live review

Laneway Festival 2014

Laneway Festival 2014

January 27 2014
Silo Park, Auckland

No entry, booze, or toilet queues! Working and easily-accessible ATMs! Hungarian bread puffs! The Auckland leg of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival took place yesterday and was an unequivocally pleasant user experience. Little things become a big deal during music festivals and all of these were well-considered and impeccably executed by Laneway organisers. Porta-loos were clean and plentiful; lines to purchase alcohol tokens were minimalised by staff who walked down each line selling them; extra shade on grass areas allowed escape from the sun; food stalls were scattered across the festival and hot dogs were therefore readily available (very important). All of these pleasantries are particularly impressive considering yesterday’s incarnation of the festival was the biggest in its five year history, selling out at 10, 000 tickets.

Lorde pulled out of Laneway Festival due to being nominated for four Grammy Awards and scheduled to perform live at the ceremony also (no biggie). While she absolutely killed it stateside, the ladies were also the stand-out performers in Auckland yesterday as HAIM and Savages delivered absorbing, tight sets of nihilistic post punk and smokey, sunshine pop respectively. Kurt Vile and Mount Kimbie’s afternoon sets were both super pleasant and location appropriate: there’s not a lot of things I’d rather listen to than Vile's ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ on a sunny public holiday.

On the downside, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (who apparently maligned the "apathy" of New Zealand crowds in an interview just an hour before their set) and Cat Power were both plagued by sound problems which made for disappointing outings, while Earl Sweatshirt said the most offensive thing he could have said, to one of the biggest crowds of the day, when he declared that “R. Kelly is tight as fuck” (if you don’t know why this is offensive you should probably read this). These little frustrations were, however, exactly that as part of a day that was an unmitigated success, and you can read our writer's individual reviews of each performance, below. Courtney Sanders

Doprah - Cactus Cat Stage - 1.00pm

Despite hearing good things over the past year, I had never listened to or seen Christchurch act Doprah before Laneway. I was pleasantly surprised by not only their polished, moody sound, but by the evident pleasure they took in being onstage with each other. Vocalist Indira Force provided a great focal point with her Stevie Nicks dance moves and look, while singing her heart out a la Portishhead’s Beth Gibbons. Their sound certainly had an updated Trip Hop vibe at times, but mixed it up with some wonderfully poppy ballads and psychedelic freakouts, creating an overall effect I would call exuberantly creepy. Doprah had a lot of people on stage as well as a lot of supporters in the audience, and are obviously extremely well-regarded among their peers. Hopefully, their performance will endear them to the wider audience they deserve. Louisa Kasza

Jagwar Ma – Mysterex Stage - 1.40pm

When I saw Jagwar Mar at the Kings Arms last year, I walked away considering the band to be a more “party” Tame Impala. Their seriously Mancunian performance at Laneway has made me rethink this – they’re definitely a fantastic band in their own right, experimental, tight and able to carry a crowd through twisted extended songs and solos. After a couple of minutes of ambient rain forest sounds, Gabriel Winterfield opened Jagwar Mar’s early afternoon set with a repetitive, re-verb laden chant – “waiting for tomorrow/brings another sun to watch”. The band, draped in tie dye and clearly having a great time, laid down some seriously, and I believe I am justified in using this term, groovy music. In Man I Need, Come Save Me and Let Her Go, the Hacienda vibe was strong, from the unnecessary-in-this-heat beanies and bucket hats to the Stone Roses inspired basslines, and the crowd lapped up the chance to get down to some bassy psychedelia. Hannah Cooke

Youth Lagoon - Cactus Cat Stage - 2pm

Nowhere near as chill as they might appear from their studio recordings, Youth Lagoon, AKA Trevor Powers and band, overcame a terrible moniker to play a hard-rocking, guitar-shredding, yet mature and polished set. Sporting an assortment of long hairdos and bushy beards, the Youth Lagoon guys reminded me of the super-cool older dudes I used to see at gigs circa 2009. Powers’ voice was pure and packed a punch, and he maintained a manic energy throughout the set, pounding the side of his impressively decked out keyboard and letting rip with his mighty vocal cords. All-in-all, Youth Lagoon projected stadium-sized emotions on a fun-sized stage and left their significant fan-base more than satisfied. Louisa Kasza

