Laneway 2010: Footscray Renewal
DARREN LEVIN reports on Saturday’s Laneway Festival, which took place outside Melbourne’s CBD for the first time in its five-year history. Additional band reporting by TIM SCOTT and JON TJHIA, photos by KRISTY MILLIKEN.
“The Footscray renewal is taking place.”
The signs at Footscray Station may have pertained to a recently announced $52 million redevelopment, but it also inadvertently summed up Saturday’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. The event, which began life in a smelly Melbourne laneway, had shifted west to Footscray, a suburb once synonymous with junkies and stabbings, but is now more properly home to an ethnically diverse and vibrant artistic community. On Saturday, it was also the Wayfarer capital of the world.
Laneway’s shift out of the city was an unsurprising development given what transpired in Melbourne last year. Held across six stages in a CBD already bustling with Australian Open tourists and Chinese New Year revelers, the event was marred by 11th hour changes, long snaking lines, ill-advised scheduling and licensing issues (this is Melbourne, after all). No surprises then that it culminated in a stage closure that prompted cries for refunds from disgruntled fans. Without wanting to rehash last year’s shortcomings (you can read about them here), it was inevitable that Laneway would move out of the city this year, but to an artistic hub along the banks of the Maribyrnong?
And yet somehow the Footscray Community Arts Centre and its picture-perfect surrounds – a heritage-listed building, a quaint riverside café, a sunken garden, green lawns and a view of the city – was the perfect location for a festival dubbed “Laneway”. That being said, the venue, especially the Moreland Street Stage, still managed to live up to the organisers’ MO: to present “an urban music experience with a difference”.
There were street signs and exposed brick buildings, advertising billboards and high-density apartments, railway lines and a busy overpass that saw cars, taxis and bemused joggers whiz past the aptly titled Car Park Stage. But there was space too (another “laneway” incongruity). And oodles of it. In contrast to last year, you could be within an earshot of bands if you really wanted to and you didn’t have to queue for hours to take a piss or get a drink. On the other hand, with the mercury tipping the mid-30s, shade was in short supply and the lines in the “food court” looked positively frightening. (At this point, and with apologies to those who queued, it’s probably appropriate to mention that those in the VIP bar were treated to tableside service by the very awesome staff at the Happy River Café).
JT: As a small queue filtered through the Bunbury Street gates (and a larger contingent loitered outside waiting for friends to stuff hip flasks into their bras and undies), a diffuse crowd assembled at the Moreland Stage where Teeth & Tongue growled to a start. Husky-voiced singer/guitarist Jess Cornelius and keyboardist Brigitte Hart donned colourful patterned capes of satin that flapped in the breeze as Cornelius bounced around in lamé tights, leading the band through a confident, noise-cloaked set. Guitarist Marc Regueiro-McKelvie (Popolice, New Estate) supplied the grit for which he’s best known, and it was his fuzzy, echoed frettings that gave Teeth & Tongue’s set weight (even for those as far back as the huge screens that would later televise images of Florence & The Machine and Sarah Blasko to those with no hope of being closer than 80 metres to the stage). As the afternoon sun beat down on Teeth & Tongue’s audience – many of whom stood back or to the side, where trees provided respite – the band’s intensity escalated.
DL: Speaking of intensity, Sydney’s Bridezilla were positively vampiric (but not in a “cute” Twilight kinda way) later on at the Moreland Street Stage. Dressed all in black, save for drummer Josh Bush’s trademark tuxedo T-shirt, they played a typically captivating set, mostly drawn from their 2008 debut LP The First Dance. With frontwoman Holiday Carmen-Sparks delivering sweet nothings while seemingly rooted to the spot, it was violinist Daisy Tulley who provided most of the movement, shimmying and weaving around her bandmates like a punter doing the porta loo dance. A shaky vocal on ‘Beaches’ hinted at festival fatigue, but the band finished strongly with some uncompromising blasts of free jazz.
A quick dash to the picturesque River Stage for Whitley (pronounced “wit lee”), who filled the shoes of Laneway perennials The Temper Trap with his brand of slow-building, made-for-indie-rom-com anthems. “We’re becoming shadows, we’re becoming silhouettes,” he appropriately sang as punters took refuge under a small footbridge or slinked into bean bag chairs on a grassy hill overlooking the city. Dedicating the penultimate song to his “three mums”, Whitley momentarily burst into a few slurred bars of The Drones’ classic ‘Shark Fin Blues’; a moment of cheekiness that was later repeated by The Midnight Juggernauts over at the Moreland Street Stage. Replacing Echo and The Bunnymen, who cancelled their performance due to a missed flight, the trio played the chorus of ‘The Killing Moon’ in homage to the UK veterans, before launching into latest single ‘This New Technology’. Playing well under trying circumstances, they closed their set with ‘Into The Galaxy’.
