“It’s so hot; how can you live like this?”
These are some of the first words Benjamin Booker mutters into his microphone as he takes to the stage at yet another talent-packed and heatstroke-inducing St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. And he’s from New Orleans…
It’s an appropriate question from the 25 year-old singer-songwriter, as rivers of sweat run from every pore on every square inch of every dancing punters’ skin under the punishing Queensland sun. But since when did a few rays and humidity stop Brisbane having a party?
Particularly perfect party-starters are New York’s Perfect Pussy (try saying that after a few ales); the noisy five-piece charge through a blistering set of shouty punk and hardcore. Singer Meredith Graves may look fairly angelic in her all-white get-up, but once her brutal vocals and flailing arms get going, you realise she is a force to be reckoned with. The juxtaposition of her meek “thank-yous” and ferocious vocal performances is truly a wonderful thing.
Leeds likely lads Eagulls are plying their own brand of guitar noise over at the Good Better Best stage, although theirs is more of the post-punk variety. The harsh afternoon heat hasn’t stopped Brisbane’s music fans from turning out early in large numbers, and the quintet go over well.
Back at the Mistletone stage, Connan Mockasin is one of a few artists who will experience sound problems today, although the New Zealander takes it in his stride, seating himself on a monitor and pulling off some of the most laid-back licks on show today. His woozy psychedelia is perfect for hot days and stiff drinks, which is pretty damn appropriate.
At the Never Let It Rest stage, American singer Raury’s sound is the first of the day to go beyond big and into massive territory; the Atlanta native’s final song ‘God’s Whisper’ being the finest on show so far, as his band mates’ hats fly from their heads, are replaced and fly off again as they bounce around the stage.
Next is South Australian ball of energy Tkay Maidza, who is, quite simply, an infectious delight throughout her entire set. The teen rapper has justified all the hype surrounding her over the past year, and if she keeps pulling out performances that make audiences want to move as much as this, surely world domination isn’t just a pipe dream. ‘Switch Lanes’ is a highlight, as is the ridiculous ‘Brontosaurus’, but it’s Maidza’s I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-but-fuck-it grin that makes her the most fun to watch.
Andy Bull receives a suitably colossal reception from an ecstatic crowd at the Never Let It Rest stage, just before Benjamin Booker gets his sweat on next door. Despite initial problems which force his rhythm section to jam while a pedal is fixed, the classy Louisianan remains unfazed, even while one confused and inebriated woman shouts “Where’s Agnes?” No lady, this is not Mac Demarco, and go drink some water FFS.
Back at the Mistletone stage, Norwegians Highasakite finish off with an epic sing-along to their single ‘Since Last Wednesday’, before a storm warning is announced under a heavy and ominous cloud. As English duo Royal Blood kick off and bassist/singer Mike Kerr asks a heaving audience “are you ready to get wet?” that’s exactly what happens; the sky briefly opens and a temporarily-concerning mass of sopping punters surges towards the gates, causing a crush. “If you push me any harder, this girl in front is going to end up pregnant,” announces one guy caught in the mass of bodies, and the band play on, unperturbed.
The rain clears and normality is restored, and Courtney Barnett takes to the stage in front of another huge audience. After kicking off with ‘Lance Jr.’, the Melbournian proceeds to shred with aplomb throughout her entire set; a fact that only increases anticipation for her debut album, set to be released in March.
Now comes perhaps one of the most anticipated moments of the day: Mac Demarco and his dear old mum. In a cheesy move, Agnes introduces her “talented and beautiful son”, before the man himself starts into ‘Salad Days’ with all the right amounts of quirk and whimsy. The almost God-like status he is afforded by a baying audience is puzzling, but it’s all silly good fun, so what the hell.
Future Islands draw somewhat less of a crowd than might have been expected if their slot didn’t clash with both Banks and Little Dragon, and while their synth-pop is tailor-made for a festival of this size, the majority of people present at their set are clearly only here for that song, which frontman Samuel T. Herring almost introduces with a sigh, as he says “Okay – let’s do it”. The crowd at the front at this point goes suitably mental, while the rest of us hope ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ doesn’t become the band’s ‘Creep’.
Now: shit gets real as English soul collective Jungle prove themselves to be a major highlight in the dark of the Never Let It Rest stage. An opening salvo of ‘Platoon’ and ‘Julia’ is enough to get every person present moving more than they have all day, before fourth track ‘The Heat’ whips the crowd into even more of a frenzy. ‘Accelerate’ is good, but ‘Busy Earnin’’ is great, and as this reviewer finds himself involuntarily shuffling past the probable brilliance of St. Vincent, ducking his head under the water tap before tumbling into a taxi with demands to be taken to the nearest vendor of pizza slices, he realises Laneway has defeated him for another year. Jolly good show, St. Jerome.