Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts & Music Festival – Day Three @ Peats Ridge, Glenworth Valley (31/12/10)

Two down, one to go. The last day of the festival, as well as the last day of the year, things started off with one of the more peculiar scenarios of the festival – Chaingang, best known for being a late-night rock-and-roll kind of act, performing at ten in the morning; widely considered to be the festival death hour. The band still sounded tight and energetic, but somehow frontwoman Hayley Foster’s posing and Chrissie Hynde idolising didn’t quite click with her surroundings of mostly hungover punters sitting cross-legged in mud, dirt and grass.

Much more suited was crooner Matt Corby, impressively filling out the Lyrebird tent with the sounds of his soulful, quaint and particularly delicate folk rock. With each performance, he estranges himself further and further from his Australian Idol past – and that’s very much a compliment. Corby, remarkably still only twenty years old, now establishes a gorgeous soundscape of Jeff Buckley howls, ghostly harmonies and lush arrangements throughout his set. He’s also expanded his talents beyond simply singing – his guitar playing is sparse yet effective, his piano playing resonates with pure clarity and, at one stage, he even set up a loop station with utmost precision. A standout performance, it’s truly refreshing to see Idol alumni come into their own like this.

Singer-songwriter John Vella was doing all he could to charm his audience at the Underworld stage, but his cruise-control, MOR acoustic-based rock failed to hit the spot aside from the occasional head-nod of a still seated and despondent audience. At the very least, Melbourne five-piece Khancoban assisted in shifting the proverbial gears somewhat. More and more people began to pay attention to the band as the set progressed, counteracting the scorching weather with cool, breezy indie rock, adding in hints of folk and country for good measure. It wasn’t a particularly inventive or ground-breaking take on the sound established by acts like Augie March in years past, but then again, it didn’t necessarily need to be. It was pleasant and harmonious music, which sustained more than enough interest for most to stick around for the band’s whole set. One of the more left-field surprises of Peats, Khancoban are strongly recommended.

After the distractions of her set from the night previous, Emma Davis was happy to be performing in a much quieter Chai Temple. In spite of the weather, she soldiered on once again to showcase her delightful self-titled debut with songs like the gorgeous Losing Faith and I Believe It’s True. Some clever reworkings were also on hand: as well as turning the Spice Girls’ Wannabe into a cruisy acoustic jam, there was a very entertaining take on Ida Maria’s I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked, which saw audience members start to throw their clothes on stage. A fun, well-spirited set from Davis, who was certainly worth the second helping.

After a disappointing turnout for their dusk performance yesterday, The Gin Club sound and feel much better with a larger crowd as the Lyrebird tent gets in the groove with the Brisbane band. The Club have always had a big sound – six people in the band is considered a “smaller” version – but today’s set also seems to take more of an edgy, alt-country vibe to it. Not exactly what one would expect from a mid-afternoon set, but no-one is complaining as the band wrap up their set with an extensive jam session that gets plenty of cheers and respect from the audience.

Dead Letter Chorus mightn’t have the same edge to their music, but they certainly make up for it with their musicianship and general enthusiasm. The folk-rock quintet had an excellent 2010, with successful tours, strong single releases and a crossover to Canada, and their satisfaction oozes through the music, played passionately and harmoniously. The best part of the set, however, comes in the form of closing number Run, Wild – not because it was the end of the set, but rather on account of it being possible the band’s finest song to date. Near the end, every member of the band takes to percussion set up around the stage to expand from drummer Lee Carey’s rolling beats that accentuate the song’s bouncy tempo. It’s wild, fun and a joy to watch – always the pleasure one gets with a Dead Letter Chorus show.

