REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
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REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)




When Laneway Festival began, humbly, in front of a long-defunct bar, it was born a messy hybrid of hip hop, DJs, post-punk, folk and anything else that caught the organisers’ ear. Thirteen years later, one of the standout lessons is that the organisers have eschewed heavily-blogged acts that rely on perfectly calibrated filters and quantised beats, for bands that can cut it live. In previous festivals, many of the acts were in the first flushes of success and still transitioning from the home studio to the stage. This year, there is no gazing at laptop screens or reticence to perform.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Happy Laneway Festival punters!
All photography by Carbie Warbie.

“This is entertainment. Enjoy it.” says Shame frontman Charlie Steen. Kicking off proceedings at The Spinning Top Stage, the British five-piece play  highlights from their debut album Songs of Praise released just last month. Their inclusion on the bill is the day’s first testament to the programmers’ skills in knowing what we’ll want to see in six to nine months time. Steen writhes, rips off his shirt and spearheads the band’s adolescent swagger but never resolves his battle between passion and lucidity. Whatever is making him so fevered isn’t clearly articulated on songs like ‘The Look’, ‘Tasteless’ and ‘Fiction’, but it doesn’t matter at all and the band play a blinder of a set.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Shame

Up the hill at the Dean Turner stage, seething squalls of feedback, a jagged bassline and a voice that could smash windows announces the arrival of Cable Ties. Decked out in Camp Cope’s #ItTakesOne t-shirts, the trio fight against the bursts of dry ice that briefly engulf them, to hundreds, and by the end of the set thousands, of fans. Cable Ties don’t so much target misogyny as set it on fire and kill its father. “This song is about telling people to get fucked,” says Jenny McKechnie, introducing ‘The Producer’, to a cheering crowd. With sounds that take the best of Chelsea circa 1977, the instrumentation is so sparse, every hi-hat hit and guitar note counts, and force the attention back to McKechnie’s voice and lyrics. Not even the malfunctioning bass amp can diminish their incendiary take of ‘Say What You Mean’. “Go and see Dream Wife, hey.” says bassist Nick Brown, signing off.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Cable Ties

A lot of people take up his suggestion. The Brighton three-piece (plus ring-in drummer) pull a big crowd, many of whom almost match their absurdly stylish yet functional outfits. “This is summertime!” shouts singer Rakel Mjöll, unphased by the blazing sun, and the band’s forceful joy is exactly what the crowd want, even if their response seems muted in comparison. Songs like ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ and ‘Kids’ win them a lot of new fans and for many the band are best on ground. They also point to a pattern that runs throughout the day: strident powerful female-fronted bands, and more chilled guitar-heavy dude rock.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Backstage cooling off with Dream Wife.

One of these bands is Sandy (Alex G), who provide a welcome counterpoint to the electro and guitar-driven rock direction many of the acts take. Their jazz-blues-soul-country fusion showcases their considerable talent but doesn’t capture the crowd. Songs like ‘Proud’ are strong on record, but wither in the sun. By the time they arrive at their closing songs, ‘Guilty’ and ‘Kicker’, the crowd have moved on to the thrilling rock of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.  

The local five-piece have been slowly gathering hype here and overseas and today offers the last chance to see them before they head overseas to bigger festivals like Coachella and, later, Primavera. Right from opener ‘Clean Slate’, it’s easy to see why. The triple-guitar attack never gets overwhelming, the rhythm section is pared back and everything is in service of propulsive melodies and smart lyrics. “It’s bloody hot. I wore black,” singer Fran Keaney chides himself before launching in to one of the best songs from 2017, ‘Julie’s House’. By the time new single ‘Mainland’ comes around, there’s more movement than to many of the festival’s dance acts.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

As the sun moves behind the Footscray Arts Centre, the crowds shifts from clean-cut unboozed camaraderie to a louder, messier blend of flapping plaid shirts, tattoos, sunglasses and glitter makeup. It looks like Brooklyn’s nightlife was poured into a Floridian industrial estate.

“Look at all the fucking hipsters,” says Moses Sumney. “My people.” He may consider the crowd his people, but at six-foot something, dressed in a black cape and bold sunglasses, there’s no mistaking Sumney for anyone else. His intimate close-mic’ed voice steals your attention, before his blend of slow motion celestial funk sends you into space, which prompts a lot of Kate Bush-style vamping dance moves amongst the crowd. It’s a device made all the more powerful by his searing soul-rending voice. Acts like Enya and Sigur Rös suggest that you can’t evoke ethereal worlds while having a sense of humour. This is not a problem for Sumney. “Who here bought my album last year? Y’all love to be depressed. This song is not from that album,” he says introducing the tom-heavy funk of ‘Rank and File’.

