St Jerome’s Laneway Festival graced Adelaide on Friday 8 February 2019 in the laneway car park of Hart’s Mill in Port Adelaide. It was a delightful 25 degree summer day down at the Port as punters began flooding in the gates in their droves from early in the day. Once we made it through the obligatory ID and bag check the heavy police and sniffer dog presence greeted us. Given the tragic summer festival season, Australia has experienced this was unsurprising. However, it was difficult to ignore the myriad of wide-eyed young people bailed up against the wall being questioned and searched and to not query whether such heavy-handed fear mongering actually works as a deterrent for drug taking/ selling. But that’s a debate for another day. I was at Laneway to enjoy the music and to the music I went.
The first stage, MOJO x Girls Rock!, was just as the name implied, a showcase of female artists including Middle Kids, Teenage Joans who were rocking it when I arrived, Mane, Oscar the Wild, Elsy Wameyo and Bec Stevens who played between 12:30pm and 7pm. It was the smallest of the four stages but generated a solid and enthusiastic crowd and allowed for an intimate, yet loud, setting.
The LNWY.CO Stage also known as the stage with the water view was occupied by US R&B singer-songwriter Ravyn Lenae when I arrived. Instead of staying for her set I decided to push on to main stage one, the Hart’s Mill Stage, where G Flip was performing to a surprisingly large crowd. Surprising only because it was nearly 2pm and typically the bulk of festival crowds don’t turn up that early. G Flip alone generating a large crowd I totally understand because the Melbournian singer-songwriter-drummer is absolutely phenomenal live. In her forty minute set, she performed the songs we’ve known to grow and love including Killing My Love and her latest release Drink Too Much. She ended the set in the same manner she’s ended every live set of hers I’ve seen (and loved) with a powerful rendition of About You which saw the crowd go wild.
Next up on main stage two, the Lion Flour Stage, was 2019’s Young Australian of the Year Danzal Baker, or Baker Boy as you may know him. Together with his band, Baker Boy put on a high energy forty five minute performance consisting of not only singing/ rapping but didgeridoo playing and some delightful choreographed dancing. The well-rehearsed performance was lapped up by the crowd who elatedly joined in on songs including Mr La Di Da Di and Marryuna which closed the set leaving everyone on a high.
Over on the LNWY.CO stage indie electronic trio Mansionair brought the vibe down a notch in a forty-five-minute set. With their Laneway run of dates perfectly timed to serve as a promo tour of their debut LP Shadowboxer, scheduled for release on 1 March, their set was supposed to be a highlight of that. Things, however, didn’t necessarily go as planned. Don’t get me wrong, to me everything was on point with Mansionair. I was, as the young kids say, frothing over their early stuff including Speak Easy and Hold Me Down as well as their newer tracks Easier and Violet City. About half way through the set though they suddenly announced that they were having technical difficulties. Maybe it was the beer, but I couldn’t tell. They sounded fantastic musically and lyrically. The result of the technical difficulties was a stripped back version of Falling and Astronaut (Something About Your Love) which were both wonderful. However, all Mansionair did was a significant amount of apologising, explaining that they were doing things “on the fly” and that they’ve never performed like this before. I wanted to shake some sense into them, tell them to stop whining and just get on with the show but instead, they apologised again and left the stage ten minutes early rendering everyone a little stunned. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent performance.
Camp Cope began their set on the Hart’s Mill Stage a short time later and since they are a band that I’ve not taken much interest in I figured maybe it was time to check them out. The trio from Melbourne performed a solid set with a nice balance of music and banter. I found their sound reminiscent of The Smith Street Band in particular lead singer Gmaq’s vocals. Some research uncovered both were signed to Poison City Records at one time or another which vindicated my thoughts. Gmaq certainly commanded the stage during Camp Cope’s set and she utilised the forum to tell the males to stop sexually assaulting females and to care for one another instead. In fact, quite a few artists throughout the day did the same including Methyl Ethel who performed next. Such pleads for mate-ship were in the spirit of Laneway Festival who for years have had a hotline/ text line for people to call/ text if they need help during the festival. The phone number plus the location quadrant number are advertised on huge posters throughout the venue for all to see.
Methyl Ethel, the third trio in a row on the bill, I was seeing live for coincidentally the third time. As with the first two times, they were on point and performed a seemingly faultless forty-five minutes of near back-to-back music with their only moment of banter being the aforementioned request to care for each other. The joy of festival sets is that they contain all killers and no fillers and Methyl Ethel’s set was no exception with favourites including current single Trip the Mains, Twilight Driving, Real Tight and Ubu ensuring punters were on their feet dancing for the full set.
The festival of trios continued on the Hart’s Mill stage with New South Welshmen Skegss taking to the stage after Methyl Ethel. Having seen them twice before I headed back to the water to see what A Boogie wit da Hoodie (Julius Dubose) had to offer. It appeared whatever technical issues Mansionair experienced two hours earlier were well and truly resolved because Dubose’s set was likely to be heard far and wide with the base reverberating to such an extent I’m surprised fish weren’t floating on Gawler Reach by the end. With the bulk of the crowd over at Skegss those that stayed at the LNWY.CO Stage certainly got their money’s worth despite clichéd MC comments being thrown around including “give me some noise” and “put your hands up”. The NY rapper looked like he was in his element and the small but dedicated crowd loved it.
