The Falls Festival @ Lorne Victoria (29/12-31/12/2006)

As the countdown to midnight approached the crowd buzzed with anticipation. The countdown, albeit five minutes after midnight signalled the beginning of 2007 for the nearly fifteen thousand punters assembled just outside of Lorne for this the fourteenth annual Falls Festival.

When festival director and founder Simon Daly departed the stage with his mother and father – his father having done the most spectacular job of embarrassing his son – Wolfmother returned to the stage with members of You Am I to celebrate the new year with a cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley. The cover, a sterling effort, had the crowd enthralled, singing along.Wolfmother had just finished playing one of the toughest festival sets in this country, the New Year’s countdown at The Falls. The band’s set included everything you’d expect from their first album, Joker and the Thief, Dimension, White Unicorn and of course Woman. For a band playing cuts from a single release, they filled the hour and a half slot well, the crowd enjoying every second. The only thing that they were left wondering was when will Wolfmother finally get a stage set for their shows – a mini Stonehenge or something retro cool like that.

Rolling into The Falls on Friday evening the beauty of the site took me aback. Set on a sheep farm in the middle of the Otways, the fields used for the festival are surrounded by close to pristine coastal forests. Arriving in the camping area the smell of bracken and tree ferns filled one’s sinus, evoking long kept memories of bush walking through this area as a child and hunting for glow worms.

After investigating the site, it was time to check out Michael Franti and his friends. His friends consisted mostly of members of Spearhead with the addition of a fantastic young guitarist by the name of Kieran Murphy. Playing a whole variety of songs from both his solo albums and recordings with the band, Franti’s set was electric and held the fans. Over the course of Friday and Saturday night Michael Franti played everything you’d expect, doubling up with songs like Light Up Your Lighter, Yell Fire, Hello, Bounjour, Everyone Deserves Music, Bomb the World and Rock the Nation. Whilst there was some repetition across the sets, there was never a moment where watching was not an enjoyable and exhilarating experience for those in the crowd.

Also playing on the Friday night was Basement Jaxx, who with full band in tow played a great dance set. Watching them all up on stage you could see the dynamic energy amongst the band which included backing singers, a three piece horn section dressed in kilts and T-shirts, drummers, samplers and vocalists. Of the songs played Where’s Your Heat At got the largest response from the crowd, but other well known tracks such as Romeo, also drew large responses from the crowd who were kept dancing through a memorable set.

As sore heads were nursed and the bulk of the campers arrived on Saturday morning, Josh Pyke and his band were kicking off their set under the big top to an appreciative crowd. Following Pyke was the outrageous Cansei De Ser Sexy. Cansei De Ser Sexy, which can be loosely translated into English as tired of being sexy, played one of the sets of the festival, bouncing around on stage with a terrific energy. The band that have been compared to our own Machine Gun Fellatio had a terrific party vibe going on, picking up the punters who were just relaxing after Josh Pyke’s set and giving them a boot up the bum. Current radio fave, Let’s Make Love to Death from Above closed out their set.

Local acts Little Birdy and Blue King Brown pulled large crowds on the main stage. Little Birdy played songs from both their debut and sophomore effort Hollywood to an appreciative crowd. The cover of Split Enz’s Six Months in a Leaky Boat went over well with the crowd. Blue King Brown is obviously held in quite high esteem by Michael Franti, who took the time to appear on stage with the band. Over the last twelve months they have built a solid fan base through relentless touring with the likes of Franti and The Cat Empire, their Falls Festival set was filled with energy and a message. When they announced that Michael Franti was joining them on stage an almighty roar went up from the crowd to celebrate.

Following on from this, was The Sleepy Jackson. Their set, full of psychedelia, was well done, yet didn’t really make an impact in the grand scheme of the entire festival.

Whilst relatively unknown in this country for many years, Modest Mouse drew a large crowd. By the time they’d come on stage most of the merchandise had sold out, a testament to the popularity they’ve built incrementally. Playing material from a range of their albums it was songs from their more recent efforts To the Moon and Antarctica and Good News for People Who Love Bad News which pulled the strongest responses from the crowds. They played cuts such as Float On, Oceans Breathe Softly and The World at Large with a great deal of passion that reflected the musicianship of the band.

In one of the most pretentious moments of the entire festival, Eskimo Joe decided to cover U2’s New Years Day. Whilst it was a faithful reproduction of the song, one that could almost have been done by a dedicated U2 cover band, it was disappointing that Eskimo Joe didn’t reinterpret the track in any way, shape or form. The rest of their set was played to their usual standard, but one can’t help thinking that in their many reincarnations the band has lost their soul especially as they refused to play Sweater, the song that started them off.

On the New Year’s Eve day the main stage kicked off with Ground Components, who started a little late as some of their gear hadn’t come in from the airport. Youth Group played a chilled out middle of the day set, with most of the punters lying on the grassy hills chilling out to their laid back sounds. When they played Forever Young a good portion of the crowd suddenly stood up and rushed towards the stage clambering for a spot. Their set was exactly what was needed at that point in time something to just sit and chill to, particularly if you’d partied hard the night before.

One of the great joys of the festival was seeing The Mountain Goats play. Whilst they were playing the heavens had opened up, drawing many more punters to the Big Top to witness an act that is part of indie rock royalty. Whilst their set focused on the melancholy of life, they concluded their set with This Year with its upbeat lyrics about making it through, even when life gets tough. This brought the crowd together in a joyful refrain of “I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me” whilst the rain poured around us.

You Am I’s mainstage set was filled with everything one would expect from a band with such an extensive back catalogue. Covering songs from all of their albums, cuts such as Cathy’s Clown, Gunslingers, and Berlin Chair were played with great gusto and professionalism. Tim Rogers’ comments about the chemicals he may or may not have ingested were amusing as well as his self- deprecating comments about performances at previous festivals.

Following You Am I, The John Butler Trio played their selection of folk rock tunes, again to the adulation of the crowd. Butler’s guitar work was exemplary; his ability to finger pluck strings and contort sounds from an acoustic guitar amazed many in the crowd, whilst the others were just wanting to dance. Butler dedicated tracks to activists and those who were against the mining of nuclear materials in this country.

Whilst the crowd had thinned by the time The Bees has arrived on stage, those who were there, witnessed one of the sets of the festival. With a rotating line-up of vocalists and members swapping instruments it was impressive to see just how well the band worked together. The band played tracks from their two previous albums including Chicken Payback and A Minha Menina, as well as songs from their forthcoming third release. The Bees soon had the crowd bouncing and dancing in the lead up to Wolfmother’s penultimate set.

All in all The Falls was a wonderful weekend, sleep deprivation aside, the performances never disappointed and the vibe made for a relaxed entry to the new year.

Check out the pics of Falls Fest by Photoman here
Check out the pics of Falls Festival by Fusion  here
Check out pics from Falls Festival at Marion Bay in Tassie  here