Live Review

Laneway Festival @ RNA Showgrounds

As I hit the gate at Laneway 2023 I was reminded of that old quip ‘Q: why do people like me go to restaurants and not rock festivals? A: Because I’ll never look around at a restaurant and go f*****ck, I am the oldest person here.’ Which is exactly what I was feeling walking into this year’s festival experience, wondering whether I was really up for the punishment of ten hours of drunken jostling in the thirty-five degree heat.

How fortunate, then, that Laneway lived up to its reputation as a festival just that little bit more genteel than most. The rain was light and not drenching and combined with the cloud cover to keep the heat right down - nice. As I wandered towards the main Good Better Best stage, I didn’t see any feral packs of shirtless teenage blokes, spoiling for a fight, just lots of Phoebe Bridgers t-shirts; like a lot of Phoebe Bridgers t-shirts: guess she’s quite popular.

First cab off the rank was Felivand, doing her soulful thing. As the sacrificial lamb testing all the settings you might have expected a few hiccups, but the sound and her set were smooth and exactly how they were supposed to be. It’s funny, I really like Felivand’s stuff and hearing it live didn’t change that, but with the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard up there on stage, it’s like you’re hearing soul, but seeing a rock band and that slightly more reserved, white, indie-rock vibe invades your mind. The whole way along Felivand has seemed exactly in control of what she’s doing, but maybe she could choose to make what she’s doing on stage … a bit bigger?

I caught little bits of JACOTÉNE (that big smokey voice is great), adorably overdoing her marketing, trying to hold up a big QR-code banner for the audience to scan and then the fierce, conscious hip hop of Tasman Keith, but I was really hanging out for the incredibly stylish Harvey Sutherland. They didn’t turn the poor guy’s mic. on, so his ‘hi Laneway, how’re you going?’ was met with stony indifference, but he very quickly hit his stride, busting out the electro-boogie / funky-house (with live drumming) that made his reputation. Sadly I only got to stay for a couple of numbers (because The Beths), but what I heard was right out of his classic sound and stayed away from the more adventurous stylistic choices of last year’s album, which I am totally fine with. I really regret not staying longer, because, brief as it was, this was definitely one of my highlights of the day.

I really loved Expert In A Dying Field, last year’s album by tuneful Kiwi alt-rockers The Beths and Silence Is Golden, man, I can’t get enough of that song. Maybe because I listened to it so many times, the live version seemed …a little muddier, but I still had a great time. Elizabeth Stokes has a really good sense of humor: I particularly liked ES: ‘hi I’m Elizabeth, what’s your name?’ Crowd: ‘ROOOOOAAAAR!!!’ ES: ‘Oh, that’s nice, my sister’s called that.’

Lotta clashes at this point, I got to see, like, one song from Sycco’s set (think it was the new one, Ripple), but she did have Hatchie up on stage for it, so that was nice! I made time for fifteen minutes of pounding techno by Logic1000, who looked very businesslike up behind the decks on the Everything Ecstatic stage. DJs are largely invisible in the shadowy environs of the club, so it’s probably unfair to ask them to put a lot into stage presence and Samantha Poulter was very happy to meet that very low benchmark. She did have just one dancer, looking over her shoulder, from the left, which was odd buy sweet I guess?

Back over at the Hell Fck Yeah stage was another of the day’s better offerings in the waltzing, lilting country-rock of Julia Jacklin. It looked amazing, with the monochromatic smoke swallowing the stage and most of the band decked out in black and white. The feel was eerie and gothic, especially when contrasted with Jacklin’s own long, shining red dress and flowing auburn locks; bloody hell that worked! Like I said, it started quiet, but steadily built to a roar with songs like Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You and Lydia Wears A Cross. Really good! Also, fantastic to see another indie fave, Mimi Gilbert, on bass in Jacklin’s band - the two have a lot in common. If you haven’t heard her Grew Inside The Water, really, get out and hear it.

100 Gecs were certainly one of the crowd faves, with hyperpop nuggets like Stupid Horse or Doritos & Fritos eliciting delighted bellows. ‘The majesty of the horse, only rivaled by that of the corn chip’ is -I think- how Laura Les put it. Gecs also win the prize for being the only band that day to defeat my expensive electronic earplugs. Everything splintered into white noise in one of the more black-metally moments (which, actually are the bits I like the best).

Audience sizes fluctuated a bit as the punters moved around, so it was sometimes hard to tell, but Leeds band Yard Act didn’t seem to cop as much love as they deserved, as they continued the great British tradition of complaining loudly in a near spoken word drawl over a post-punk backing. Guitarist Sam Shjipstone nearly plunged off the front of the stage at one point, which made me look to see what beverages the band were necking. Non-alcoholic beer, if you can believe it - what kind of code of conduct is Laneway pushing on these folks? I can’t think of one time that day I saw any of the artists boozing or smoking on stage, which is probably …good? I guess? I don’t know! Also, not a single foreigner mangled the pronunciation of the name of our beloved town of Brisbane. Not one! That’s just weird. Laneway you clearly run a tight ship. I didn’t get to stay for all of YA, but what I heard I really liked and the last thing I got to hear was a cover of Which Way To Go by Eddy Current Suppression Ring and bloody kudos for that.

Like I said, the crowds shifted about as everyone tried to catch snatches of clashing sets, but I reckon I’d be prepared to put money on Phoebe Bridgers having the biggest audience of the day. With her whisper-soft voice there were many times I figure she could have left the punters to sing the songs and sing ‘em real loud. Sadly, after leaving the photo pit I only got to hear the rest at a great distance, but it was still pretty sweet.

Fontaines D.C. were really killing it, although the crowd was again a little smaller than it really should have been. Frontman Grien Chatten circled the stage like a cross between a caged beast and Peter Garrett on speed. Great set, stayed for the lot.

…and still got back in time for headliners, Haim. You know I’m kind of embarrassed I did not know it was Alanna Haim in Licorice Pizza until I saw her up on stage. She and her sisters should all really be Hollywood actors, because their stagecraft is impeccable. Their theatrics were the most photo-friendly thing I had the pleasure of shooting all day. Fair cop to Danielle when she said they nearly didn’t come because they weren’t sure a Laneway crowd would actually bother to stay and see them. There are a lot of pop bands I wouldn’t have bothered to stay and see, but Haim I would and I’m really glad I did and I’m pretty sure everyone else was as well.

Another savvy lineup, Laneway. My legs are still sore, two days later, but by the time the next one of these rolls around, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to fool myself into heading along, thinking that my body can take it. My legs are not thanking me, but my ears certainly are.

- Chris Cobcroft.


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