Monday, November 14, 2011

"On nights like this, we drink ourselves dry, and make promises with no intent" - Harvest presents The Gathering, 12/11/2011 at Werribee Park

Music fans of Australia went into a bit of a frenzy earlier this year when rumours began of a new festival by the name of Harvest, that was supposedly being organised by AJ Maddah, he of Soundwave fame (and also infamous for the utter debacle that was Soundwave Revolution). Though at that point there was nothing set in stone and nobody was really getting their hopes up, the rumours suggested that artists playing at the festival may include the likes of Portishead, Mogwai, Aphex Twin and The Flaming Lips. But in July, all doubts were erased when the official first announcement hit, and yes, at the top of the lineup were a band coming to Australia for the first time in 14 years, the one and only Portishead - with an impressive array of other internationals including The Flaming Lips, The National, Mogwai, Bright Eyes and many more! Billed as a "Civilised Gathering", Harvest set out from the start to be an alternative to the mainstream festivals in this country, and despite a few teething problems, by most accounts it was a very successful first year for the event!

One of the first bands on the main stage of the event - named "The Great Lawn" - were the irrepressibly funky Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Last in the country less than twelve months ago for the Meredith Music Festival, this is a band whose name really says it all - eight brothers and another unrelated who play addictive music centred on brass instruments. Though punters were still arriving and settling in, and weren't really ready to make their way right down the front, plenty of festival earlybirds were clearly enjoying the sounds of this Chicago group, as they should with a band who sound this great. The band were doing their best to get the crowd involved too, at one point engaging in that tried-and-true routine of seeing which side of the crowd was the loudest.
(Hypnotic Brass Ensemble score 8/10)

Over on the Windmill Stage, Oxford quartet This Town Needs Guns were treating a respectable-sized crowd to a solid selection of their math-rock/indie numbers, including plenty of favourites from the band's debut album Animals. Many had enjoyed their performances earlier in the year at the Soundwave Festival, and evidently AJ Maddah had, given that he asked them back for Harvest. Since those performances, the band have undergone a bit of a lineup change, with Pennines' Henry Tremain replacing former vocalist/guitarist Stuart Smith, who has left the band due to the birth of his child. Tremain joked that he had been to so many of the band's gigs as a fan, and had to remind himself not to clap after every song. He certainly gave the crowd many reasons to clap, fitting in very well in the band with a similar vocal style to his predecssor and doing the band's older material justice, and also proving himself quite handy on the guitar with a few songs. However, it was bassist Jamie Cooper that took care of most of the crowd interaction, seeming genuinely humbled by the response his band received but definitely appreciative of it. On the surface of it, This Town Needs Guns' music seems a little bit complex what with all that guitar noodling going on, but there's an underlying pop sensibilty to them that the punters really enjoyed on this particular occasion.
(This Town Needs Guns score 9/10)

Back on the Great Lawn, funk was once again the flavour of the afternoon with legendary act The Family Stone taking to the stage and delighting all in attendance. Despite the notable absence of the group's frontman Sly, the current incarnation of the band boasts a surprising amount of original members, something that they were keen to remind us about several times during the set. Even though there were probably a few in the crowd who couldn't put a song to the band name, there were many looks of recognition and possibly even a few exclamations of "OH! THIS SONG!" as the band worked their way through a selection of timeless material such as Everday People and Family Affair. God knows how Maddah managed to book these guys, but it was certainly an amazing performance from a group that showed no signs of their age!
(The Family Stone score 7/10)

It was then time for a band from a bit closer to home, as Sydney-based electronic experimentalists PVT wowed a packed-out tent at the Big Red Tractor Stage. As they got things going with the title track from last year's very successful Church With No Magic album, the crowd came alive, doing their best to pull off some dance moves despite the glitchy and unpredictable nature of PVT's music! After a surprisingly lacklustre performance at the Corner Hotel last year to launch the album, PVT seemed really in their element today. The trio, made up of Richard Pike on just about EVERYHING (guitar, bass, keys and vocals), his brother Laurence on drums (an absolute force to behold), and Dave Miller on laptop, synths and whatever other electronic gadgets took his fancy, really delivered a standout performance on the day. A selection of Church With No Magic favourites were interspersed with a pair of brand new songs, and even some from their second album O Soundtrack My Heart for the diehard (Pivot?) fans in the audience, with the appropriately-named Didn't I Furious sounding absolutely massive as delivered through a festival sound system, and O Soundtrack My Heart chilling things out a bit toward the end of the set. The crowd's enthusiasm didn't fall at all during the intense 45-minute set by the band; again, perhaps it was the sound system in the tent, perhaps it was the "festival atmosphere", but things just seemed to really go PVT's way on this occasion.
(PVT score 9/10)

