Report: Meredith 2011 Day 1

[Wet weather fears](/news/4386935) proved unfounded as Meredith’s 21st birthday was ushered in with perfect blue skies and performances by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Cash Savage, Barbarion, Future of the Left and Ladyhawke. Words by DOUG WALLEN*. Photos by *LEAH ROBERTSON.

Apart from a new wine bar and [pergola ban](/news/4285751), Meredith felt the same as ever in its mark-of-maturity 21st year. If anything, the Friday vibe was sedately happy: rabble-rousers seemed at an all-time low (even by Meredith’s ?no dickhead? standards), and there were far fewer concept costumes than usual. Everyone just looked glad to witness a foreboding weather outlook translate into end-of-week blue skies and sun. Not a gumboot or umbrella in sight, then.

Birthday countdown out of the way, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard got down to proving how well a relatively untested young Melbourne band could do in the opening slot. The sameness of songs that can work against them on [record](/releases/2000973) somehow became a plus live. Once the septet’s vigorous garage sound was established – in the space of minutes, if that – the crowd bobbed along to every familiar component as if it were a greatest-hits set. The boys chased down a rave-up oblivion made complete by a closing take on ?I Wanna Be Your Dog?, for which Stu Mackenzie sang with the microphone inside his mouth for just the right muffled effect.

In true mix-it-up Meredith fashion, the DJs reliance on commercial dance hits of yesteryear in between the early acts didn’t disrupt the vibe but stoked it. Why not hear ?Sussudio? in close proximity to two dark and stormy bands, after all? It’s much less predictable than playing Exile-era Stones just to try and fit in.

Cash Savage made no secret of her excitement to be on this stage, beaming as she cited her longtime attendance and all her family in the front row. Most often squeezed onto the stage of Melbourne’s Old Bar – whose footy team she coaches – Savage and her band The Last Drinks finally had room to spare. The nine-piece included two drummers, banjo, fiddle, trumpet and upright bass, but there’s no distracting from Savage’s frontwoman presence: both her baby-faced Elvis pout and wounded blues growl. By singling out tunes as a ?drinking song? or ?a sexy song?, she kept punters entertained while underscoring her range: from country and blues to blood-curdling folk to straight-up rock on the triumphant capper. This is the kind of thing Meredith’s single stage does so well, where a band can go from practically unknowns to firm crowd favourites by the end of a set.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra were never going to sound just like their [mind-altering album](/releases/2000898), and thankfully they didn’t try to. With guitar high on his chest, Ruban Neilson cut through the LP’s dank fog to remind us there are sturdy pop songs underneath. And yet still as psychedelic as the clothing favoured by Neilson’s Oregon bandmates: bassist Jake Portrait and funk-conquering teenager Julian Erhlich. The trio’s stiff demeanour wasn’t a fault, but added a stilted quality to their fractured jams. The punk-y ?Nerve Damage!? still flashes back to Neilson’s old band The Mint Chicks, but the closing ?Ffunny Ffrends? proved how unique this band is. And how strongly they resonated with the folks singing every word.

One of the most anticipated acts of the day, Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile & The Violators exuded slacker serenity but lost some of their recorded cool in translation. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar with a reliance on pedals, Vile suffered from a mix that ranged from muddy to overly sharp. But as you’d expect of this free spirit, his Springsteen-via-Mascis songwriting wasn’t so easily dampened: ?Ghost Town? was appropriately wispy, and ?Freak Train? more frayed and pulsing. And despite the sound issues, ?Baby’s Arms? felt just right.

For a band defined by epic widescreen climaxes, Explosions in the Sky played a set entirely free of them. Rather, the Texas outfit stuck to streaky instrumental lullabies that were quite literally anticlimactic. While it was nice to be surprised by a band that’s always been too predictable in trajectory, their noodling floated away in the evening air. Maybe that befits the sunset slot, but I’m not so sure.

From afar, Barbarion sounded like a stock take on [Manowar-style](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manowar) Dungeons & Dragons metal. Once I got closer, though, the full medieval costumes and spouting pyrotechnics made all the difference. As over-the-top as Os Mutantes were at this year’s [Golden Plains](/articles/4215753), the Melbourne hulks made ideal use of props, flesh-baring broadness of figure and of course archetypal swords-and-sorcery imagery. There was even a proper ballad in there. But fist-pumping bombast reigned supreme, until what started as something like a joke for me turned into the surprise highlight of my night.

Ladyhawke has never connected with me beyond a fizzy ?80s throwback, and live she didn’t change my mind. Even fronting a full band with guitar in hand and splitting songs between her big-hit first album and upcoming second one, Pip Brown never distinguished herself from La Roux and so many other anthemic female pop stars of the moment. But lest anyone mess with her precious delirium, she finished with the one song everyone knew, no matter how silly.

I’ve also never quite loved Future of the Left, despite my fondness for mcclusky and other bands that arose from them. And though Andy Falkous’s acerbic lyrics couldn’t stand up to the post-hardcore (or is it post-punk?) roiling away between players, I was won over by the combination of volatility and absolute control. The Welsh four-piece were so tight that even the most chaotic outbursts never got away from them in the slightest. The song that started to turn me around was ?Manchasm?, the first of a few to use keyboards (what Falkous called the ?twat? of the music world). Needling and catchy even before the refrain ?Every minute matters,? it’s the rare anthem that leaves you feeling smarter, not dumber.

From there came more scalding screams and damaged pop melodies, as well as the suggestion from Falkous that we heckle tomorrow night’s lunar eclipse like a band. Judging from all the faces around me, the head-rush of a set was already perfect before FOTL launched into mcclusky’s bawdy signature tune ?Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues?. But who would complain about too much of a good thing?


MORE PHOTOS: [Day one](/galleries/4391866)