Harvest Presents: The Gathering, Saturday November 12, Werribee Park
Harvest's luscious venue and intriguing layout were unlike any other festival. The sun rays beamed upon the stunning green fields and ignited them with an irresistible energy. As you strolled from one stage to the next, you were greeted by dazzling art installations and the inclusion of The Campfire Stage (featuring acts such as comedian Dave Callan) along with the vaudeville-styled Le Boudoir stage added an element to the festival that enabled Harvest to transcend a "music festival" definition. Sometimes it's just the little things that make the difference, and decorating trees with colourful streamers and building little picnic nests out of hay combined to provide a charmingly fun and quirky environment. These scattered installations really helped foster a vibrant mood amongst festival goers, inviting you to get lost in Harvest's otherworldliness.
The first band most people witnessed after crossing the threshold was the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - a nine-piece, Chicago-based brass group featuring eight sons of Phil Cohran playing assorted horns without very many shirts on. "Who gets the party started? We get the party started." Liars, they ain't. The early afternoon party continued as massively influential soul group The Family Stone (minus Sly) took to the stage. Glancing around assured me that there was not a single furrowed brow to be found during their energetic set, paying homage to their heritage. A world class act. The timetable only afforded a glimpse of PVT's enthralling new math rock material (as well as a pounding performance of old favourites, including Window) before it was time to hightail it over to the TV On The Radio. These cats brought the ruckus, masterfully blending Tunde's acapella vocals with sweeping guitar solos and a powerful horn section (especially prominent during The Wrong Way). Finishing with party pleaser Wolf Like Me, the entire crowd seemed to be shaking, shimmying and literally jumping in circles with joy.
The National were another impressively tight live band, and opener Anybody's Ghost, Conversation 16 along with much loved Fake Empire were performed with a straining passion by Matt Berninger and the band. The highlight of their set arrived when Matt leaped into the front of the audience whilst screaming, "It takes an ocean not to break," from Terrible Love before running through the crowd, out to the sound deck then around the assembled audience, microphone in hand, with a string of near-fainting ladies clutching their pearls and gaping in his wake.
Bright Eyes roused teenage emotions, as he and his band performed heart-bleedingly sincere songs from his impressive back catalogue, including Lover I Don't Have To Love and The Calendar Hung Itself.
I (Nick) was backstage outside the Werribee Mansion chomping down on some fruit generously given to our crew by the extremely affable Kevin Devine when I began to notice people, from crew members to hilarious comedian Tommy Dassalo and other Harvest artists, rushing past me in that awkward walk/run hybrid that pedestrians do when I let them cross the street in front of my car. I hadn't seen this chaotic urgency all festival, until I realised, 'Holy fuck - Portishead!' I took a final bite into my pear out of respect for Kevin Devine and then threw that fucker down; this was the moment that I, along with a lot of other people, made the trip to Werribee.
At this time, the sun had set and darkness began to reign over the festival - a perfectly planned timetable slot for Portishead. They emerged to a piercingly-loud reception and straight into the fast-paced crowd-favourite Silence. And silence indeed. It wasn't long before Beth Gibbon's haunting vocals lulled the entire festival a dreamy mood, and the band's performance on tracks such as Sour Times, Wandering Star and Cowboys created a magical, still atmosphere throughout Werribee Park, creating a chilling and intimate feeling very rarely experienced at festivals. Portishead finished on personal favourite Threads (not long after they ridiculed Tony Abbott by endowing him with some lasers shooting out of his eyes via their video backdrop), and after leaving the stage, much of the crowd began dissipating to position themselves nicely for The Flaming Lips. Moments later, however, Beth strolled back onstage, ethereal and ghostly as ever, and straight into a thrilling encore of Roads and We Carry On.
Moments later, on the other side of the festival, The Flaming Lips, minus Wayne, came out and opened with a cover of Black Sabbath's Sweat Leaf, and were soon followed by probably the most spectacular thing I will ever witness at a concert - Wayne standing inside a gargantuan clear bubble as he surfed across the stunned Harvest audience. This was fucking insane. During songs such as She Don't Use Jelly, The Yeah YeahYeah Song (With All Your Power) and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1, Wayne would fire off a streamer gun into the crowd, shooting simultaneously with the giant colourful balloons that were propelled into the audience. The Flaming Lips' entire set featured a group of dancers side of stage, and, combined with the aforementioned balloons and streamers, made you feel like you were involved in the show itself rather than just watching it. The Flaming Lips' set was the party ying to the chilled-out Portishead yang, which is a testament to the dynamism of the festival.
Apart from some frustratingly long queues for beers and food, which for some could've spoiled the mood, Harvest was an ethereal experience, and it's fair to admit that even after its inaugural season, Harvest is not merely another festival player but one of the highlights of the festival circuit.
NICK TARAS AND TARYN STENVEI
DRANK: Whatever they hadn't run out of.