All posts tagged the-vine

  • The Vine live review: Soundwave Festival Brisbane, February 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 22 February 2014

    Gwar at Soundwave Festival 2014 in Brisbane, reviewed by Andrew McMillen for The Vine. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    Ah, the dangers of printing festival programs weeks ahead: at least four of the bands listed today have cancelled for various reasons, which means that the timetables inside the 82-page colour booklet are completely unreliable. As we walk into the venue there’s a guy on a megaphone advising everyone to download the phone app, which is a nice PSA, but I do wonder how many punters who don’t visit Australian music websites or lurk social media still expect to see Megadeth, Newsted, Whitechapel et al today. The visual design for this year’s Soundwave is sumo-themed, and in the program there’s a message from the promoter, written first in Japanese then in English underneath: “Rockers of Australia unite. Respect & look after each other! Head of cabbage, A.J Maddah.” 

    Fittingly, the first act I see comprises eight men in camouflage costumes, demonic masks and clown-like face paint. On their first visit to Australia, Ohio band Mushroomhead fulfil my wishes by playing ‘Sun Doesn’t Rise’ and ‘Solitaire Unravelling’ up front. They attract a decent early crowd and I’m glad I saw those two songs before jetting to the main stage for Biffy Clyro, who have added a guitarist and keyboardist since I last saw them a few years ago. But then, the Scottish trio — now bona fide arena rockstars in the UK — have been writing songs with stadiums in mind for the last couple of albums, so it’s no surprise that they turn in an excellent set. Material from their two most recent albums fills out their 45 minutes, but I’m most pleased to hear Puzzle track ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’. They drop the news that they’ll be visiting again in September, to cheers from the devoted few hundred who catch one of the day’s better sets.

    “That’s a fucken awesome backdrop,” I hear one bloke say to another while we wait for Testament. “I’d love to have it as a tattoo,” his mate replies. It is a pretty fucken awesome backdrop: an illustration of a big-bearded bastard, ten metres across, with multiple horns erupting from the skull and facial expression set to ‘severe’. There’s lightning in the background, too. Awesome tattoo ideas aside, I’m mostly here because a friend swears that Testament are one of the best thrash metal bands ever.

    Look, Craig, you’ve got a point. Frontman Chuck Billy regularly uses his microphone stand as an air guitar and his commitment to the cause is incredible: his chord progressions and solos mimic the two guitarists’ actual work, and he even has giant novelty guitar picks that he strums for a while before tossing into the crowd. He’s an adorable, avuncular figure who constantly grins and sticks his tongue out at the crowd, thoroughly enjoying his job. Metal is often treated with such po-faced sincerity that it’s easy to forget how ridiculous it all is, at its core. These guys give the impression that they’ve never forgotten.

    Which is a nice segue into Gwar [pictured above] on the same stage, whose singer sports a dildo that spurts fake blood onto the crowd. He and his bandmates are all wearing outrageous, spiked costumes and earnestly playing their instruments as if it’s just another day at the office. A couple of songs in, a Tony Abbott character walks out on stage and begins telling the band that they’ve got to finish up; that their behaviour is not on. He is immediately decapitated by the lead singer’s sword, and his spinal column begins pissing blood onto the crowd while a muscular, shirtless stagehand keeps a grip on Abbott’s hips so that he doesn’t blast the band in the face with the gunk. I am now on their side completely.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine live review: Laneway Festival Brisbane, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine, co-written with Matt Shea. Excerpt below.

    Laneway Festival 2014
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Friday 31 January 2014

    The Vine live review: Laneway Festival Brisbane, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    We sent our music men Andrew McMillen and Matt Shea along to Australia’s first Laneway Festival of 2014 at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane on January 31. This is their story, just please be advised the following contains tales of creepy stalking, swearing and mid-strength Mexican beer….

    Andrew McMillen: How do you sell tickets to music festivals? Amid reports of a horror 2013 for promoters throughout the country, with cancellations, downsizing and low attendances almost across the board, the answer to that question has remained the same as it ever was: book bands that people want to pay good money to see. It’s simple in theory but tricky in practice, with a good deal of gambling and gamesmanship required many months in advance. In this sense, Laneway has struck a vein of pure gold in 2014: their line-up is stacked with in-demand artists, many of whom performed strongly at a certain music poll that aired five days prior to the touring festival’s traditional first Australian show in the Queensland capital.

    Matt Shea: My question is, how do you improve upon the Brisbane leg of Laneway, which was one of the best festivals to blow through the city in 2013? You upgrade the line-up for starters. If last year’s roster of artists was impressive, 2014 is a clean home run with the inclusion of superstars Haim and Lorde, a strong slug of rap courtesy of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt, and an almost never-ending list of support players: Daughter, Four Tet, Kurt Vile, Warpaint, and god knows how many more. The festival app’s planner is pretty much useless. There are clashes everywhere. Thanks, arseholes.

    That’s from the audience perspective. From promoters Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio’s perspective, you increase capacity. Which, given the ample space available at Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds, makes a lot of sense. But does it make sense for Laneway?

    Laneway’s submission to do the same in Sydney was rescued by an eleventh hour plea from Michael Chugg — who co-promotes the festival — when he told Leichardt Council that no other Australian music festival quite has the same capacity to connect with music fans. But by bumping up the numbers, Rogers, Borazio and their collaborators are of course risking such a hard-won note of distinction. In it’s first year in Melbourne back in 2004, the gents were cheerily selling tallies and inviting their parents along. In 2014, we’re talking something much more widescreen.