Forgoing the fun Tom Petty-in-a-yacht-pop of Alex Cameron for the tightly-channeled fury of Wolf Alice is one of the many tough choices the Laneway program throws up, but opting for the British rockers is a rewarding move. “Oh my god she’s a goddess!” screams the woman next to me as they finish recent single ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, and there is something regal about singer and guitarist Ellie Rowsell. While she can certainly wail, and instantly silence a crowd, and performs as though there’s nowhere else she’d rather be, it’s the defiant passion that she invests into her performance that makes her such a powerful figure, and one that invokes comparisons to 90s rock. When she climbs from the stage down to the barrier to deliver the denouement to their closing song, ‘Giant Peach’, it’s enough to blast the crowd apart.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Wolf Alice

Aldous Harding is quickly garnering a reputation as one of the most powerful performers in the country, and her turn here certainly impresses the crowd, many of whom have to shield their eyes to look at her, so white is her suit and guitar. After her already legendary turn at Meredith, she doesn’t have to struggle to win the crowd over, many of whom talk to her like a dear friend.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Aldous Harding

At the other end of the colour spectrum, the dark intensity of Melbourne's vampires of indie rock, City Calm Down prove their songs deserve the biggest stage possible. Everything they touch is invested with a sense of theatricality and bombast that is wholly welcome. As the first act of the day who actually benefit from the flurries of dry ice sporadically blown off the stage by the breeze, the band’s rock isn’t worse for being derivative, but it does invoke a scale that requires more commitment to sell than they can muster today.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
City Calm Down

One act that has no problem with selling what he’s brought is Anderson Paak, who, along with his Free Nationals are the most notable victims of a 20 minute delay in set times. The huge crowd is entertained by a random bloke on a nearby balcony doing a shoey, before Paak’s arrival draws the first stadium-size reception of the festival. As the sun sets stage left, Paak arrives amid a cloud of “make some noise”-s and crowd hyping antics in which we’re all keen to partake. "This is way better than Adelaide," he says to roars of approval before launching into ‘Come Down’, one of the day’s strongest opening songs. The musicianship, almost tangible charisma, smoothly integrated crowd interactions and sheer joy are inarguable. His Dr Dre-sample-heavy take on ‘The Waters’ is a perfect match of place, time and mid-paced West Coast rhythms. His drumming skills on ‘Carry Me’ is further proof there is no greater icon we’ll see today.

Sorry Father John Misty. Punters love you but the walk from The Very West stage to the other end of the festival sees the energy level wound from breathless enthusiasm back to comfortably pleased, even if the lyrical intensity and talent is comparable. ‘I Love You Honeybear’ is a blazing finish to a winner of a set, but it’s more a feeling of being happily spent than the revitalisation coursing through the crowd leaving Paak.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Father John Misty

Slowdive seem more transmitted from another dimension than on a temporary stage next to the Maribyrnong and as the last rays of sunset die, a band many fans never thought they’d ever see let alone between an ex-Fleet Fox and Pond, take to the stage. Opening with ‘Slowdive’ and ‘Catch the Breeze’, the set focuses on their earlier material with only a few tracks taken from last year’s album. The audience don’t seem too concerned, with bliss washed across their faces, transfixed by the spellbinding work from the stage. Songs loop and spiral and lights stalk through the drifts of dry ice, as the band reach a cruising altitude, with much of the festival on board.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Slowdive

Which makes the crash-landing that is the hilariously overblown sub- techno-pomp of Odesza all the funnier. When confronted by entertainment we should, as instructed at the beginning of the day by Shame, “enjoy it”, but, after the soul, energy and originality that’s been on show over the last nine hours, these widescreen electro anthems seem empty. Facial expressions and energy levels in the crowd suggest that drugs certainly help appreciation, but the production values on show (inspired animations, a line of drummers with coloured snare drums and a tokenistic horn section) become a welcome distraction from the forgettable music.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
Odesza

Back at the Spinning Top stage, Pond (more like Pwned! amirite) are showing just how much they’ve honed their songwriting. New album ‘The Weather’, shows them pushing classic keyboards and Nick Allbrook’s falsetto, to the fore, keeping the stage presence that made them such a fun live act, and more than earning their place in the headline slot. When guitarist Joe Ryan asks the crowd “who here’s from Northcote?” and half the crowd own up, you’ve either just collected some valuable marketing data, or you’re having a very good show.

Inadvertently profiting from their slot as final act on the major stage, still running behind schedule, The War On Drugs are here to satisfy more than surprise. Their soaring ‘80s rock ballads don’t stray out of time or key, they’re so well constructed to sound familiar yet new, that the band is almost one of the festival’s outliers. The songs are spun like journeys and boast tangential guitar solos, propulsive choruses and all the space necessary to hold the scale of singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel’s vision. Epic, yet intimate. Big songs for headphones which, in a festival setting, really work. ‘Red Eyes’, ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘In Reverse’ stretch out, rich with tension and release. It’s a glorious way to finish a festival that had few issues and not a slot wasted.

REVIEW: 2018 St Jerome's Laneway Festival (Melbourne)
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