Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, February 27, 2006

Laneway Festival

Broken Social Scene. Broken Social Scene. Broken Social Scene.

That's all I've got. I'm still buzzing (and my ears are, in fact, still ringing) after seeing these guys yesterday. They played the best festival set I've seen, hands down, bar none. Not that there's a heap of contenders as festivals are regularly disappointing.

But this was objectively great. They're touring with just the bare ten members - one or two drummers, bass, two to four guitars, four wind (cornet, trumpet, trombone, sax), one violin, one to four vocalists, one knob-twiddler. Which adds up to much more than ten because, de rigueur, they regularly swap instruments. People appear and disappear in the middle of songs, wandering off for a beer or smoke then wandering back to hit the backing vocals or, especially, those huge, ecstatic brass lines.

It was obvious from KC Accidental, the opener, that their live sound completely kills anything you've heard on record. To start, they squashed seven people onto the tiny stage; drums, bass, three guitars, violin and knobs. Amid a sea of intense concentration, solid musicianship and flamboyant showmanship they started hitting those big stop-start chords - competing to see who could hit the biggest cock-rock guitar move without destroying the equipment strewn around. And then, as would become customary, towards the end the brass wandered out and (when they found a mike) blew the song through the sound barrier.

It's a simple formula, brilliantly executed. They all look like they're having such fun up there - well, except Kevin Drew hiding behind aviator sunnies, and Justin Peroff looking kinda sweaty on the drums. They're having fun, hitting most of the right notes with such infectious rock energy. Fast forward to the end of the concert - closing with It's All Gonna Break and the same dynamic's going on. We've just had the quiet bit and then the brass are massing at the side of the stage, and coming on and it's the enormous semi-classical end and the goosebumps are everywhere.

Once it's over, there's only the consolation of waiting for Tuesday night... Because they couldn't play Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl, and they didn't play Lover's Spit or Superconnected or even Major Label Debut. So there's much more where that came from. If you aren't going, yeah you, with the lukewarm coffee and slippers, get a ticket for Wednesday however you can.


The rest of the day? Yeah, pretty good, thanks for asking. Got there halfway through Pretty Girls Make Graves and heard a little while exploring the venue. Sounded fine, quite fun, your standard bass, drums, two guitar, piano accordion lineup. But it was obvious already that more than about twenty metres from the stage was too far.

Next up Wolf and Cub who I haven't heard before, and who didn't impress me in that setting. Very metal, with decent sense of groove, but not what I was up for. So that was Pho Mekong lunch time. (Incidentally, their back door led right out into side stage - I wonder if I can get a job there for next year?) Then back for some Faker. These guys are the quintessential festival act; no prior knowledge necessary for full enjoyment. Hooky riffs, solid tunes and ridiculous lead singer antics (though hold that thought until Les Savy Fav) involving climbing the jury-rigged stage scaffolding make for fun times.

Then squeezing forward in anticipation of Augie March. If they were at the top of their powers when I saw them Wednesday, then they'd done a pretty quick u-turn in the intervening days. As Glenn said, they'd only had a couple of hours sleep after returning from Perth and it showed. The sound, especially, was awful - muddy, bottom-heavy and unbalanced; a shame after the crystal-clear sounds of last week. And the playing lacked spark. We got the current A-set: This Train Will Not Be Taking Any Passengers, One Crowded Hour, The Cold Acre, The Baron Of Sentiment, The Keepa, The Night Is A Blackbird, Song In The Key Of Chance and finally Just Passing Through. But this wasn't a vintage performance - in fact, this bottle may have been corked.

But, conveniently, this left us right up the front for Broken Social Scene. Did I talk about them already? Highlights: Ibi, Shoreline, KC, It's All Gonna Break... Most of the set. The only lowlight was the feedback problems which caused Anthems to be pulled halfway through.

Then inside, and while waiting, caught Les Savy Fav on the screen. The fat guy with the beard is seriously deranged, and leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that the band is little more musically than a backdrop for his antics. Thanks to the wonders of radio mikes, he quickly became embedded in the crowd, wearing a cape, spraying water and spittle over a large fraction of the audience.

The Hold Steady also have a slightly mad lead singer, but Craig Finn is nuts in a good way. He smiles constantly and infectiously; dancing in an endearingly geeky, hyperactive fashion while rattling out his rapid-fire lyrics. It's true that they're not substantially more than a pub band, but they do it with such unself-conscious enjoyment that it's hard not to get sucked into their agricultural riffs and straightforward rocking.

And that was it. I'm sure The Avalanches were good, as always, but at that time in the evening you have to be either well out of it or, well, out of it. Since I wasn't sufficiently drunk, and the crush was only increasing, it was home time.