At the 2009 Peats Ridge festival, Dan Mangan was performing on his lonesome in the Chai Temple. What a difference a year makes, as they say – following a month-long tour in January of 2010, Dan makes a triumphant return to to Peats with a full band and what can only be described as a cult following of fans singing their hearts out to every song they know. Despite taking some time to work through an uneven mix, the Vancouver native couldn’t have been happier to be back in the country – songs from his Nice, Nice, Very Nice album get strong, enthused receptions; while some new material surfaces and shows off what sounds like a rockier side to Mangan’s music. By the end of the set, one really didn’t need any further examples of the capabilities of this outstanding Canuck. It was like preaching to the choir – literally, as the audience became just that during finale Robots. No matter whether it was your first time singing about how “robots need love too” or you were already singing it the first time around, it’s a high-spirited love-in that never gets old. Mangan is never one to disappoint, and today was no exception.

Hearing the dreamy, other-worldly music of Sydney girls kyü on disc is one thing. Seeing the two re-enact in a live environment, however, is a completely different story. The songs move from enraptured soundscapes to primitive releases of energy – Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison spend their set shrieking, pounding on a floor tom with all of their might and beating their chests in time with the music. It’s tribal, it’s exhilarating and it’s guaranteed to stop you dead in your tracks as you make full realisation of what you are seeing before you. kyü have the Underworld tent completely packed out, and with more than good reason – these two have a live show that both belies and completely disregards factors such as age and gender, delivering one of the most stunning sets of the entire festival. Think that’s hyperbole? Just wait until you see them.

More Canadian action over at the Lyredibrd, as Toronto band Zeus finally caught the right break following a frustrating main-stage performance with Jason Collett the day before which they didn’t enjoy at all. Their bluesy, jam-based rock-and-roll was much better suited to this area, and the quartet seemed much happier about the whole thing, too. On their first-ever visit to Australia, Zeus made plenty of new friends with this barnstorming set which saw them constant swapping around instruments and vocals that felt irresistibly old-fashioned. Definitely an act to watch out for as they whip about the country both as Collett’s backing band and his opening act.

Wrapping up a three-month tour to support their third album, Sometimes the Stars, it’s the fabulous sounds of The Audreys which graces Peats Ridge with its presence next. They might have changed a lot since their 2006 debut Between Last Night and Us – only vocalist Taasha Coates and multi-instrumentalist Tristan Goodall remain of the original line-up – but at this stage of their career, the band are as cohesive, soothing and downright classy as ever. Coates sways about the stage in a flowing crimson gown, looking ever the chanteuse as her vocals ring out with the utmost clarity. The new backing band is locked in and impeccably tight, breezing through older favourites like You and Steve McQueen and their quintessential take on INXS’ Don’t Change as if they’d been playing them all along. The five-piece band might be worn out after so long on the road, but their touring schedule came to a soft, safe landing here at Peats Ridge – truly blissful.

With two hours to go until the end of 2010, Cloud Control were very late entrants in the “best walk-on music of 2010” category arriving on stage soundtracked by Black Box’s disco classic Ride On Time. The Blue Mountains collective exploded into Bliss Release opener Meditation Song #2 (Why Oh Why). What a great year this band had – from award nominations to a sold-out national tour, the guys and girl behind Cloud Control deserved every success that came their way. Perhaps it’s got something to do with their killer live shows – this is a band that always get on stage with plenty of smiles and an undying love for performing. Even after playing both Falls shows in the 48 hours previous, their set never feels like it’s coming from an exhausted or overworked band. This is What I Said brought the sunshine long after the thing had set, a reworked Death Cloud kept the song fresh and their now-ubiquitous transition into the Butthole Surfers’ Pepper before the bridge in Gold Canary still does its job of getting a huge grin out of the older punters and confused looks from kids. You really couldn’t have asked for much more – starting the year as the little band that could, Cloud Control end 2010 on the highest of high notes. And it really couldn’t have happened to a nicer band.

With that, Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival was done for another year. Uncontrollable heat aside, this is a brilliant way to end one’s year – the location is gorgeous, the dickhead factor is at an all-time low and if it was any more laid back, it would probably fall over. Peace and love to Peats Ridge – see you this time next year.