Reviewed by Courtney Sanders
29th March 2010
St Jeromes Laneway Festival
Britomart Square, Auckland
Monday 1st February, 2010
Like any inaugural festival, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival's first stint in Auckland’s Britomart Square was smattered with teething problems, but these paled in comparison to the artists who created a day of formidable talent and exhaustive bouts of atmospheric whimsy; professionals completely at ease with a festival environment and utilizing all it’s available and formidable quips.
Arriving at Britomart square was somewhat surreal – as a non-local visiting that area in Auckland for the sole purpose of the now-defunct Schooner Tavern my apprehension that this was the location adopted for the Auckland leg of Laneway immediately gave way to surprise, as the soul-less and empty car park (complete with glass portals for viewing the trains held beneath) had been successfully converted into the festival ground-zero. Admittedly probably not as atmospheric as those sardine-in-can experiences that heralded the beginning of the Festival itself outside St Jeromes bar in a tiny lane in Melbourne, but impressive none-the-less. Speaking of sardines, it was the lack of them, or people at least and therefore lack of squishiness that heralded my entrance – this sold out? Really, OK, cool. Drinks and food and general moving activities are going to be a relative non-issue. Not such. Upon gaining my bearings and deciding ‘that must be where the beer is’ I was super disheartened to find three (four at a stretch) lines for drinks, being poured as they went, by staff who were eagerly chatting to the punters – which was nice when you finally arrived at the front of the queue but come on! – subsequently forcing a 30 to 40 minute wait. But A. It's a festival and I guess this is the status quo, and B. Laneway Festival Numbero Uno = teething problems people. And in all honesty, we had a very nice gentleman hand us VIP passes, which allowed less queuing, more drinking, and more relaxing for the rest of the day. Thank you Sir.
It’s all about the bands at festivals right? Well actually no, I guess usually it’s not – usually it’s an excuse for a Big.Day.Out for many and if you see a couple of bands you like, added bonus. Laneway is a unique festival in the sense that they seem to hand pick a dynamic lineup that’s uniquely sensitive of current trends and in which most bands are conducive to the tastes of it’s attendees. Such was the case for the people I attended with, the people I write for and the people I have talked to since – almost everyone anxiously awaiting all of the acts, not just a select two or three. Waiting in line while Surf City belted out almost entirely new tracks, except ‘Mount Kill’ and ‘Dickshakers Union’ which went down an absolute treat. New tracks didn’t engage so much, and having read in an interview somewhere that we should expect a more mellow sound it was kinda disappointing to discover that their ability to encapsulate the Kiwi lineage of great alternative three minute pop songs has dissolved somewhat – or at least their dedication to that particular cause has. But then again, the single ‘Autumn’ is an expansive beauty so perhaps a festival environment simply doesn’t suit the subtleties they have now turned their hand to.
Next up, The Phoenix Foundation. Still in line. Managed to exit queue area just as ‘40 years’ swamped the festival area much to everyone’s admiration – that’s just such a good pop song that you can’t help but be wrapped up in its hooks, especially within middle-of-the-day full sunshine (a hint of rain but it subsided fairly quickly) aesthetic. I would’ve considered this a near perfect fit for the day. Until. The xx. That subtle bass driven beat professing love-lorn beauty of their debut release – I just didn’t know how it was going to be transferred to a life experience. The album is as perfect for what doesn’t happen as for what does, and I just didn’t think that would add up to the most overwhelming festival experience, but it did. Both Madley-Croft (who bore sunnies for the entire time) and Oliver Sim personified vibing out, their vocals dripping with sex appeal and the bass so bone crushing at points it was totally messing with your insides. But alas, standing in awe of three 22 year olds with the ability to bring disparate genres, tastes and lyrical thematics to the table to create the most sensual contemporary music this side of Solange at half-four in the afternoon, in NZ, was special.
Next act up was the Dirty Three – not actually next act up but next act I saw. I understand this is the point at which Daniel Johnston and Cut off your Hands vibed for the airwaves with Cut off your Hands winning hands down and a dispondant – poor fellow – Johnston wallowing off-stage having been on the brink of presenting his full band only moments before. Anyway… For a band who have been kicking it internationally for nigh on twenty years, and seldomly appropriate vocals into the music mix, the Dirty Three brought many a younger band to shame with their unbound energy. Warren Ellis was like some fucked up beer-swilling, violin playing Edward Scissor Hands, but with his legs – and as clichéd as it sounds to liken a musician to a famous character (I also get this cringy feeling this sounds somewhat like “his hands flew like airplanes of music” from Almost Famous before he screws that little post it up and proceeds to loose his virginity) – which freakin’ went everywhere, coupled with a mind blowing cacophony of bluesy, raw, musical expertise. Definitely among, if not the highlight. Which probably comes now…
Echo and the Bunnymen are old-school, and they brought that to the stage in a hooded, sunglass wearing, lighting and smoke screen spectacle, or not – they were oh-so-cool stand-offish of British swagger. Ripping through hits as well as a few kookier choices from the back catalogue ‘The Cutter’ was absolutely incredible – the wind started to pick up as the sun went down and the light was thrown across the stage in true atmospheric fashion, but it was ‘The Killing Moon’ thanks undoubtedly to that film that everyone – particularly the girl beside me continually shouting “just play the song that everybody knows” – that cemented their performance. As a blue light created a band of silhouettes one truly felt they were watching the lineage of English new wave live. OMG I can’t believe I’ve ticked seeing Echo and the Bunnymen live off my list.
In true spitting, macho fashion Black Lips came on an provided and adequate amount of raucousness but having seen them before and considering the acts witnessed previously it was same-old-same old from the Vice signed shock rockers.
Heading over to the main stage, tired, beer-filled and belly empty it was not a minute too soon when Florence lowered her personal backdrop as a harp introduced the pop ingénue to the stage. Honestly? Immaculate. With the ability to jump around like the rabbits and various other cute forest dwelling creatures she sings about as well as belt out that otherworldly vocal was some feat, and, considering outfit, mixing-recorded-tracks-up-live and a tight, professional backing band Florence and the Machine personified Auckland’s first Laneway festival; vaguely rough around the edges, but immediately aggressive, captivating and professional.
By Courtney Sanders