Live review: BIGSOUND Live – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – September 2012

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Those who fear commitment must love BIGSOUND Live; it’s the music festival equivalent of speed-dating. There’s barely enough time to get comfy with a band or venue before being whisked off to another to be overcome with a brand new feeling of admiration or excitement all over again. It’s also a festival that provides endless opportunities for good times. Got your schedule, wristband, and beer money? Then let the games begin…

Wednesday 12th September

The BIGSOUND timetable causes strange things to happen in the Valley’s entertainment precinct. Like unnatural tidal phenomena, waves of people wash in and out of the twelve venues every twenty minutes like clockwork, beaching themselves in a rush to get to the action before heading off to check in somewhere else. Doorways are crowded, stairwells filled, and alleyways transformed into heaving masses of humanity, eager to suck in the atmosphere before it dissipates for another year.

Ric’s bar is filled to bursting as Jeremy Neale kicks off proceedings, with punters scrambling for vantage points or watching from outside. Despite announcing to the audience that he has lost his voice, his vocals and indeed the entire band sound tight and focussed, as they bob their heads to the side in unison and knock out some bangin’ ’60s-flavoured pop, with plenty of wide grins from the man himself. Fifth track ‘Darlin’’ proves to the be the highlight of a jaunty and jumpin’ party-starting set.

A quick dash up the Black Bear Lodge stairs later and I am greeted with the ever-good voice of James Walsh, playing his band Starsailor’s ‘Good Souls’. “Welcome to BIGSOUND everyone!” he offers the growing audience in his deep Wigan brogue, before playing ‘Barcelona’; a new song in the talented vocalist’s arsenal. Starsailor classic ‘Silence Is Easy’ still sounds fantastic, before a charming cover of Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’ provides a pleasant surprise.

Over at the Zoo in Ann Street, Sons of Rico are setting up to a sparse audience, before a sudden influx of wrist-banded people semi-fills the venue. As the band launch into the rocking ‘Miss Adventure’ and benefit from the quality of the venue’s sound system, sporadic dancing breaks out in front of the stage, and there are definite hints of head-nodding across the rest of the audience. Threatening to break into an all-out heavy-psych jam at one point, the quintet round off an impressive set with radio-staple ‘This Madness’, leaving me thinking that their album doesn’t do the band’s abilities justice.

Barely an hour has passed and it’s time for band number four: slacker-rockers Bearhug, who are tackling the awkward layout of the Press Club. It’s not the best venue for live music, given that a massive fan/propeller blocks out the stage, but the five Sydneysiders don’t seem worried, immediately kicking off a slow, groovy jam as the venue absorbs punters from the street. Fourth track, the West-Coast-flavoured ‘Angeline’, ups the pace and gives the dual guitars and military-precision drumming a chance to shine. Jesse Bayley can fire off a solo with the best of them, and he does so on ‘Over The Hill’, before the final tune, the Pavement-esque ‘Cinema West’ is introduced as being a “song that a 55 year-old woman told us was shit.” Shit it definitely isn’t, as the set finishes to ringing applause from all around.

Back at the Zoo, Sydney’s post-rock folkies Winter People are making a politely-ethereal noise. The girls’ dual violins add a touch of country to the band’s sound, and frontman Dylan Baskind is as humble a musician as you will find. “BIGSOUND is like being at a gourmet food buffet,” he announces. “So many options, and you chose us: minced cabbage.” If you haven’t caught them live yet, do so, and get your filthy paws on their Gallons EP while you’re at it – these guys are something special.

Déjà vu is setting in as Black Bear lodge beckons once again, this time for Melbourne’s bastards of blues-rock, The Delta Riggs. The energy reverberating around the small venue multiplies many-fold as the cocksure five-piece take the stage and roll out one of the rawk-iest performances of the evening. Frontman Elliott Hammond is all hair, hips, and swagger, as he leads his band in a one-two attack of high-tempo rockers, before breaking it back down for the disgustingly-groovy ‘Mary’. Introducing ‘Money’ as a “song for all you cunts out there”, Hammond proceeds to improvise the lyrics in an extended jam, coaxing the pumped audience into a giant sing-a-long of “holy guacamole, we got chips!” before announcing that everybody present is “now in the band”.

