Live Review: St Jerome's Laneway Festival

6 February 2016 | 1:52 pm | Ben E Webbs

Laneway Adelaide was reminiscent of the Big Day Out at its prime.

A thought occurs: St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is now Australia’s premier touring music festival.

In 2016 it’s a far cry from the impossibly cramped, garbaged-scented fiesta that a thousand or so bleeding-edge punters enjoyed in Melbourne’s New Caledonian Lane eleven years ago.

The vibe has a pleasant whiff of the Big Day Out’s glory days about it and all that that implies. There’s the dual mainstage configuration, where FIDLAR has taken the place of yesteryear’s Blink 182, and Violent Soho is today’s answer to Grinspoon; The Vitalstatistix stage is kind of like the Lilypad.

The Hard Aches opened the show with their brash two-piece rock stylings pleasing those enthusiastic youngsters who arrived on time. High Tension were an early highlight on the Mistletone stage, which was essentially  “the guitar stage.” Meanwhile, Banoffee played to a small but enthralled gaggle of in-the-know cool kids. 

Silicon (who is the brother of Ruben Nielson from Unknown Mortal Orchestra) staged a bizarre incident in which he kissed a hand gun attached to a police officer’s belt, and has evidently found himself evicted from the rest of the Laneway tour for his efforts.

The Mistletone stage - also the most picturesque stage at this, and possibly any other music festival, with its vistas of the Port river framed by majestic, decaying warehouses - continued to deliver. METZ were followed by the uber-hip DIIV, as a breeze from the water rose to a little above tolerable and began to play havoc with the PA. FIDLAR initiated several singalongs at the mainstage, where their cheeky lyrics and loud guitars met broad approval. The three gentlemen dressed in identical Fred Flintstone outfits certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Way over on the Future Classic stage, East India Youth rocked out as hard as a spotty twenty-something in a business shirt with some synthesizers and not much else can be expected to rock out. This stage was a short hike from the main arena, and some punters likely never even ventured out to it. On the plus side, there was excellent separation between all of the stages, with zero interference soundwise from clashing performers. On the whole, Laneway seemed to be very well organised - at least until the beer ran out.

Sydney’s Royal Headache did their garage slacker rock thing as the afternoon rolled around and the crowds swelled with 9-5 workers who couldn’t get the whole day off. In the main arena, The Internet had a pleasingly large and responsive audience transfixed. Syd Tha Kid and her excellent band (bass, drums, rhodes piano) delivered smooth r’n’b while at least one dude tried to crowd surf - again, just like the old Big Day Out.

Elsewhere, Thundercat delivered something that was more in the spirit of the original St Jerome’s festivals - wigged out, McLaughlin-esque jazz rock performed on drumkit, six-string bass and Rhodes. The virtuosity on display here was mind-bending, but Thundercat’s astonishing bass was criminally lost in the mix. Bass seemed to be an issue throughout the day, in fact; BATTLES’ John Stainer stroppily smashed the mics off his drum kit in frustration at the re-occurring sub feedback he was experiencing.

But before that band’s technically impressive and visually rewarding set, The Smith Street Band were warmly received by the now well-lubricated throngs. With kindred spirits Violent Soho, they are a band expertly engineered to cater for Australian rock music festivals.

At the business end of the day, Grimes appeared with three dancers and a decent light-show. Grimes’ untethered creativity and fastidious approach in the studio is well documented, but this didn’t translate particularly well to the live arena. Her audience clearly knew and loved the music, but there was somehow a detachment - like watching a video clip, rather than a live performance, perhaps.

Beach House, in contrast, were intimate and immediate, the four members huddled close to the lip of their stage. Their audience was spellbound, and enjoyed probably the best sound of the entire festival. The mood ebbed between epic and delicate, like the tide in the adjacent river lapping against the old boardwalks.

CHVRCHES were in no way delicate. Their sound was enormous, their light show blindingly bright, and their production values astronomically high. After a negative experience in Adelaide last time (CHVRCHES set at a previous Laneway was a stunted, abortive mess due to their digital equipment essentially having melted) this group should perhaps have been given top billing... but that honour instead went to Flume, a performer whose licence to make bangerz was found inside an actual cereal box.... ‘Nuff said.