All posts tagged botanical

  • The Vine festival review: Harvest Brisbane, November 2011

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Harvest Festival
    Riverstage and Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Harvest Festival is not above flattery. “Congratulations on your good taste and adventurous spirit,” reads the first line of the 36 page colour program I’m handed upon entry. This psychological ploy makes me smile. Which music fan, anywhere in the world, does not believe that they have the finest music taste? To argue otherwise suggests a lack of self-belief, or false modesty. And the rest of us? Our taste is fantastic. The best. Thanks for asking, Harvest. For AJ Maddah to align his festival with that sort of stroked-ego sycophancy exemplifies tact, and more than a little self-belief of his own. After all, he booked the bands.

    “You are about to witness an amazing collection of great artists and memorable performances.” No minced words there. He then bangs on for a few short paragraphs about a vaudeville tent named Le Boudoir, a Secret Garden full of “world renowned DJs” and “specially designed seating”, and the festival’s Australian art installations and “troupe performances popping up from nowhere”. (Maddah’s emphasis on the nationality of the art is interesting, given that of the five Australian acts on the main stages, just one (Gung Ho) is not from Sydney and all are confined to the smallest one – The Big Red Tractor Stage. His other festival, Soundwave, traditionally has but a couple of Australian artists each year.) AJ’s program spiel ends with the line, “We know that you have come for the bands but hope you will return year after year for the experience!”

    In the lead-up to the event, an emphasis was placed on how Harvest is “a feeling, not just a festival”. That’s a fairly airy-fairy thing to say while attempting to make a mark in an already crowded festival market; let alone in the notoriously cutthroat live music industry. What could this statement mean, exactly? Clearly, Harvest is pitched slightly left-of-centre. It is, apparently, for the more discerning punter. More mature, perhaps; not just in age, but probably in terms of “good taste”, too. I think about this statement all day. Though it’s probably marketing-speak not worth the scrap of paper it was scrawled on, perhaps there is some truth to AJ’s spin.

    Those words flit across my mind while I watch Portishead. What feeling might they embody, then? I think ‘isolation’, then ‘boredom’. Cruel, perhaps. After an hour drinking in their enormous sound, though, I settle upon ‘empathy’. You’d have to be a hard bastard to not believe that Beth Gibbons was in a dark place, hurting, when she wrote these songs all those years ago. Even if she’s putting on a mask, 17 years later – who could sustain real sadness and hurt for so long, and still function as a performer at this level? – it’s a very convincing act. I fall for it, time and again. Right up until she thanks the crowd, and then lets out a nervous little laugh, just before the encore break. The spell is broken then and there, but I like her – and her band – a lot more after that tiny reveal of real human emotion. Earlier, I was put in mind of Interpol’s headline performance on this same stage in January. That, like this, was technically brilliant but delivered from a position of icy disaffection. The overwhelming enormity of a song like ‘Glory Box’ reduces these kinds of complaints to cinders, though, thanks particularly to its cutting, perfect guitar solo. During the encore break, two of the band members return to stage to thank AJ by name. “It’s tough doing festivals at the moment,” one says, “but I think this has got a really good vibe.”

    For the full review, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos by the always excellent Justin Edwards. He took the photo used above, too.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Sunset Sounds’, January 2011

    The two-day festival Sunset Sounds 2011, reviewed for The Vine. Excerpt from day 1 below.

    Sunset Sounds – Day 1
    Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Wednesday January 5 2011

    Queensland’s version of The Falls Festival, Sunset Sounds, runs for two days. Both events share similar line-ups, but here, the curfew is 10pm and there’s no camping. Held at Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens, three stages run concurrently in a space roughly half the size of the Parklife Festival held in September.

    I arrive as gates open at 3pm, and there’s a few hundred metres-long queue snaking toward the main entrance. I’m about to detour to the second entrance when, amid dozens of people streaming through the gardens’ gates, I’m stopped by a man in his mid-20s, wearing board shorts and looking not too unlike the typical festivalgoer. I immediately expect him to either sell me drugs, or ask me if I’m selling any. Turns out he’s an undercover cop; the same one who stopped me outside Parklife last year, I think. He asks if I’m carrying any drugs. At this particular moment, I’m carrying a couple of sushi rolls, so it’s a bit awkward when they ask me to empty my pockets. “Is that sushi legal?”, his colleague jokes. I tell them I’m a journalist and we bullshit about live music for about ten seconds before they let me go. I sit nearby, finish my sushi, and wonder how successful this anti-drugs tactic is, before picking up my wristband and entering through the much shorter VIP line.