    To accommodate the extra numbers, the RNA Showgrounds setup has been re-jigged. The Carpark Stage (better than it sounds) is no longer the place to see the biggest acts. Instead, it plays second fiddle to the Alexandria Street stage, which in a daring move during Brisbane’s monsoon season, is completely open to the elements.

    And those crowds don’t go unnoticed. Whereas in 2013 it was easy to get around, this year you often find yourself caught in great swathes of people, many of them careening into each other as sticky weather and over imbibing combine to nasty effect. After a while you find yourself wondering if this is what Laneway is all about. I’m not so sure.

    Andrew: Fittingly, the site is busy within a few hours of gates opening, as must-see acts have been scheduled from the early afternoon onwards. Up first, King Krule is a swing and miss at the Carpark Stage: the English songwriter is interesting on record, but unengaging in the flesh. To my dismay, a quick scout around the three other stages yields no alternatives, which seems like surprisingly poor organisation for so early in the day. King Krule delivers that rare, unedifying type of set that turns me off a band that I already liked. Adalita at the Alexandria Street stage is the exact opposite: alongside her three accomplices, she reminds me that I need to spend more time with her 2013 album All Day Venus. Their performance of the title track is the first great song I hear today, thanks to a monstrous extended outro. “I’ve got a touch of bronchitis,” the singer says. “But I’ll do my best. Fuck that excuse!” It’s clear during a solo reading of ‘Heavy Cut’ that her voice isn’t doing quite what she’d like, yet Ms Srsen powers through anyway. Heroic.

    A few songs into Adalita’s set, I clock the unmistakeable visage of triple j Music Director Richard Kingsmill standing before me, clutching a brown jacket and wearing a navy shirt, blue jeans and orange shoes. He shields his bespectacled eyes from the glaring sun and adopts a power stance, rocking his right leg to the beat of the bass drum with crossed arms.

    Richard Kingsmill watching Adalita at Laneway Festival 2014. Photo by Andrew McMillen

    The more avid conspiracy theorists of the Australian music scene would have us believe that Kingsmill ultimately decides which bands have careers in this country and the circumstances in which they succeed. No one man should have all that power, they posit, to crib a Kanye line. I watch him rub his chin and lean into the power chords that blast through the speakers. Momentarily, an enthusiastic blonde girl jumps onto a male friend stood before Kingsmill; he takes a swift step back in response, but it appears that the spell has been broken. The man with the golden ears flees in haste, as if he just remembered he had somewhere else to be.

    By sheer coincidence I clock him again at set’s end, over by the food stalls while I buy a cup of lemonade. He’s using chopsticks to eat from a cardboard box while chatting to a fellow radio presenter. Since I have nothing better to do, I follow him to an indoor stage sponsored by an energy drink company. Tracking an individual through a crowd of hundreds is a new thrill; I feel like Jason Bourne or some shit. It’s so loud in here that I apply earplugs immediately. Kingsmill doesn’t. I’m leaning against a steel barrier before the sound desk, watching him watching… I don’t even know who. It doesn’t matter.

    I have spoken to him before, once, years ago, for a version of the played-out “Does triple j have too much power and control over the artistic fates of music in this country?!?!” story that was resurrected in the Fairfax press earlier this month, to much navel-gazing and hand-wringing among those who care about such things. Then, as on the air, Kingsmill struck me as an unashamed music geek; an obsessive who just so happens to be paid to be immersed in the art that he loves. Nothing I see here diminishes that impression. Ten minutes later, I stalk him back out to the Alexandria Street stage, where Vance Joy has attracted a huge crowd.

    Kingsmill remains unmoved throughout the performance, often deferring to the smartphone kept in his left jeans pocket. He remains still as a statue even when the crowd around him erupts for ‘Riptide’. Perhaps he, like I, finds nothing of value in their music. I wonder at that feeling, though, of being at the centre of a love-in for a performer and a song that, without triple j’s support, nobody would have heard. Without certain decisions being made by triple j staff, this crowd of thousands certainly wouldn’t be singing along to every word while waving a can of imported Mexican beer in the air.

    I can’t wrap my mind around this last point: the only mid-strength beer on sale is a brand I have never seen or even heard of before today. It’s called Alegria, it’s in a bright yellow can, and its contents are best summarised by a friendly guy I meet late in the day, “It tastes like 50% Corona, 50% Mount Franklin”. (He said this after drinking six of them and right before tipping half of number seven over his head without provocation). I respect the Laneway organisers for bucking the overwhelming festival trend of selling tinnies of Carlton Dry, but how they settled on this piss-poor home-brand swill as a replacement is beyond me. Must’ve gotten a sweet bulk deal from a likeable Mexican exporter.

    Matt: What the fuck is Vance Joy doing here? Not at this festival, but on this stage, at this time. I ask myself this despite actually enjoying the Melburnian’s set. It’s just that there’s really not much to it. Simply Vance out front singing sweetly while drums, keyboards and bass propel him along. Every song’s a winner — particularly ‘Red Eye’, ‘Perfect Teeth’ and a new cut called ‘All I Ever Wanted’ — but every song also goes on for too long. Vance is fine, the band is fine, it’s all just fine. There’s no intimacy and no electricity, and you soon start wishing you were in a club at 10pm rather than on a massive apron of bitumen. It’s a pleasant way to start the festival, I guess, but this just doesn’t seem the setting for Vance.

