Pyramid Rock Festival – Phillip Island: Day One (30.12.2010)

Pyramid Rock Festival has had its fair share of controversy since its humble beginnings back in 2004, and after the apocalyptic electrical storm that brought the party to a standstill in 2009, festival organisers have been working overtime all year to ensure a smooth, safe and fun experience for punters on the island. Their hard work paid off and in its seventh year of action, Pyramid Rock has finally come into its own, becoming one of the most well organised, well executed events I’ve ever been to.

The entry process for the lucky bastards who scored 3 day passes was highly efficient and the wait to get into the campground was barely 30 minutes, with minimal traffic delays on Phillip Island. The camping areas were all labelled so people stumbling around at 3am had a chance of finding their tent before sunrise. There were plenty of market stalls, food vendors and a gigantic bar offering their goods for the usual inflated festival prices. It was a very relaxed atmosphere the first night at camp, with everyone’s spirits at an all time high as they kicked back with a few beverages watching movies at the main stage and exploring their temporary home.

The music kicked off early on Thursday morning with Melbourne based performer Kimbra and her unique brand of soul infused pop. Kimbra is one talented young lady with a powerful voice, enchanting stage presence and a penchant for whimsical, melodramatic tunes. She’s like a hybrid of Washington and Missy Higgins with the soul of Nina Simone and the eccentricities of Bjork. Kimbra and the band played a tight set which included fantastic renditions of “Love Is A Two Way Street”, “Break“ and “Settle Down”. Keep an eye on Kimbra and her debut LP Vows which is due for release early 2011.

Henry Wagons and his motley crew demolished the main stage with their raucous country stylings and ridiculously energetic onstage antics. He is one of the most charismatic front men you’ll ever see, with the ability to charm the pants off any lady with his sauve demeanour and hilarious anecdotes between songs. Wagons are outlandish lads and they played a very entertaining set, that included covers of Elvis Presley’s “Never Been to Spain” and the Wayfaring Strangers classic “Willie Nelson” which the band dedicated to every over priced sausage roll available for consumption at the festival. Other highlights were cracking versions of “Eagle on the Hill” (which was dedicated to the shit hole that is Adelaide), “Love Me Like I Love You”, “Good Town” (dedicated to the rich, depressed bastards sitting in their holiday homes) and Henry taking the drums to allow band mate Si “the philanthropist” Francis to take the mic and belt out his white boy rap, which may be the best thing ever. Wagons really are just fucking awesome. Go see them live. You won’t regret it.

Obese records alumni Spit Syndicate worked the crowd up into a frenzy with their crazed energy and melodic, richly textured sounds. Nick Lupi and Jimmy Nice have perfected their urban smack talk and got the tent jumping and singing along to “Pretty Girls Make Graves”, “Starry-Eyed”, “Showtime” and “Exile”. The songs featuring DJ Solo were particularly good with his rich, smooth vocals that make for heavenly listening. In the few years they’ve been together, Spit Syndicate have garnered quite the following with their bass heavy jams and the tent was packed to capacity. Everyone who managed to squeeze inside the Pharaoh’s Annex lost their shit having a blast getting their rocks off to some quality Aussie hip hop. I’ve never been a fan of the genre (and the ochre accents that grate on my nerves) but Spit Syndicate’s live show was uproarious and really fun with lots of typical talk about the ladies and spliffs, that came with plenty of crowd interaction and insane dance moves. The infectious energy displayed by the Spit Syndicate boys left everyone on a high, but sadly only a small crowd remained after the set to watch Sydney troubadour Roland Ellis spruik his folktronic wares.

Roland and his band who go by the name Ernest Ellis did their best to win back the audience with a short and sweet set, playing all the favourites from their debut LP Hunting that was released early in 2010. Unfortunately this time around Ernest Ellis put on a rather underwhelming show. Tracks like “Heading for the Cold”, “Want For Anything” and “Loveless” were all flawlessly executed, but the big live atmospherics that first attracted me to their music came off as rather lacklustre. Maybe it was due to their recent hiatus from touring as a result of Roland’s ear condition, or the fact that their sound is more suited to an intimate, night time venue, not a gigantic tent in the afternoon heat, but the band weren’t engaging and no one much seemed to mind that they finished their set 20 minutes early.