New York represented back to back on the LNWY.CO Stage with Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts coming on next. The four-piece indie rock band belted out a tight forty-five minute set with very limited banter except for muttering multiple variations of Adelaide–Radelaide, Radalasvegas, Radalemonaide—which naturally generated whoops from a decent sized crowd. There was a lot more whooping and cheering for the music though. Songs such as Tenderness and Wide Awake guaranteed everyone was up on their feet dancing and singing along, embracing the indie rock and post-punk tunes. Parquet Courts’ set was by far the best of the day thus far. Their vibe was infectious and perfectly timed to give people an injection of energy heading into the night.
Over on the Hart’s Mill Stage, Britain’s Alexander O’Conner better known as Rex Orange County had already started his set by the time I got there. What floored me was the size of the crowd that has amassed to see him. The indie pop/ neo-soul smooth grooves that echoed from the stage on a background of a partially cloudy afternoon sky delighted everyone that witnessed it. With the backing of his band inclusive of horns section, O’Connor warbled hits including Sunflower and Corduroy Dreams before concluding on his biggest hit to date, Loving is Easy.
Having already played an early mini-set on the MOJO x Girls Rock! Stage, Sydney trio Middle Kids jumped on the LNWY.CO Stage at 8:05pm. Having never seen them live before but having heard on multiple occasions from multiple sources how exceptional they are live, I had to see what all the fuss was about. With the setting sun and heavily clouded sky generating a multitude of colours as their backdrop I eagerly anticipated what Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz and Harry Day had to offer. And wow, they certainly lived up to expectation, in fact, they exceeded it. They belted out Edge of Town, Old River and Never Start amongst others before ending with Mistake proving to me it was anything but a mistake to see them. I left the waterfront with a giant smile on my face and warmth in my heart for my new favourite set of the Festival thus far.
Another artist who has generated immense praise for her music and live performance, Courtney Barnett, was up next on the Hart’s Mill Stage. This was my first foray into the live world of Barnett and musically she delivered. Dressed in a simple white t-shirt and black jeans she oozed the professionalism of a 20+-year-old music biz veteran; Barnett was the only artist thus far to introduce her band. Her banter with the crowd was a bit flat though indicating that she was perhaps not in top form, however, if that was the case her music certainly didn’t show it. With classics such as Elevator Operator and Pedestrian at Best mixed with current songs from her 2018 release Tell Me How You Really Feel including Nameless, Faceless, Barnett churned out a solid performance.
For the next hour, I split my time between the LNWY.CO and Lion Flour Stages where Masego and What So Not respectively performed. Jamaican born American musician Micah Davis or Masego presented a smooth, chilled set full of his TrapHouseJazz offerings. Backed by keys, drums and guitar plus two back-up singers positioned at the front of the stage who were probably freezing in their yellow dresses, Davis sang in front of a screen of hearts to a small and enthusiastic crowd. Dressed in a red puffer jacket and sunglasses (at 10pm) he oozed ego smooth like his music. Playing for ten minutes longer than scheduled and ending with an impressive sax solo, Davis offered a very different set to that of What So Not on the main stage.
Sydney producer Emoh, or What So Not, put on a banger of a show on the Hart’s Mill Stage. With a mass of smoke and lights beaming from the stage and thousands of people crammed in front of it, the area resembled an enormous club with sweating bodies dancing furiously. Perched upon a stage within the stage, Emoh danced, mixed and MCed resembling a cult leader in front of his disciples. It was truly a sight to behold. With special guest vocalist from the US Herzien coming on stage to perform current single We Can Be Friends, the crowd lapped it all up expressing their appreciation with roars of applause. What So Not sufficiently whipped everyone up into such a frenzy that by the time the main event began five minutes after his set it was all systems go for something truly phenomenal.
In 2017 when Gang of Youths exploded with their second LP Go Farther in Lightness I’ll admit I jumped straight onto that bandwagon. Laneway Festival 2019 was to be the first time I saw them live and I was definitely not prepared for what I ended up experiencing.
It was standing room only. At least 90% of Laneway’s audience scampered for a vantage point. There were people standing on chairs and walls (myself included); there were people in trees just trying to get a view. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. And when David Le’aupepe, Max Dunn, Jung Kim, Joji Malani, and Donnie Borzestowski came out on stage opening with Fear and Trembling it was on for young and old. What happened over the course of the next hour was a celebration of Gang of Youths stellar storytelling and musical prowess. But it was so much more as well. At least for me it was and I’d hazard a guess and say for more than a few others as well. There was a raw emotion that exuded from that stage that punched me right in the heart. Few bands have had that effect on me before, Bon Iver and George being the only two others. By the time they played their second song What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out? I was completely and solely invested in their performance.
For anyone that follows Gang of Youths on social media you would know that their touring schedule is hectic. As such their live performance is so structured and perfected that it is almost flawless. Le’aupepe is a true front man; a pure showman. His banter with the crowd is casual and flows easily. He engages with us consistently without detracting from the music or performance and it is a joy to see. Dedicating The Heart is Muscle to his father who passed away eight months earlier it’s difficult to not well up while singing along. But then again, I had tears in my eyes from the second their music began until the moment it stopped. Gang of Youths were a fitting end to a great festival.
Live Review by Anita Kertes