Live Review: Falls Festival

1 January 2016 | 6:33 pm | Michael Prebeg

We've already forgotten all that bad shit that happened in 2015.

Day 1

It's hard to believe that just 48 hours ago the fate of Falls Festival was uncertain as the news of catastrophic bushfires spread through Wye River, Separation Creek and heading for Lorne.

It’s a Falls Festival miracle to be able to relocate from the home of Erskine Falls and down the Great Ocean Road to Mt Duneed Estate where we are welcomed with open arms. The winery is the perfect back-up plan having regularly hosted A Day On The Green many times before and the crews have done an incredible job pulling it all together in the eleventh hour. 

It feels like a whole different festival as we enter the new site but it still has the same familiar atmosphere. The Valley stage is at the bottom of a less steep hill and the slightly less Grand Theatre is pitched at the top. The iconic Rancho Relaxo chill-out zone is situated on the perimeter amongst the endless multi-cultural food stalls with just about every type of cuisine to satisfy our taste buds. If we venture a little further towards the main winery building there’s merchandise and market stalls to explore and shop to our heart’s content. 

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Mighty Duke & The Lords officially kick off the festival under the Grand Theatre. Decked out in matching white sailor outfits, it's a Hawaiian-themed delight bursting with a colourful backdrop of toucans, flamingoes, pineapples and palm trees. The playful band features members of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, The Lucksmiths, Suitcase Royale and NO ZU. Together they set sail and take us out on a cruise ship on the tropical Caribbean, with brass instruments and infectious calypso rhythms to groove along to. They take on everyone’s favourite pop song Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) with a horn section rhumba to loosen us up early on.

DJ Russ Dewbury keeps the momentum going between sets by mixing up some funky tunes for those who want to continue dancing, before Sex On Toast brings their smooth '90s boy band vibes to the stage. Their eccentric hip swaying and lovemaking actions accompany songs like Gigalo’s Get Lonely Too, with jazzy saxophone solos to romance us. Their choreography is cringe-worthy yet we can’t help but be charmed by their irresistible funky soul swing.

Right before El Vez brings us some wild Mexican music, we are surprised by a few magic tricks from a masked man in a bullseye-wrestling mask. The boisterous character makes lit matches disappear in a scarf and he works his way out of a straight jacket for his final act accompanied by suspense building background music from the Memphis Mariachi band. The self-proclaimed Mexican president of the United States emerges in an Uncle Sam outfit and spreads the word to vote “El Vez for Prez”. With two attractive female dancers by his side to cheer him on, he sings about green cards, shoes and making a stand about immigration to the music of well-known American pop songs. As a proud Elvis impersonator, he also can’t help but share his super high energetic moves with some Mexican flavour.

'Weird' Al Yankovic makes a grand entrance to the theatre as we watch him on the big screen walking towards us from backstage as he performs Tacky – his take on Pharrell’s well-known Happy – mocking some questionable taste in fashion, whilst sporting his own hideous stripes pants. The king of parody lets his frizzy hair fly as he plays his accordion to a medley of funny send-ups including taking the piss out of Miley Cyrus, One Direction and Ke$ha, to name a few. His Michael Jackson Bad spoof is by far the highlight of the set as he puts on a large overweight suit and vigorously dances around to his version Fat. Between costume changes we watch video skits that continue to make fun of celebrities and everyone can’t help but laugh and embrace the all of the silliness.

Tonight’s Boogie Nights theme is ‘tinsel town’ and Fleetmac Wood is the perfect soundtrack as the crowd parties along to the DJ collective who play re-edits and remixes of hit Fleetwood Mac songs. Star Wars seems to the most popular choice of Hollywood character costumes, although many have taken the theme literally and have decked themselves out in excessive amounts of tinsel right off the Christmas tree. 

The first night goes out with a bang as Art Vs Science illuminate the theatre with their display of neon-coloured crystals that flicker to the beat of their hard-hitting electronic music. They share some fresh and fun new material with us and some old favourite dance-anthems including their biggest hits Magic Fountain and Parlez-Vous Francais?

