St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Perth 06/02/09

Find yourself in Laneways

Touted as one of the freshest and most distinctive music festivals in the country, the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival finally hit Perth in a blaze of melodic resonance and enraptured foot-stomping. The twilight platter of vanguard artists, served piping hot in the Perth Cultural Centre, tempted a throng of voracious sandgropers into attendance and into the sun of a fading summer. A general lack of local hype in the lead-up to Laneway did little to dissuade the motley crowd, busting down the (makeshift) door in droves. The long wait for the first Perth Laneway festival was about to be alleviated with the first bash of a drumstick.

Kicking off the musical procession splayed across four stages were The John Steel Singers. They offered up their summery, Beatles-meets-Flaming-Lips jingles to a petite and mildly receptive assembly, with Rainbow Kraut finally stirring the crowd into compliance with the carnival atmosphere to come. The band’s professionalism, despite (or maybe owing to?) the stage presence of a tinkling cowbell, seemed to win over punters who were quite clearly sober and biding time until their preferred headline act. Meanwhile, Path to Laneway winners, The Preytells, graced the Library Stage attracting a small, but solid, early afternoon crowd with their rather luxe bohemian din.

Canadian outfit Born Ruffians delighted the ever-growing deluge of fans at the Museum Stage with their charming and lively brand of indie pop. Self-dubbed as “the next link in the evolutionary chain of contemporary pop music,” the trio took listeners on a whistlestop tour of their debut offering Red, Yellow and Blue. A rousing soiree unfolded before the Museum mob, the band inadvertently endearing themselves to the crowd via a comical reaction to the unanticipated discharge of stage smoke. Barnacle Goose intoxicated spectators, whilst Foxes Mate For Life incited some frantic foot tapping. In the dying minutes of the Ruffians’ set, however, the motives of the crowd became dazzlingly evident as singer and lead guitarist Luke LaLonde blasted out the opening riff of Hummingbird. The frenzied extravaganza to play out over the next three minutes was, in itself, enough to validate the $110 door price. The on-stage charm of the Born Ruffians boys was undoubtedly evident as they metamorphosised back to their civilian selves, cheerfully mingling for the duration of the festival and sticking up their thumbs to appease giddy camera-toting fans.

Next up, the crowd followed the path to the city-most Gallery Stage, kitted out with Melbourne boys The Temper Trap. The quartet permeated the afternoon Perth air with their signature sound: echoing melodies, striking guitars and lead singer Doug Mandagi’s hypnotic and elysian-imbued vocals. Although the crowd’s demeanour signalled a marked unfamiliarity to the Trap’s tunes, an underlying and indescribable sentiment seemed to strike at the heart of each punter, suggesting somehow at the gravity of the performance unfurling itself before them: everybody sat up and took notice. The crest of the Temper Trap wave was reached with Sweet Disposition a melodic hymn of epic proportions, spurring an impromptu alfresco ballroom opposite the West Australian Art Gallery. It was something of a religious experience, a truly amazing unified rise of musical spirits.

The perpetually touring Cut Off Your Hands set, created a boom of writhing bodies in the Museum pit, whilst the privileged industry populace grooved in comfort from the sofa-specked Levi’s VIP Lounge. The NZ boys masterfully bashed out audience favourites You and I, Oh Girl and Happy as Can Be to the ever-burgeoning crowd. Cut Off’s dependably exceptional gig was particularly poignant for the knowledge of long-time guitarist and backing vocalist Michael Ramirez’ impending departure from the ensemble. Closing track Expectations was a fitting theme song epitomising the sentiment of the moment.

As dusk befell the city, the accidental amphitheatre created by the paved steps leading down to Northbridge dotingly sported local boys Tame Impala. Their set coincided with both The Panics and The Drones and thus proved a difficult but worthwhile choice. The band impressed with their neo-psychedelic sound, Cream-inspired grooving lyrics and deliciously languorous guitar, demonstrating a musical wisdom beyond their years. The crowd was injected with a discernible jab of verve at a well-executed, acid-tinged cover of Blue Boy’s Remember Me. The grand finale of Desire Be, Desire Go was met with hordes of trippy, Haight-Ashburyesque dancing. Complete with crazy tie-dyed light projections, the Tame Impala set left festival- goers feeling as though they’d just disembarked the 21st century Jefferson Airplane.

The perennially animated Architecture in Helsinki proved to be a hit with Perth Laneway punters, busting out a killer string of well-loved tunes under the star-shrouded night sky and heralded a large surge in the crowd numbers. It proved difficult not to frolic to the sounds of Hold Music, a ballad-y version of Debbie, and new release That Beep, which had everyone beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beeping along. The Melbourne five-piece also transacted a cranking cover of Break My Stride, before concluding with an auditory explosion in the form of the classic Heart It Races the cherry on top of an almost flawlessly entertaining set.

The festival’s ultimate act for many, Girl Talk’s set was cruelly interrupted by prolonged technical difficulties, through which Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) attempted to pump the crowd back up with some inaudible banter. Nonetheless, the sound objective was met and the Girl Talk posse’s displeasure was allayed. What tunes managed to forge their path into the airwaves brought about a euphoric sense of public togetherness, galvanising the masses in a collective natural ecstasy. A lucky handful of the masses scored themselves a place on stage, hoofing it amongst the turntables, lasers and the hoodie-clad maestro himself. The hoopla proved something of a marvellous spectacle: people as far as the eye could see, not unlike an energetic music-infused political rally. Gillis’ resourceful juxtaposition of Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale and The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows against contemporary hip hop beats, mashed with trendy artists like Avril Lavigne and Gwen Stefani, formed a recipe for mind blowing success.

As Saturday morning approached and Laneway’s gift of unparalleled music became but a mouth-watering memory, the throng of devotees commenced the festival dissipation and vanished into the depths of the summer night. As a final treat for the homeward bound however, festival-goers were able to catch the tail-end of Augie March on the Gallery Stage, punctuated by the ever-loved One Crowded Hour, which sounded amazing even from across Roe St at Perth Railway Station.

The promoter’s move to bring the festival to Perth is the best decision taken since Howard’s rejection from parliament. The awesome turnout attested to the West Australian respect for great music which rivals that of our purportedly more urbane eastern counterparts. Jerome is truly a saint for Perth music lovers who no doubt pray for a heavenly reincarnation in 2010, despite the flagrant obstacle of the Nullabor. Just about flawless in its execution, the event’s venue was a perfect example of musical harmony, with each stage placed as though the cultural precinct was designed from its very inception for Laneway to one day grace its paths. The festival was sparkling, exhilarating and packed almost to the brim. Bring on the announcements for Laneway Perth 2010!

Find yourself in Laneways