    My mind wandering, I turn around towards the sound booth and catch a glimpse of what I think is Richard Kingsmill and behind him a blue t-shirt. Quality stalking, A-Mac, you fuck.

    We stay for the Hottest 100-winning ‘Riptide’ — which at least partly answers the stage question — and it means we get to watch a healthy crowd lose its collective shit. But it also means we miss most of Daughter, which I feel is a mistake. When we get to the Carpark Stage, the London three-piece is blowing everyone away with a peerless take on ‘Winter’. Diminutive singer Elena Tonra’s lyrics can barely be discerned from the noise but it hardly matters: most interest can be found in the great washes of sound being swapped between guitarist Igor Haefeli and a touring multi-instrumentalist.

    We’re there long enough to witness cracking renditions of ‘Candles’, ‘Human’ and ‘Tomorrow’ – each an exercise in precise control over Daughter’s surging song craft — before Tonra icily coos her way through ‘Home’, the audience going apeshit. And then they’re done. Haefeli thanks the audience profusely and then Daughter disappear, leaving us feeling like dickheads for getting there so late.

    Andrew: Upstart American electronic producer XXYYXX plays an interesting set at the energy drink stage, though he tends to shy away from a consistent backbeat, leading to some equally interesting interpretive dances. A young girl is passed out on her side out on the edge of the room, not far from the speakers. A caring photographer stands guard while a security guard seeks medical attention and I look on, concerned. An idiot in a singlet runs up and takes a selfie in front of her prone frame, before returning with some mates for a group shot. Taking in this scene, it’s tough to imagine a better image of the selfishness and callous indifference for which my generation is supposedly renowned. Ten minutes later, she’s helped to her feet by a stranger; she runs unsteadily for a few metres before falling into the arms of two paramedics, who ask her name and lead her gently toward the exit.

    It’s not until I join the horde crowding the main stage at Alexandria Street for CHVRCHES that I realise how crap this space is to watch bands. It’s essentially a flat bit of bitumen flanked by two small grandstands; one side is slightly raised, thanks to some thoughtfully-placed woodchips, but when the area is busy – as it is from Vance at 3.45pm through to headliners The Jezabels – it has about as much ambience as the average suburban garage. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by recent experiences at natural and manmade amphitheatres at Falls Festival and the Big Day Out, respectively. All of this detracts from the otherwise serviceable set that CHVRCHES put in, though the thinness of their live sound – due in large part to the programmed drums, I think – reminds me of Sleigh Bells, another act with strong songs on record that fall flat before an audience. To their credit, ‘Lies’ is one of the best songs I hear all day, though.

    Matt: Pro tip: if you like CHVRCHES, maybe don’t see ‘em at a music festival. The Glasgow three-piece bring plenty of firepower to the Alexandria Street Stage, but much of the mystery that surrounds these electro-indie rockers is lost in an odd late-afternoon setup that has keyboardists Iain Cook and Martin Doherty on a couple of risers that flank an already tiny Lauren Mayberry. From this distance she looks like Chloë Moretz. It’s pretty hilarious. You couldn’t accuse these guys of not giving it 100 percent, but in this wide-open setting it feels like they’re shooting blanks. Still, songs such as ‘Lies’, ‘The Mother We Share’ and the Doherty-sung ‘Under the Tide’ have an impact — the latter providing a much-needed mid-set injection of energy. I was already lukewarm on CHVRCHES, and this set has done nothing to help my appreciation. Still, if it was more 11pm and less 5pm, my opinion would probably be different.

    Andrew: Kurt Vile at the Carpark Stage is nothing less than sensational: opening with the ten-minute title track from Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, his winning album from last year, Vile and his three offsiders work through several of the best songs from that record, including its sleepy closer ‘Goldtone’. No pretension; just skilled musicianship and singular songwriting. Haim’s set at the main stage is similarly pleasing but for the overpowering slickness that permeates every second the three sisters – accompanied by two blokes up back, on drums and keys – spend going through the motions. Their act is so polished and compelling from the very first note that it takes several songs for my critical faculties to catch up. This is a very good trick, I think to myself. But try as I might, I can’t pick a fault: they’re great performers with an album’s worth of clever and interesting songs. ‘My Song 5’ is a wondrous thing, both live and on record; that lead guitar break is perfect. 20 minutes in, I text Mr Shea – who is closer to the stage – three words: “This is great!”

    Matt: There was a point in my Laneway preparations where I was considering skipping Haim. Now, I can safely say that would’ve been a cock move. The three sisters from Los Angeles, along with drummer Dash Hutton (and a touring muso), absolutely nail their twilight set on the Alexandria Street Stage, having a massive audience eating out of the palm of their collective hand. It’s hard not to when you line up a succession of pop hits as pristine ‘Forever’, ‘Don’t Save Me’, ‘Falling’ and ‘The Wire’.

    Of course, Haim’s shtick is super slick and there are times today when I wonder if I’d prefer to be watching them in a velvet-curtained club with some coked out Solid Gold Dancers as back-up. But every time things are in danger of getting a little too perfect Danielle shreds the shit out of her Gibson SG, or Alana jumps down into the snapper’s pit and high-fives the creepy dudes in the front row. The only misstep is Este talking about how she’s wants to hit the beach with some fans after the show. Don’t you have some ungodly redeye to catch in the morning, lady? These people might be high, but they’re not idiots. Regardless, it will be Haim tunes running through my head the day after the festival. Kudos, ladies.