Day 2 

Hiatus Kaiyote set the tone for day two drawing in a huge crowd to the Valley stage with their neo soul and polyrhythmic gangster vibes, featuring songs dedicated to martial arts and Japanese anime characters. Lead singer Nai Palm is looking like an Egyptian Sphinx character with cat ears, blackened finger tips and golden chains dangling around her neck. Her vocals are powerful and enriched with soul to combine with her intense guitar shredding. Breathing Underwater is a highlight and a song Palm is excited to learn has just recently received a Grammy nomination. Commanding the audience with her mystical stage presence and prowess, she delivers the fierce By Fire because we're all “super hot” she says, but we are actually really starting to feel the heat as the sun beats down on the open area with little shade around.

The Village is open for business today, which gives us another area to explore as we enter through the gates. There's something for everyone to enjoy with games of chess and tennis, markets, fortunetellers, face bedazzling and even haircuts, all accompanied by a line up of local talent under the pleasure stage. The late afternoon slot is filled by the quirky Melbourne band Tetrahedra, who are perfect to chill out to whilst enjoying an ice cream on a hay bail in the sun, whilst soaking up a saxaphone solo from special guest Johnny Bassoon from Sex On Toast.

Leon Bridges brings his throwback Motown inspired Texan soul to the stage to take us back in time to the 1950s and ‘60s. His old school style is so authentic we almost feel as if we’ve been transported back in time a few decades and listening to one of the musical greats from another era. His vocals are impeccable with golden gospel tones that mirror many legendary artists before his time. Bridges embodies every aspect of classic soul from his vintage grey suit, to his smooth choreographed moves, and we all join in by swinging along and shaking our hips around to some doo-wops. He's got a lot of true stories to share through his songs about love, his grandma’s long legs, and his mother. He also teaches the guys an important lesson to treat their girlfriends right as he sings from experience on a track called Better Man.  

An audience member even gets up on stage during Dune Rats to do a shoey drink of beer from a dirty sneaker.

The boys from Dune Rats go wild by letting loose on a cover of the Violent Femmes classic Blister In The Sun and launching inflatable sex dolls out into the mosh pit. It’s complete chaos with their loud garage rock and crazy stage antics all around. An audience member even gets up on stage to do a shoey drink of beer from a dirty sneaker and is celebrated as an absolute legend before being thrown off stage by security.

The crowd is buzzing with excitement for American songstress Halsey, and she doesn’t disappoint. It’s her first ever Australian show and she shows off her freshly shaved head, paired with some super cool reflective sunnies. Her confident and provocative aura radiates and we all vibrate at a high frequency in the moment of her electro-pop musical delights. She is blown away by the responsive crowd and yells out, “This is what every fucking festival should be like! None of us are too cool or too bored, we're just here to enjoy music!” We're pleased that we’re doing things right by her and she's completely overwhelmed by the whole experience as she concludes on her hit Hurricane – a reminder that we don’t below to anyone but ourselves.

The legendary Paul Kelly presents The Merri Soul Sessions live on stage as the sun begins to set and we all find a patch of grass to sit on in the valley. Joining Kelly is an all-star selection of talented vocalists including Clairy Browne, Dan Sultan, Kira Puru plus Vika & Linda Bull who provide interchangeable vocals packed with nothin’ but deep soul. The incredible set is topped off with all the guests coming together to sing the Muddy Waters blues classic, Forty Days And Forty Nights.

The sad news of the death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister shocks the musical community Falls and Wavves dedicate their set to the rock'n'roll front man with a backdrop to pay tribute with ‘Rest In Peace’ plastered across it. They cut loose from the word go with supercharged pop-punk to commemorate the legend.

While waiting for Hilltop Hoods to start their set, crowds of rowdy “Heeey Baby!” chanting strike up and we wonder how that ever became a thing to catch on so quickly. The stage backdrop converts into a live screen to reflect the huge audience and create a great live atmosphere in front of us. Along with a live horn section and DJ Debris on the decks, the Hoods pull out all the stops to raise the energy levels tenfold. They have to stop halfway through the second song I Love It, to turn attention to those that need help in the crowd and they remind us to look after each other before starting up again. It’s their first live show in a while so they share a new song Higher, and take a moment to further calm us down before elbows start flying around again during Nosebleed Section. 

The Wombats certainly aren't holding back tonight and they go so hard that they break a guitar string by the second song in. Tonight will be his most swearing ever, front man Mathew Murphy tells us and we all have a scrap. They’ve come from all over the world to be here tonight and they couldn’t be happier than sharing the night with us – and the feeling is mutual as we all jump around and dance to the influence of Joy Division. “Today was a good day, apart from Lemmy dying,” says Murphy. We give him one last send off as we pay our respect and get lost in the moment.

