who from the first plaintive chords of their set, kept the crowd in a trance. With a voice as pure as the driven snow, Green single-handedly carried the show. By the fourth song, you could have heard a pin drop. “As Much As I Ever Could” was a clear favourite, but after forty-five minutes of sheer restraint and beauty, a sense of restlessness began to build, especially after Public Enemy rudely sound checked over the latter part of the set. Credit is due to Green and Co. for not losing their cool before ‘you know who’ came on.
Public Enemy did the right thing by dedicating their set to the Beasties’ MCA, but for all their theatrics and undeniable influence, their set felt too anachronistic. Their militaristic aesthetic has its time-honoured novelty value, and the requisite hits were well received by the densely packed crowd. Things ended on an awkward note, though, when a rambling monologue by Flayva Flav continued well after his bandmates had left the stage, an adjacent punter couldn’t help but remark, “he does this at every fuckin’ gig.”
And with that, it was up to Kimbra to win over some more hearts. As her star continues to rise in Europe and the US, the songstress seemed even more perky than usual, literally running out onto the stage in a multicoloured cape over a gold-sequinned dress. Opening with obscure album cut “Limbo,” an unusual but effective choice, the energy was infectious. Kimbra’s expansive vocals have taken on a more minimalistic, improvisational style over the years, but when combined with the cohesiveness of her backing band, her sheer energy and talent is always engaging. Kimbra also does a fantastic job of transposing her album tracks – and all their studio trickery – into a rock-funk configuration. “Warrior,” her collaboration with Mark Foster and A-Track, even found the band ditching the original track’s electro in favour of a more funky, soulful approach.
Hilltop Hoods were up next, and credit where it’s due, commanded the main stage’s biggest and most energetic crowd of the day. Their immediately recognisable sound has become a staple at most festivals, and it didn’t take more than a second or two of “The Nosebleed Section” to draw everyone in. Showcasing material from their 2011 album Drinking from the Sun, as well as crowd-pleasers “Chase that Feeling” and “The Hard Road,” the Adelaide boys are masters of their craft. Watching Hilltop Hoods is always a visceral experience, and with a solid sound mix and live drumming, MCs Suffa and Pressure used their expansive stage to full effect.
Kaiser Chiefs were to close out the main stage, and frontman Ricky Wilson single-handedly carried the set into memorable territory. Ostensibly on tour to promote their new singles collection Souvenir, every song was a winner; the highlights being “Every Day I Love You Less and Less,” the kraut-rock inspired tune driving and building before unleashing into an old-school punk chorus, and The Future is Medieval‘s “Little Shocks;” a track that truly marked an evolution in style for the band. With the wind having finally died down, the acoustics allowed the guitars to cut sharply through, yet, it was Wilson’s antics that fans will remember.
During a rowdy performance of hard rocker “Take My Temperature,” he dismounted the stage and was launched into the air by the Slingshot, the megastructure which had been towering ominously over the stage all day. Impressively, he didn’t miss a note (let alone a breath) during his radical journey, which only whipped up the adoring crowd into even more of a frenzy. Diehard fans weren’t about to be deterred by a long day spent outside in the cold weather, and Kaiser Chiefs’ seemingly endless array of recognisable tunes was a unifying, fitting end to what was a sprawling yet satisfying day out in the country.
– Darren Gubbins