Festival Review: St Jerome’s Laneway Festival – The Esplanade, Fremantle (08.02.14)

Laneway Festival returned to Western Australia for the 5th year on Saturday, moving from its home in the Cultural Precinct, to the leafy surrounds of Fremantle’s Esplanade park. In a period of uncertainty for festival organisers Laneway seems to be going from strength to strength consistently selling out across the country, even in Perth! But then with a line-up boasting buzz bands like Haim, Lorde and Vance Joy it’s hardly surprising.

I kicked off this year’s festival by finally catching Cass McCombs, who delivered a pretty chilled and lethargic set – easing me gently into my festival experience. Crowd interaction was pretty much non-existent, but with the quality of the music coming from McCombs and his band, I could easily overlook that.

British brothers Drenge proved to be an early highlight, their brand of raw high-energy garage rock, providing the perfect early afternoon energy boost and conjured up memories of Japandroids from last years line-up. Despite the early doors time slot, they managed to draw a respectable crowd, and I imagine managed to convert many a casual listener too. I for one have already bought their record since seeing them on Saturday.

King Krule proved to be slightly divisive with the crowd; I overheard more than one person muttering disparaging remarks to their friends. To be honest, I went to see his set mostly because he’s proved to be so divisive, he seems to be one of these artists that polarise opinion so distinctly. For the most part I really enjoyed it. Archy Marshall is a strangely captivating performer – with an almost inherent agitation to his performing that brought to mind Tom Waits. I went into the set having not heard any of his album, and left wanting to hear more.

Frightened Rabbit have long been a favourite of mine, and Saturday’s performance did nothing to change that. With both the Laneway tour and their whole album campaign coming to a close, the band were in an understandably celebratory mood, with drinking underway by the time the band took to the stage – resulting in a loose and thoroughly entertaining performance. “Modern Leper” “Old Old Fashioned” and “Keep Yourself Warm” being particular highlights of mine – though “The Woodpile” drew the biggest cheer from the crowd.

Daughter, are for me, a band best heard in an intimate setting, and whilst they sounded great on Saturday, I can’t help but think their Heavenly Sounds sideshows would have perhaps better suited their sound. Though credit to them they managed to hold the attention of a crowd, who judging from those around me, were killing time before Haim started.

Haim, unsurprisingly, was one of the events main drawcards. In spite of the extra space this year, things got pretty cramped pretty quick with everybody jostling and pushing to get the best spot. There was plenty of anticipation for this performance, and for the most part the band delivered with an energetic and wonderfully raucous performance – rising to a crashing crescendo of snarling guitars and all out drumming. With a set that featured hits like “The Wire” and “Falling”, there weren’t many who would have walked away disappointed.

CHVRCHES were one of the highlights of the evening for me; with the band capitalising on any residual high from Haim delivered a high-energy and upbeat set that was just downright fun. Despite not having been around too long, the band managed to draw a sizeable crowd, and treated them to a selection of tracks from their debut album, with “Recover” being one of the many highlights.

I opted to avoid the crush and chaos of Lorde and instead headed off to catch Savages – who gave what was one of my favourite performances of the whole festival – wonderfully dark and brooding – with lead singer Jehnny Beth proving herself to be a captivating performer and a talented vocalist (with perhaps just a touch of Patti Smith there). Given the time clash with Lorde there wasn’t that sizeable a crowd, but those in attendance certainly seemed to enjoy what they saw. I’ve had a copy of their debut album for a while now; rest assured it’s had plenty more plays since Saturday evening.

Laneway continues to be my favourite of the touring festivals – and this year really cemented that for me. The organisers consistently manage to put together an eclectic and exciting line-up of artists – but this year would have to be their strongest showing yet. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll top it next year. But I’m sure they’ll find a way. Until next year, Laneway.

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Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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