    A generously sized German sausage later and it’s time to catch Lorde. I stand towards the back, telling myself that this is more social research than review, and Lorde pays me back with an appropriately studied performance. Seeing the 17-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor a week after she won a Grammy award has a slightly anti-climactic feel. Hers was the story of 2013, but it’s a story that suddenly feels like it has a full stop behind it.

    As it is, the performance is fine, but with band members Jimmy MacDonald and Ben Barter all but obscured by the lights and smoke, it’s totally down to Lorde. And while she sashays back and forth across the stage, flicking curls in all directions, it gets old quick. The songs are classy — ‘Glory and Gore’, ‘Tennis Court’ and ‘Ribs’ all standing out – but the minimalist music is ultimately there only to brace Yelich-O’Connor’s phenomenal pipes. In the darkness it’s all very ominous, but then you remember she’s just a teenager and it becomes both a bit more amazing on the one hand, and a bit more callow on the other. When ‘Royals’ arrives, it’s greeted with an air of inevitably that probably says a lot about why it was knocked off for the top spot in the Hottest 100.

    At this point, you wonder what’s in future for Yelich O’Connor. Surely a bigger, badder live show is top of the list.

    Andrew: Lorde has a lot of work to do up on the main stage: the songs from her debut record – the singles aside – lean heavily on introversion, both in music and lyrical themes. As a result, she struggles to connect with the crowd for at least half of her set, at least from where we’re standing on the mound of woodchips amid hundreds of talkers who seem only interested in the singles. They’re performed competently, without fanfare or adornment; a keyboardist and drummer are confined to the shadows, leaving the heavy lifting and body-jerking theatrics up to the star. It makes sense to me that experiences such as this, playing before crowds of thousands, will influence the scope of her future songwriting from small rooms and small thoughts to big, universal ideas. What I see tonight isn’t entirely convincing, but I’m interested in where Lorde goes from here.

    Matt: Now comes Laneway’s leap into the unknown. Instead of finishing the night with its biggest draw cards — Lorde or Haim — the festival locks down its outside areas and turns into a three-hour club party. And why not, when you have Danny Brown, Run the Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt in your arsenal; pound for pound, they’re arguably three of the biggest acts of the entire festival.

    If nothing else, it’s led to a noticeably different, more dudebro mix in the crowd, which comes to the fore as the clock strikes 9pm and Danny Brown erupts onto the Zoo Stage in a fit of demented testosterone.

    Seeing Brown perform since the release of Old, his schismed, highly personal third album, is an odd experience. Split, as it is, into a grim first side and a riotous second allows Brown to compartmentalise his personality, but you can no longer watch one of his infamously juiced up live shows without the ghost of his tortured self hanging about in the background. It leaves this performance feeling like a riotous, dark-edged party — one perhaps best consumed with a side order of drugs, but which makes a sober person feel a jittery, paranoid high anyway.

    As expected, Brown largely eschews the fist stanza of Old, reaching into the album’s molly-addled back stretch, as well as cuts from his 2011 sophomore release, XXX. People start frothing at the mouth. Dudes pound against each other. Girls get it on. It’s a heaving, sweating orgy, all conducted by an imp in a leather t-shirt. Brown barely breathes for 45 minutes, ending, as he was destined to, on the ferocious single, ‘Dip’. A muscled bro in front of me turns to a buddy and bites him fair on the bicep. That about sums up Danny Brown at Laneway 2014 — arguably the performance of the entire festival.

    Andrew: Closing the Carpark Stage is Warpaint, a band from Los Angeles who have yet to disappoint me in the live environment. They keep that clean sheet tonight, though stiff competition from Danny Brown’s punishing beats clanging around the tin shed of the Zoo Stage means that the deck is stacked against them from the outset. Their music is delicate and complex; material from their recently-released self-titled second album especially so. They lean heavily on those new songs, and it’s clear that the intricacies of performing these synth-heavy numbers are still being ironed out. The closing bracket of ‘Love Is To Die’, ‘Disco//Very’ and ‘Undertow’ – the latter which includes a jaw-dropping extended outro that culminates with Stella Mozgawa gradually accelerating into a warp-speed drum solo that ends with broken sticks –ensures that they finish strongly. In sum, though, their set isn’t as convincing or powerful as the last time they played here three years prior.

    Matt: Compared to Danny Brown, the darkness is a little more obvious with Run the Jewels, even if Atlanta’s Killer Mike and New York’s El-P tend to think of last year’s self-titled debut as the breakout party from their gritty solo work. Either way, when the duo wander onto the stage it’s with their faces split by massive grins. On their own, these guys are icons; together, they’re legends.

    A Run the Jewels show feels like you’re part of an inclusive club holding onto a diabolical secret. It spans from El’s garrulous soliloquies, Mike’s late-set incursion into the crowd and a genuine affection for one another, right through to the regular acknowledgement of Trackstar, the duo’s touring DJ, who at this point feels like an elemental part of the show.

    During a set of fire and charisma compiled from both the self-titled Run the Jewels record of last year as well as Mike and El’s recent solo albums, R.A.P. Music and Cancer For Cure, I watch two MCs at the top of their game and an eager audience soak it all up. This is a different crowd to Danny — less insular and pill driven, more community weed-smoking — but it goes bananas anyway. Two dudes high-five each other after every song, another grabs me by the shoulder after ‘Banana Clipper’ to confess a deep man love for Mike, while to my left I get to watch the conversion of a trio of Run the Jewels n00bs within the space of three quarters of an hour. (I see another guy in tears: could be unrelated to the show but, y’know, probably not) I expected to love this set, and I hardly walk away disappointed.

