Last year saw the trouble-plagued local leg of the Melbourne-born Laneway Festival make its way to the comfier grounds of the Footscray Community Arts Centre. The move away from the claustrophobic confines of Caledonian Lane was widely regarded as a success, though food and shitter access still provided a major headache (with reports of pizzas being ordered to the main gate by famished punters). Despite a shouldering a fair share of teething problems, the festival has enjoyed a near-exponential rise in popularity, culminating in this year's run one-upping most other touring fests in terms of international legs with a Southeast Asian invasion in Singapore. With a ballooning magnitude and horizon-broadening elsewhere, the question was whether we could finally see a wholly successful local iteration of the country's premier indie event.
Things didn't get off to such a smooth start, with the previous night's biblical deluge forcing would-be festival-openers Rat Vs Possum into a last-minute scratching, forcing all earlybirds to find their party-starting needs elsewhere while the River Stage sound system underwent emergency maintenance.
Apparently Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg, aka Spiral Stairs, was in town to perform a DJ set early on in the arvo in the tucked-away dance tent - which, after several half-arsed attempts, I could not locate for the life of me. Oh well.
Meanwhile, Brisbane's filthiest early-'90s revivalists Violent Soho took to stage to provide the day's heaviest, hardest rockin' set by far. The stoic ramble gathered at the foot of stage was swiftly accosted by frontman Luke Boerdam, who labelled us something along the lines of "Victorian pussies." Rightly so, I say. The quartet put their all into grungey anthems, such as the killer chorus of Jesus Stole My Girlfriend - providing a welcome antidote to the many backing-track-reliant acts on the bill.
After a quick round of corporate-subsidised freebie-gathering (Fairy-floss! Make-up! CDs!), I followed the reverberations of booming tribal percussion down to Sydney's PVT. It was a loud, energetic set, but the synth-rock trio never really approach anything sounding dangerous - mainly due to the group's smooth, albeit disjointed, vocal style. Watching the group in action was kinda like listening to a badly scratched Temper Trap CD.
On the main stage, the sublime Beach House did their best to project their stripped-back arrangements as far down the narrow Moreland St strip. Victoria Legrand's enchanting vocals soared through hits Zebra and Norway, but it was hard to make an intimate connection on such a sprawling stage.
Decked out like a merry band of gilded fishermen, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti kicked off their set with the panache of a 3am karaoke burl. Ariel's neck was adorned with a gaudy rubber python, matching the gold pants tight enough to show off his trouser snake. Starting with Beverly Kills, it took a while for the set of predominantly Before Today tracks to win over the crowd with their unkempt, cheesy manner. Sure enough, by the time anthem-of-2010 Round And Round rolled in, the throng of punters joined in on the most blissful singalong of the day. Definitely a polarising figure, Ariel is a frontman who possesses an idiosyncratic blend of charm, passion, and something intangibly disgusting. I dig it.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the festival was the fucking insane showmanship displayed by Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington. "This song's a birthday present to myself," he declared before tearing into a pitch-perfect cover of Dead Kennedys' classic California Über Alles, replicating the tremolo in Jello Biafra's voice with stunning conviction.
Then shit got crazy.
The opening staccato chords of Let's Get Out Of Here whipped the street of the Car Park Stage into a frenzy, prompting Tim to jump down into the fray as he had done many times earlier in the set. It became pretty clear that when he sang "Let's get out of here" he really meant it. After scaling the perimeter fence with aplomb, he made way for the Maribyrnong. After diving into the murky, possibly toxic, depths of the river, he was greeted on the bank by an incredulous, scooter-riding, security officer. Tim nonchalantly picked up what looked like a discarded peach, took a bite, got back on festival grounds and onstage, took off his shoes and tipped their contents - at least a pint worth of river water, down his gullet. He was then presented with a birthday cake, which he then extinguished its candles with his chest hair, fed it to those in the front row, then held the dinner plate up for the drummer to use as an impromptu cowbell. I can only presume he is now laying on his deathbed with dysentery. Legendary stuff right here, folks.
A last-minute timetable switch threw a spanner into many clash-avoidance gameplans, with Holy Fuck switching places with Blonde Redhead. The earlier start didn't necessarily do Holy Fuck any favours, but they still managed to kill it majorly before sundown. It just might have been a festival climax underneath the stars had the timesheet not been so malleable.
Catching the tail end of Deerhunter's set was like coming into the end of a terribly interesting conversation, except having no idea what the fuck anyone is talking about. With around 15 minutes left in their scheduled set, main man Bradford Cox declared "This is our last song." What followed was a hefty chunk of indistinguishable noise anchored by a steady kraut-rock beat. The shambolic scene on display was further compounded by their bassist mugging haphazardly onstage and off, all while dangling a seemingly everlasting fag from his lips. It's a strange move for a band with such an extensive back catalogue behind them to fill out a brief festival slot with a obtuse display of effects wankery.
The planets aligned for a homecoming set by globally lauded electro-pop outfit Cut Copy, who had just released Zonoscope, their long-awaited follow-up to 2008's In Ghost Colours. Obviously celebrating with a beefed-up theatrics budget, the group entered through a giant white door planted in the middle of the stage. While the outfit burned through classics Lights And Music, Hearts On Fire alongside cuts off their newest LP, the door steadily revealed its extravagance. A few tracks after being lined with dazzling lights, the door spun to reveal a trippy LCD screen. The screen then was used to display pictures of doors. Pretty damn ridiculous, but undeniably good fun. Saying goodnight with Out There On The Ice, the lads bid farewell to a hometown crowd that was more than happy to reciprocate the feelgood vibes.
Right on cue, the rain which threatened all day fell in a manageable drizzle as everyone made way for Footscray Station. It was great to see any clusterfucks that marred previous years are now well and truly sorted out. It's hard to see anyone looking back at Laneway 2011 unsatisfied with the day's proceedings - barring a few minor qualms. But a consistently solid lineup, and now drastically reduced lines for amenities, means a reputation worthy of cementation in the summer calendar.
Loved: The rainin' abstainin'.
Hated: Mangling my toes in size-too-small gumboots anyway.
Drank: Cheap pots beforehand at the pub on the corner. Complementary chips and dimmies - soundtracked by Killing In The Name, Hot Chip and Shania Twain. Fuck yeah!