AU ABROAD

Festival Review: The Falls Music and Arts Festival (Day Three) - Byron Bay, NSW (02.01.14)

The final day’s bill was ostensibly much more low key than its predecessor, yet there were plenty of acts - both well known and not - vying for our eyes and ears. Triple J Unearthed alumni Oliver Tank got through the main stage nerves to play his familiar set to the early birds, while former Unearthed High winner Asta continued to thank the crowd for making her dreams come true. She performed with the charisma of a much more experienced artist, but until her songwriting improves, she simply won’t make a genuine connection with her audience - who in this case were largely unmoved.

The John Steel Singers released an album in 2013 that seemed to go by largely unnoticed, which is practically criminal given its quality. When they took to the stage in the early afternoon, they didn’t have the crowd they deserved, but they performed a 40 minute set rife with well executed harmonies, memorable riffs and quality songwriting. Taking a dual vocal lead approach for the majority of their tracks, The John Steel Singers have an anthemic element to them by default. However, it was their more groove-heavy and sparsely textured moments that stood out, particularly “MJ’s on Fire Again”, which featured members of the now-defunct Hungary Kids of Hungary - and who were initially scheduled to play this slot. When they broke out into a psychedelic, feedback-laden jam, it really added the cherry on top of the well-rounded package that is The John Steel Singers.

Swinging by the Forest Stage for a Comedy Hour afforded us the comedy stylings of David Quirk, Michael Hing, and Dave Callan. David Quirk had some memorable moments, but really served only as the dopey MC for the full hour and to acclimatise the audience to the fact that they were indeed watching a comedy set and not a live music show. Michael Hing played the race card to great effect, using his opportunity in the spotlight to take sly cracks at white people as an Australian Asian. According to Michael, it’s not far before white people will have the stereotype of being paedophiles. Finally, Dave Callan showed his class and experienced, procuring consistent laughs from the now impressively-sized crowd. His deep Irish baritone bounced around topics like race, accents, Stereosonic, and ended with an amazing dance routine to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”.

Almost seamlessly, James Vincent Mcmorrow took the stage to a remarkably-quiet crowd. His set was rich, dynamic and emotive. It’d be easy to draw comparisons to the likes of Bon Iver, given his heavy use of falsetto, but in saying that, the Irishman and his band went in a different stylistic direction. The minimalism of some of his tunes almost lent from some brands of electronic music, while his folk influence is unmissable. Overall, the well polished four piece band seemed excited to be playing an event of that scale, and didn’t disappoint in doing so.

Solange will find it difficult to shake the “Beyonce’s sister” association for some time, which is unfair on this vastly different vocalist. Her groove-heavy RnB and soul blend played out to a monumental crowd, including a cheerful streaker who was later crash tackled harshly by an overweight security guard. Solange has the vocal chops to really sing whatever she pleases, yet her concise set was enough of a taste to fall in love with her RnB music and her hip-shaking dance moves. Throwing in a cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” was further demonstration of her varied influences, and topped off a set with plenty of good vibes throughout.

Psychedelic masters, Pond, were crazy for all of the right reasons. They were full and abrasive, laden with fuzz and delay and came with a bevy of instantly identifiable riffs. Frontman Nick Allbrook is arguably one of the strangest frontmen in Australia, with his small, wiry frame cowering into shadows and aimlessly wandering around stage. But with the instrumentation covering more of the melodies and hooks than vocals, his presence was more charming than lacklustre. Such was the Rock n Roll nature of the set that a girl propped up on shoulders felt the need to sling her top off - to the delight of the surrounding crowd and amusement of the quintet on stage. Crowd favourites like “Elegant Design” and “Fantastic Explosion of Time” were played energetically, and by the end of the set there was a feeling of awe amongst the many watching fans.

When Violent Femmes opened with “Blister In The Sun”, it was a baffling move by the artists most well known for that track, as fans kept streaming in towards the back end of the song. However, it quickly became apparent that the recently reunited group were performing the entirety of their debut self-titled album, with other hits such as “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Add it Up”. 31 years after its initial release, the album from the Alternative Rock legends stood the test of time well, despite the somewhat lukewarm response from audience - many of whom weren’t born at the time of its release. The Femmes took a particularly interesting set up on stage, with a standing drummer and box player effectively making up the parts of a full drum kit, but this added to the overall hoedown sentiment of their set.

Changing the feel entirely were Australian instrumental hip-hop duo, Hermitude. Drawing predominantly from their critically acclaimed album Hyperparadise, their set was at times intense and others playful. As the refreshing rains pattered down, the crowd were only fuelled further, eating up the live beatmaking and sampled delights. As Chaos Emerald took the stage, the crowd knew all too well that “Speak of the Devil” was imminent, and then proceeded to smother the vocal with their own roars resonating around the Forest stage. When Hermitude had wrapped their 50 minute set, the thousands of punters present may have been soaked, but their spirits were far from dampened.

The final act of the Byron Bay leg was to be MGMT, which seemed an odd choice given their vastly disparate repertoire. Whilst well known for their three electropop hits “Kids”, “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel”, they have actively distanced themselves from that material. Opening with the slow, spacey “Congratulations”, it was immediately evident that the excitable crowd were to be promptly deflated. Despite throwing in “Electric Feel” early, there were streams of people abandoning the psychedelic dirge. “Kids” and “Time To Pretend” certainly boosted the atmosphere in the crowd, but simply put, very few people were in the mood for the slow psychedelic jams offered by MGMT, and when their set wrapped up, there were no cries for Encore, and no encore offered.

With the final act of the festival done, there was time for a final lap of the festival site. Punters said their goodbyes to the dwarf scientist concocting who-know’s-what in The Village, ate one last serving of dumplings, and stumbled on back to their now-limp tents. It had been an exhausting three days; there had been sunburn, intoxication, and streakers. The escape out of the camping grounds may have taken hours, and the drive home even longer, but at the end of the day, it was all worth it.