    I won’t front, I’m exhausted by the time Earl Sweatshirt rolls onto the Zoo Stage with Odd Future crew-mate Domo Genesis in tow. Earl seems to understand the marathon the punters have been through and works hard to re-light the fire. For the most part it works, but for every punter going bonkers at the front of the stage, there are two or three standing back, nodding in appreciation.

    If this show illustrates anything, it’s Earl’s natural charisma and ferocious ability as a rapper. But his set is too bits-y and shuffling for more fair-weather fans to engage. It’s impressive without being exciting, and the appalling sound of the Zoo Stage — in one of the Showgrounds’ older pavilions — means the vocals echo back towards the performers and drown out the subtlety of the beats. Earlier it could be forgiven, but after three sets worth it’s just tiresome. Earl, Genesis and DJ Taco are fun and often very funny, but I want to enjoy this more than I ultimately do.

    So what to make of Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio’s baby in 2014? It’s still a great music festival, but is it Laneway? The simple pumping of the numbers mean your instinct is to say, “No.” Like the roiders who plague much of the rest of Australia’s music festival calendar, Laneway’s sheer size is starting to outstrip its original raison d’être.

    The nature of the crowd has changed too. There was less of a community spirit and more aggression — at one point I witnessed a 40-something dude randomly but purposefully shove into a girl half his age. She threw him the bird and afterwards I could only admire her ability to laugh it off.

    Rogers and Borazio made a monsoon-season gamble with the Alexandria Street stage and on this occasion they won. During Vance Joy the rain came down, but it lasted just five minutes and that was it for the entire day (I carry my poncho under my arm for the rest of the festival, copping all sorts of shit from high people).

    What was perhaps not so successful was the skewed playing order, which disposed of the major acts early and turned Laneway into a club party. It’s a great way of working around curfew times, but the festival lost a bunch of punters and therefore a large degree of eclecticism, while the appalling sound of the inside stages eventually took its toll. Then again, it was a long day; maybe I just needed to put my feet up.

    Ultimately, though, Laneway is growing. And with that growth comes change. Some will embrace it, others will turn away from the festival. But as it expands onto ever-larger numbers the event will leave behind a gap in the market, one that another festival promoter will no doubt fill. As it is, this is still one of the best live music experiences you can have for $120.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine (at archive.org). Top photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Big Day Out 2014
    Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast
    Sunday 19 January 2014 

    The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    I love music.

    That’s about the most banal opening sentence to a live music review that you’ve ever read, but it’s worth dwelling upon a little here at the outset.

    Music has been a huge part of my life and identity for as long as I can remember. I am obsessed. If I’m not listening to music on speakers or headphones I’m thinking about it, humming or singing a melody, or learning how to play songs on guitar. It occupies my every waking moment. I love music and the Big Day Out has been a consistent, reliable lightning rod for that cause since I first attended in 2005. I’ve only missed one year (2010) since. As long as they keep booking excellent lineups, I’ll keep walking through these gates on a Sunday in January.

    Today heralds a shift in venue for the Gold Coast event, from the usual Parklands to a football stadium and its surrounds. It works well. The arena and its grandstands are where the main stages are housed; elsewhere, three big tents for the smaller acts. There are no problems getting around. Full credit to the organisers here, because to let loose tens of thousands of people in a new environment and to keep it all running smoothly is a remarkable feat indeed. We festival-goers are a fickle lot, generally quick to criticise an event’s logistical shortcomings, but today there’s literally nothing to bitch about. Amazing.

    When reviewing shows I tend to keep an air of bookish distance from the source material. In the past I’ve been the guy near the sound desk with his arms crossed, nodding his head and occasionally tapping a foot; always an observer, rarely a participant. As of today I’ve thrown all that shit out the window in favour of embracing the obvious: dancing. Clearly my past self is an idiot because this is a total revelation: I haven’t ever had this much fun at a festival.

    The first act to loosen my limbs is Toro Y Moi, about whom I knew nothing prior to wandering in under the Red Stage tent and finding myself in the funky soundtrack to a spy film. I especially enjoy the contrast between the studious-looking guitarist, with sensible haircut and collared shirt, against the rock-dog bassist with shaggy long hair, shades and singlet. Earlier, Bluejuice brightened my day with sunny pop songs, shiny gold Freddie Mercury outfits and good humour. And I’m the kind of arsehole who thinks that The Drones soundchecking sounds better than most rock bands in the world, so it’s no surprise that I award their set today full marks. I’m up against the barrier for the first time at a Drones show and it’s a nice change to see how the songs work up close.

    Guitarist Dan Luscombe thanks us for opting to see them over Tame Impala at the main stage, joking that at least a few people think The Drones are the better option. One band writes pop songs about elephants, among other topics; the other opens with a depressing eight-minute narrative about climate change and how fucked humans are as a species. (Not too many teenage girls seeing The Drones, I note.) I love both bands and I’m glad that I catch Impala’s tailing pair of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, the latter being an incredible wash of sound that proves that Kevin Parker wasn’t fucking with TheVine when he told us that the band recently found a new way to finish their set.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine live review: Falls Festival 2013 Byron Bay, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Falls Festival 2013
    North Byron Parklands, Byron Bay
    Monday 30 December 2013 – Friday 3 January 2014

    The Vine live review: Falls Festival 2013 Byron Bay, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Tim da-Rin

    Mid-morning on the last day of 2013 and the second day of the inaugural Falls Festival in Byron Bay, a perky female staff member drops by our campsite with a clipboard and four questions for our group of thirteen to consider. On a scale of one to five, how would you rate getting to and setting up your campsite? One, we reply. How would you rate the camping amenities? Three. Not camping with your car? Zero. Overall camping vibe? Three.