Day 3

Alpine vocalist Phoebe Baker chooses to start Jellyfish down on the floor as it heats up on The Valley stage. This pretty much represents how we’re all feeling today as we sit down and unable to get back up for a while. Looking as stylish as ever Phoebe and Lou shake their tassels and wide sleeves as they create some special moments of sublime indie-pop to cure any amount of hangover and sleep deprivation.

Mac Demarco tells us that he and his band members have peed and now they’re ready to play for us.

It’s a serious effort to face the up-hill distance that feels like miles away to the Grand Theatre but Oh Wonder are definitely worth it. Duo vocalists Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West dazzle us as they begin to sing “Not in it for the money, just in it for the thrill,” and they really are as humble and wholesome as the words that they preach. As a new band that’s skyrocketed to success after releasing one song a month for a year on SoundCloud, they are so surprised we all know the words to their songs on the other side of the world. It’s a very special experience as not only is it their first ever time performing at a festival, but also their first show in the southern hemisphere. We share the momentous occasion with All We Do, a song highlighting the importance of living our own life and being our own person by taking risks and not playing it safe. Together they are a perfect example of this and we bask in their gentle and breathy vocal unison with electronic undertones.

Young Fathers change the pace by conjuring up some explosive tribal rhythms with a dramatic impact. The trio’s performance is like watching some kind of holy ritual of alternative hip hop with a full force of bass. Get Up is the most accessible of the set and creeps in unexpectedly to create an infectious energy and danceable hook to start the party.

Mac Demarco feels the need to tell us that he and his band members have peed and now they’re ready to play for us. Between talking shit and messing around we are instantly chilled out by their summer-soaked guitar riffs and calming vibes. Demarco’s band mates give him a shout out for his recent weight loss after some hard work and determination on the tour. It’s the first show in Australia for their newest band member Jon Lent, although he doesn’t have a part to play in Freaking Out The Neighborhood so instead is initiated by crowd surfing during the song. A cover of AC/DC’s Back In Black serves as “a song to figure ourselves out and what we're going to do in life,” Demarco assures us.

Courtney Barnett tears up the stage with some impressive guitar shredding and simply honest lyrics, telling stories that just about every average Aussie can relate to. She dedicates a song to fellow musician Mac Demarco who watches on from the VIP area with approval.

Garry Clark Jr gives us some epic guitar solos that make clear why he has been compared to legendary guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. His soulful good ol’ fashioned rock'n'roll matched with his dreamy falsetto and psychedelic vocal sound effects is powerful and thrilling. 

Ngaiire is joined on stage by her band of three talented backing vocalists at her side. As she begins to sing The Grand Theatre is pretty empty but as soon as she begins her song Once and her transcending vocals echo throughout the grounds, the crowds come pouring in to dance along. Ngaiire makes a special dedication to anyone who’s lost anything they love including from the bushfires, which have hit close to home for many locals. She joins in with numerous barefoot audience members by taking her shoes off to get a bit more comfortable.

As it edges into the night before New Years Eve, City Calm Down charge in with their lively post-punk, exploding with catchy guitar riffs and matched with lead singer Jack Bourke’s commanding baritone vocals. Songs from their latest debut album, In A Restless House was released only six weeks ago and it’s clear just about every audience member has had it on repeat as they sing all words back to them. Rabbit Run is the biggest crowd pleaser and we all have a dance to the soaring track with maximum build up.

It's been a few years since RÜFÜS have graced the Falls Festival stage and this time round they share some new material with us ahead on their sophomore release Bloom, coming our way in the new year. They’ve been busy working on the new album for the last and a half Tyrone Lindqvist tells us, and judging by the new material that’s been drip fed to us so far it’s something to look forward to. Midway through the set we are drawn deep into a dreamy instrumental transitioning from Imaginary Air to the most recent Innerbloom which is approximately seven minutes of euphoric electronic instrumental bliss to put us into a trance.

"Dance you bunch of bogans!” screams Okereke.

