Meredith Music Festival Day Two and Three @ Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre(14-15/12/2013)
With the exception of weak, uninspired sets by Silence Wedge and Housekeeping, just about every act delivered the goods on days two and three of Meredith Music Festival reports EDWARD SHARP-PAUL. Photos by KATE FAIRSERVICE
As nice as a sleep-in would have been, the stifling heat of a sunlit tent doesn’t really allow such a luxury. This is fine, because in the bone-dry light of morning it was Courtney Barnett ’s chance to tackle the portentious 11am slot. She did so with gusto, and the help of new-ish guitarist Dan Luscombe. What an inspired move the addition of Luscombe to the live lineup was. All of a sudden the prospect of a descending feedback storm sat alongside her scrappy melodies and smart-arse wordplay as reasons to love Barnett even more. It was well worth peeling oneself off the lilo for. ‘Avant Gardener’ was typically excellent, but it was ‘History Eraser’ that really did the business. When Barnett conquers EVERYTHING next year you’ll say you were there, even if you were stuck in the queue for the instant coffee at the community tucker tent.
A little surprisingly, Mac DeMarco one-upped Barnett with a festival-highlight set. He and his band’s backwoods meth-lab lumberjack chic was a disturbingly appropriate match for their creepy garage-lounge music, and it added to the general sense of sinister unpredictability. A few songs off 2012’s excellent 2 kicked things off, but when DeMarco managed to simultaneously break three (three!) guitar strings at once, it looked like the momentum might be lost. Instead, things spiralled out of control in the best possible way. Bassist Pierce McGarry took over, offering a glowing appraisal of a Daniel Day-Lewis look-a-like who he spotted “In the trees over there! Handsome face! Great movies! Big dick!”. Then came an incestuous, X-rated reimagining of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s ‘Taking Care Of Business’, a junkyard metal cover of ‘Blackbird’, and a comically lackadaisical rendition of Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’, of all things, by DeMarco’s comically laid-back guitarist Pete Sagar (he delivered the chorus while lying down onstage).
I’m a purist when it comes to The Boot, and prefer to see it remain a Golden Plains tradition, but it was hard to begrudge DeMarco the honour for the hokey majesty that was ‘Still Together’, replete with an epic crowd-surf and soaring falsetto chorus. It was the sort of thing that left people just standing there, giggling in a stupor.
As the sun reached the perpendicular, though, The Smith Street Band took over. There’s something about The Smith Street Band – the beanies, the place names and the terrace-chant choruses – that inspires a tribal loyalty rather than casual fandom. That and their gung-ho performance style and ALL CAPS sentiments. It was probably a little early for them to really catch the mood just right, but the true believers lapped it up all the same. Oh, and a massive shout-out to Wil Wagner for giving a quick masterclass in the fine art of drinking a Bacardi Breezer from a shoe.
There’s something up when Australia’s poet laureates of sharehouse-pop attempt a cosmic-prog jam and actually pull it off. In fact, it was the moment I started to wonder if the Saturday at Meredith had been touched by divine favour. Dick Diver lobbed themselves up near the top of a crowded leaderboard, and justified the slightly hasty move to invite them back after a Golden Plains appearance in March. Of course, Calendar Days has been released since then, and the thrill of hearing new old friends like ‘Alice’, ‘Calendar Days’ and ‘Water Damage’ offset any sense of over-familiarity. Their showmanship has taken a quantum leap too. Al Montfort continued to stake his unlikely claim as the pre-eminent showman of dolewave, rocking a white denim jacket with a popped collar and, when liberated from bass duties, stalking the stage like Cliff Richard in his pomp.
After World’s End Press’ daggy backing dancers, it occurred to me that choreography and overt showmanship have been off-limits concepts just long enough to be ripe for re-appropriation. So it proved for the ridiculous finale of ‘Head Back’ which featured backing dancers dressed as birds of paradise, wearing cube-shaped helmets adorned with photocopies of politicians. It also featured Montfort screaming “Fuck Kochie!” over and over, before attempting to give himself the shoe – he deserved it, too – and bringing it home with a horrific, skronking sax solo. They know they write anthems, and the fascination with Dick Diver has always come from watching them wrestle with their own self-consciousness, and the ridiculousness of it all. On the evidence seen here – it’s a wrestle that they’re winning.
So he’s a mixtape sensation and he’s like six years old but rest assured, Joey Bada$$ can handle a crowd. In fact, he probably has to pay excess baggage rates for his charisma. Taking the now-customary Saturday afternoon hip hop slot, Bada$$ did the business with a rasping flow and some old-school showmanship (“My name is CJ Fly – follow me on twitter!”, beseeched his sidekick MC). Prodigious though he was, the highlight for me was when the wide-eyed kid shone through from underneath the front, posing for photos in front of the assembled throng, and generally looking a little awestruck. Oh, and his Acca Dacca t-shirt!
