Photo gallery by Cooper Gordon @ GordonCo Visuals
Fremantle is an embarrassment of riches at the best of times, but January/February also now brings with it the travelling roadshows of the Falls Downtown and its older rival in WA, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. Laneway inhabits Esplanade Park and Freo’s West End and has made itself rightly comfortable in doing so.
Walking along Marine Terrace into the entry gates was an excursion in dodging Ubers, confused families, shorts-wearing M8s who look like they were off to the cricket and young girls dressed as if they were on their way to tha club. Yet there they were; all pouring into what we don’t refer to as an ‘alternative music festival’ anymore. These days it takes all types and so they wandered in – ‘maturer’ music writers among them – as Stella Donnelly lilted her way through the earliest slot on a festival she’ll ever play. Stellar indeed.
On the Spinning Top stage, are Shame – rough and bratty, yet thoroughly charming from Sound London. With a maximum age of 21, these agitated-punk-humourists are a welcome surprise so early in the day. Singer Charlie Steen looks like a new recruit to the balmy army, but there’s far more going on here than cricket. The Guardian have branded Shame ‘Britain’s most exciting new band’, but with songs such as One Rizla and Donk they’re don’t seem built (or keen) for too much hype. A headlining tour of Australia seems necessary, and would likely be a wonderful thing.
At the Ferris Wheel stage Cable Ties downed their noisy tools to momentarily wish their tour manager a happy birthday. ‘She stopped an AC30 (amplifier) from falling on me; replaced my guitar strings and gave me thee tampons. She’s the best’, praised vocalist/guitarist, Jenny McKechnie, as the trio tore back into their post-punk assault, which, with Nick Brown’s strong bass, had a Joy Division-like quality to it all. Extended instrumentals led into a well versed anti-corporate/pro-individual missive. More shouting spite than spouting shite, as Alexei Sayle would have it. Cable Ties have something to sing about and they stand by every word.
The I Oh You Block Party stage was nestled like a sanctuary among the Norfolk Pines as Perth electronic duo, Feels, unveiled a totally new set of music. It was an upbeat respite from sun and various aural assaults, with Elise Reitze and Rosie Taylor leading the way, with unison smiles. 2018 looks promising, meanwhile here’s Xanthea O’Connor’s late-2016 profile on them – http://www.aroundthesound.com.au/content/reich-stuff.
Over at the Ferris Bueller stage Brighton, UK, trio Dream Wife (joined by a touring drummer) set a dynamic scene with music as colourful as their clothes and some great pop hooks not unlike Perth’s Boys Boys Boys!. Vocalist, Rakel Mjöll, was dressed in cheerleader-like fashion, but her delivery left nothing on the field. ‘This country is full of bad bitches and it’s so beautiful’, she yelled as they launched in to the single, Somebody. Dream Wife go for a technicolour-cute look but the lines cross between savvy and sassy with a few discordant flavours. They’re probably more suited to indoor shows than sunny 2pm Sunday appearances, but when they’re overall message screams ‘support your local bad bitch’ you do feel inclined to listen.
As soon as Dream Wife finished, Billie Eilish started up on the neighbouring stage, her camouflage vest not indicative of the soulful nature of the artist. At 16 Eilish was the youngest on a Laneway line-up since Lorde made her Australia live debut in 2014. She drew a big crowd – and held them – with many young girls singing along clearly inspired by a singer seemingly with experience beyond her years. Bellyache and Six Feet Under were among highlights from a vocalist who also has the ability to make Drake’s Hotline Bling her own. It’s the beginning of a great adventure.
Further afield at the Future Classic stage (majestically placed next to the Old Maritime Museum) was the utterly ethereal Californian, Moses Sumney. He was rather late to take the stage but once on the wait dissolved as Sumney, dressed in a flowing black robe, showcased a falsetto and range to die for (and go to heaven at that). Jeff Buckley at times, Minnie Ripperton at others, Sumney displayed masterful control of his voice and the layering of it amidst his music. Breathtaking.
Brisbane’s Amy Shark performed, intense and into the sun. When Adore peaked at #2 on triple j’s Hottest 100 and Night Thinker garnered a ‘Best Pop Release’ at the 2017 ARIAs, it certainly helped her star rise, but Shark certainly has done the hard yards and it shows, with a commanding set during the warmest part of the day. Shark deals with strong messages but they are rousing in a positive manner and universal enough for her to break through in a bigger way. Weekends and Adore closed out the set to loving response.
