Sydney’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival had surprises in store even before the day had begun. With The 1975 being a late cancellation to the previous night’s festival in Brisbane, Sydneysiders were stricken with worry that their the headliner wouldn’t be fit to perform. But as the city got festival-ready in the morning, the UK act was confirmed to cap off the night and the backup of Brisbane’s Cub Sport were slotted in for an even meatier line-up. This news already brought high expectations to the day ahead.
With the festival growing from previous years, Laneway was moved from Rozelle to The Domain, which carried complaints that it was losing its “laneway charm”. And fair enough – anyone familiar with the site would know it’s an inner-city expanse with minimal shade cover and certainly no laneways.
As the morning heated up, it became clear that this summer day would leave attendees sweltering with little respite. But that did not deter the thousands flocking in to catch acts like Charli XCX, Ocean Alley, BENEE and more.
Perth’s Spacey Jane had a healthy turn out for an early afternoon slot, with most in the crowd melting from the direct sunlight. However, the band of four had the audience jumping around despite the heat exhaustion.
On the adjacent stage (for tight act transitions), was Oliver Tree – one of the wildest performers of the event with at least three costume changes and a fake British accent for the US act. His project is birthed from Internet memes and that was perfectly reflected in the performance of ski masks and a scooter trick jump finale.
Tree was back-to-back with New Zealand export BENEE, who recently toured with Spilt Milk festival. This girl is such an uninhibited performer, stomping around the stage and screaming into the mic. She grew quite a crowd and had everyone charmed by her zany personality by the time she closed her set with ‘Glitter’.
Rioters, The Chats, were pushed forward in the line-up to play the Future Classic Stage, meaning many uninformed festivalgoers missed their set. But I managed to catch a couple of tunes that were highlighted by a punter being pulled down from a tree by security and a sparkler being added to the guitar for a mad flaming guitar solo.
Tones and I, Last Dinosaurs, Omar Apollo, Hockey Dad and DMA’s put on strong performances as the sun began to fade, but with the coolness came the imminent torrential rain. Right at the time young heartthrob Ruel – a drawcard for many of the underage attendees – took to one of the main stages, the rain began plummeting down in fat drops, quickly soaking the festival.
To be honest, it was a welcomed reprieve from the heat, but quickly became a sweaty soupy mess that you really just had to lean into. Ruel made sure his set was worth it, particularly as the day was being livestreamed across Triple J. He brought out Cosmo’s Midnight for their recently released track ‘Down For You’, making it possibly the first live performance of the tune.
Cub Sport popped up during the deluge over at the Future Classics stage for a primed last-minute performance, bringing along fellow Brisbanite Mallrat for their song ‘Video’. She stuck around and poignantly sang her Hottest 100 banger ‘Charlie’ with the lines, “All you gotta do is wait for me to get home / Like Charlie in the rain outside.” I’ll tell you, we were all waiting in the rain outside and never related more.
By this point, mudslides were beginning. Ocean Alley really felt like an ocean in an alley, and they had one of the largest crowds of the event. This is mainly due to the mass exodus of punters too uncomfortable in their dripping cold clothes. But hey, it meant getting to the front of the mosh was never easier!
Major act Charli XCX put on a boss b***h performance with punchy routines and a fierce confidence under a lightshow in the darkness. However, across at the Alley Stage was a clash with Kaiit, who teased some new tracks. She had a noteworthy Splendour performance last year that packed out a large tent, so seeing her on a small stage at Laneway was a real treat – it’s unlikely to ever see her that intimately again.
Then came the big guns: The 1975. Frontman Matt Healy took to the stage in a hospital gown, connected up to an IV drip to reference his emergency admission the day prior. He didn’t stay tethered for long as he energised the stage. He then became shirtless for the rest of the set and put on a quirky demeanour, quintessential to his act.
The band’s performance was an absolute highlight and included a spellbound audience moment for a necessary Greta Thunberg PSA. Matt, though noticeably weak, still held together a tight and captivating show filled with The 1975’s most popular tracks. It made sticking around in clammy clothes and squelching shoes well worth it as they closed out the tumultuous festival with ‘The Sound’.
Despite the weather, there wasn’t a single performer that left the audience dissatisfied. The day was almost a romantic love letter to music, getting caught in the rain like a moment straight from The Notebook, while belting out a duet with your favourite artists. As the skies poured, it was impossible to dampen Sydney’s spirits despite the lack of laneways and dry socks.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival Sydney on February 2nd 2020.
St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival continues around Australia with tickets available at their website.
Fri 7 Feb | Hart’s Mill | Port Adelaide, SA
Sat 8 Feb | Footscray Park | Melbourne, VIC
Sun 9 Feb | Esplanade Reserve and West End | Fremantle, WA
Main Image Credit: Bruce Baker