As weak as it sounds, it really is hard to watch bands for 30-odd hours over the course of a weekend. This is why the mid-Saturday lull is a real phenomenon and not to be disrespected. It’s the reason that I spent a solid half hour looking for a rumoured fruit-themed party in the wilds of bush camp, and it’s the reason people throw such parties in the first place. I never found it but I did find a superhero party, a kissing booth, and some old buddies in a desperate state, and thus reinvigorated, headed back to catch a chunk of The Bamboos.
They did as they do, producing a sunny set of light-footed, Ã¼bertight soul music. Clearly led by guitarist Lance Ferguson they lack a focal point of Clairy Browne’s stature, but they do have the songs to compensate, and the know-how of a long-running band. Which is why it was a shame to hear a blown-out, over-the-top reworking of James Blake’s gently beautiful ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, which played neither to the band’s strengths, nor the song’s strengths.
As Dick Diver drank pinot gris and laughed at the plight of the working man from the lofty vantage point of Eric’s Wine Bar, Helmet did the business down in the Sup’. As frontman Page Hamilton put it: “My ex-father-in-law said I only write ‘fuck you’ songs…but they’re good ‘fuck you’ songs”. With gnarly time signatures and dense, syncopated drop-d riffage, it was demanding stuff, but when they hit their groove they were astoundingly tight. The rest of the time I sat there and thought of John Stanier: the most ferocious hitter of a drum skin that I’ve ever seen, and one of about four drummers that I would pay to see all by themselves, I’ve now seen The Mark Of Cain and Helmet in 2013 and still no Stanier. What a drag.
Keeping the meat-and-potatoes vibe going was Beasts Of Bourbon, who Tex-ed with an impressive amount of Tex-y vigour. With all due respect to the Beasts, and I rate the shit out of them, what I witnessed was semi-formed jams by a shit-hot bar band who just happened to be fronted by Australia’s pre-eminent frontman, still. Prowling, purring, duetting with a parrot donated from the crowd, Perkins was a hungry dog, and the stage was a porterhouse steak.
In my experience, Saturday evening is when Meredith really comes into its own. Hipsters, bogans, freaks, wide-eyed greenhorns, grizzled veterans: all have worked through the fog of a hangover together, and bound together by the experience, they’ve started to fight back.
This is the Meredith that doesn’t really happen onstage. It’s running out of ice and drinking warm beers anyway, stopping by the wrong campsite and staying for a few drinks, the fraternal spirit borne of (self-inflicted) adversity, and the dude in the leiderhosen passed out in a hammock. It’s about bumping into old friends that you can’t quite place, until you realise that you know them from festivals past and you haven’t forgotten their name – you just never knew it in the first place. Not everyone got the no-worries spirit quite right but for the most part the air was as loved-up as I can ever remember it. It helped that the weather was so mild and dry.
All of the above is why Hermitude went down so very sweetly on Saturday evening, sending their deft instrumental anthems into that easy air, which was starting to tingle once more. As well-crafted as their stuff is, it was the abiding “noddability”of their Hyperparadise material that got the citizens of the Sup’, from the zealots at the barrier to the chill bros occupying the couches that festooned the upper reaches, nodding in unison. As well as the quality of their stuff, it was Stuart and Dubber’s obvious excitement that made it – Meredith reserves a special place in its heart for bands that get it. They get bonus points for shredding on keyboard and MPC, respectively, too.
On the subject of getting it: Spiderbait are woven into the fabric of Meredith, with six appearances going back to 1993 (“I woke up with bongos around my neck…it was the greatest night of my life”, Kram reminisced). While there’s something timeless about the Beasts’ filthy blues dirges, nothing evokes the ‘90s like Spiderbait’s alt-rock nuggets. The set was far from tight, and they revealed their stylistic limitations, but punters voted with their lungs on an epic singalong to ‘Calypso’, and their feet with an epic stomp-a-long to ‘Shazam’. I will never, ever understand the appeal of ‘Black Betty’, though.
For every punter that was transported back to high school there was one who had their Hermitude buzz killed stone dead. Aunty’s eclectic timetabling is well-established, and well-thought through. It’s nice to hit refresh and hear something different, and to feel the atmosphere change as a different sort of punter filters into the Amphitheatre. However, the momentum is notably affected by the more jarring directional shifts.
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