Bloc Party hit the stage with a loaded tank of energy ready to spiral out of control. Joining front man Kele Okereke are a few new members who bring fresh enthusiasm to the band. Together they give us some golden oldies like Hunting For Witches and a few new tunes from their soon-to-be-released album Hymns. "Dance you bunch of bogans!” screams Okereke as Banquet strikes up. After an alarming sound glitch to burst our eardrums, we’re fully alert as they make a quick recovery like true pros and carry on with The Love Within, as the stage bursts with a kaleidoscope of colour.

Disclosure’s new live show has an impressive setup with equipment that looks damn expensive! Guy and Howard Lawrence stand facing each other on opposite sides of the stage in amongst their individual podium musical gadgets. Their continuous live mixing is an exciting display backed by animations outlining ‘Disclosure-fied’ faces of guest vocalists that can’t be here with us tonight. After non-stop dancing for a good hour, we begin to wonder where we got all our energy from as it clocks over past midnight and they come to a halt and leave the stage for a moment. They come back with a surprise guest Brendan Riley, who joins them on stage to sing Moving Mountains before their final song Latch.

Day 4 

The final day arrives and it’s a bloody hot one, causing everyone to flock to the sheltered areas to escape the hot sun. Some comedy in the Grand Theatre is the perfect way to cool off with a few laughs in the early afternoon with the likes of funny guy Nazeem Hussain who does a exceptionally hilarious job of entertaining the masses as he improvises completely based on audience responses. 

People slowly start to come out of hibernation and watch Meg Mac perform on The Valley stage. She’s in a long blue dress, a change from her trademark black outfit. She’s got a big sun hat on to make her feel cooler, but it only lasts about two songs in the wind blowing a gale along with the occasional sandstorm every few minutes. Her sisters Hannah and Danielle are by her side on backup vocals to perfectly harmonize with her and compliment her powerhouse vocals. She previews a new song Ride It that we instantly fall in love with and taps into her stunning gospel tones during crowd favourite Grandma’s Hands.

Money For Rope is a surprising much much needed energy boost delivering ferocious rock with belting vocals to create absolutes chaos. Lead singer Julian McKenzie is on fire as he knocks down his microphone stand and gets facedown on to the floor to continue singing. It’s a pretty impressive display to see two drummers going full-pelt at the kit in a synchronized motion to absolutely tear up the stage.

The Valley becomes almost deserted between sets and those who stick around are hosed down by security to stop from melting. Garret Borns aka BØRNS is a clear highlight with his charismatic personality and marvelous blend of synth-pop. “I am BØRNS, you are BØRNS, we are all BØRNS!” he declares. After a quick acquaintance we are sharing our pheromones in no time, soaking up his music about the essential daydream with the hit Overnight Sensation and he proves that he is anything but.  

Darren Hart, better known as Harts is a modern day Prince protégé as he whips up some remarkable psychedelic funk with astonishing electric guitar solos to keep us grooving.

Elliphant is just what we need to begin the New Year’s Eve party as one of the most uplifting and engaging performers of the festival. She’s got her Falls Festival staff t-shirt on with her name written on the front in black marker and she wastes no time in getting stuck into it by spreading her “Blisseh” mantra to lift our spirits.

The Avener is unable to perform due to illness so BØRNS steps in to save the day to give us a second dose of his electro glam rock dopamine. He’s even better the second time around with a few additions to the set and performing on the bigger Valley stage in the later part of the day. We pretend to be as ocean-like as possible during Fool, despite being very hot and dusty. He delivers one of the most memorable moments as he performs an exceptional cover of Elton John’s Bennie And The Jets with his perfect sweeping falsetto.

The night draws closer to midnight and the countdown appears on the screen backdrop to build excitement. The Falls Festival crew give a special thanks to everyone who made the festival possible after everything that’s taken place in the whirlwind of a week. Two images of the Mt Duneed Estate are placed side by side to show us how the entire festival was built in 24 hours – it’s a tremendous effort and with additional New Year's Eve tickets sold they’ve managed to raise a heap amount of money for the bushfire appeal.

There’s no better way to end such a momentous festival than with Foals helping us forget about all the bad shit that happened in 2015 with Spanish Sahara and welcome in a new day and a new year with Lonely Hunter. As the midnight countdown begins they pop bottles of champagne out over the audience and lead singer Yannnis Phillippakis launches himself out into the moshpit. They go out with an earth-shattering performance of What Went Down to give us a serious rush of adrenaline to start off the New Year.