Live Review: Summer Tones

28 January 2016 | 5:30 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"'Any requests? Not now,' Vile says, not missing a beat, before some wiseguy hollers, 'Cold Chisel!'"

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Summer Tones utilises Shadow Electric plus an outdoor stage in the grounds of Abbotsford Convent. There's Yarra River by way of backdrop and plenty of grass on which to park your ass. The proscenium arch of this stage has been meticulously decorated with foliage and flowers and there's not a single wireless tuned in for the Hottest 100 countdown in sight. 

When we head inside for Free Time we're expecting it's a Silence Wedge kinda sitch with nothing scheduled, but instead discover this is the name of a 'super' group of sorts, comprised of members of Twerps, Totally Mild and Terrible Truths. Their dirty white Big W plimsolls and palm tree-print shirts are an extension on their band name theme. Drummer Joe Alexander opens and closes his mouth like a lizard catching flies to get extra dynamics from his playing, which is real cute to watch. A coupla dudes in front of us look at each and one shrugs, saying, "They're alright," and we agree. But then they completely come to life after a guitar change when Zachary Schneider (Totally Mild) returns with a strapless guitar and must sit on a case to play the instrument. It's seriously like a different band up there now, and Free Time find their groove. There's funky basslines, but indiscernible lyrics. From his seated position, Schneider can't contain his excitement and beams at his bandmates although we can see him trying to curb his enthusiasm. Then a request from the stage for more smoke is answered in bucketloads and the band become largely obscured. 

Portaloo overshare: "Epic piss. I know, girls. I can hear you giggling a little bit, but I held that in a long time." Then later in the day a lady in the next cubicle requests some "TP", before clarifying that's short for toilet paper.

On the outdoor stage, Ryley Walker is accompanied by Melbourne double bassist (Adam Casey) and their energy is perfect for this setting. It's this singer-songwriters first time here and he tells us we are all welcome to crash on his couch in Chicago. He then expresses his love for Sophie and Ash Miles for putting on this "dope" festival.

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Nachos with nowhere near enough flavour or topping for $15 a pop? Come on, Le Bon Ton, that's just taking the piss.

Meg Baird follows on the outdoor stage with no introduction fanfare and ever so gently strums her guitar while delivering meandering melodies. It's all sonic prettiness and sitting out in these beautiful surrounds could never be bad, but at the same time we're not completely engaged so wander off in search of alternative entertainment. Back inside Shadow Electric's bandroom it's nearly Totally Mild o'clock. The fact that there are ping pong balls flying from the tables at all times is bloody rad. Fronting Totally Mild, Elizabeth Mitchell is so chilled that she somehow manages to finish a song a whole verse early. She tells us this is because she was focusing too much on her "rock moves". Drummer Ashley Bundang chokes her sticks but still sounds punchy. Schneider is back onstage after also featuring in Free Time, with guitar strapped impossibly high, and his luminous playing injects the pop. Mitchell acknowledges today (Invasion Day) is a "hard day" and praises us for coming out and being "respectable"/"respectful"? Schneider then adds: "This goes out to anyone who was at the rally before." On slide, Schneider's phenomenal and he switches playing styles back and forth within a single song. Totally Mild are really likeable and we would've loved to hang out with them at recess back in school. When I'm Tired (during which Bundang's smile is infectious throughout) chugs along jauntily and we all bop along until Mitchell accidentally cuts out a verse yet again. Schneider shakes his head in disbelief. Then he's back sitting on a box with stand-in guitar. It's like déjà vu!

Back out into the sunshine and Michael Hurley sits comfortably up onstage in trademark trucker cap surprising us with (sometimes) racey lyrics about jacking off. The 74 year old, who is also a painter/cartoonist, definitely wins merch item of the day with his limited-edition zines, but sadly the boisterous crowd near us make it difficult for to be drawn into the songs — not his fault.

A seemingly sozzled Walker intros Kurt Vile. He tells us all to stand up so that more punters can squeeze down to experience the mild-mannered headliner. Walker also tells us that in Chicago at the moment there's "snow up to your butt crack" then freestyles for a bit before advising Vile brings us "good news". He's been mingling on the hill throughout the afternoon and Vile now takes the stage while bats fly overhead. "You're beautiful!" he yells at the conclusion of one song. "You are" a young lady responds. Vile evokes Matt Dillon in the 1992 film Singles. A couple of wasted chicks pull out the proscenium arch foliage and wave it around thinking this makes them look cute. Vile's T-shirt reads "WHAT'S UP KOOKS" and in between songs he curls his upper lip à la Billy Idol. There's not much banter, but we're all completely captivated. Highlights include Wild Imagination, Stand Inside and Baby's Arms as delivered by Vile through long curtains of unkempt, brown locks. "Any requests? Not now," Vile says, not missing a beat, before some wiseguy hollers, "Cold Chisel!" We score a two-song encore and then this magical event comes to an end. As we wander up Johnston Street, Summer Tones attendees can be identified by their wide smiles and the bunches of flowers they've plucked from stage decor.