Falls Festival Day Three

A new day, more heat, more people huddled like basketball-jersey-wearing sheep (my Rodney Stuckey jersey stays firmly in my bag) under the tents and The Soft Pack suffer mightily for the lack of punters. They’re power-pop done right, and despite heat that would turn Kate Moss into a melted-plastic pile, they fuzz out the early arvo nicely. The traipse to The Village for Graveyard Train is worth it, as Melbourne’s favourite collection of beards and horror country mosey up a set that’d burn the pants off the devil himself. Few bands pull off the horror country combo of banjo, washboard, chains, acoustic guitar and double-bass as effectively – sure, not many try, but still, I’d like to see them match Graveyard Train’s panache – and they set the afternoon on fire.
The last thirty seconds of The Morning Benders are nice, and the dub-reggae roots of The Beautiful Girls suitable for a crowd sweltering in the Australian summer sun. Cold War Kids signal the start of the New Year’s Eve heavy-hitters. Out the front of his compadres, Nathan Willett is transfixing at his keyboard, his plaintive barks inspiring an audience chorus on a raucous We Used To Vacation, Audience and the ever-impressive Hang Me Up To Dry. They’re oddball, awkward and hipster-ish, but the way they control a late-arvo crowd is commendable. Beardyman’s strange beatbox shtick is fun for the thankfully limited time he has onstage, as the growing crowd are there not for some pommy dude doing weird things with is voice, they’re waiting for naïfish kids-of-the-minute Tame Impala.
Who then proceed to disappoint. Jokes on you, kids. There’s something lifeless about their set; the wind picks up and the sound is knocked about, but it’s close to the perfect setting, they’ve got one of the best and most popular Australia albums of the year… and they don’t nail it. A shame.
The National , however, live up to the reverence they’re now held in. They transfix a restless and boozey crowd like few can, even if Matt Berninger says naught beyond ‘thank you’ when he’s not glaring at his bandmates. Their charisma lies in their execution of their tunes – across Boxer, Alligator and High Violet they’ve always had a certain majesty – but now it’s unleashed, and it sweeps up the amphitheatre. Even if their frontman looks like a dishevelled and angry wino, and the rest of the band could be in Yeasayer for all anyone knows, they’re arresting.
Again, 2007 reigns supreme as The Rapture match Klaxons in the ‘best they’ve ever played live’ stakes, but far outstrip anyone in terms of partying. With no new album to spruik, they gleefully amp up their existing party-starters and match the mood perfectly with tunes like House Of Jealous Lovers, Whoo! Alright Yeah Uh Huh and a fucking brutally killer version of Sister Saviour, the night is theirs. But the crowning glory is No Sex For Ben, which brings down the house and ensures that everybody named Ben within a 12 kilometre radius got laid. Well done, chaps.
With 2011 fast approaching, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts do their best to punk up proceedings, but, apart from the obvious highlights of Bad Reputation, Cherrybomb and I Love Rock N Roll, it was always going to be a struggle to entertain the young crowd beyond 20 minutes.
And then there’s the countdown shenanigans – the lucky ones get a pash, the unlucky ones get a pash from a wildebeest that they’ll hopefully forget by 2011. Those not pashing are people too, though, and few of them enjoy Joan Jett either.
Which leaves it up to Sleigh Bells to bring Falls home. Which they do better than an inspiring Gordon Bombay speech. They’re by turns vicious and melodic, poppy and metal, electro and punk; it’s a mishmash of ideas and beats, and with a huge backing track, it leaves Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss free to run amok. They do – and the ear piercing Rill Rill and Kids have a suddenly-impressed crowd lapping their NYC cool up like Richard Wilkins searching for acceptance.
It drew the curtain on another Falls Festival, one that continued their run of constant improvement – in facilities, lineup and organisation – and, short of beating Wil Anderson with a heavy blunt object while screaming, ‘Why can’t you be funny just once in your life?’ it remains one of the premier ways to welcome a new year.