    Clearly, our spirits are fairly low at this stage. For good reason: the day before, we had discovered that the supposed “short walk” between car park and campsite mentioned on the event website was a laughable lie; at least a kilometre separated our two locations, and when you’re carrying eskies, tents, gazebos, water and food supplies in the middle of a hot day, that’s no joke. It took our group at least three returns journeys on foot each, and around five hours before we were fully set up and able to collapse into chairs, exhausted. Quite the opposite of fun; instead, plenty of sweat, frustration and cursing.

    But music is the reason many of us are here, though there’s also an ‘arts’ component to the festival that’s largely confined to ‘The Village’, an eccentric section of the grounds that’s good for one stoned gawk and not much more. There are two main stages – the Amphitheatre, and the Forest – both of which offer fantastic views from wide and high angles. Local acts play between midday and midnight on a handful of smaller stages. The overall effect is one of overwhelming and occasionally disorienting noise. If you’re looking for silence, this festival is not for you: some form of music can be heard from seemingly every corner of the enormous grounds.

    The first act I see is Tom Thum, a Brisbane-born beatboxer who impresses a bustling Amphitheatre crowd with little more than his voice, microphone and looping devices. Having spent some time with Thum a few months ago while profiling him for Qweekend, I know his repertoire and abilities better than most, but I’m still bowled over by his talent like everyone else. This might be the purest musical experience I see all festival. A truly charismatic showman, Tom Thum possesses a unique and priceless musical brain. His half-hour set passes in the blink of an eye. I can’t imagine a human looking on his performance not being impressed or moved.

    The Roots (above) play the same stage later that night to bring in the new year; as much as I love them, their set feels like a major missed opportunity. Among only a handful of recognisable tunes – ‘The Fire’, ‘The Seed (2.0)’, ‘You Got Me’, ‘Proceed’ – they fall into the role of Jimmy Fallon’s house band far too easily, offering up a slew of covers (‘Jungle Boogie’, ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’) and extended instrumental solos that drag rather than thrill. I’d liked to have heard more of the music that has made them widely respected masters of the genre. The entire hill moves to their music, of course, and it’s certainly a memorable way to see in 2014, but this group has written so many hip-hop classics – and visited this country so rarely – that what could easily have been an A+ night is instead a B.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Tim da-Rin.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Ric’s Big Backyard Festival, Brisbane’, April 2011

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Ric’s Big Backyard Festival #1
    Ric’s Bar, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
    Saturday 26 March 2011

    What makes a good music festival? Let’s make the educated assumption that, for the vast majority, value for money is the key determinant. If a buyer perceives a festival to be worthy of their time – and, more importantly, money – there’s a high likelihood that the festival has a line-up that appeals to them. If not, the buyer refuses to part with their money, and spends their day elsewhere. Such is the dilemma faced by the first Ric’s Big Backyard Festival – ‘#1 Autumn 2011’, according to a note on posters and wristbands, and thus hinting at future events. The value proposition for festival #1 is thus: 20-odd bands for $75, spread across three stages near the Brunswick Street Mall in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. More specifically, the majority of the festival action is contained within Ric’s Bar, a long-standing pillar of this city’s live entertainment scene. Ric’s holds two of the festival’s stages – the main stage is located behind the venue, in the laneway between the Royal George Hotel and X&Y Bar.

    From the outset, one problem is apparent: the festival’s value proposition isn’t strong enough. Upon arriving just before 3pm, a trip to the Upstairs stage – where local actVelociraptor are playing – reveals a modestly full room, with a reasonable gap between skittish punters and the band exhibiting their idiosyncratic style of gang-pop. Their eight members include three guitarists, two drummers, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a singer. They play obnoxious, shambolic pop music that could easily come across as contrived, but manage to avoid it, somehow, probably because they don’t seem to give a shit. It’s a fine line between appearing to not give a shit, and actually not giving a shit, and they err on the latter. Still, even this early in the day, it’s clear that the venue’s close confines – or, to put it another way, forced intimacy – is going to work against the festival.

    There’s more space at the Outside stage, where Guineafowl are playing, to a crowd consisting mostly of staff from their label, Dew Process, and a handful of half-interested punters. It feels like a high school dance, where everyone’s afraid of making the first move; or, in this case, enjoying themselves. The band are copping the afternoon sun in full force. This six-piece play indie pop which draws heavily from the U2 school of songwriting; lots of needly guitar lines, dramatic choruses, and extreme earnestness. They finish with something of a whimper, having barely elicited applause from the audience throughout their half-hour. I count eight Toohey’s Extra Dry flags positioned near the stage; two banners are plastered behind the drum kit. Also within eyeshot are five Smirnoff banners and a few Red Bull umbrellas and tables. None of the above detracts from the musical performances, but it’s pretty clear how Ric’s have pushed the corporate sponsorship envelope.

