Live Review: Falls Festival, Byron Bay Day 1

1 January 2016 | 1:27 pm | Mitch Knox

2016 begins with Let’s Dance To Joy Division.

The dying strains of Wavves’ mid-afternoon first-day set ring out across the grounds from the Valley Stage – our belated arrival the result of interstate absent-mindedness regarding that whole ‘daylight savings’ thing – as we enter North Byron Parklands to farewell 2015 at The Falls Music & Arts Festival.

Oddly, despite the heaving throng of revellers spilling out en masse into the wider venue at the conclusion of the US outfit’s set, there’s an inescapable flatness to the atmosphere at this early advent. Perhaps everyone’s saving up for the night ahead. You can’t blame them.

We gain our bearings, passing stalls and vendors and mentally bookmarking appealing-looking shady spots as we traverse the cruelly steep hillside to survey today’s only operational stage, the Valley Stage, and its audience area below. From this vantage point, the area’s present emptiness – and, later, nigh-unnavigable crowds – is a somewhat breathtaking sight to behold. By all means, get as up-close-and-personal to your favourite artists as you can, but it’s still worth taking a moment to make the hike to check out the big picture from way beyond the D.

Unfortunately for “Mexican Elvis” El Vez, things haven’t quite reached that level of attendance for his post-Wavves showing, though the flashy Latino – and his backing outfit – hit the stage with riotous flair and pomp, playing to dozens like he’s playing to hundreds. It’s an assured, retro-soaked affair, all rollicking guitar lines, throwaway Elvis references and copious pro-USA imagery (including El Vez’s own breakaway Uncle Sam suit), and it’s a considerable pity that there aren’t more folks around to witness the novelty.

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Art Vs Science unleashing a truncated rendition of their Like A Version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman.

We skip Fleetmac Wood to fill our bellies at the food tent, getting distracted occasionally by conversations with friendly vendors and volunteers, who are people too and don’t deserve the treatment they receive – even outward indifference, sans any modicum of gratitude – from so many festival-goers. Just thought it was worth mentioning, because it seems to get forgotten easily once a beer or seven have been consumed.

Veteran faves Art Vs Science coax us back to the Valley Stage’s natural amphitheatre with a high-octane set of eclectic, electric tunes from across their considerable catalogue. They even dip into other people’s material, unleashing a truncated rendition of their Like A Version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman ahead of their own massive hit, Magic Fountain, which ensures pretty much everyone in the vicinity gets to their feet to groove along. New cut Stars is a understated highlight, leading into an utterly gargantuan performance of Parlez Vous Francais before ultimately the band say farewell to 2015 – and this sonically acrobatic showing, which encompasses shredding solos and extended aural detours galore – with classic tune and evident fan favourite Hollywood (Guitars & Violent Movies).

Even the staunchest of sceptics would have a hard time denying ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic’s incredible magnetism.

Some (ignorant) people might have scoffed when ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic was announced for this event, but even the staunchest of sceptics would have a hard time denying the man’s incredible magnetism. The curly-haired parodist kicks off his sketch-comedy-cum-musical performance with a live broadcast video from backstage, opening his set from there with the Pharrell-inspired Tacky, emerging on stage in perfect sync with a chorus drop and instantly affirming himself as a consummate performer. Musically, Yankovic’s show is 80% covers performance, so it’s in the lyrics and visuals where the veteran truly shines, he and his band juggling costume change after costume change – a simple foil hat for Lorde parody Foil, his iconic fat suit for Fat, blonde wig and oversize jumper for Smells Like Nirvana, a Segway and du-rag for White & Nerdy; the list goes on – while interspersing performance pieces with ‘channel-surf’-style footage of TV mentions and sketch interviews. It’s thoroughly entertaining, imaginative use of multimedia, and it helps truly elevate the man’s set – which even includes an early appearance from breathless modern-hit melody NOW That’s What I Call Polka! – resoundingly above your run-of-the-mill musical comedy act.

People love Peking Duk. I’ll never understand why, but that’s not your problem. I’m not going to sit here and write a hundred words about how their music can change lives, nor am I going to wax philosophical about how their songs are designed to appeal to the broadest segment of the population with the most limited amount of musical knowledge or interest by centering themselves on a constant 4/4 pulse and build-drop-build-drop framework, because that’s a wider genre debate for another time. Let’s just accept that they played well (like, “someone even ripped a flare in the middle of the mosh” well) and that whatever success they’ve enjoyed this year has probably been deserved in someone’s book. The subjectivity of music: it’s a beautiful thing.

Similarly, the mass appeal of the Hilltop Hoods is out in force tonight, their thousands-strong army of fans rapping along for the duration of their upbeat, engaging set. Radio hits come fast and heavy – Chase That Feeling, I Love It, Won’t Let You Down, Nosebleed Section and Live & Let Go all appear in quick succession, whipping the audience into a chorus of calls and responses, hand-claps and sing-alongs, the Hoods showing the true ‘people power’ nature of their chosen genre with their polished banter and crowd work. The acclaimed trio close out their performance with the unfortunately named Cosby Sweater – a fact of which they’ve been reminded all too often this year – and a condemnation of the man for whom the eponymous jumpers were originally titled.

The Wombats usher in 1 January officially with perennial classic Let’s Dance To Joy Division.

It’s a slightly more positive note on which to end the year, however, as Liverpudlian three-piece and Aussie festival vets The Wombats do their darnedest to keep us all dancing and enamoured with life long enough to usher in 2016. The lads highlight their newest material, from recent LP Glitterbug, with both Give Me A Try and a mid-set Your Body Is A Weapon marking major standouts, but they don’t shy away from the songs that helped them make their name, either. The thousands in attendance sway and sing along as The Wombats guide us through the likes of older tracks Jump Into The Fog, Moving To New York, 1996, Techno Fan and Tokyo Vampire Wolves, the intervening years since we first heard them having done apparently nothing to dull our collective enthusiasm. The band follow up Greek Tragedy with the grand countdown to 2016, ushering in 1 January officially with perennial classic Let’s Dance To Joy Division. It’s solid advice with which to start the year by anyone’s measure, and taken well to heart by the New Year’s revellers if anything is to be surmised from the casually jiving horde headed back out to the campgrounds following The Wombats’ outro. The first night of 2016 proper has sufficiently large boots to fill – and, hey, even if it doesn’t succeed, it’ll be more than entertaining enough simply watching it try. Happy New Year, everyone!