Live Review: Laneway Festival delivers once again in 2019
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has the prestige of being arguably the premier touring music festival in the Australian summer. Now 14 years strong, the festival once again made Fremantle its final stop for 2019, blessing the Esplanade on Sunday the 9th of February.
I’ll deal with the disappointments first. I don’t know what the decision process was for not having Mitski or Denzel Curry play every stop (schedule conflicts maybe?), but that is a huge letdown. Having two of the most hyped artists around right now, not to mention a rising Australian star in Ruby Fields, on your lineup but missing two cities does leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. I know of at least a couple of people who said they probably would have got a ticket if they played in Fremantle. Indeed, this year’s lineup was missing some of the “wow” factor of previous years. Gang of Youths and Courtney Barnett are both worthy headliners who play killer festival sets, but both have played their own headlining Australian tours in the last year. There was also nothing on the lineup approaching the kind of risk/reward factor of, say, booking Slowdive, Moses Sumney and (Sandy) Alex G in 2018. Parquet Courts and Jon Hopkins were probably the most surprising inclusion for this year, although both have played the festival before. Given how strong 2018 was for under-the-radar acts, it would have been nice seeing a festival that has always prided itself on booking niche acts on the edge of breaking through have a couple more of these included.
But there’s no point dwelling on what Laneway wasn’t. What Laneway was in 2019 was still a great time with good music and good people. More so than other years, there seemed to be a real blessed atmosphere to the festival- my friends who attended all noted they did not witness a major crowd incident, and thought the crowd seemed a bit more relaxed overall. And from what it seemed, it wasn’t just the punters having a good time- all the acts seemed to be loving their time on stage. Laneway has a “band camp” reputation, and it seemed to hold up once again.
The day kicked off with local legend Carla Geneve taking on the main stage, playing to a decent handful of early-birds who were enwrapped by her always killer performance. After a quick lunch from one of the many food trucks in which I appreciated KIAN’s grooving set from afar, I caught the end of Manchester’s Yellow Days’ set at the LNWYCO Stage. While he didn’t particularly grab my interest, I was in the minority there it seemed. The next true highlight for me was Ravyn Lenae. I wasn’t familiar with her works before, but her winning personality and exquisite voice definitely won me over.
Another highlight came courtesy of an explosive set from Baker Boy, one of the many hip hop/R&B artists on the lineup this year, which also featured the likes of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Smino. All through his half hour set he never let the energy drop, with his rapid-fire bars, catchy hooks and some didgeridoo thrown in for good measure. On quite the other end of the spectrum, Clairo’s chill set was the perfect balm for the incessant heat. Claire Cottril danced all around the stage, backed by a band that built upon her often minimalist bedroom pop arrangements to great effect. While initially it was a little difficult to make out her voice, this problem disappeared as her set went on, just in time for her to lead singalongs to favourites like ‘Flamin Hot Cheetos’, ‘Pretty Girl’ (in which she invited all the girls to the front of the crowd) and set closer ‘4EVER’.
Baker Boy, Clairo, Camp Cope - photos by Rift Photography, @riftphoto
Next came a double header of firing rock to break me out of the afternoon chill. I’ve been lucky to see Camp Cope twice before, and their fiery feminist punk once again held strong. Praising the almost gender balanced lineup presented, it looked like they were enjoying their time too. For their set closer (ironically, ‘The Opener’), they treated the audience by bringing out Courtney Barnett- a service that was later returned. Next I caught Parquet Courts, playing with a punkier aesthetic than on record. For a band that often plays very loud and fast, they were also very tight as a group, perfectly in sync with each other it seemed. It was also during this set that I regretted wearing white shoes- the crowd kicked up so much dust with their movement that they wear almost black by the end of it. While I still haven’t got them white again, I’d do it all again to soak in their set.
Well and truly enlivened now, I sat in the shade to enjoy the last half of Perth legends Methyl Ethel, playing a fantastic mix of old and new songs. They are only three albums in and they already have enough crowd favourites to last a lifetime, including the inescapable “Ubu” and new cuts like “Scream Whole”. And speaking of crowd favourites, Rex Orange County provided what was surely the biggest singalong of the day with his set closer “Loving is Easy”.
It was coming up to the evening now. As The Smith Street Band tore up the main stage, I grabbed a kebab and watched while in line. Will Wagner was clearly struggling vocally, but seemed in good spirits, and to his credit pushed his straining vocals to their limits in true Smith St fashion. Their cover of Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ was an unexpected highlight of the night, somehow fitting perfectly with their sound. As ‘Death to the Lads’ capped of their time, the crowd for Courtney Barnett was growing by the minute. Now, I love Courtney, but I did not at all expect her to be quite as phenomenal as she was. This is a born festival performer, slinging her left handed guitar about her body as she barked, howled, and whispered her trademark observational lyrics. She was in fine form, evenly balancing her set between songs from her two albums (plus her breakthrough single ‘Avant Gardner’). The penultimate track ‘Depreston’ brought on another festival wide singalong, and ‘Pedestrian at Best’ brought her set to a huge close.
Crowd, Rex Orange County, Courtney Barnett, Gang of Youths, Jon Hopkins - photos by Rift Photography
Alas, one of the unfortunate facts about festivals is that you can’t see everyone you’d like to. After watching the last couple of songs of a solid Middle Kids set, I had to choose between headliners Gang of Youths and UK electronic artist Jon Hopkins. Having seen the former at this festival a couple of years before, the latter prevailed for me. Seeing an international artist I love who is not often seen in this area of the world was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, even knowing how good the Gang are live. From what I heard from my friends, Gang of Youths killed it live once again, with frontman David Le'aupepe delivering a particularly passionate performance.
Luckily, Jon Hopkins proved a good decision. With a dazzling lights display and colourful projections displaying animations, clips of skateboarding, and abstract shapes, l Hopkins danced across his huge array of equipment, always doing something. His rather heady music sounded a million times larger live, with his set taking a euphoric journey through his catalogue. While mostly playing from Singularity (2018), he sprinkled in songs from his highly acclaimed Immunity (2013) too, and even his work producing for Coldplay got a subtle nod if you were listening hard enough. Everyone in the crowd was moving as the stars shone overhead- the perfect context for Jon Hopkins.
So yes, I went in with slightly lowered expectations compared to last year, but overall Laneway well and truly exceeded them. This is a festival that always delivers, and this year was no exception.