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Mysterex Stage – 3.05pm

A large crowd had assembled to welcome Unknown Mortal Orchestra back to Auckland. Starting bang on 3.05 with no time to chat, UMO began with the sweet and summery It’s Alright. Followed by the Monki, The Sun and So Good At Being In Trouble, they played a solid set, but there was a sort of mutual disinterest between the band and audience. The crowd didn’t respond enthusiastically to the extended guitar and drum solos (we wondered if UMO were experiencing some sound issues they had to cover up) and it seemed like band was playing at three-quarter strength. Compared to UMO’s frenetic past shows in smaller, sweatier venues, this felt positively tame, and the gap between the audience and the band seemed unbridgeable on the sunny Mysterex stage. But they turned it around - by the time they played Ffunny Friends everyone was on board again, and fans would have left happy, if a little underwhelmed. Hannah Cooke

Mount Kimbie - Cactus Cat Stage - 3.15pm

One of the most anticipated acts of the day, Mount Kimbie did not disappoint a tightly packed, windswept crowd. Impeccably turned out in crew neck jumpers and button-down shirts, the band had a low-key stage presence that did nothing to dampen the audience’s enthusiasm and were refreshingly focused on playing a pitch-perfect set, rather than hyping up the crowd. They obviously regard themselves as musicians first rather than showmen, and with good reason - they all seemed to be multi-instrumentalists, swapping guitars for keys for drums willy-nilly. Mount Kimbie are that rare thing, an electronica act who all play instruments, but the resemblance to New Wave acts ends there – they brought a superbly fresh sound to an indie-rock saturated Laneway, seamlessly mixing club beats with what sounded like the alien theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind­, along with the odd growling guitar solo. Louisa Kasza

Earl Sweatshirt - Hey Seuss Stage - 3.50pm

After a brief false start for a technical issue, the enthusiastic and sizeable crowd that had been slowly building for Earl Sweatshirt's late afternoon performance were rearing to go by the time the man himself bounded on stage. Although sound issues continued early on, muddling vocals and hampering volume, an energetic pace held through the first few songs before the dreamy 'Sunday' from 2013's 'Doris' gave the crowd a brief respite.

'Hive's grime-ridden groove had the crowd swaggering as one shortly after that before the back to back combo of singles, 'Chum' and 'Whoa' kept the writhing mass of sunscreen and sweat moving. For his part, whether imploring more from his audience or bemoaning the neighbouring stage's loud sound check, the 19 year old Earl keeps the (at times offensive) banter going throughout the 45 minute set. Despite it's brevity and sound issues, the show closes in deserving fashion with a swarm of hopping slam circles and smoke accompanying the appropriately immense 'Drop'. Paul Larsen

XXYYXX – Cactus Cat Stage – 4.30pm

After somewhat of a problematic start volume wise, and a few amplified apologies on his part,  Marcel Everett -  the 18 year old American DJ/beatmaker better known as XXYYXX - settled into a still too quiet, yet captivating DJ set. Evoking a vibe you could liken to a contemporary updating of English underground pirate radio in the mid 90s, XXYYXX bolted together slices of song drawn from the internet assisted genres of post-dubstep, modern Chicago footwork, future garage, cloudwave and beyond. His performance was colourful, vibrant and substantially better attended and received than I’d expected it would be. That doesn’t mean the hitches ended with early sound issues though. Music which exists within these continuums requires volume and presence. You need to feel it as much as you hear it, and there just wasn’t enough of either category going for the duration of XXYYXX’s performance. Simply put, it was a bittersweet experience. Martyn Pepperell

Kurt Vile – Mysterex Stage – 4.40pm

Kurt Vile and The Violators opened with 'Wakin on a Pretty Daze', performed with warmth and quietly extended into a ten minute jam. This set the stage for the rest of Vile’s performance – unassuming tunes teased out into long and winding epics, a perfect way to ease into Laneway’s evening programme. As per usual, the impressively haired Vile didn’t say much – if anything – but banter didn’t seem necessary with such a rapt crowd. The jaunty 'Already Gone' was the biggest hit of his performance, and less die-hard fans might have missed favourites like 'Freeway' or 'Baby’s Arms', as the length of the songs meant he could only play a few in a forty five minute set. But it was Kurt Vile being Kurt Vile: intimate, epically chilled and perfect to laze in the evening sun and sip a restorative beer to. Hannah Cooke

Parquet Courts - Hey Suess Stage - 5.30pm

Another band who have benefited from much media attention over the year, Parquet Courts didn’t fail to capitalize on the hype. With an enthusiastic audience familiar with their material, they belted through an energetic and fast paced set, often seamlessly linking from track to track.

