Live Review: Laneway Festival

5 February 2013 | 3:35 pm | Dan CondonSam FisherTyler McLoughlanJake Sun

A cracking day of live music from around the globe, and – with the storm clouds looking ominous in the night sky – stoked that the weather gods did the right thing and kept the ailments away.

There's no sign of the storms that ravaged Brisbane all week. In fact, it's a gorgeous day as the hordes of punters begin to converge on the slightly reconfigured site that's become so synonymous with Laneway Festival over the past few years. There's still a few delays at the outset because of the sodden surrounds, but all is back on track fairly quickly with minimal disruption.

Norway's Kings Of Convenience say they only agreed to play Laneway on the condition they played first, so only those who truly wanted to see them would show. Given the silence during My Ship Isn't Pretty, it seems to have worked. They play songs from right across their catalogue; Cayman Islands, I Don't Know What I Can Save You From, Mrs. Cold and Me In You are early highlights, with perfect harmonies and tasteful guitar interplay making these songs feel so much more than the sum of their parts, before they bring another guitarist, a drummer and bassist onstage to back them up for a few songs, starting with Misread – clearly a crowd favourite – and the shuffling, infectious Boat Behind.

Taking out the local triple j Unearthed slot, Jeremy Neale earns his place on the line-up with the debonair charm of a '60s pop-rock legend. Dressed in matching jackets, the five-piece – including a tasteful saxophonist – are kings of the school dance hall right now, as they captivate a solid early crowd with classy drum fills, smooth guitar licks and well-worded songs about girls. A Love Affair To Keep You There is the highlight as the swing of a bygone era mixes effortlessly with Neale's very now swagger, while Darlin' sends everyone away with solid faith in the hometown scene.

Given the minuscule amount of material they've released, there's a healthy crowd for Californians The Neighbourhood in the blistering 1pm sun. They air material from their debut album, which will be released in April, and it all sounds pretty good upon first listen. Wires is a highlight from their EP, A Little Death sounds massive and the very popular Sweater Weather is just an incredible song, executed with class this afternoon. It's a year ago today that they put their very first song on the internet, so they're thrilled to be here. If they keep this up, they'll be back soon, playing to many, many more people.

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Henry Wagons is still touring on the back of his Expecting Company duets record, and it's the core of his usual outfit Wagons abetted by vocalist Kelly Day who deliver a string of tracks such as Unwelcome Company and Still Can't Find Her to quite a reasonable crowd for this early slot. Local lasses Mel Tickle (on Give Me A Kiss) and Patience Hodgson (A Hangman's Work Is Never Done) also bring their dulcet tones to proceedings, but it's the enigmatic Wagons himself who steals the show with his crazy antics.

Once lo-fi Brooklyn quintet Real Estate settle in for an extended jam straight up within opening track All The Same, and when they continue with the same pace through Wonder Years it becomes obvious how painfully dull their set is destined to be. With little stage movement, the dynamic levels are maintained at dreary, even when the pace finally shifts for a cover of Feist's Look At What The Light Did Now.

Brooklyn rockers The Men play in absolutely oppressive heat on the Eat Your Own Ears stage but don't let it bother them one iota, the four-piece relentless with their driving rock, which is liberally dotted with jagged hooks and submerged melodies. Both guitarists and the bass player take turns at vocal duties but they all have similar delivery, and a slew of great tracks such as Country Song and Open Your Heart go down a treat with the punters clearly here for the heavier offerings on display.

While High Highs play their ethereal indie fare with undisputed accuracy, the plaintive arrangements only grab a handful of those assembled, thus the chatter of hundreds reverberates through the hall of The Zoo stage louder than the band for much of their set. When Jack Milas straps on the acoustic guitar for Open Season there's an almost immediate change, a cheer goes up, and when the chorus hits people even sing and dance! But, for all the band's best efforts, it's a pretty unsatisfying set overall.

There's a big crowd congregated at the Car Park stage to see youngsters The Rubens go through their paces, and while their slick, soulful commercial pop-rock clearly goes down well with fans, it leaves many others cold. Still, tracks like The Day You Went Away, Lay It Down and I'll Surely Die have the crowd singing along en masse and the sound is fantastic, surely justifying their place on the bill.