    At the Downstairs stage, Ben Salter is playing songs from his forthcoming solo album, The Cat. Salter is known – and loved – as the singer/songwriter/guitarist of Brisbane acts The Gin Club and Giants Of Science, among others. Few current performers in Brisbane can match his talent or reputation. Still, this is neither the right time nor place for slow, introspective ballads. No-one’s doubting the quality of the songs, but Salter’s act – accompanied by a guitarist, bassist and drummer – strikes the wrong chord today, and not particularly due to any fault of his own. It’s just that the festival seems stuck in first gear, and it’s not clear what will inspire a shift upwards. “You’ve got your money’s worth, then; those who paid, at least,” announces Salter, in reference to the event’s sluggish ticket sales and resultant freebies.

    For the full review, visit The Vine. For some photos of the event, visit Mess+Noise’s photo gallery, taken by Elleni Toumpas (who also shot the image used above).

  • The Vine interview: Larry LaLonde of Primus, December 2010

    An interview with Primus for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – Primus

    How best to explain a band like Primus to someone unfamiliar with their music? You could throw around words like ‘quirky’, ‘oddball’, or just plain ‘weird’. You could attempt to stick genre tags like alternative rock, alternative metal, funk metal, or progressive metal to the band, but none would be entirely sufficient. Singer/bassist-extraordinaire Les Claypool once described the trio’s music as ‘psychedelic polka’, which seems apt coming from the horse’s mouth. They’re probably the weirdest American band to be signed to a major label – except Mr Bungle, perhaps. Despite writers’ frequent inability to accurately define their work, one factor has remained consistent throughout their 26-year lifespan: prodigious musical talent.

    Formed in California in 1984, the band has been through several iterations over the years; Claypool has been the only consistent member. Though their last original album was released in 1999 (Antipop), the band have been infrequently active since 2003. In March, their website announced a seemingly permanent reformation with long-time contributors Jay Lane (drums) and Larry LaLonde (guitar).

    Ahead of their appearance on the national Soundwave Festival tour in late February and March 2011, The Vine was patched through to Primus’ guitarist, Larry LaLonde, whose style is generally characterised by searing lead phrases and unconventional guitar sounds that interplay curiously with Les Claypool’s bass – which is, in effect, the band’s lead instrument.

    Hey Larry. Where are you calling from?

    We’re in Argentina. It’s about 6 o’clock at night. What time is it there?

    7.20am.

    Oh right, you tired?

    Yeah man, I’m getting up especially to talk to you.

    Nice!

    How many shows are you playing in South America?

    We’re going one tonight and then we’re playing one in Chile with Faith No More. It should be cool.

    Awesome. That’s a nice little segue, because you’re playing Soundwave Festival next year, and Faith No More headlined last year.

    That’s right, I heard. How was that, did you go?

    I went and it was fantastic. What else have you heard about Soundwave Festival, Larry?

    I don’t know a lot about it. I just heard that Faith No More played it and my guitar tech was telling me it’s fun. And I saw a bunch of the bands; I’m a super huge Iron Maiden fan so that’s going to be awesome. And Slayer. Slayer’s always great.

    I know you’re a big Slayer fan. Are you looking forward to seeing them play five times from up close?

    [Laughs] Yeah. We toured with them before in the States too, it was pretty fun. I could watch Slayer every day, and Iron Maiden should be cool to see too. There’s tons of bands, a lot of bands out there that I like.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more Primus, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver‘ is embedded below.

  • The Vine album review: The John Steel Singers – ‘Tangalooma’, November 2010

    An album review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The John Steel SingersTangalooma

    Less a particular colour than a whole rainbow, Tangalooma is the debut album from Brisbane six-piece The John Steel Singers, whose invigorating take on indie pop is distinguished by their ample use of brass instruments. But despite their pomp and bluster, it’s the subtleties that JSS inject into their sound which makesTangalooma a truly great record – and importantly, not just a ‘great debut’.

    Check out the banjo counter-melody in ‘Once I’. The whirligig of subtle guitar effects that close out ‘Dying Tree’, and then lead into the grinding bassline of ‘Rainbow Kraut’. The unexpected percussion throughout ‘Toes And Fingers’, which sounds like drummer Ross Chandler is tapping on glasses filled with different water levels. Chandler is an integral force within the band, and not for the obvious reason that he provides the backbeat: his mind seems to work unlike the average drummer, seemingly obsessed as it is with eschewing the obvious in favour of the peculiar. His stuttering beat ushers in ‘Masochist’, while Pete Bernoth’s trombone and Damien Hammond’s bass place emphasis on a three-note flourish. Chandler isn’t beyond playing it straight, though, as in ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Be Proud Of’, a bass-heavy pop jam that sounds unlike anything the band have done before. Bernoth’s trombone and Scott Bromiley’s trumpet team-ups could easily be shrugged off as a gimmick if they weren’t interwoven into each track’s narrative, but they compute. Take, for instance, the assured trombone tones of ‘Cause Of Self’, which lends the song a regal, military vibe. (It reminds me of the Streets level in GoldenEye 007, which is awesome.)

    Full album review on The Vine. More of The John Steel Singers on MySpace. The music video for their song ‘Overpass‘ is embedded below.

  • The Vine interview: Ben Andrews of My Disco, November 2010

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – My Disco

    Now three albums into a career, Melbourne-based trio My Disco have managed to cultivate huge respect among independent music communities both locally and internationally, for their take on droning, repetitive, abstract noise-rock. They’ve never been radio-friendly, and Little Joy does little to shrug the trend – the first single, ‘Young’, for example, is a near nine-minute-long epic. After a spate of EPs and vinyl splits throughout the mid ’00s, the band pared down their post-rock leanings and established a more minimal aesthetic on their 2006 debut LPCancer. 2008’s Paradise further pushed the hypnotic sonic template, and was recorded by the legendary Steve Albini in the US, a tack they’ve returned to with their most recent album, Little Joy.