Opening with 'Master Of My Craft' followed by 'Borrowed Time', Parquet Courts were largely taciturn between tracks, allowing the music to do the talking. With a body of work of consistently high quality, this was a smart move. The set was not entirely unrelenting however, with the less intense numbers like 'Careers in Combat' and 'N Dakota' providing a respite.

Naturally, 'Stoned And Starving' was going to be a highlight and Parquet Courts didn’t miss the opportunity to extend the track to good effect. Finally, 'Light Up Gold II' segued into a great high tempo high energy closer and the band left the stage with their trademark brevity. Nich Cunningham

Run The Jewels – Cactus Cat Stage - 5.45pm

Well this was exciting, acclaimed rap duo Run The Jewels live on stage in New Zealand. Atlanta’s Killer Mike, a huge bear of a man with larger than life exuberance on stage. Brooklyn’s EL-P, a skinny counterpoint to Killer Mike’s imposing figure, and yet as energetic, and joyful in a different way. In a former life Killer Mike was a weed carrier for Outkast, occasionally running out front to contribute a guest verse. Around the same time EL-P was the posterboy for angry art school rap. Years later they’re together on stage and the tables have turned. Killer Mike’s lyrics demand respect, and EL-P comes across as positively happy. Their performance is joyful and energetic. Old school hip-hop delivered with a new school twist by two veterans with enough life experience under their belts to appreciate what they’ve got when they see it. Shame about the muffled live sound though. Martyn Pepperell

Frightened Rabbit - Mysterex Stage - 6.20pm

Cramming four records of material into a 45 minute set list is a big ask for any band but even more so if, like Frightened Rabbit, this also happens to be your first time in the country. It's possibly for this reason, that it's a modest but wholly dedicated crowd who gather in front of the Scottish indie rockers late in the afternoon.

It's not long before the melodic, foot-tapping tunes began drawing in passerbys however and when front man, Scott Hutchison kicks off 'Old Old Fashioned' with a hearty "Take your partners please!", he's received with an enthusiastic cheer and obedient sing-a-longs. A sun drenched version of 'The Oil Slick' from Pedestrian Verse keeps the relaxed vibe going before Hutchison and his five-strong band round out their all-too-brief Auckland initiation with a gutsy recital of 'Keep Yourself Warm'. Paul Larsen

Danny Brown – Cactus Cat Stage - 7.00pm

The sound and the fury. Evidently we all came to Laneway to see Detroit’s rap oddball of the moment perform, and while the audience was dangerously crowded for the majority of his set, Danny Brown did not disappoint. Clad entirely in black, Danny strode on stage with the relaxed confidence of a pro, busting into a highly engaging set of material from his XXX and Old albums. Making full use of his cartoonish upper register rapping voice, Danny cut through the soundsystem with clarity and definition, while his DJ supported him with a mixture of bleep’n’bass beats, bassline driven club cuts and chunky industrial head-nodders. You know the memes of Danny you’ve seen on the internet? He knew exactly how to throw those poses into his performance, and engaged with the crowd in an understated yet captivating manner. Regardless of any missteps on Old, Danny Brown is world class star. Martyn Pepperell

Savages - Hey Suess Stage - 7.10pm

Savages made an impressive New Zealand debut. Slick and polished, they immediately commanded attention. While the instrumental members provided a stoic yet enthusiastic performance, it was singer Jehnny Beth who dominated the stage with her dramatic gesticulations and Servalan-esque menace.