TS: Performing at one of the hottest times of the day (around 5pm), Eddy Current Suppression Ring drew a large crowd to the Car Park Stage. As the band tuned their gear and singer Brendan Suppression paced around nervously – he held his gloved hand up to his chest like a boxer waiting for the bell – a steady stream of people began trickling in from the other stages where Daniel Johnston and triple j “Hottest 100” winners Mumford & Sons had just played. The band seemed relaxed. Bassist Rob Solid bounced around stage while the Young brothers – Mikey (guitar/keys) and Danny (drummer) – smiled and shook their heads at some of Brendan’s on-stage antics. During 'Precious Rose', he jumped into the crowd and then over the fence and towards the Maribyrnong River – the microphone lead seemingly the only thing saving him from a waterlogged ear. 'Wrapped Up' from 2008’s AMP-winning Primary Colours is the most romantic song you are ever likely to hear in a Footscray car park, while crowd favourite 'Memory Lane' sparked a dance off despite the heat. There were also a couple new tracks aired including the jammy ‘Tuning Out’ and punk-rock belter ‘Isn’t It Nice’.
As the band’s success grows, so too does the “curious bogan” element in their audience. But Saturday’s crowd were pretty relaxed, despite the odd dude with his shirt off (it had more to do with the sweltering conditions than an opportunity to show off some sick tribal and Southern Cross tatts). After 50 minutes of blistering rock in blistering heat, ECSR said their goodbyes, prompting a mad rush for shade and refreshments.
DL: The least sensible costume choice of the day went to Dappled Cities, who donned gold, heat-conducting jumpsuits that, to put it bluntly, showed everything. If there’s one criticism of the Sydney quintet it’s that their quirkiness sometimes detracts from some truly poignant moments such as ‘Wooden Ships’ from last year’s Zounds LP. Getting Sarah Blasko to join them for ‘Vision Bell’, however, was a masterstroke; her honeyed vocals a more than adequate replacement for Dave Rennick’s usually strained falsetto. While the seven-odd minute disco stomper ‘The Night Is Young At Heart’ was typically epic, ‘The Price’ sparked wild scenes of unashamed bromance and straight-to-Facebook action photography.
TS: Concurrently, at The Moreland Street Stage, The Dirty Three opened their set with the appropriately titled 'Some Summers They Drop Like Flys'. In what proved to be the second least sensible costume choice of the day (see above), frontman Warren Ellis took to the stage in a suit. It didn’t last for long; as his leg kicks got higher, he threw off the jacket and later his violin for a quick jig while the band played on.
While their recent “Don't Look Back” performance in Melbourne had them playing their classic Ocean Songs in its entirety, their set on Saturday drew from as far back as their 1995 self-titled album. Despite a confession from Ellis that they were banned from performing it at festivals, the first plaintive chords of 'Indian Love Song' received a rapturous applause. It was funny seeing guitarist Mick Turner watching Ellis animatedly playing this song after so many years. He's still so deadpan. Jim White is a gun and by far one of Australia's best drummers ever. If people could do even the most menial activities - driving a car, pushing a shopping trolley or eating a pastie - as effortlessly as he plays the drums, the world would be a much cooler place.
They finished with 'End of the Earth', the last song on Ocean Songs, building up from slow-motion beginnings to a bruising, emotional and transportive finale. Still very Dirty Three. Still very special.
Back down the brick-lined walkway to the River Stage, where Townsville’s The Middle East were closing proceedings to a surprising number of people (they were on at the same time as UK outfit Florence & The Machine). Upon closer inspection, however, there were a small number of keen fans front of stage, while others were merely lounging on the grass after a long day in the sun. They still put on quite a show, with extra credit given for their ballsy decision to play single ‘Blood’ early on in their set. With a full moon shining down over the stage and the Dynon Road bridge crossing the Maribyrnong, it turned into a pretty magical moment as the vocals built into a soaring crescendo.
The Laneway Festival continues today in Auckland, with upcoming stints in Adelaide (sold out) and Perth on February 5 and 6, respectively. More information here.