    This time however, My Disco made the perplexing decision to mix with Scott Horscroft, whose recent production credits include commercial fare such as Silverchair, The Panics and The Presets. TheVine broaches this subject with the band’s guitarist, Ben Andrews, but first we revisit My Disco’s last performance in Brisbane, at the Sounds Of Spring festival.

    The last time I saw you play in Brisbane was in the middle of a dust storm at Sounds Of Spring about this time last year.

    I remember, that was crazy. The weather was really weird.

    It was sweet, because your music can be somewhat apocalyptic and it really did feel like world was ending at the time.

    We really enjoyed that. We were in Sydney for a one-off show and then we had that show and kind of flew up…did the fly in on the day, checked into the hotel, played the show, ate some food, and flew out early in the morning. It was pretty funny.

    You headlined that stage, yet I’m not sure if many people knew who you were.

    Especially at that kind of festival. It was pretty random. There were so many bands. I think there were a bunch of stages and they had different names and stuff, and it was just a bit of weird a call for us to headline. Considering there were some bigger names and shit in the day. We were along for the ride, really.

    Read the full interview at The Vine. More My Disco on MySpace.

    During the conversation, Ben and I spoke about a photo shoot they did in the South Australian outback. I asked about it because I have a framed print from that session hanging on my bedroom wall. I ordered it directly from the photographer, Warwick Baker. It cost me, in Warwick’s words, “a copy of the best novel you have ever read, and a bottle of Johnny Walker”. A photo of the hung print is below.

  • The Vine festival review: Parklife Brisbane, October 2010

    An extended live review of the 2010 Brisbane Parklife Festival for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Parklife Brisbane, 2010

    There’s nothing quite like rain to fuck up a festival. As clouds loom ominously overhead, we wonder how many tears are being shed in Parklife HQ as wet weather threatens to disrupt the national tour’s first stop. Such thoughts are momentarily cast aside when, soon after hopping off the CityCat nearest Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens, we’re accosted by a friendly undercover policeman, who has us empty our pockets. “Has anyone offered you any drugs?” he asks. “Not yet,” we reply. With a laugh, he sends us on our way – despite having neglected to check my back pockets or earplug case, both of which are chock-full of illicit substances.

    After passing through the VIP entry soon after gates open at 12pm, we encounter Last Dinosaurs, a young local indie pop act who are playing to eight people at the Kakadu Stage. As we walk past, three of them leave. We’re just getting settled in at the better-attended Atoll Stage, where triple j Unearthed winners Teleprompter are playing, when the clouds break. And don’t let up for the rest of their set. For the 50 of us who don’t dash for the nearest cover, this makes the quintet’s set more enjoyable, somehow: dancing in the rain to their slick take on indie-punk which calls to mind the late Melbourne act Damn Arms. Inexplicably, they’re all dressed in Star Wars get-up: the singer’s Luke Skywalker, the keyboardist’s Darth Vader, and the drummer’s Boba Fett. It’s a stupid gimmick, but it’s funny nonetheless. They sound good, and they clearly don’t take themselves too seriously. The Force is strong.

    Full festival review at The Vine, as well as photos via Justin Edwards.

    I don’t usually publish my live reviews here – instead, they’re linked over in the right column, via my Last.FM journal – but I’m making an exception in this case, and I’ll likely do the same for longer reviews in future.

  • The Vine interview: Tom Larkin of Shihad, October 2010

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    New Zealand/Melbourne rock act ShihadInterview – Shihad

    After 22 years together, the Melbourne-based, New Zealand-raised rock act Shihad are still kicking. September 24th 2010 marks the release of their eighth studio album, Ignite, which – like its predecessor, 2008’s Beautiful Machine – was self-recorded in drummer Tom Larkin’s studio. Unlike that largely pop-favouring release, though, Ignite marks somewhat of a return to what the band have always done best: huge, riff-heavy guitar rock suitable to be blasted at both clubs and stadiums.

    Shihad have played both kinds of shows, many times. They supported AC/DC on the New Zealand leg of the Black Ice tour earlier this year, and soon after touringIgnite across Australia’s capital cities in November, they’ll play national tours with Guns N’ Roses and now-labelmates Korn (Ignite is the band’s first release with Roadrunner Records). In July and August, Shihad played a handful of exclusive shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland wherein they performed their classic albums Killjoy (1995) and The General Electric (1999) in full. And so TheVine’s conversation with Tom Larkin begins…

    Before we discuss Ignite, I want to touch on the shows you did last month for Killjoy and The General Electric. Did you enjoy yourself?

    Of course. A lot. It was one of those things we had planned for a long time. We’d left it on the sidelines, and we’d get busy and then go back to the idea and keep coming at it, but it was really, really enjoyable for us to do. And great for us to revisit that stuff and revisit the material we hadn’t played for a long time. It was great.

    Read the full interview on The Vine.

    This interview was a little strange for me, as Shihad are a band I’ve respected for a long time – for a few years, around 2005-2006, I readily named them as my favourite band. My interest their music (especially the lacklustre newer stuff) has since plateaued, but still, they’ve played a large part in my life. It was a pleasure to speak with Tom.

    More Shihad on MySpace; the music video for their Ignite single ‘Lead Or Follow‘ is embedded below.