Pyramid Rock Festvial, December 29 - January 1, 2012, Philip Island
Sure, the Falls Festival boasts more international stars, but it's difficult to beat Pyramid Rock when it comes to showcasing the depth and breadth of Australian music. Of course, staging a festival in one of the country's most glorious and scenic locations makes it one of the clear highlights on the summer social calendar. What's not to love? Not showering for three days, purchasing from overpriced food stands (those Lebanese pizzas and baked potatoes were rather ace, we'd have to say) and browsing miscellaneous stores are all part of the zaniness and amusement.
Headlined by New York's most flamboyant dance-pop troupe Scissor Sisters, the eighth Pyramid Rock festival also featured the most successful Australian indie acts of 2011 - Gotye and Boy & Bear. Scissor Sisters performed magnificently, but not without enduring abominable behaviour from some of the worst crowd members in Melbourne's festival-going history... more on that later.
San Cisco and Ball Park Music provided a great start to the festival as vibrant exponents of naive guitar-pop. San Cisco'sGolden Retriever and Ball Park Music's It's Nice To Be Alive were most memorable and warmly received. But it was The Bamboos who offered the first highlight of the day. Despite a smaller crowd, their performance was sublime. Kylie Auldist is a consummate entertainer and their brass band complimented all those hypnotic grooves. You Ain't No Good had everyone dancing and Ella Thompson also held her own as a soulful vocalist.
Asserting her powerful presence as a brooding singer-songwriter, Abbe May's sludgy grime/blues-rock diverged significantly from the rest of the line-up and those who stood out in the sun to watch her were blown away. Thundamentals were the first hip-hop set for the festival and fired up the Pharoah's Annex tent with compelling performances of My Favourite Thing, Move It Up and Paint The Town Red.
While The Vasco Era have often opened their sets with Honey Bee, this had to be one of their most explosive and ear-piercing performances of the track. Sid O'Neil was particularly random in his banter and proceeded to introduce each song with its chronological placing in the set. Latest single Rock And Roll Is The Only Thing That Makes Me Feel Good was played with searing gusto. Volatile, blistering and visceral - it was the set that no one dozed off in.
Dressed in immaculate suits, Sparkadia opened the night's prime acts. My preference for Sparkadia's sophomore album,The Great Impression, meant that half the set moved rather slowly (with the exception of closer, Jealousy). Mary, China and Talking Like I'm Falling Down Stairs received the loudest responses, deservingly.
Gotye 's stage design was easily the most impressive of all the artists and having a ten-piece band enhanced the set's overall vibe. The scope of Wally de Backer's success remains rather surprising considering the eclecticism of his work, but hearing the deafening response to Somebody That I Used To Know reaffirms just how powerfully an infectious, relatable song can seep into the social consciousness. The set was not without its cheesy moments (I Feel Better), but the boldly bizarre (State Of The Art) and string of uplifting alt-pop gems were delivered with admirable confidence.
We rushed off to catch some of Grandmaster Flash's set before the next main local act. Unsurprisingly, the hip-hop legend was on fire and looked set to deliver one of the most memorable DJ sets that the crowd have ever revelled in. Cloud Control's gorgeous harmonic folk-pop was another highlight of the day. There's Nothing In The Water We Can't Fight, Gold Canary and Just For You mesmerised the crowd.
One of the most experienced rock bands in the country, The Living End were their usual tight, dynamic and enthusiastic selves, and executed all those easily recognisable anthems as well as newer tracks off The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating in their reliably energetic and solid manner.
If there's anything that gets you up quicker than smelling a waft of sizzling bacon, it's feeling like you're being sizzled by the burning sun. Georgia Fair thanked the early risers on Saturday morning and delivered a fittingly wistful set of folk-pop steeped in delicate romanticism. Multiple WAMI Award-winning quintet Split Seconds elicited a dynamic performance and closed with the incredibly infectious All You Gotta Do. Impressive blues and roots ensemble Bonjah were an early highlight with their deeply soulful, invigorating set. Lead singer Glenn Mossop possesses a magical voice: one oozing with charisma and a touch of huskiness and melancholy.
So I knew that Owl Eyes had developed a sizeable fan-base, but didn't expect to see Pharaoh's Anex completely packed for her set. Sublime voice, without a doubt, and her band will only get better. Seeing Brooke Addamo dance so expressively to her vocal hooks was a delight for the audience, but her cover of Foster The People's Pumped Up Kicks received a response that was as feverish as closing number, Raiders.
Grace Woodroofe is one of our most exciting singer-songwriters, but this remains news to a great deal of people. It didn't matter that most were cooling off in the shade during her set - Woodroofe was as powerful and intense as ever. Versatile, enigmatic and mesmerising, Woodroofe is very much a rocker with a blues obsession, but able to delve into folk, jazz and grunge in a moment's twitch. Watching her perform a cover of Iggy Pop & The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog remains a mind-blowing experience.
It was kind of depressing to witness a small turn-out for brilliant international artists, Hanni El Khatib and Jim Ward. Both rocked, nevertheless. As great as The Panics are, Pyramid Rock isn't their ideal festival crowd. As expected, though, Don't Fight It received a rousing reception and Majesty was the perfect set closer as the sun began to set.
It's safe to say that Boy & Bear stole the hearts of both indie and mainstream fans with their heartfelt melodic-folk songs last year. Even the band seem pleasantly surprised by their popularity (Dave Hosking expressed that it'll always be a thrill for a folk band to be greeted by a large crowd). It was a beautiful, moving set full of massive sing-a-longs, particularly during Feeding Line and their cover of Crowded House's Fall At Your Feet.
Bluejuice are a festival's dream party-starter band and they're absurdly fun, but we left half-way to catch some of Mantra's set before the headline act. Mantra is easily one of the country's best hip hop artists and Robert Tremlett was in top form. Having an Indian dancer accompany Mantra's excellent set rendered the performance all the more special.
Now for the bad news: witnessing narrow-minded Bogans throw water bottles at the Scissor Sisters throughout their Pyramid Rock set was excruciating and embarrassing. Jake Shears informed twitter peeps afterwards that he "rang in the new year on a stage getting bottled by a bunch of Aussie rednecks". Scissor Sisters are to be applauded for performing so passionately despite being bottled several times during almost every song. The civilised portion of the crowd did a fine job of countering the sickening behaviour by dancing ostentatiously in front of all the homophobes. Surely, ringing in the New Year with Take Your Mama will bring good fortunate to all those fearless dancers. Despite the atrocious behaviour exhibited by some loathsome types during the last set, Pyramid Rock is an extremely well-organised festival that offers variety, reliability and, for the most part, a beautiful musical environment.