The sun was shining as Laneway Festival took over the Sydney College of the Arts for another year. Arriving at 4pm in an effort to protect myself from the blistering sun, Camp Cope were playing tacks like “Lost: Season One” on the newly named Dr Martens stage, to a strong crowd; though there did feel like slightly lighter attendance than last year, which while may have been disappointing to organisers, it made it a much better experience for punters.
Signs for the 1800-LANEWAY help line were spread around the festival site. and Georgia from Camp Cope made sure to remind everyone to look after each other, and call the number if you were having any problems “because it takes just one person to ruin someone else’s day”. Too true. They closed their phenomenal set with “The Opener”, joined by Courtney Barnett! The band would later return the favour to her, with Georgia coming on to help Courtney out on “Nameless Faceless”.
Crowds were massive for Skegss and Methyl Ethel on the main stages, and then one of the early international guests Mitski kept the vibes going on the Dr Martens stage with a quartet behind her and her oft-angelic vocals providing a powerful and engaging performance. Tracks included “Dan the Dancer”, “Townie”. “Nowbody”. “Geyser”. The heavy drums of “Drunk Walk Home” which closed the set, was the set highlight with Mitski commanding the crowd’s attention (with her dance), and the band producing an impressively performance that truly amplified the power of the recorded version.
If you looked hard enough, you could find plenty of surprises around the festival this year too. The Chats, Charlie Collins and even The Delta Riggs were spotted playing secret sets at the Jameson Bar, and there was also the addition of the Girls Rock! Stage with acts like Alex The Astrounaut and Alex Lahey.
Back on the main stage, UK rising stars Rex Orange County had a huge reception with songs like “Best Friend”, as the crowd sung along, with the brass section adding nicely to the band’s live sound. Not bad for the group’s local debut – and their sound is even stronger than when I last caught them at Summersonic in Osaka back in August. Jorja Smith followed, greeted by “Jorja” chants from the crowd. I last saw her at the same event, and she’s similarly making her debut here, performing her beautiful soulful music with a four piece and adulation from the crowd. Things opened up with “Lost and Found” and followed it up with the powerful “Teenage Fantasy”.
NYC outfit Parquet Courts rocked the Future Classic stage, sitting against a bright orange backdrop, the quintet playing tracks like “Mardi Gras Beads”, the beautifully groovy “Tenderness” and the dance inducing “Wide Awake” – the last two of which closed the set out, and were my favourites of the set (whistle, African drums, cow bell and all). Get your ears around this gem here:
Courtney Barnett played at the same time, and was followed by What So Not, who was joined by a drummer and, for three tracks, by Daniel Johns, who emerged from a coffin that said “Freak Show” on it, and then proceeded to sing and shred amongst an excellent light show. And, of course, it ended with plenty of confetti as everyone danced.
And then it was time for Gang of Youths, for whom the Laneway Festival tour feels as much as a victory lap after their massive sold out tour around the country last year, as it is the well deserved headline spot on the bill. The shows bring us a band at their peak, transforming their beautiful records into nothing less than stadium rock; and here they sit rightfully headlining one of Australia’s biggest touring festivals. As someone who saw one of their first ever shows, you can’t help but feel proud of the Youths.
“Fear and Trembling” opened proceedings, with Dave solo on guitar; the band eventually kicking in to massive applause from an adoring crowd. “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?” followed (which got a great singalong, unsurprisingly) and then “The Heart Is a Muscle”, which Dave dedicated to his late father. The hits and fan favourites continued with “Go Farther in Lightness” and a big singalong for “Let Me Down Easy”, after Dave conducted the crowd like a choir (holding us easily in the palm of his hands). And then he kicked some ass tonight in “Magnolia” – with the screams of the girls in the crowd seeming to overpower him when he jumped in the crowd.
The set ended with the powerful and affirming “Say Yes To Life”, after what was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen from the group. This must have been their biggest hometown show ever, after all. Things ended with the crowd being showered in confetti and a brief “Bohemian Rhapsody” interlude to the track, as the lights blinded and our ears were left ringing.
But the night wasn’t over yet… it would be electronic artist Jon Hopkins who closed the night, up on the Dr Martens stage, which proves some excellent programming to stagger the exodus back into the city. The set, which leans heavily on his latest album, Singularity, was accompanied by a great light show and visuals – though no dancers on stage as I caught at Primavera last year. Still, it had the crowd dancing and when you have an album that good, you really can’t do any wrong.
Now in its 14th year in Sydney (meaning this will be its 15th in Melbourne), Laneway Festival continues to perfect itself. Though this year’s lineup wasn’t quite as adventurous on the international front as in some past years – leaning heavily on a local roster – there’s little to fault when it comes to experience or organisation. The sound quality is always hit and miss at this location, and this year was no different – but it rarely took away from the experience (and is to be expected in the bespoke environment of any festival). At the end of the day, there really isn’t a better festival in Australia than Laneway – and today only cemented this further. And to see some incredible Aussie talent serve as headliners only goes on to show just how remarkable the talent in this country is right now.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Laneway Festival continues in Adelaide, Melbourne and Fremantle next weekend. For more details head HERE.
The reviewer attended the Sydney event on Sunday 3rd March 2019.