Graham Reid | | 5 min read
At some level, the weather for an Auckland Laneway Festival is as much discussed as the music.
Since the festival moved from the inadequate make-do sites behind Britomart and then Aotea Square to the flatland of Silo Park – little shade, the main stages on an asphalt carpark – the heat has often been the memory many take away.
So it was almost like good news that this year, the day previous, it rained and on the day it looked like it could be cloudy, if not inclement.
As it happened the skies cleared in the early afternoon and it seemed less brain-damage was being done by the sun than in previous years . . . although 5pm is still the official time for girls barely 18 to become fall-down drunk after a few hours of sun, sweet cider or sugary spirit-filled liquor in cool-looking cans.
At least, that was the time a few of them – taking time out from interpretive hands-held high dance – struck up largely incomprehensible conversations (shouting mostly) with me, which they would never do sober I am sure.
But it also looked to me like everyone was having a lot of fun, especially when Grimes came on to high anticipation at 8pm.
After four songs right down the front between phone-wielding teens who, I thought, got over-excited by the often ordinary electro-dance pop Grimes was delivering, I concluded her music was not for me and so fought my way out – harder to get out than down the front – and went to see the delightful Beach House. Their elegant, slightly aloof, vaguely European dream-pop suited my mood and taste much better.
It had seemed like a long day by that time and because neither Chvrches (whose recent album I consider much over-rated) nor Purity Ring – whose few songs I'd heard came across as overly familiar – interested me, I left.
Still, the taxi driver did remind me when I told him of the day I'd had that I'd spent nine hours in carpark on a hot day so . . .
There were a few artists on the day I found couldn't hold my attention or whose publicity didn't seem to justify the fuss. Local man Lontalius (Eddie Johnston) pulled a decent crowd to his set on the small Cactus Cat stage but for all the international travel on his CV he came off as little more than a sensitive singer-songwriter (albeit on electric guitar) whose songs sounded undernourished and often stumbled to a close.
A friend later said she thought of it as “girlie music” which is something I wouldn't dream of saying – I hope it works for him if that's what he wants – but was certainly drawn away by the very masculine, silo-shaking sound of the All Seeing Hand from Wellington who delivered a powerful and truly awe-inspiring melt-down of quasi-Satanic metal, throat singing, punishing beats and eye-rolling energy.
The decibel count inside that silo – rightly named Thunderdome – must have been the equivalent of two aircraft colliding. (Outside some 20 metres away it was in excess of 110db for those who like facts).
They were thrilling.
So too in their own loud way were HDU who mixed up their widescreen guitar landscapes (we had lift-off) with visceral gut-punch.
These bands were ear-bleedingly good.
As was my New Favourite Band, the punky/rock/near metal Fidlar out of the US who combined tension-release with powerful pop-rock (the guitarist who looked like a young Jeff Lynne could also flick in natty bottle-neck slide and psyched-out passages).
They sang about stuff that actually meant something: getting drunk (everybody chant, “I drink cheap beer so fuck you”), taking cocaine, not wanting a nine-to-five, skating, stupid decisions, staying up late . . .
It was all about irresponsibility wrapped up on great, taut songs.
If I was a teenager into rock music (as opposed to dance) they would have been my New Favourite Band too.
As it was, I came home and bought both albums. I'd see them again tomorrow if I could.
I'd also like to see the asexual (male by birth) Shamir from Las Vegas again.
Mainly because his atmospherically high voice – not the most powerful either – was so often lost in the mix of the band that his enjoyable dance music with touches of classic Sly-funk wasn't suited to a large stage in a carpark.
Pity, he had something . . . although if there's any longevity to it we'll have to wait and see. I think we'll hear more from him, let's hope in more sympathetic circumstances.
Goldlink on the other hand offered little more than a self-indulgent set for selfie-taking down the front and his set seemed ill-paced for those who wanted to dance.
As was the set by Battles whose algebraic dance-rock music probably largely appeals to people who don't dance, and not many did. Except in the passages where the minimalist repetition (Reich-meets-disco) gave way to pounding beats.
Excellent stuff -- with quite literally the highest high-hat cymbal possible -- which just a little too often fell between two schools.
But pounding beats seem to work, even when they are so obvious as to be cliches.
Which is what you might say if you were cruel about Hudson Mohawke's set where Glaswegian Ross Birchard spun his knobs and dials in the company of a live drummer and another knob-twiddler and looked like some self-satisfied Toby McGuire when the predictable beats arrived and the crowd jump-jumped.
Maybe I'm cynical but it looked more like knowing how to get a Pavlovian response from specific beats.
That said, the musicianly musicians of Thundercat offered something akin to Seventies jazz fusion-cum-noodling which kept the small audiences attention but, as I said to a friend, “I think I won't remember a note of this in 15 minutes”.
And I really didn't . . . I was being entertained by Shamir, then HDU, then Battles then Courtney Barnett who once again channeled her unique take on Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Paul Kelly and wordy Bob Dylan into something unequivocally hers . . . and looked liked she was having a lot of fun doing it.
The woman can play guitar too, and it was a real delight to see so many in the audience knew most of her songs.
In the course of the day I caught bits and moments of others – DIIV out of the UK were pleasant enough in a post-Stone Roses/shoegaze way but seemed short when it came to songs and a singer of any distinction – but of course missed as many others.
You can only be in one place at one time . . . and sometimes that was getting a burger, queuing for beer coupons (no cider for this old hand!) and every now and again seeking shade.
This is apparently the final year Laneways will be at Silo Park and – despite the endurance test the heat has made it in previous years – this time round it seemed a much more pleasant affair, what with the clouds and all that.
You might almost get nostalgic about it being on that site.
It will be interesting to see where it is located next year – central city somewhere, we might hope – but a word to the wise.
Watch out for 5pm and all those girls doing their interpretive dances and starting incoherent conversations.
I blame the weather, of course.