AU ABROAD

Southbound Festival - Day One (07.01.12)

Another Southbound has come and gone, and once again it was a great weekend filled with great music, plenty of sun, and a nice, chilled out vibe. There were a couple of changes made since the previous year, the most noticeable one - or, rather, the one that everyone has been harping on about - was the move to make the festival 18+. The upside being that if you wanted to have a drink, you’d not have to be herded into a holding bay, but instead be able to move around freely from stage to stage with said drink in hand. The other change was a downsizing of sorts, moving from three days to two, and from three stages to two, the main downside of this being that clashes were inevitable, and some tough choices would have had to be made.

Whilst locals Sonpsilo Circus got things started on the main Sunny Stage, fellow locals and Triple J Unearthed competition winners Arts Martial opened up proceedings on the Share Stage, with a nice dose of garage rock to kick start the weekend. They managed to draw a healthy crowd, considering their early billing (many punters were still attempting to put up their tents). Given the shortness of their set, there wasn’t a huge amount of talking and audience interaction; instead there were plenty of catchy lyrics, a solid beat, and great guitar work.

Up next on the Share Stage was Sydney native Lanie Lane and her band. There is a real old time rock'n’roll feel to Lane’s music, but at the same time there is a bit of diversity, with Lane mixing things up and moving between genres with ease – not many artists could move so easily from rockabilly to reggae. She is a captivating performer, with an amazing voice. Highlight of the set was the popular "What Do I Do", a track that really highlights Lanes’ subtle, jazzy vocals.

After Lanie Lane, I nipped across to the main stage to catch the tail end of An Horse's performance, which saw the band in fine form. The chemistry between the two members is noticeable, with both riffing on each other's performance. They drew a good-sized crowd, and by this point the sun had worked its way out from behind the clouds, prompting guitarist Cooper to remind everyone to wear sunscreen.

After a short change around, Josh Pyke took to the stage, launching into a set that featured a mixture of new songs and old. Pyke’s brand of laidback acoustic folk was the perfect accompaniment to what was becoming an increasingly warm and sunny day. Fan favourite "The Lighthouse Song" was a highlight of the set, with plenty in the audience joining in for the more explicit lyrics, whilst "Good Head Start", off the latest album, was also a highlight.

I decided to stick around and catch Kimbra, if only to see what all the hype has been about. Whilst there is no denying that she is a fantastic performer with a great voice, I found her to be a little bit overbearing at times, with her vocals sometimes coming across as a little exaggerated. That being said, the crowd certainly seemed to enjoy it. Her backing band sounded tight and cohesive, with the drummer holding it all together with some solid drumming.

It was then back across to the Share Stage for Seattle natives The Head and the Heart, who performed one of the best sets of the festival. From start to finish, there seemed to be a noticeable fluidity to the band's performance, with band members switching instruments and vocal leads frequently and with ease. It was a captivating performance, replete with lush and beautiful harmonies. The bands ability to constantly shift and change the tempo throughout tracks is impressive, meaning they can go from moments of folky introspection to more upbeat moments with great ease and poise. The main highlights for me were "Sounds Like Hallelujah" (one of my favourite tracks off their debut album), "Down In The Valley", "Rivers and Roads", and a new track which I couldn’t quite catch the name of. My only issue with the set was that it ended all too quickly, but that’s festivals for you.

There was just enough time to nip across to the main stage for the start of Beirut's first ever WA performance, and it was definitely worth the wait, with Zach Condon and friends putting on an exceptional performance which, for me, stands as one of the highlights of the whole festival. The set spanned the band's career so far, with a mixture of old and new. Switching between trumpet and ukulele with ease, Condon was impressive. Given the shortness of a festival set, it was easy to overlook the reserved nature of the band; other than a few short interchanges with the audience, the band opting instead to work their way through the setlist. New track "East Harlem" was a definite highlight, as was the rousing finale, but really it was hard to pick any favourites from a set so good.

After a short break back at the tent, mostly a bid to escape the sun a little, it was time to head back to the main hub of the festival. The aim was to try and catch some of Grouplove - I say aim, because by the time I got to the Share Stage, where they were playing, the crowd was right up to the edges of the tent, with absolutely no chance of getting any closer. This in itself tells you just how good 2011 was for the band: their rise has been nothing short of meteoric since the release of their debut album. I hung around long enough to hear an amazing rendition of "Itchin' on a Photograph", complete with huge crowd sing-alongs, before heading off to wait for the next band to start on the Sunny Stage. Thankfully, I caught the band playing Glastonbury back in June, but hopefully next time they come back, they’ll be booked onto a bigger and more open stage.

It was soon time for Aloe Blacc to take to the main Sunny Stage. Sharply dressed in a dark suit jacket and shades, he guided the audience through a set that, for me, was the highlight of the festival, and at the same time setting the standard that all of this year's other performances are going to be measured against. Playing tracks off his breakthrough album Good Things, Blacc proved that soul music is still alive and well. A consummate showman, Blacc had the audience singing and dancing in no time, not to mention a little bit of hugging as well. The highlight of the set was always going to be "I Need A Dollar", which was undoubtedly the crowd favourite, with many in the crowd taking to tossing dollar coins onto the stage. Blacc left having not only entertained and impressed, but also around $20 richer.

After a bit of a break for food and to head back to the tent to find some warmer clothes, it was time for the first of the weekend's headliners to take to the stage. Now, I have never really been a big Arctic Monkeys fan - when their debut came out, their sound never really appealed to me, and despite reading countless UK music magazines, I never really kept up with what they were doing, or how many albums they released. Now, having seen them live, I find myself wanting to go out and get their records. The band came out onto stage with a definite rock and roll swagger, with frontman Alex Turner looking every bit the image of a 1950s rocker, clad in a leather jacket and dark jeans. Turner led the band through a career spanning set that was full of brooding intensity. As a frontman, he is both charismatic and fun to watch, stalking around the stage half shrouded in shadows. Whist there was a mini exodus after "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor", which appeared reasonably early in the set, the majority of the audience stuck around and were treated to a great performance, one which I imagine will have garnered the band more than a few extra followers.