AU ABROAD

Festival Review: The Falls Music and Arts Festival, Day Two - Marion Bay, Tasmania (30.12.13)

The first day of music on the main stages at The Falls Music and Arts Festival in Marion Bay was about as big as they get. From big hitting Australian bands to the international heavyweights, there was something on offer for everyone.

Triple J Unearthed winners Chase City had the exciting/daunting honour of opening the Valley Stage in the main arena bright though not too early at 11am. They performed the task admirably and appeared at ease on the large stage, a fact that the crowd warmed to and it wasn’t long before even the most dishevelled looking punters nursing hangovers migrated down to the barrier to have a dance.

If anyone was still asleep in their tent by midday they would have found themselves waking to the sound of The Preatures’ front woman, Isabella Manfredi excitedly yelling hellos to the crowd cheering before her. They gave the set absolutely every inch of energy that they collectively possessed, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the entire band had just collapsed in a pile immediately after exiting the stage. The clear crowd favourite was the band’s recent hit song (immortalised in everyone’s subconscious due to it’s use in an advert), "Is This How You Feel?".

By the time Big Scary appeared on stage there was barely a spare blade of grass on hill above the Valley Stage as punters sprawled out across the arenas in all manner of camp chairs, picnic rugs and the ever-popular ponchos (which now double as a clothing item and a mat to sunbake on). Sampling heavily from their latest album, Not Art with tracks from their earlier releases sporadically intertwined the Sydney duo were on fine form. Falls Festival is all about celebrating the New Year and looking back at everything that has happened so far and as the first chord of Big Scary’s hit single of 2013, "Luck Now" rang out the entire crowd exploded with noise. The only downside was the absence of "Mix Tape" from the set, which somewhat deflated the final cheers of the crowd as the band left the stage.

James Vincent McMorrow is a newcomer to the Australian festival circuit, but he wasn’t about to show it. With so many comparisons to the likes of Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver so early in his career the pressure was really on to see how his vocals held up in a live setting. There was nothing to fear however as McMorrow rose above expectations, mesmerising the entire crowd with his beautiful, dulcet tones. Balancing vocals, guitar and at times the keyboard as well, the standout of the set was definitely his single, "Cavalier".

The average age of punters in attendance at the Marion Bay leg of the Falls Festival is about 23, so perhaps they can be forgiven for not fully appreciating the arrival of Johnny Marr to the stage. Despite the initial low turnout the die-hard fans of old and the hipsters of new made plenty of noise as the guitar veteran launched into "The Right Thing Right", from his latest solo album, The Messenger. Marr followed with the title track of the same album, introducing it in his usual philosophical manner because he, “Still believed in that shit”. As promised in a previous statement from Marr, the crowd were treated to a glimpse of his (in my opinion) seminal 80s band, The Smiths. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", was dedicated to the, “People up the front,” (well, he wasn’t going to get through the set without having a jibe at the lacklustre head-nodders at the back). If you closed your eyes you could almost picture Morrissey on the stage singing, at least that’s what deluded Smiths fans were probably focusing on, I know I was. Surprising everyone was a cover of The Clash’s "I Fought The Law", before Marr rounded up the set with more solo tracks and two more Smiths songs, finishing with "How Soon Is Now".

The Rubens have been touring on their self titled debut album for well over a year now so the set was bound to have plenty of fans who knew every word; a prediction that transpired to be largely accurate. Young girls and boys alike swooned at the band’s roguish charm and good looks, or perhaps it was the heat, either way, there were a lot of people going crazy. During favourites "My Gun", "The Best We Got" and "Elvis", punters were screaming wildly but, with the soft piano intro to "Never Be The Same", you could have heard a pin drop. The crowd seemed to wait with bated breathe for the big key change about half way through the song, at point that was met with the loudest cheer of the day thus far.

Bonobo maintained the energy as the sun began it’s slow decent down to earth – Tasmania really does have at least two extra hours of dusk compared to anywhere else in the country! The group filled the stage both literally with the large array of instruments and musicians and figuratively with the lively vigour and excitement that they brought to their set.

London Grammar have had a whirlwind 2013, rising out of relative obscurity on SoundCloud to produce one of the biggest albums of the year and a string of number one hits. As lead singer, Hannah Reid approached the microphone hugging a jumper around herself and for a moment appeared quite nervous as she surveyed the huge crowd. This moment of apparent fearful apprehension was certainly not reflected in her voice, as she belted out the band’s first hit and set opener, "Hey Now". The second half of the set was interrupted by an announcement that it was in fact Hannah’s birthday, at which point the crowd launched into song and the band’s manager brought a cake complete with candles on to the stage. Other standouts from the set included "Strong" and their closing song, "Metal & Dust".

Violent Femmes may have released "Blister In The Sun" over three decades ago but even after all that time, which has included a long break for the band, when that guitar riff began, it sounded exactly as it had at the height of their career. The band were so tight and Gordon Gano's vocals were impeccable throughout. There was plenty for the older punters to enjoy but it was (somewhat surprisingly) the younger people in the front rows who really channelled the energy from the stage that gave the set such a great vibe.

It doesn’t matter how many times you see The Cat Empire; you can be guaranteed to never see the same show twice. The quirky blues/rock/folk/world (and about a dozen other genres) Australian multi-talented musicians released a new album earlier in the year and much of their set included new tracks from that record. The best of the new material was opening song "Prophets In The Sky" and popular single "Brighter Than Gold", but it was a ten minute rendition of 2008’s "The Wine Song" that had the now full Valley Stage arena crowd belting out the lyrics and madly dancing around.

As always, the moment the schedule is a fraction out of time, as had happened by this stage, the slightly tired and more than a little tipsy punters were getting a bit grumpy. Of course when Vampire Weekend eventually appeared from side of stage, all was forgiven and Marion Bay gave its biggest welcome of the day to everyone’s favourite preppy New Yorkers. Opening with "Diane Young", the first single from their new album Modern Vampires of The City, the band played a range of tracks from all three of their records. The best part about Vampire Weekend’s set is the fact that big hit singles aside, everyone has a different favourite track or album, which means that there’s constantly a high level of energy. Throughout the entire hour, there was always at least someone in the near vicinity going crazy because, “This is my favourite song!” Other new tracks included "Unbelievers", "Step", "Everlasting Arms", "Ya Hey" and the fantastically brilliant ‘Hannah Hunt.’ Older standouts such as, "Oxford Comma", "A-Punk" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" were perfectly executed and set closer "Walcott" sent the entire crowd into a frenzy.

When the lights went down on Vampire Weekend thousands of sweaty, red-faced punters took the opportunity to grab drinks and regroup with friend that had been lost in the mosh pit – yes there was moshing to Vampire Weekend. Other punters used the mass exodus to their advantage and drove further into the crowd toward the stage to get a good spot for The Roots. Those who had the energy to implement such a strategy were highly rewarded with an energetic set filled with both new material and all those songs you had forgotten you knew.

While the aforementioned events were taking place at the Valley Stage, across at the Field Stage, The Paper Kites, Horrorshow, Hermitude, Flight Facilities and Solange were rocking out hard. The latter closed the stage for the evening, enthralling a tightly packed crowd who continued to chant and cheer “Solange” repeatedly well after she exited. It was a big day that in many ways was just the precursor for even bigger things to come on New Years Eve day and night!