It was back to the Great Lawn for the inimitable TV on the Radio. They have long been regarded by many as a band that performs at their absolute best every time, whether it be in the studio while making their excellent albums, or on a live stage as they were today. A highly anticipated act for many on the day, they showcased plenty of new material from their latest release Nine Types of Light as well as dipping into their much-loved back catalogue for fan favourite such as Red Dress, Golden Age and Staring at the Sun. The only complaint heard about their set was that the mix was a bit noisy in places, but overall, this band have a pretty high reputation to uphold when it comes to delivering a good show, and on this occasion, they managed to do so with great success. The set concluded with their arguable "signature song" Wolf Like Me, and although the audience had obviously already been enjoying themselves up until that point, that particular song as a closer really drove it home!
(TV on the Radio score 8.5/10)

The Great Lawn was rapidly filling up at this point, understandable due to the exceptional talent of the acts to come, and to prove the point, it was Conor Oberst and his highly-praised Bright Eyes that were next up on the stage. With such a vast discography, it was always going to be interesting to see how they'd fare with the hour set they were given, but they certainly managed to cover most facets of their career, from 2000's Fevers and Mirrors to their latest release, The People's Key. Oberst showed the crowd he was no slouch on stage, as he switched between guitar and keyboards with great ease, and looked to be having the time of his life the whole set. He even delivered a couple of songs by himself on just acoustic guitar and vocals, which was a nice way of balancing out the set when juxtaposed with the full-band Bright Eyes tracks.
(Bright Eyes score 8/10)
Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)
Four Winds
Arc of Time (Time Code)
Lover I Don't Have to Love
Jejune Stars
The Calendar Hung Itself...
Shell Games
Another Travellin' Song
I Believe in Symmetry
Road to Joy

A little later on the Windmill Stage, Scottish post-rock heroes Mogwai drew a full crowd to witness their impressive combination of extreme dynamics, melody and at times, pure fucking noise! Again, an hour set was probably a little short for a band who have been around for quite a while, and who are known for often making some pretty lengthy songs. However, they managed to please all in attendance, balancing out material from this year's brilliantly-titled Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will with a decent selection of past material, even including rarity Ithica 27 Ø 9 from the Ten Rapid compilation. With the aid of a white sheet hung from the stage, the set was complemented nicely by a series of visuals, with geometric shapes and city skylines seeming quite appropriate for their music; however, it wasn't completely dark yet which meant that this probably wasn't as effective as it could've been. It's fair to say that a lot of post-rock bands don't seem all that energetic onstage, and play with focus and concentration rather than attempting to put on "a show". Though for the most part, this seemed to fit Mogwai's approach to live performance, on the right-hand side of the stage Stuart Braithwaite was positively animated, jumping around during the heavier moments of the songs, and thanking the audience heartily between songs, all with a big smile on his face. Given that it was getting very close to a certain headlining performance on the Great Lawn stage, people started to drift off toward the end of their set, but those who stayed around were rewarded with the penultimate performance of the classic Mogwai Fear Satan, delivered with all the intensity and sonic fury of the studio version that was released fourteen years ago! Time flies. At its conclusion, once again Braithwaite thanked the audience for sticking around, before they closed with Mexican Grand Prix and the few stragglers headed over to the Great Lawn.
White Noise
Ithica 27 Ø 9
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Rano Pano
Auto Rock
How to be a Werewolf
Hunted by a Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan
Mexican Grand Prix

Though nobody would dare to say that the rest of the lineup had been lacking in quality so far, the real talk of this festival was THE headlining act that was apparently the whole reason the festival was launched in the first place. A band with enormous critical acclaim, who only just re-entered the consciousness of the music world a few years ago after taking a full eleven years of silence between the release of their second and third albums. And tonight, for the first time in fourteen years, Australian audiences were treated to a performance that lived up to all expectations. When the lights went down on the main stage and the video screens flickered into life, the usual applause that happens during the beginning of a concert seemed a little subdued, as the crowd held their collective breath for the great moment to come. Static and abstract imagery crawled across the screens for a few seconds, until it was finally replaced with a very familiar symbol - a big bold letter "P". And then, it began. As the musicians involved with this band's live incarnation - the orginal three members, plus three extras to handle various live tasks - made their way onto the stage, a familiar voice reciting a saying in Brazilian-Portuguese came over the PA, and Portishead began their set with the opening track from 2008's Third, Silence.