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The luxury of staying in the same venue is a welcome relief as next up at Black Bear is Sydney quintet The Preatures. They again draw a large, energetic crowd, and it quickly becomes clear why. As the band take the stage and kick their blend of gothic rock ’n’ roll into gear, any semblance of journalistic professionalism I have floats out the door, as I’m too mesmerized by the performance of singers Isabella Manfredi and Gideon Bensen to take notes or even really care why I’m here; the performance is that damn good. Manfredi has an impressive range and works the crowd like a dream; flicking her hair and making eye contact with the front rows, before Bensen opens his mouth and lets out a sound that you would expect to hear from an old delta bluesman, not a 20-something bloke from New South Wales. I come back to my senses in time to realise ‘Take A Card’ is a fantastic track, and hear Bensen announce their last song ‘Hero’; a newly-written tune. The Preatures are my undisputed live highlight of day one; simply fantastic.

Maybe I’m still buzzing on a Preatures-induced high, but over at Winn Lane Velociraptor’s performance seems a little sub-par. That’s not to say they don’t still wipe the floor with most of the other acts on the bill, but maybe it’s frontman Jeremy Neale’s voice or the reduced crowd interaction from being on a raised stage, but the guys and girl aren’t as chaotically-brilliant as usual. Reduced to a ten-piece as the DZ guys are in the States, they nevertheless power through ‘Hey Suzanne’ and ‘Riot’, among others, and provide an interesting spectacle to look at, as always.

All that’s left for day one of BIGSOUND is to go through the airport levels of security into Oh Hello! and catch King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who have no hesitation in cranking out an unholy racket from the get-go. The Melbourne eight-piece launch into a tangled, crunching mass of psychedelic punk with energy by the truckload, as songs like ‘Black Tooth’ and ‘Dead-Beat’ encourage the crowd-surfers and pogoing punks to bounce around like chimps on speed. Having just realised their debut album, the band are clearly riding high and full of confidence, as they provide an ear-drum-splitting finale to Wednesday night.

Thursday 13th September

The working day passed me by as if I was stuck in suspended animation between two zones of music festival awesomeness, punctuated only by a quick lunchtime blast of tunes at Jamie’s Espresso in James Street with Streamer Bendy, who put in a fine performance of shout-y pop-rock in the early-afternoon sun.

Eight o’clock comes around again, and I find myself at Magic City for the first time, to take in another band who have just released their debut record: Split Seconds. Looking lean and mean, the Perth boys put in a fine set filled with songs from You’ll Turn Into Me. The venue quickly fills up by the end of first track ‘Security Light’, despite the doors only being opened at 8pm on the dot (bad decision Magic City!) ‘Maiden Name’ follows, then the catchy-as-fuck ‘Top Floor’, followed by ‘She Makes Her Own Clothes’, which frontman Sean Pollard laughingly describes as being “about the joys of sewing”. The only way to finish is with the always-excellent ‘All You Gotta Do’; the band leaving the stage to well-deserved thunderous applause and satisfied smiles from the audience.

A quick duck into the Black Bear Lodge to hear the pop delights of former Go-Betweens members Adele & Glenn (Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson) is followed by a dash down to the Zoo to catch Hey Geronimo. A huge crowd is there to see the Brisbane indie-poppers, as they begin getting hips moving with the opening bass-line to The George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’, before launching into their own ‘Carbon Affair’, followed quickly by ‘Dreamboat Jack’. At this point I’m considering chucking my beer away and jumping around like an idiot, the quirky ‘60s-flavoured pop tunes coming from the stage being so infectious, but I settle for tapping a foot and grinning from ear to ear. ‘Co-Op Bookshop’ follows next, as the boys put in one of the funnest and most upbeat performances of the night.

Next it’s into the depths of the sparsely filled Alhambra Lounge to catch a short burst of Sydney’s Underlights. As I arrive they are pumping out impressive waves of bluesy psychedelia, building the sound into a wall of noise that reverberates around the brick interior of the club. However, it’s at this point that my evening is temporarily derailed as my iPhone decides to fuck itself (thus losing my BIGSOUND schedule) and I have to go outside to make a call to fix it, and miss the rest of the set. Damn you, technology!

Back at the Bakery Lane stage, Dubmarine are making sure everybody is dancing frantically with a range of high-energy, pumping dub and dance tracks. Blasts of trombone and synths rain down on the energetic crowd as the energy levels remain high. The fact that they are late replacements for an unwell Owl Eyes has left a few confused people wondering what is going on. One guy sees me writing and we have the following exchange:

Guy: “Is this Owl Eyes, mate?
Me: “Umm… no.”
Guy: “Who is it?”
Me: “Dubmarine.”
Guy: “Who?”
Me: “DUBMARINE.”
Guy: “Oh, I was wondering why they didn’t look like Owl Eyes!”