Though they pull out the sweet and well-constructed boy/girl duet Air early in their performance, pepping up confidence levels following a shabby start, Snakadaktal never quite match the expectation set by 2011's debut EP. Follow up single Dance Bear is a perfect festival track, though it limps along flatly with little stage energy and an electronic kit that zaps the freshness from the Melbourne quintet. The product of triple j's Unearthed High, the youngsters will surely improve their live chops with more practice.

With just two keyboards and a drummer, Perfume Genius' lilting pop still packs a punch thanks to the incredible voice of Mike Hadreas. His falsetto is arresting, somehow gritty and beautiful at the same time. Learning is great, a short but powerful song that has us forgetting past technical issues while Hood elicits a passionate response from a few up the front and it doesn't lose its power when performed live. These songs work so well with such little embellishment; one hopes that Hadreas doesn't look to add much to his live ensemble in the future.

While it hardly fits with the rest of today's bill, Brooklyn's El-P is an inspired choice for this year's Laneway. Full Retard is viscous and feels like a statement of intent, and El-P and his boys (another MC and two multi-instrumentalists) aren't perturbed by a small crowd – this afternoon they're going to destroy. The bass-heavy Works Every Time brings the tempo down a little, while True Story is devastating and proves how vital El-P's backing MC is – before he spends The Jig Is Up smashing the shit out of a cymbal. All four members contribute so much to this performance – truly special.

It's incredible to see how popular Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters & Men have become in recent times, the massive crowd gathered before them hanging on every syllable and waving their hands in the air in unison, a massive carnival vibe the joyous result. The rousing opener Dirty Paws sets the scene early, but it's their friendly vibe and eclectic instrumentation and a slew of catchy, epic songs such as Mountain Sound, King And Lionheart and Little Talks that really seals the deal. This band is going to be enormous.

Fronted by the beguiling Channy Leaneagh who moves around the stage with the grace of a ballerina, Minneapolis outfit Polica are classy regardless of whether one of the two drummers appear to be little more than stage decoration. The smooth grooves and triumphant sax samples of Dark Star inspire an a-ha moment for anyone not hugely familiar with their debut 2012 album Give You The Ghost, and a confident set filled with danceable beat-pop will send most in search of it.

Cloud Nothings are snarling and noisy this afternoon, at once trading between their toe tapping grunge pop and guileless noise intermissions. They have the crowd well and truly fired up, and when the familiar riff of Stay Useless hits early the throng slam dancing down the front kick up another notch. When they're reined and the brilliant vocal hooks of Dylan Baldi are discernible, they're killer – closer No Future/No Past proves that best – but their noisier forays meander a bit too much. The furious pace at which they're played means they don't lock onto much of a groove so, after a while, they become boring.

Alt-J cannot put a foot wrong as their considered textures connect through a setlist designed for ultimate flow; as the frivolous keys of Dissolve Me give way to the dirty bass lows of Fitzpleasure, it's beautiful to watch the collective movement of the crowd shift accordingly. Favourites Matilda and Breezeblocks set off sing-alongs, though the defining moment comes with their debut album closer, the haunting Taro; pretty but with the dangerous lure of a snake charmer, leaves a distinct longing to experience more.

Inside The Zoo stage a big turnout greets New York City duo MS MR (and their bandmates) for their first ever Australian show. Visually they seem to have recently escaped from the '80s with the singer Lizzie Plapinger's predilection for bright colours and polka dots, but musically their keyboard-driven sound and yelping vocals come across as quite timeless. They veer seamlessly between the upbeat and the atmospheric, but it's not until they get into the familiar terrain of breakout song Hurricane that the crowd really joins them in the abandon.

After a quick hello to the local constabulary, Western Australia's Pond are laying into the kind of laidback, psyched out classic rock that has made them such a great live proposition over the past couple of years. Frontman Nick Allbrook is brilliant; during You Broke My Cool he comes off as some kind of beautifully uncoordinated Mick Jagger – that's a compliment – and the band behind him are faultless. While tracks from their Beard, Wives, Denim record still thrill, a taste of what's to come with new song Whatever Happened To The Million Head Collide? gets us very excited.

