Day One: Meredith Music Festival @ The Supernatural Ampitheatre, Meredith (07/12/2012)

EDWARD SHARP-PAUL reports on the first day of the 22nd annual Meredith Music Festival, which saw performances by the likes of Tame Impala, Grimes, POND, Four Tet and The Sunnyboys.

Meredith Music Festival is always roughly one-third music, one-third debauchery and one-third ritual (alter to taste), and the Meredith Convoy is certainly the latter. Dangerously overladen cars dominated the roads, and knowing glances were exchanged as couches flew down the Princes highway, balanced precariously on the roofs of Audis and Kombi vans alike. By 10am, the entrance queue stretched halfway back along the 13 kilometres to the town of Meredith. Far from a cause for complaint, the queue provided a fine opportunity to kick the footy, crack open some tinnies, and test out those precarious couches.

Having navigated the ever-lax contraband check, the warm buzzy feeling descended almost instantaneously: Meredith. Workaday-selves were discarded, tents were set up in a cheerfully shambolic fashion and strangers grinned foolishly at each other, as the realisation dawned, that (arguably) Australia’s best-loved festival was back with us. Or rather, we were back with it – Aunty never truly leaves, after all.

Prior to Pond’s festival-opening set, there was plenty of time to either explore the festival site or to get sloshed at the campsite. Beautiful as always, the Supernatural Amphitheatre, aka The Sup’, is much the same as last year, with a few extra food stalls and toilets the only notable alterations. Eric’s Wine Bar, last year’s slightly pretentious but nonetheless excellent new feature, provided a fine vantage point to observe the aimless wanderings of the excited throng below, but as the giant countdown clock ticked down, it was time to get into it.

Pond, the other side of Tame Impala’s psychedelic coin, had the privilege of opening the festival, but they didn’t quite nail it. Their songs seemed to lack their usual swagger, and it was this lack, along with Nick Allbrook’s impoverished croak, that exposed the band’s slightly undercooked songcraft. In their defence, the mix was a little crap and the vast majority of punters were in too good a mood to be fussed about such trifles.

On their day, Snakadaktal are a lovely, beguiling band, but when faced with adverse circumstances, their inexperience showed through a little. Plagued by another dodgy mix, the band put in a tentative set. One senses that they’ll have plenty of shots at redemption, though. They’re too good, and too young, not to.

Sophia Brous followed up with one of the best sets of the festival, offering up her complex, cerebral music to a largely unfamiliar, lathered-up audience. It really shouldn’t have worked, but Brous, with the considerable assistance of Mick Harvey and Shags Chamberlain, sold it with a strident, assured performance. It seems disrespectful to play the genre game with music as powerful as this, but at a pinch, I’d say that The Sup’ was treated to some cabaret-inflected, baroque chamber-pop torch songs. ‘Streamers’ was as compelling as Brous’ audacious hat.

By sunset, the nameless energies were beginning to accumulate. Moods were being artificially altered, and zeitgeist-riding Canadian bedroom auteur Grimes was due.

As with her excellent mid-week sideshows, Grimes – Claire Boucher to her mum – took sole responsibility for bringing her kaleidoscopic pop melange to life (ok, with a little help from a backing track). Unlike those shows, she and her two dancers took to the stage in some truly freaky black-and-white zombie facepaint. She distilled the best moments of this year’s breakout Visions into a no-brainer festival party set, while still managing to integrate some new elements. ‘Oblivion’ got a brand-new dubstep outro, and haunting, massed vocal samples washed through the amphitheatre between tracks. ‘Genesis’ prompted a delirious dance-along, prompted as much by Boucher’s infectious energy as by the song itself. With dusk still lingering, it was all over too early, and too soon.

As the last light drained from the sky, the mood palpably shifted, from festive bonhomie to wild-eyed hedonism. The bacchanal was on. The Wildness had descended.

The ferris wheel began to glow, the coloured lights that criss-cross the amphitheatre flickered to life, and the immense pines that loom over the stage were lit by spotlights. Furries stepped into their suits, and out came the capes, the onesies and the mankinis. Some seemed determined to freak out the more, ahem, affected among the crowd, with LED suits, fright masks and electric jellyfish all making appearances.

Among all the human wildlife, The Sunnyboys put in a stronger set than many had dared hope. Like Icehouse, The Church and The Hoodoo Gurus in recent years, they gave Meredith veterans something to get misty about, before the Sup’ was completely overrun by insouciant youth. Jeremy Oxley’s songs have aged well, and his return to health, and to the stage, was a touching moment in itself. The band haven’t aged quite as well, but they played their back catalogue faithfully, with a daggy-uncle charm. How one responded to the Sunnyboys’ performance probably had more to do with one’s relationship with the likes of ‘Alone With You’ and ‘Happy Man’ than anything else. I have a great relationship with them. They were great.

“As the last light drained from the sky, the mood palpably shifted, from festive bonhomie to wild-eyed hedonism.”

That final sentiment applied to Spiritualized as well, who sent faithful fans into raptures, while leaving many younger punters largely unaffected. Still, their junkie gospel anthems got the full treatment, with full band, backing singers and a retina-straining light show. ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ was an arresting highlight, but their more upbeat efforts didn’t quite fit the mood, with Jason Pierce’s voice straining to keep up at times.

First punter: Are you looking forward to Tame Impala?

Second punter: Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome! What about you?

First punter: I dunno, I guess so. They’re kinda derivative.

So went every second conversation on Friday night. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. Tame Impala are both awesome and derivative. Furthermore, they were unquestionably the main event, despite the presence of Spiritualized.

Kevin Parker and friends shuffled onstage, stood there, mumbled a bit, and then proceeded to blow some minds. ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ was stunning, a futurist marvel that rose ever higher. It was a distillation of the band’s strengths, and, along with the blissful ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, demonstrated the sheer beauty that Tame Impala are now capable of summoning as a matter of course. This was a band that owned the moment, temporarily distracting punters from the serious business of getting fucked up, getting some action, getting some more beers from the campsite, et cetera, instead triggering a wave of gratitude and wonder.

After the sheer beauty of Lonerism’s best moments, it was a shame to revisit some of the band’s more riff n’ mumble early output, but it really got the crowd going. The opening stomp of ‘Elephant’ Lonerism’s biggest throwback, would have registered as a seismic event, and then there’s the epic, extended ‘Half Full Glass Of Wine’. Tame Impala know that they’re on fire right now, and an hour later, so do we.

Omar Souleyman was, um, divisive. A Syrian wedding singer-cum international dance sensation, Souleyman won many over with his traditional garb and “understated” performance style – he alternated between clapping to the beat and bellowing ‘heeeeeeeey!!!!!!’ – along with the traditional hot licks of his mild-mannered keyboardist. Plenty of others were simply willing to go mental for anything with a beat. Some, however, quickly figured out that there wasn’t a whole lot going on musically (other than the aforementioned hot licks and some excellent midi drum solos), and took their attention elsewhere.

Four Tet somehow managed to get a thumbs-down from the deckheads (“average mixing”), the tweakers (“too slow”) and the Four Tet fans (“not enough Four Tet”) among my entourage. From my allegedly two-person tent (my feet poke out through the front flap), though, the set is beautiful: a long, slow, shape-shifting progression of drones, clicks and whirrs, all underpinned by a persistent, four-to-the-floor kick. Due to prevailing winds, the 500 metres between my tent and the stage are erased, and it feels like Kieran Hebden is performing in my skull. I quickly come to terms with how weird this is, and settle into a strange, lovely fugue state. Thanks, Four Tet.

Click through for the Day Two review and photos.