I should probably try to be more friendly to strangers. Anyhow, a quick stretch of the legs back up Ann Street and Oh Hello! is the location, catching Courtney Barnett’s set the aim. But alas, the bouncer rules that my mate is too hammered and refuses him entry. We decide to take a punt on the Press Club – where the door staff are either much less diligent or much more accommodating, I’m not sure which – and have a look and a listen to the pixie-like Elizabeth Rose. The venue is packed with punters, musicians, and Triple J faces alike; all ready to hear the young Sydneysider’s synth and vocals solo show. If she is nervous it doesn’t show at all, as tune after tune of multi-layered electronica is reeled off, accompanied by her confident vocals. “It’s my first time at BIGSOUND and I’m loving it!” she tells the audience, before kicking into her remix of ‘Foreign Language’ by Flight Facilities, her eyes closed as she puts everything into the vocals, while twiddling several knobs and pushing buttons at the same time.

The only knobs that King Cannons twiddle at Winn Lane are the ones that turn their amps up to eleven. As straight-forward a rock show as you will see; theirs is also one of the most exciting. Striding onto stage like men (and woman) on a mission to be your favourite band, they start into ‘Stand Right Up’, peeling off the committed, everyman style of blue collar rock they have made their trademark. I already know this is going to be the highlight of the entire BIGSOUND Live festival.

“If you feel good, clap your hands!” yells singer Luke Yeoward, and the crowd respond in unison, before the music rolls over into ‘Call For Help’, with Lanae Eruera’s bongos setting off the dual-Fender and piano riffage nicely. ‘Take The Rock’ is next; the chorus part of “Blow it up! Tear shit up!” sounding like possibly one of the best drunken sing-along songs you’d ever want to hear at a festival. ‘Too Young’ follows, another rousing track from The Brightest Light, as sweat pours in rivers from Yeoward’s face and the energy of the audience shows no sign of lowering. ‘The Brightest Light’ and ‘Too Hot To Handle’ are next, without a drop in energy level; the latter morphing into a galloping cover of ‘Rockaway Beach’. Just when I think this set can’t get any better, they go and play a Ramones song. HELL YES.

The closer for King Cannons sweat-drenched set is ‘Teenage Dreams’, the reggae-influenced rhythms allowing the band to have a bit of a jam, chucking in a few bars of ‘Pressure Drop’ by Toots & The Maytals in a singularly epic finale. The appreciative roar from the audience is massive, and with ringing ears and in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to hear anything better tonight, I set off towards the Mustang Bar.

Mia Dyson’s band are setting up in the partially-full venue as the lady herself chats to fans by the pool table. Looking like an ‘80s Annie Lennox and carrying herself with the confident air of a well-travelled performer, Dyson grabs the audience’s attention with her bluesy, whisky-throated drawl and ability to shred with the best of them. Introducing ‘Jesse’ as a “song about adoption”, before summing up her BIGSOUND experience as “having no idea what to expect, but this is lovely,” she then counts in the first track from her new album The Moment, ‘When The Moment Comes’, which she makes sound effortlessly stylish.

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Trudging back to the Press Club for one last set, I realise BIGSOUND Live is almost over. Tired but happy, I fight my way through the crowd waiting to see Drunk Mums. As they start to play in their raucous pseudo-anarchic style, I scribble the words ‘they look like a bunch of hyper, bogan speed-freaks, pissed off ‘cos they’ve had their hubcaps nicked,’ and that, to me, makes some kind of perfect sense. Their set is a glorious mess of scrappy garage-punk songs, mullets, and blood (the skinny, shirtless one covered in marker pen scrawl keeps punching himself in the mouth). As the sweaty, aggro-fuelled set is coming to an end, a scuffle breaks out to the side of the stage as a BIGSOUND bouncer jumps on a guy who was apparently going a bit too far with the argy-bargy on the dance floor, and they roll around, locked in a loving embrace on the floor for a while until the punter realises he‘s defeated. Girlfriends inevitably get involved, handbags come out, there is shoving and confusion, and I decide it’s time for me to call it a night and go home. To the taxi rank, home, and into bed with ringing ears I go, happy after a night of great music and good times.

So, what to say in summary about this fantastic festival? The first thing is that I had a damn good time. The second is that it was put together brilliantly. In fact, probably the only thing worth debating is which bands played the best sets (King Cannons and The Preatures in this writer’s opinion.) Kudos to the organisers, and the volunteers, and the venue staff who made it run so smoothly; you guys did a bang-up job. But most of all, thank you to the more than 120 bands who made us forget the world for a short, but glorious time. BIGSOUND 2013 can’t come soon enough.

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