The second the incomparable Beth Gibbons stepped up to the microphone, the crowd couldn't contain themselves any longer, almost drowning her out with deafening cheers. But they quickly lapsed back into reverential silence, which continue almost throughout the entirety of the set. Appreciation was shown at the right moments - usually at beginning of songs, such as right after Silence when the familiar eerie theremin intro to Mysterons began - but it was amazing to see how just respectful and appreciative the crowd were. If someone dared to break the mood by talking to his or her friend, they were quickly chastised by other people, something you don't often see at a gig! But, this was fucking Portishead, and so such a level of respect was demanded. The band made up for lost time and really didn't fail to deliver a set high on atmosphere and sonic intensity. Of course, the only way the Bristolians could have delivered a setlist to please everybody would be to play everything they've ever recorded, but of course that wasn't possible. So instead, they opted for a healthy selection of crowd favourites, mostly taken from their groundbreaking 1994 album Dummy, and the aforementioned comeback release Third; unfortunately the band's self-titled second album only got two tracks represented in the set, the stunning Over and Cowboys.

As one would expect, the band didn't really stuff around on stage with any theatrics or over-performing, but simply played their parts and let the music do the talking. With that said, there was really no shortage of things to look out, as the band were accompanied by some stunning visual material, in addition to heavily-effected live footage of themselves performing. The imagery used was abstract, surreal, and at times downright intense, such as during Machine Gun when Tony Abbott appeared with bright red laser beams for eyes! Spontaneous appreciative cheering from the crowd showed that they certainly appreciated this "local" flavour for Portishead's appearance. Machine Gun was definitely an overall highlight in a set that really highlighted the sonic difference between today's Portishead and the band who recorded Dummy all those years ago. From the chilled-out ambience of songs like Sour Times and Glory Box (the latter of which saw the crowd break their vow of silence and join in with their best voices), to the jarring intensity of the likes of Magic Doors and Threads, this is a band with quite a dynamic range. Threads was the last song of the main set, but the entire crowd waited patiently for an encore, and it came in the form of the haunting Roads, and an upbeat conclusion with We Carry On. During the song's climax, Gibbons climbed off the stage and ran along the barrier to high-five and embrace the adoring fans. As the song finally ended, it was clear that it was the end of their set completely, and finally, she spoke, thanking everyone for coming and finishing with "We love Australia!", to an appropriate reaction.
The Rip
Sour Times
Magic Doors
Wandering Star
Machine Gun
Glory Box
Chase the Tear
We Carry On

Over on the Windmill Stage, things were about to get downright freaky, as a naked woman appeared on a semi-circular video screen and began spreading her legs. A strategically-placed door began opening sporadically, with members of the upcoming band making their way out one by one, until finally, a giant bubble was inflated and the man inside it launched himself into a rapturous crowd as his bandmates struck up a cover of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf - and so began the closing performance of the night, and who else would it be but The Flaming Lips. Pushed for time due to Portishead's insistence on absolute silence on other stages during their set, one got the sense that this wasn't exactly the greatest way to enjoy everything that the Flips could potentially offer, and at the end of a festival day, the energy was dipping considerably. "Come on, come on fuckers!" encouraged Wayne Coyne (who it must be mentioned, had a camera on the end of his microphone stand which allowed for some very extreme close-ups!). "I know it's the end of the festival, but by anybody's standards, it's still really fucking early on a Saturday night!" Despite their time restrictions only allowing seven songs to be played, Coyne and his friends still did their best to make sure everyone left on a high note, getting everyone involved with some fanastically fun singalongs to She Don't Use Jelly, The Yeah Yeah Song, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and of course, the closing Do You Realize?? All this was of course accompanied by the usual Flips theatrics, including giant balloons, confetti and streamers floating out into the delighted audience, while onstage, colourful psychedelic visuals played out on the band's trademark video screen, and some extra costumed bodies danced the night away. Overall, it was still quite an enjoyable performance, but definitely not quite the uplifting extravaganza that many were hoping for. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to be smiling as they slowly made their way out of what seemed to be a very successful first edition of Harvest! Here's to next year!
Sweet Leaf (Black Sabbath cover)
Worm Mountain
She Don't Use Jelly
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
Is David Bowie Dying?
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1
Do You Realize??

