Live Review

Daydream Festival: Modest Mouse, Tropical Fuck Storm, Beach Fossils and Cloud Nothings @ The Riverstage, Brisbane

Without wasting too much time dwelling on or stating the obvious, it feels necessary to address the elephant in the room. Slowdive, one of Daydream Festival’s major draw cards, were forced to pull out at the eleventh hour, due to an injury sustained by drummer Simon Scott. Understandably, this news came as a major disappointment to their many fans and ticket holders, a large percentage of whom purchased their tickets on the back of Slowdive’s inclusion on the bill.

Disappointments aside, it would be unfair to ignore the fact that the remaining bands, which had their set times extended to cover Slowdive’s absence, amounted to a solid and varied line-up. Despite the increased set times, it still felt like a bit of an oversell to refer to Daydream as a festival, as opposed to a Modest Mouse tour, particularly the Brisbane leg, which only featured four acts.

In contrast, when it came to food and drink, Daydream definitely felt like a festival. Food choices were limited to dagwood dogs, burgers and other Ekka type treats, whilst heavily sugared, vodka pre-mixes formed the bulk of the drinks list. In true festival form, everything was almost criminally overpriced. Criticisms aside, it bears reminding that these same complaints are relevant to practically every festival, gig or major event these days, so why should Daydream be an exception?

It would also be remiss not to mention the obviously low attendance, particularly for a show of this calibre and with several acts that have been absent from Australian shores for quite sometime. Specifically, Modest Mouse haven’t toured Australia since 2016, Beach Fossils since 2013 and Cloud Nothings since 2018.

Despite a roster of major acts and being scheduled before a public holiday, it appeared that Daydream did not tickle the fancy of Brisbane concert goers, who are known to be notoriously fickle, even at the best of times. A shame really, as those who did attend certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and it should be noted that numbers did increase closer to nightfall, just prior to Modest Mouse’s set.

Lacking none of the intensity I witnessed when I first saw them live, close to a decade ago, Cloud Nothings opened their set -and the festival- with the anthemic Now Hear In. Recently, the band celebrated the tenth anniversary of their breakout album, Attack On Memory and as expected, almost half the set was dedicated to that record, including fan favourites No Future/No Past and Stay Useless. This nostalgia trip was more than welcome, as despite being impressed by Cloud Nothings’ output since, nothing, for me at least, has reached the heights attained on that particular LP.

Cloud Nothings closed with a particularly vitriolic Wasted Days that devolved into a wall of noise and feedback, while frontman Dylan Baldi repeatedly screamed “I thought / I would / Be more / Than This. This powerful final song made it all the more disheartening that so many attendees opted for a fashionably late arrival and missed their incredible performance.

Up until the week of the show, I had little to no knowledge of Beach Fossils, however, a quick dive into their discography left me impressed by the group's early records, in particular their self-titled, debut album. Unfortunately for me, the group only performed one song from this album, the all too fittingly titled, Daydream. With a new record, Bunny, due for release in June, the group utilised their set as a vehicle to promote its imminent release. These new songs proved popular with the, much younger, crowd that had assembled to see them, a demographic clearly keen to hear more of what the group’s next release has to offer.

Beach Fossils provided a pleasant, reverb drenched soundtrack to the late afternoon sunset, but their mellow vibes lacked the energy needed to follow a group like Cloud Nothings. This may come down to personal taste and certainly my own opinion, but Beach Fossils would have made more sense as an opening act. Instead, they were somewhat of a gentle lull, sandwiched between the early enthusiasm of Cloud Nothings and followed by the sonic insanity of Tropical Fuck Storm.

Embarrassingly, prior to Daydream, I had never seen Tropical Fuck Storm live. I had seen The Drones and Springtime, Gareth Liddiard’s other groups, although I do admit it is particularly unfair to view the group as just another Gareth Liddiard vehicle. Tropical Fuck Storm belongs just as much to any other member, each an accomplished musician, with impeccable pedigree. It was the band’s first run of shows since bassist Fiona Kitschin’s cancer diagnosis. Her powerful performance, particularly the defiance she exhibited in performing the last song without her headscarf, demonstrated her own resistance in the face of personal tragedy.

Liddiard exhibits the magnetism of a true frontman, playing to the crowd and wringing all manner of noises, both wonderful and horrible, from his battered Fender Jaguar. He was given a run for his money in the form of Erica Dunn, who when not playing guitar, synth or performing back up vocals, was jumping and dancing around the stage with all the energy of a small child on a red cordial bender.

Tropical Fuck Storm’s setlist drew heavily from their first album, A Laughing Death In Meatspace, and it was the song, You Let My Tyres Down that provided one of the many highlights of the band’s set. Likewise their cover of Ann, originally by The Stooges, a standout from the recent EP, Submersive Behaviour, provided another high water mark; pun intended.

With their incendiary performance, Tropical Fuck Storm left Modest Mouse with the unenviable task of having to follow what was, undoubtedly, the act of the festival. Evidently, the group’s endless touring has fine-tuned them into a well-oiled machine and, truly, a force to be reckoned with. They are now clearly more comfortable playing on a large stage, as opposed to in small clubs, and able to perform for a much larger audience. Still, they have retained that essence of unpredictability which makes them such a thrilling, and compelling, live act.

Almost two hours of Modest Mouse was something I was unsure I was ready for. Even at their best, I found most of their records patchy and overly long, though surprisingly, their set did not drag. My personal favourite, from the near twenty song setlist, was Dramamine, the one inclusion from their first and -in my opinion- best album. Float On, however, elicited the biggest response from the crowd, who, despite the fact the band appeared tired by this point, responded with the most energy and enthusiasm I had seen all day.

It can be hard to reconcile the band of such early albums as This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West with the, almost, middle aged men on stage now. Frontman Isaac Brock bears an uncanny resemblance to Harold Bishop, but despite these obvious signs of ageing, Modest Mouse delivered an impassioned performance combining their classics, with the occasional obscure fan favourite. Brock, and the rest of the band, were genuinely enjoying themselves and the frontman’s concern for the welfare of the fans, shown by regularly checking in, was nothing short of touching. I may still struggle to listen to an entire Modest Mouse album, but their performance was incredibly enjoyable.

Daydream Festival and its organisers, suffered no shortage of challenges, primarily the loss of a major act twenty-four hours prior to the start of the tour. In spite of all this, the organisers weathered the storm and soldiered on, doing what they could with a reduced line up, while still providing the punters with a show that was worth the price of admission.

Were they successful? Each attendee is likely to have a different opinion and, for many, the bitterness left by Slowdive’s last minute cancellation will remain hard to swallow. Whether Daydream Festival, which advertised itself as inaugural, will continue beyond its first year remains to be seen. I know I enjoyed myself, even in Slowdive’s absence and, regardless of the smaller bill, was able to see a mix of bands both familiar and unfamiliar. If, in fact, the saying, and the song are true, for Daydream at least, things can only get better. Hopefully, they will be back next year with a bigger and better lineup, and none of the hiccups.

- Nick Stephan.

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