‘Got any pingaz, guys?!’ shouted an upbeat and friendly fella as I stood talking to the local Laneway co-promoter. If he realised who’d he’d accidentally asked he’d have likely leapt the fence, but was good-naturedly moved on. ‘Kids’ these days.
A short walk to the Spinning Top stage and Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever looked like they were heading straight to/just back from the pub. Normcore folk rock. Three chords and a beer. Spirited.
Wolf Alice, over at the Ferris Wheel stage, just owned it at a point where the crowd number was peaking and the day’s refreshments thus far were kicking in. In other words, it was just what everybody needed. Vocalist/guitarist Ellie Rowswell’s assertive presence (even in the great outdoors) and Joff Oddie’s guitar acrobatics provided diversity amidst the compelling dynamics. North London reprazent.
The Internet loped onstage in not so much an odd future but a beautiful present. As vocalist, Syd Tha Kid, explained, it was to be the last time this set – essentially the Ego Death album plus cuts from the members’ various solo releases – would be performed, what with new album recorded. Syd’s soft voice cut like ice cream during this joyous, jazzy, funk set, while Steve Lacy brought out a more powerful energy on vocals and guitar. It almost literally (almost! literally!) cooled the day down.
Aldous Harding played a sublime set with lots of spaces and that were all beautifully filled. It’s voice-as-instrument in this context with guitar and keyboard supporting in a similar way to Moses Sumney’s performance earlier. With a touch of Francoise Hardy, Harding’s beautiful vocal delivery brought late night to the afternoon.
With Kevin Parker watching to the side of stage prior to his own DJ set, Mac Demarco walked out giving happy shout-outs to all. It was a lounge o’ sound from the get-go: happy folk pop and elevator music for ovals (at times), but this slightly goofy guy really has some genius up his sleeve. Someone on YouTube once noted that Demarco has ‘the voice of world peace’ and while that’s a big statement for a young dude to have on his shoulders, there’s no denying the heavenly delights of On The Level or Chamber Of Reflection.
Tears and vomiting outside the PIP bar. Not yet 6.45pm. Pace yourselves, people.
Anderson .Paak And The Free Nationals drew a huge crowd at the Ferris Bueller stage. As he asked (and succeeded) for everybody to yell, ‘fuck that shit!’, a group of fence-jumpers were being led out with that strange look they always seem to have on their face, where the adrenalin hasn’t yet caught up to the reality. There was plenty of both in the crowd however, as .Paak and co turned their final Laneway set into a crowd-participation exercise that Kim Jong-un would ill for.
Father John Misty is an American folk messiah, but was rather more subdued than his last WA appearance at Disconnect in 2015. ‘I need to work on my festival timbre’, he noted, but didn’t seem his enigmatic self. It still sounded beautiful though, the poignant and quietly epic Only Son Of The Ladies Man being a case in point.
Back over at the mainstage area, Bonobo provided quite a blissful counter-act to the previous intensity of Anderson .Paak. In a spot of salient programming Odesza followed, multiple drummers and neon all over the stage and into Sunday night. Earlier I’d chatted to some young blokes who’d waited six months since the festival announcement purely to see their favourite electronic duo. They’d have loved it.
The evening continued to deliver, with the surprisingly resounding and uplifting Slowdive to the strange, perfectly rendered and hand-tingling new kid jazz of Badbadnotgood. Meanwhile The War On Drugs didn’t have to worry about Sun Kil Moon on this occasion, they were loved here, evoking, to these ears anyway, Infidels-era Bob Dylan. They spoke to the heart.
Over at the Spinning Top stage, Mac Demarco introduced POND who floated right into 30,000 Megatons. It really was a class gesture to have the Fremantle outfit – led by cosmically-inclined local, Nick Allbrook – close proceedings. And they did it with flash and aplomb, in a set that was like an organic rave with lighting that often cast POND’S well-known members as anonymous shadows. The set also featured the Koi Child horns on Fire In The Water and by the moment the explosive Giant Tortoise hit it was – as a song they didn’t play describes – a Fantastic Explosion Of Time.
Not to mention a euphoric end to another excellent Laneway Festival. All the thumbs up.