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town" - Saltar Hype presents Creepshow Festival, 29/10/2011

In October 2010, Matt Crute and his team at the Saltar Hype booking agency put on a very successful Halloween-themed mini-festival at the Espy. Appropriately dubbed "Creepshow", the night saw a plethora of great local Melbourne acts taking to the three stages at the Espy, with plenty of weird and wonderful costumes present among bands and punters alike. Evidently, the night was a success as Crutey opted to put on another this year, once again with great results!

A standout performance the year before had been instrumental heavy prog trio Anna Salen, or as they had dubbed themselves for the evening, the "Super Anna Salen Brothers". This was due to their Super Mario-themed choice of costumes - guitarist/keyboardist Daiv Morgan was Mario, drummer Shaun Scott was Wario, and bassist/keyboardist Paul Risso was Luigi. But they didn't stop at the costumes - "question mark" boxes were placed on top of amps, coin and pipe sound effects were loaded into Scott's triggers and appeared in random places throughout the Anna Salen set, and the band covered the theme music from the games between their own tunes. This year the boys decided to stick to their winning formula, to the delight of those who had witnessed it the year before and to the delighted surprise of those who hadn't! The band have rapidly become one of Melbourne's most-talked about upcoming bands, no doubt helped by their very unique sound and lack of vocals. The band had just supported Sydney powerhouse Floating Me in Geelong and Melbourne the two nights previous, but they weren't showing any signs of fatigue, as they delivered another solid set from the Espy front bar stage. As another sign of just how much the band is on the up, midway through the set Morgan invited "Jason Vorhees" to the stage to play some guest drums, while Scott took up a second guitar. "Jason" was none other than the event organiser, Matt Crute, and he lent his amazing drum skills to the favourite Karate, appropriately dubbed "Karutey" by Morgan for the occasion. At the set's conclusion, Morgan picked up one of the question mark boxes and threw its contents into the audience, which appropriately were chocolate coins!
Tit Dirt
-Mario Theme-
Communist Rocket
-Mario Theme 2-
Dinner's On
(with Matt Crute of Full Scale)

In the Gershwin Room, local djent powerhouse Circles were wowing the crowd with their highly complex brand of heavy syncopated riffs, drawing obvious comparisons to the likes of Meshuggah and recent visitors to our shores, Periphery. The band has achieved some international recognition for their sound, and were performing very well on this particular evening - surprisingly, they got a very good mix on the night too, with every subtle sound perfectly audible in the right amounts. A lot of djent bands (again, Periphery) have been known to dabble in the electronica/industrial side of things, and Circles use these sounds even more than their contemporaries, to great effect. However, like a few of these bands, there's something about the vocals that doesn't really seem to fit the rest of the music. Their performance onstage was of a very high quality though.

Melbourne-based supergroup The Khyber Belt were next to take to the front bar stage, with their debut EP being available to the public for the very first time this evening. Their costumes of choice were decidedly un-scary, with the instrumentalists in the band wearing Wiggles skivvys, and vocalist Forbes McKail dressed as Captain Feathersword. As McKail explained, it was only the band's fifth show in total, due to the fact that the band members live in different cities and they find it difficult to jam together. However, at all of those gigs they've seemed quite well-rehearsed and now they've got quite a few solid tunes written, as tonight's set showed. There were a few among the crowd who looked like they had perhaps attended most or all of these shows, as they were singing along in parts to songs that hadn't even really been released yet! The Khyber Belt still have a bit of a way to go before their songwriting craft reaches that of the bands they came from, but there were certainly some gems in this set, and in time, they might just be an adequate replacement to fill the void for all those still missing Rook.