The dusk complimented the moody atmosphere of Savages’ music as they opened energetically with 'I Am Here', followed by the vengeful 'Shut It'. On record, Savages tend to wear their influences on their sleeve but live they gain a much stronger identity. It maybe here their greatest strength lies. Arguably, the mid portion of Savages set became somewhat repetitive: rhythmic and atmospheric beds revolving around the vocals with dynamic emphasis for dramatic effect. However, Savages made sure to finish as strongly as they had started. Completing the set with 'She Will' and an extended ‘Fuckers', Beth et al proved themselves deserving of the hype and critical acclaim they have received. Nich Cunningham

HAIM - Mysterex Stage - 8.00pm

Haim - the now seasoned festival veterans so beloved on the UK circuit – were charged with getting the party up as the sun went down on Laneway, which they achieved without breaking a sweat. Opening with ‘Falling’, it’s a sharp performance from start to end, covering personal faves ‘The Wire’ and ‘Forever’ as well as a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ (which, while good, didn’t quite fly like their originals). They tend to have the Marmite effect on people, but I’ve been on board with what they’re laying down from the start – don’t over-analyse, just enjoy the weird vocal syncopation and stolen Eagles licks. Bassist Este’s distracting facial expressions aside, they’re a band that brings deep wells of groove to their live performance, and resisting the urge to dance is nigh on impossible. It oozes cheese but in a way that satisfies the belly, combining a big Huey Lewis ‘80s feel with modern lady sass. The symmetry and synchronicity of three sisters performing together adds to the charm too. Leonie Hayden

Jamie XX – Cactus Cat Stage – 8.15pm

The second to last act of the night on the Cactus Cat stage, London’s Jamie XX, the boy genius turned young adult genius of The XX – the late 2000s band who’s soundworld best epitomizes the concept of “4am balcony music”. A producer and multi-instrumentalist turned DJ, in between albums from The XX, Jamie hits the road, playing diverse and interesting sets made up of his own original productions, fresh tunes he favours, and of course work from The XX. The bass thud that connects most varietals of UK club music is present, sprinkled with steel pan drums, baroque synthesizer lines, and engaging counterpoint rhythms. Jamie’s set is fun, smart and multifaceted. The crowd is still there, and definitely with him. As the sun begins to set, melodies continue to rise and fall. It’s one of those moments when the music, environment and vibe merge perfectly. I leave the stage happy. Martyn Pepperell

CHVRCHES - Hey Seuss Stage - 8.45pm

The only gripe I had to level at Chvrches otherwise charming set was perhaps their live performances were a little too faithful to their recordings – a common pitfall for electronic acts I imagine. I always like the messy renditions that come out of a big live show. That said, the swelling synths and singer Lauren Mayberry’s petite vocal filled the space nicely, washing over and around an appreciative, and clearly tipsy audience. The group had burned through some big tunes – ‘We Sink’ ‘Lungs’ and ‘Gun’ – when it all turned to custard due to a synthesiser cutting out mid-set. There was a five minute window of banter and repairs, every band’s nightmare no doubt, which Mayberry rallied like a champ. She’s witty and sweet. They resumed the set, laying out another three or four tunes, and saw themselves out with crowd-pleaser ‘The Mother We Share’. Leonie Hayden

Literal Fuck - Red Bull Thunderdome - 9.30pm

Mysterious newcomers Literal Fuck are a Michael Jackson covers band, but also a Frankenstein’s monster of art and modern marketing. Having just released debut single '#giveintome', L.F. closed the Thunderdome in typically expectation-confounding style. Members Veronica Crockford-Pound and Claire Duncan were nowhere to be seen as their D.J. set of Michael Jackson bangers began, before appearing out of nowhere in matching MJ shirts and dark sunnies to boogie with the delighted crowd in a debauched silo dance party. Further confusion and party-madness was sown when L.F. surprised us with a Michael Jackson impersonator, who proceeded to hype up an already frenzied audience with a perfectly executed routine. Louisa Kasza

Cat Power - Cactus Cat Stage - 9.30pm

In stark contrast to the gaudy super yachts lined up behind it, the Cactus Cat stage is adorned with just a piano and a guitar when a beaming Chan Marshall ambles into the spotlight of her solo set to rapturous applause from the capacity crowd. The next 50 odd minutes are both trial and triumph for the enigmatic Marshall as persistent sound issues derail songs and visibly knock her confidence.

Thankfully, whenever she might stumble, the crowd were on hand to pick her back up and they are rewarded for their efforts with a selection of stunningly honest and stark versions of some of her best work. Fragile versions of ‘Great Expectations’, ‘I Don't Blame You’ and ‘The Greatest’ were among the highlights as Marshall exposed the vulnerable core at both the heart of her song writing and her confidence.

"Sorry - are you mad at me?" she quips at one point after having to restart another song. There's no annoyance from the crowd though, just a cheer of appreciation and a wave of support that carries Marshall through to the end of one of the day’s more endearing shows. Paul Larsen

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