West End Carnivale @ Davies Park (09/05/09)

This Saturday, Davies Park in West End transformed itself into a Carnivale wonderland. A haven for exhibitionists and voyeurs alike, the masks and costumes of the punters and, of course, the performers, left no-one short on eye-candy. With four stages of goodness, the festival spread out to the sports field and spanned to the RSL building, and utilised its two spacious levels.

The vibe of the festival was alike to Woodford; not only because of the similarity in line-up, but also for the carefree and diverse crowd these events attract. Children were dressed as fairies and elves, men dressed as women, and women dressed as men. Weird and wonderful masks disguised the once familiar faces of your friends, making it a guessing game to identify them, and a bugger to find them.

All inhibitions in staring at people were lost, knowing I was safe behind a protective shield of anonymity. I felt free to ogle at this eclectic bunch of oddballs, all here to enjoy a more than decent chunk of drum –  “n’ bass, dub, reggae, punk and gypsy tunes.

And with that segue, on to the bands!

Kelly Gang was the first act I set my eyes on in entering the festival. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, the hip-hop tunes of MC Kel was a fine welcome. Rocking out the 4ZzZ stage, the band- complete with its extended family of guest MCs- played all the favourites. Anytime Dub was a particular crowd pleaser with the catchy line “I scream bloody murder” perfectly executed by Kel’s blues-laden vocals. The bopping hip-hop crowd were certainly pleased with the tight raps of Pesto, Surreal, Hugo and Yuin Huizami. Topped off with awesome cuts from DJ Return Again, the band played a blistering set.

Outside, on the main stage, things were less heated, with the boys from Kooii taking things easy with some cruisy reggae tunes. Nevertheless, the troupe of hippy followers in the first few rows were dancing enthusiastically- arms flailing wildly- regardless how relaxed the songs were. The boys come on for an encore just as the sun is setting, and a jazzier number gives all a warm glow and a smooth transition into night.

Zennith are next. This family band hailing from tropical North Queensland take to the stage decked out in their usual army camouflage suits. The crowd is pumped and Zennith deliver, with easy beats for our feet and expert direction of the crowd. No one needs to tell us twice to “bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce”, or “jump, jump, jump, jump.” Smiles all round after an energetic and cohesive set from the lads. It was definitely one of their greater performances.

With the full moon looking down on this bewitching night, circus performers and Brazilian befeathered paraders came out in full. Acrobatics, burlesque, salsa and capoiera dancers, and mean feats of contortionism were all on display. Behind the scenes, make-up is tossed around, practising fire-eaters loom dangerously close to curious children, and organisers are more concerned about their outfit choices than answering their walkie talkie. The image of a high-heeled, pink and gold-sequinned line of performers trudging their way across a floodlit football field back to their changing rooms is one that is glued humourously in my memory. The mix of reality with fantasy in a familiar setting is certainly the quintessence of the West End Carnivale.

At 9pm, Mr Laneous & The Family Yah, start their set. Fits of giggles permeate the room as they come onstage. The boys in the band are frocked up in flowery, poofy, very girly numbers, complete with make-up and pearls, and the girls of the Bird Fire Choir are dressed in caps and very dapper waistcoats and pants. Throw a Japanese schoolgirl bassist with hairy legs in there for good measure and you’re on to a good thing. But, despite the wacked out costumes, Mr Laneous is already on to a good thing. His music is ingenious and its complexities are not lost on the audience. The band, the choir, and frontman work together really well to create a strong performance. The crowd of adoring fans sing along to old tunes such as Loveable Tramp , Crew Cut, and Searing Life. The new tunes are equally as catchy as the old- the crowd easily picking up the chorus- only to be interrupted by some instrumental mastery and freestyling. Laneous keeps us on our feet, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chocolate Strings is the first act I see on the upstairs Diabolik stage. It is hot in here: just the right temperature for late-night high energy dancing. Lead singer Ofa Fanaika starts us off, propelling her strong voice across the room and commanding its attention. They play all the favourites including Carnivale, in which singer Al Skinner’s very deep voice contrasts with the “areeba”’s of the back-up girls. Once again, it is another good performance from the promising band.

The major highlight of the festival came at the end of the night. As the saying goes: –  “save the best –  “til last.’-and the last two bands on the Diabolik stage were magnificent.

The Barons of Tang, hailing from Melbourne, call themselves the pioneers of gypsy death core. This is one extremely talented bunch. An accordion, a tuba, a double bass, a violin, drums, percussion and guitar are the instruments that create the crowd’s half mosh-pitting, half interpretive dancing melee induced by their sounds. Their capacity to mesmerise the audience with their skill, their facial expressions, and their melody and tempo changes is an artform in itself. The song, Dogs of Rotterdam, at one moment induces a headbanging frenzy- and the next- a trance-like stationary state as we regard the band staring at us with manic eyes, steadying us for the rush of gypsy fever to come. These guys are an extremely talented orchestra of engaging musicians and characters. From tonight, they have more than earned their position as a favourite live act on my list.

Last but not least, electronic dance quartet The Bird close off the night on a high note. Playing to a packed out room, the interesting combination of a lead man on drums, two keyboardists (the extra player, Dan Brown is their special guest tonight), a double bass player and a tabla player are responsible for the sweaty no-shirt rave dancing of the crowd. The duo of Bobby Singh on the tabla and Ben Walsh on the drums is particularly satisfying to watch- with Ben Walsh conducting an extremely fast drum jam, in which old and new instruments battle it out. It is impossible not to dance. The band mix futuristic with organic very well indeed, and the resulting drum –  “n’ bass sound causes an epidemic of overheated dancers.

When the crowd disperses at the close of the festival, it is 2am and the sweaty crowd makes their way into the cold night. The only thing keeping them warm is the adrenaline produced from a mighty fine day and night of really great music.

The festival really showcased what Australian and New Zealand bands have to offer. West End Carnivale managed to simultaneously create a local atmosphere while bringing a bit of gypsy magic to the soccer field. The inaugural event was a hit with both adults and children. With the success of this year, it is not hard to suppose a West End Carnivale II will be something to look forward to. With the locals’ highly evident support, there is sure to be a sequel.