Moving right along to the Aussie super group Basement Birds who had the main stage up and dancing to their folk tinged alt. country pop. The band is comprised of Josh Pyke, Kevin Mitchell, Kav Temperley and Steve Parkin and the very laid back nature of their sound and performance style made for enjoyable viewing. The crowd lapped up the boys playful banter between songs such as “Waiting For You”, “Not the One” and “Hardest Part” and their lush vocal harmonies sounded great live. They finished the set with their cover of The Presets hit “My People”, giving all the children of the 90’s a final opportunity to swoon over their favourite front men.

It was a tough call going up against stoner rock legends Tumbleweed, but The John Steel Singers managed to pull in a sizeable audience who were loving the uproarious big band feel of their music. This is one group who never fail to deliver live and even though their songs all sport intricate arrangements, the band brought their A game and delivered a cracking set of flawless pop fun. Tracks such as “Overpass”, “Strawberry Wine” and “Rainbow Kraut” had the crowd bouncing around the Pharaoh’s Annex with big happy smiles on their faces.

Swedish wonders the Shout Out Louds charmed the masses who were all starting to get a bit messy as twilight set in. Their sounds on record are clean and crisp, and their twee pop ways are even more beguiling live with the well seasoned professionals knowing how to put on a good show. Adam Olenius and Bebben Stenborg’s dreamy harmonies are simply lovely, and they played an even mix of tunes from their back catalogue, the highlights of which were glorious renditions of “Tonight I Have To Leave It”, “Walls” and “Fall Hard”, that proved to be the perfect harmonious soundtracks to a warm summer‘s night.

Next on the main stage were local boys Little Red who are still riding high on the success of their sophomore album Midnight Remember. Their sweet indie pop was super fun live and the boys played a very energetic set with all of the band members singing and dancing around inciting the punters to join in. The crowd went nuts for the popular singles “Coca Cola”, “Slow Motion“ and “Rock It” and were begging for more when the set was over.

Perth’s best export Gyroscope almost started riots with their incendiary live show that was loud, sweaty and in short – really fucking amazing. Front man Dan Sanders had the ladies drooling as he jumped onstage shirtless and ready to rock, opening with a mad version of “Hey Hey”. After all these years, Gyroscope are still one of the best live acts around. The band play with a furious intensity and give their all to please the fans, who returned the love with crazy, violent dancing and plenty of alcohol/adrenalin fuelled singing along to all the favourites “Safe Forever”, “Doctor Doctor”, “What Do You Know About Pain” and “Baby I’m Getting Better”. The boys went nuts onstage with a medley mixing in “Australia” and “Fast Girl” with a cover of Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” (complete with mandatory Peter Garrett style dancing) before stopping to snap a few photos of the fans who were all in hysterics as Dan jumped offstage to give some love to the people in the front row who were all being crushed by the weight of the crowd, before ending their set with “Snakeskin”, and leaving the festival goers sweaty, exhausted and utterly thrilled.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, American hip hop legends Arrested Development took to the stage and blew the crowds away with a killer high energy, good vibes show. Even though their most popular songs are older than the majority of kiddies who were all grooving along next to me in the mosh, their music still sounds fresh and relevant a good 18 years after its original release date. Led by the charismatic Speech and divine Montshoe Eshi, their afro-centric blend of hip hop, funk and soul was amazing to experience live. Montshoe is an incredible vocalist and between her and Speech and their electric stage presence and dance moves they had the entire island jumping to their joyously happy tunes. They played a great selection from their vast back catalogue which proved to be a grand introduction to some of the new songs from their latest LP Strong that were well received by the audience, along with all the old favourites “Revolution”, “Give A Man A Fish”, “Tennesee”, “Mr. Wendall” and “People Everyday”. Arrested Development’s live show is a truly special experience and one that everybody needs to have.

The good times didn’t stop there with Melbourne’s favourite sons The Temper Trap bringing their gorgeous, anthemic tunes to the party. Dougie Mandagi has the voice of an angel and is a captivating front man. The Temper Trap moved the crowd to tears playing the majority of tracks from Conditions, that somehow manage to sound even better live than they do on record. Highlights of the set were “Sweet Disposition”, “Love Lost” and “Science of Fear”. Those songs never seem to grow old and the massive, romantic atmosphere conveyed by The Temper Trap is still so deliciously good. They were the perfect finale to a grand first day at Pyramid.