Falls Festival Marion Bay (29/12/08-01/01/09)
As cars and backpackers piled into the stunning Marion Bay for Falls Festival 08/09, it was clear that punters were not remotely deterred by threats of army worm invasions or unseasonably cold weather. The quality, eclectic line-up ensured that true fans of music were in it for the long haul.
On Day 1 (Day 2 for some, with early birds and keen beans having been treated to DJs and local bands the night before) The Dodos took to the Field Stage and played a feverish, energetic set featuring Fools and Paint the Rust, and were joined by a third touring member who banged away at a tin drum and a xylophone. Their 30 minute set lacked the quieter moments of Visiter such as Undeclared and Winter, which would have been valuable additions and given the noisy set more variety.
After extensive technical difficulties in a lengthy sound check, the impatient crowd that had gathered at Field Stage were amped for Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, who proved that they deserved every iota of hype and critical acclaim they garnered in 2008. Opening with a stirring a capella rendition of Sun Giant, Fleet Foxes motored through material off their stunning debut album to make up for their shortened stage time. White Winter Hymnal had the whole crowd singing along, and even serious frontman Robin Pecknold was seen to crack a smile at the sheer enthusiasm of the Australian crowd.
More devoted fans were rewarded with songs off their EP like Drops in the River and the mesmerising Mykonos, while the haunting Your Protector induced spine tingling. The four harmonising vocalists filled the natural arena, and when the rain came back there were no complaints – the weather change couldn’t have been more appropriate after such an awe inspiring performance. Tasmania proved to be the perfect setting for the pastoral folk sounds of Fleet Foxes.
The rain cleared for Cut Off Your Hands and Enola Fall, who had the daunting task of following one of the best sets of the festival. They did not disappoint, and were the perfect accompaniment for a few afternoon bevvies. Back at the Main Stage, the clouds started gathering but Patience Hodgson of the Grates lit up the dark evening with a silver sequined dress and a dose of her effervescent personality. She bounced around the stage, encouraging the crowd to follow suit. And that we did, ensuring the rain didn’t drown out any festival atmosphere. Old favourites Trampoline and Science is Golden had the crowd jumping and hand clapping, as did new songs Burn Bridges and Aw Yeah.
A change of pace came with Gomez, who played an enthralling set that rambled on into the night, setting the stage for Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps it was just bad timing, with their new album yet to come out and the heights of their success a distant memory, but the Scots were disappointing. Their sound was too quiet, their crowd pleasers too timid, and their set had me wondering whether anyone cared anymore. Take Me Out, Do You Want To and Walk Away still inspired sing-alongs but seemed to come and go without too much shift in the level of crowd enthusiasm. A late burst of energy came with This Fire, which closed the set.
Luckily, it was Jamie Lidell who followed. The 1am set was an odd timetabling choice for his soulful, jazzy party music, but his incredible voice and serious groove was not left unnoticed by the tired crowd. In fact, by the time he closed at 2am, most were dancing and singing along to his hit Multiply. Usually a one man show, the new addition of a backing band did make the Jamie Lidell experience, in official Falls pamphlet words, an exhilarating one.
The first stop for Day 2 of Falls was the latest batch of Modular recruits, Tame Impala. Perhaps their psychedelic rock would have been more suited to a later Field Stage time slot, but they managed to pull a decent crowd and have some swaying around like it was Woodstock – “69. Their cover of Blue Boy’s Remember Me takes the original’s melodic groove and injects their psychedelic rock sensibility to make it impossible not to sing along to. Closing with Triple J favourite Desire Be, Desire Go, Tame Impala impressed fans and probably gained a couple of converts. Modular really do know how to pick them.
Dash & Will warmed up the Field Stage for the afternoon with catchy pop-rock songs, almost like an indie Veronicas (they even have an angry girl anthem). The girls hit fun size chocolate bars into the crowd with tennis racquets. It was a valiant effort to try and encourage punters to watch and dance, as well as to distract from other temptations of the sunny afternoon, namely beer, or a cheeky gin and tonic.
Lykke Li’s band strode onto the stage at 2.30, and the hunky Swedes had the female majority of the crowd swooning. Then came Lykke herself, who opened with Dance, Dance, Dance, and literally demanded the crowd to do just that. Her husky, cutesy vocals and bombastic (bordering aggressive) dance moves were a winning combination. Lykke had the audience in the palm of her hand: when asked to applaud louder, we were uproarious, when taught how to count to 5 in French, we complied and chanted it for the chorus of an angry break up song. A surprising mash up of Vampire Weekend’s Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and Dance, Dance, Dance was a hit, as was Lykke’s personal take on A Tribe Called Quest. Can she kick it? Yes she can.
Possibly coming from the polar opposite of the musical spectrum is The Drones, who took to Field Stage next. Die-hard fans of this Aussie band sang along, watched in awe, and worshipped. Less hardcore fans and casual listeners were equally as enthralled with the intensity of their set and their ferocious brand of rock and roll. More light-hearted in tone was another Australian favourite, Darren Hanlon, who followed the Drones and commented that it was like the Wiggles following The Sex Pistols. Nevertheless his personal, humorous folk songs and skill for storytelling gave many a face a foolish grin. He was joined by a band for the second half of the set which included the hit Happiness is a Chemical and Elbows, a song about a brief meeting with actress Radha Mitchell.
The almost mind-boggling variety of music displayed on Field Stage continued with independent hip hop outfit Atmosphere, joined by Slug label mate Brother Ali. The energy of Slug and Brother Ali combined infected the crowd instantly and arms swayed, respects were payed to the dead and we all chanted to old favourite God Loves Ugly, making their set an unforgettable one. They closed with one of the standouts from latest album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Yesterday. This proved an appropriate choice, as the sample from Eels Susan’s House brought Pez’s Festival Song to the minds of content festival goers (with Slug giving a shout out to the Aussie hip hopper).
Back at the main stage, dynamo Sharon Jones was whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the help of her superb backing band, the Dap Kings. Teenage boys were carried on to the stage at Sharon’s request, and she proceeded to serenade them, and make everyone laugh in the process.
When Luke Pritchard and company ambled on to the stage, incessant squealing ensued. Opening with the insanely catchy Always Where I Need To Be, their set contained a slew of hits off their debut album, leaving Aussie fans more than satisfied. When Pritchard asked “do you wanna make love to me?”, there would have been no shortage of fan girls responding in the affirmative.
Festival stalwarts Cat Empire maintained the festive atmosphere with favourites Sly, The Car Song and Days Like These (with the infamous Hello notably missing from the setlist). With a couple of minutes to midnight, The Hives took to the stage and after a brief countdown to the New Year, began their set (somewhat predictably) with Tick Tick Boom. Frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist was in fine form, climbing up the side of the stage, and basking in self glorification. Hits Hate To Say I Told You So, Walk Idiot Walk and Main Offender were highlights of the dynamic set, as was material from their latest album, with Try It Again finishing off their set with vigour. Falls Festival was well and truly owned by Swedes.
English lads Late of the Pier had the honour of closing the Main Stage, and material off their debut album Fantasy Black Channel was received well by the crowd. Space and the Woods, Focker and The Bears Are Coming were particular highlights and their off-kilter new rave tracks were the perfect soundtrack for a tipsy New Year dance.