There was jubiliation in the air in late 2009 when it was surprisingly announced that legendary Aussie heavy rockers Full Scale would be having a reunion of sorts, with original members Ezekiel Ox and Matt Crute being joined by Tristan Ross and Ben Brennan, who had been involved with the Full Scale journey at some point. After an incredible reunion gig in January 2010, the band decided to undertake a new chapter under the name Full Scale Revolution, but after a few well-received live shows across the year, by September it was all over once again. Surprisingly, a post on the band's Facebook page a few months back revealed that the band would be giving it one more shot at Creepshow this year, and understandably punters in the front bar went absolutely nuts on the evening to see FULL SCALE REVOLUTION back in action again! The power of nostalgia should never be underestimated, and as Ox, Crutey, Ross and Brennan ripped into Rapture, the crowd began suitably losing their shit, and moshing all over the place! Tonight was likely to be the last time that this incarnation of the band would take to the stage, and the opportunities weren't wasted on either side of the stage/audience divide. The band looked genuinely happy to be playing the songs, with Ox remarking "It always feels good when we bring Full Scale back in whatever form"; meanwhile the crowd were certainly in agreement with this statement, as they bounced around wildly and sang along to just about everything! It was slightly disappointing however that the set was a little bit shorter than those they'd played last year, skipping over some favourites such as Where's Your Energy? and Sixteen Today, and completely ignoring the Full Scale Deflection era. The band did manage to play the only song they'd written together in 2010, High on the Feeling, which despite being a good song in itself, seemed a bit unfamiliar to most punters and lowered the energy of the set considerably. Eventually, things had to come to an end, but the band drove it home with the usual double-shot of Five-Six and Party Political! Five-Six featured a stellar guest appearance from The Khyber Belt's Forbes McKail, who did a very capable job helping Ox out with the vocals, while Party Political saw Ox make his way through the crowd before standing up on the bar! In the end, the crowd had really enjoyed seeing these songs being played again, even if it may be the last time with this particular incarnation of the band.

It's fair to say that the crowd were looking a little worse for wear after that high intensity set, and luckily the next act on the bill were able to bring things down just enough, but not too much! It was of course everyone's favourite ex-Byron Bay foursome, Engine Three Seven, and the front bar was packed to the rafters for another great performance from the lads. It all kicked off with the favourite Hysterical Hysteria, which as usual featured the old "getting down on the ground, jumping up and going nuts" routine. Other than a slightly mixed up order than usual, there wasn't a whole lot of change in the E37 setlist that they've been playing in recent times. However, it was nice to hear Erasure for the third show in a row, which is hopefully a good sign that they've decided to bring it permanently back into the set. Another surprise came when vocalist Casey Dean (who had gone with a Bananaman costume for the evening!) declared that there would be a brand new song played immediately after Cops! The song, titled Velociraptor, showed that Engine have certainly got some quality new ideas up their sleeve and hopefully a new album isn't too far away! Other than that, it was a pretty standard set, but "standard" for Engine Three Seven usually means "excellent", and this was no exception! The crowd were really getting into it too, singing along delightedly with just about everything!

The event finally drew to a close at around 1am, with an act that were no strangers to the people still remaining in the front bar, Jericco. They kicked things off with a great little intro featuring bass player Roy Amar doing his thing on an electric Oud, before the familiar pulsing intro to Rujm (Pile of Stones) kicked in over the PA. The band usually puts this one in toward the end of the set, but as an early opener it set the tone for an absolute cracker! The ever-amazing vocalist Brent McCormick had decided to go with the "bearded lady" theme for the evening, something that brought great amusement to the punters. Even though the timeslot was extremely late, those that were willing to stick it out were treated to a typical high-energy Jericco show, with the band delivering on all fronts as they usually do - and the punters didn't look tired either; there was plenty of moshing and pogoing still going on! The setlist was jam-packed with the usual Jericco favourites, in fact, the band played every single song proper they've released so far with the exception of a few from their first EP. New drummer Matt Bray also seems to be settling into the band well after a few solid gigs, playing along with his bandmates like he'd been there all along! There was a bit of a surprise in the middle of the set, where the other members vacated the stage and McCormick delivered a song by himself with an acoustic guitar. This certainly was the only real "low-energy" point in the set, and even then, he still encouraged everyone to get involved with a bit of a singalong! Eventually the set closed with current single Monsters, which was a top way to end a great night!

The Saltar Hype team have been putting on some really stellar events lately, and though only in its second year, it's fair to say that this time around Creepshow was another rousing success! See you all at Rock the Bay!