As far as festivals go these days, Laneway is about as good as they come in terms of accessibility, comfort and quality line-ups. The Melbourne edition on Saturday, February 4th was located on the Maribyrnong River in the city’s west-end; the uncrowded festival contained four intimate (not epically massive) stages and a bill including Husky, Feist, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, The Drums, The Horrors and M83. This year’s incarnation of the decade-old festival certainly ousted the litany of festivals and endless live music options at this time of the year in Australia. A week earlier, Melbourne’s Big Day Out failed to sell-out for the first time in recent memory (QRO review of also not sold out Auckland stop); Laneway on the other hand, amassed a crowd out the front in desperate search of tickets. Here are some of the reasons why:
The darling of the festival, Laura Marling, played a stirring set in the mid-afternoon heat. The southern-English, petit seraph was the surprises of the day. Her live band was stunningly refined in sound: weeping cello, thumping double bass, an endless array of stringed instruments, deftly-stroked drums, piano, and of course Marling’s distinctively beautiful voice and guitar. Members of the crowd were attempting to move forward to secure front-row spots for Feist (see below), but instead were halted and held by the enchanting 22-year-old (who has already put out three highly acclaimed albums). The highlight of the set was far and away the opening track of her debut album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, “Ghosts”.
Portugal. The Man
Playing on ‘The Windish Agency Stage’, an amphitheatre-like grassy hill upon the river, the Alaskan five-piece churned out a decent set, primarily consisting of tracks from their new album, In the Mountain in the Cloud (QRO review). This psychedelic-(insert any genre here) band is ideal for festivals, since they emit good vibes with their catchy hooks and melodies. Songs like “So American” and “Got It All” had the crowd carousing and singing in unison. To complement to the group’s tunes, this was the set to which people designated a reclining session on the lawn with a cool drink. Somehow, this seemed appropriate for Portugal. The Man, such is the groovy nature of their music.
The most Laneway-like ‘Dean Turner Stage’ was graced with female brilliance: Laura Marling had performed there shortly beforehand (see above), followed by Feist. Aside from the odd guitar-tuning problem, the Canadian folkstress put on an impressive nine-song set, with all but one song coming from her last two albums, The Reminder (QRO review) and Metals (QRO review). The band, comprising members of Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on) and Mountain Man, held this hour together exceptionally and allowed Feist to really bloom on tracks such as “Feel It All”, “How Come You Never Go There” and “Graveyard”. She switched stylishly between the darker and lighter sections of her oeuvre, revolving between electric and acoustic guitar, the rhythmic and the melodic.
1. A Commotion
2. My Moon My Man
3. How Come You Never Go There
5. Undiscovered First
7. Comfort Me
8. The Bad in Each Other
9. Feel It All
The Brooklyn-based Drums hammered home one of the most beguiling performances of the festival. As the sun set (and storm clouds emerged) behind the ‘Young Turks & Eyoe Stage’, the other river-rooted stage, front man Jonathan Pierce meandered freely onstage, reciting his highly personal anecdotes and ponderings with supreme intensity. To make the set even more rewarding, the band as a whole were intensely focused, even faultless in their execution. In response, the crowd were energetic and welcoming. The only thing lacking was the presence of a capable backing vocalist – in spite of Pierce’s solitary, strong voice. This void was most evident on tunes such as “Days” and “Down by the Water”. That being said, the beauty of this hour lived in its raw, stripped-back gathering of two guitars, a synth and the eponymous instrument (the drums), over which Pierce’s voice was a most worthy focal-point. “What You Were”, “Me and the Moon”, “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” and “Money” were among the greatest moments of the festival, equal to M83‘s smoky, glow-stick infected “Midnight City” later that night.