Arriving on the back of four Hottest 100 spots, Flume is certainly the man of the moment and as soon as his set gets under way it's quite easy to see why. His music drops with an intense, penetrating impact and the dancefloor responds ecstatically. The sound is an immediate improvement on earlier Car Park stage sets and this provides him with an even greater aura of extraordinariness. A manic version of Holdin On pulls Kendrick Lamar's Swimming Pools (Drank) into its mix and Hermitude mix-up finisher HyperParadise brings it all home with astounding force.

British songstress Jessie Ware has the soul of Sade and the brassiness of Lilly Allen as she does her best Brixton diva routine fronting a three-piece band complemented by samples. Still Love Me is messy with the interplay of repetitive guitar and keys meant to provide an atmospheric backing, though Night Light shows off Ware's powerful vocal which brings the vibe to boiling point once accompanied by some epic shredding on Swan Song.

Alpine have packed out The Zoo stage this evening and they're relishing the chance to play to such a large crowd who lap up their every song. They look as exciting as they sound, the band making sure they show us they're having as good a time as any of us. Their somewhat nontraditional line-up works perfectly, the harmonies of both vocalists proving a real treat out the front of their upbeat indie pop and the set produces great renditions of Gasoline and Seeing Red.

Vancouver duo Japandroids are another act playing their first ever Aussie show today, and the pair don't disappoint with their angsty party rock aesthetic. Adrenaline Nightshift hits with a bang early, guitarist Brian King roaming the stage while drummer David Prowse's sing-along counterpoint vocals are integral to the anthemic barroom appeal of tracks like Fire's Highway and The Nights Of Wine And Roses. When they announce at the set's conclusion that they'll be back soon for their own tour nobody in attendance fails to be buoyed by the news.

With opener Blue Paper, Yeasayer confidently assert their position on the bill while proving Fragrant World to be among last year's most underrated albums. Longevity simply solidifies this notion by delivering some of the more captivating moments of a wondrously complete set. O.N.E. and Ambling Alp are the obvious crowd favourites, and 2080 and Reagan's Skeleton are both persuasive in their own right. Their sound is great, they're in fine form and the surrounding night lends them the integral ambience that was lacking when they last appeared here for a Splendour day slot.

Security halts the influx of punters to the Future Classic stage before Chet Faker, aka Nick Murphy, has had a chance to even make it to the stage with his band. Though his smooth electronic beat-pop is largely inaudible throughout half the space and he stops and starts mid-song, thereafter wasting precious minutes inviting setlist suggestions, the opening beats of I'm Into You draws a huge response as does his perfectly low-key take on classic '90s slow-jam No Diggity.

Only a relatively small crowd meets Melbourne's Twerps as they close The Zoo stage, but they make up for the lack of numbers with unabashed vigour as the four-piece (complete with new drummer, Alex, who makes the sound far punchier than in the past) serve up a stream of slacker indie goodness such as Work It Out, He's In Stock and the irrepressible Dreamin'. It's a shame that more folk don't witness this brilliant set, but when they conclude with a joyous take on the epic Who Are You the lucky people in attendance know that they're in special company.

Newly-formed indie 'supergroup' Divine Fits – featuring Britt Daniel of Spoon and Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs – deliver streams of punchy indie rock, tracks like The Salton Sea all urgent and pulsing like the best of those previous bands but with a lot more textures happening around the margins. It's almost like dance music with the tribal percussion and keyboard flourishes and people up the front vote with their feet, and they fittingly complete a strong set with a shuffling rendition of The Boys Next Door's epic Shivers, complete with a guitar duel to finish.

Resplendent in an outfit all colours of the rainbow, Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes is a sight to behold. Opening with Lillies she exclaims to an enchanted audience with the full power of her lungs, “Thank God I'm alive”, and everyone silently agrees. Balancing her moments of haunting balladry delicately until the precious Laura commands a trained spotlight, Khan knows when to move the crowd as the subtle club beat of All Your Gold gets fists pumping. Closing with the smooth, down-tempo rhythms of Daniel, the ease with which Kahn's four multi-instrumental backing musicians have interacted is evident, for this has been a dazzling performance.

So another instalment of Laneway Festival is over, and the hordes of punters shuffling into the darkness are content with a cracking day of live music from around the globe, and – with the storm clouds looking ominous in the night sky – stoked that the weather gods did the right thing and kept the ailments away.