    Clouds loom overhead. Walking up toward the top of the venue, I note the six portaloos located between the main stage (Riverstage) and the other two (Gardens and Hibiscus). Six shitters sure ain’t enough for tens of thousands of people; there are more located on the far side of the Riverstage, but it’s a bit of a dead end, with far less traffic. I get the feeling that this situation will be a problem for many people later on. But for now, I watch local act Ball Park Music for about thirty seconds as they attempt to win over the small early crowd. It doesn’t seem to be going well for them. Good band, with strong songs, but only a couple dozen are feeling it. I head toward the Gardens Stage, where Cloud Control are the day’s first drawcard. I’ve seen them play a similar set of songs at venues around the country over the last year-plus, but they still make me smile. I’m standing under a tree some fifty metres away, paying equal attention to the band and crowd surrounding me, yet when they hit particular melodies in their singles, chills run down my spine. I’m a sucker for their mash-up of ‘Gold Canary’ and the Butthole Surfers track ‘Pepper’, too. Though it feels like singer/guitarist Al Wright is cheating a little by soliciting Hottest 100 votes from the thousands-strong crowd.

    For the full review of day 1, visit The Vine. Excerpt from day 2 below.

    Sunset Sounds – Day 2
    Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Thursday January 6 2011

    We left the first day of this two-day festival wondering how they were going to remedy the state of the grounds. The answer, it appears, is sand. Within 15 minutes of the gates opening, a fine layer of topsoil is already being ground into mush by the hordes venturing up and down the hill, thereby rendering the groundskeepers’ hasty decisions fairly moot. By the time gates shut tonight, pretty much every square inch of grass within the venue is gone. Woodchips were in short supply? Beforehand, we’d checked BOM’s weather radar online; when your city is surrounded by a violent swirl of greens, blues and yellows, it’s generally not a good sign. Even worse if you’re going to be spending all day outside. At least today, we know what to expect. Yesterday’s prolonged downpour caught most people off guard. Poncho sales rose 5000%. As soon as I’m on site, taking in the sand-into-mud routine, I’m kicking myself for choosing shitty old joggers over gumboots. I’m not sure what was going through the minds of the thousands who still opted for thongs, though.

    A cursory glance across the enlarged timetables posted across the venue – yesterday’s rain soaked my own through my pockets – reveals that Wednesday’s line-up looks superior in pretty much every aspect. Could be a long day of so-so music. This fear is made all the more real as we stop by Laneous and the Family Yah for the day’s first performance at the Hibiscus Stage. The mood is sombre. They play an extremely eclectic mix of hip-hop, roots, soul, rock and pop. It’s too much – too confronting – for right now. When I last saw them, they were great, but that was inside a dry auditorium. Today, none of them look thrilled to be here. Their upbeat numbers maintain interest, but when they detour into ballad territory, it’s time to move on. Ash Grunwald and his three-piece band are playing at the Gardens Stage. I’ve read his name and I’ve seen his dreadlocked press photos over the years, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually heard his music. It’s pretty cool. It’s certainly inducing a greater response than Laneous were. Grunwald plays chunky, bluesy riffs through his electric guitar, while two percussionists lay down rhythms. The phrase ‘bush doof’ comes to mind during some of the more obvious breakdowns. Dude has the most Australian accent I’ve heard in a long time. I like the cut of his jib. One of the drummers has something resembling a steel bin lid attached to his kit. It hurts my brain when he connects with it.

    I’m a bit nervous to see The Middle East. It’s been over a year since I last saw them, and they’ve been touring the States and Europe for most of that time. For a band who broke up after releasing their first album in 2008, they’ve sure changed their tune when it comes to the concept of music as a career. I’m glad they have. Their Riverstage performance is captivating. They seem to have latched onto this touring-band-of-ragged-musicians mentality. It reminds me of The Band, and of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It’s a good look, because no-one else in Australia is doing that at the moment.

    For the full review of day 2, visit The Vine, where you can also view photo galleries from both days. Above photos taken by Elleni Toumpas for The Vine.