Meredith. It’s a place that supplies optimism. Rain? “That won’t last.” Gale force winds? “Weak.” Friday didn’t give us the pristine welcome we’d envisioned, with the wind condemning several freshly assembled tents and Meredith beanies selling out within hours. But a sea of tinny-clutching mugs prevailed, all acknowledging the explicit privilege it is to be here.
We weren’t expecting surprises from Power, and their set went completely according to plan – nothing like a pounding of testosterone rock to replenish community optimism. Pearls continued the local leadoff; their sultry guitar swirls and glam pop strut motioning towards a future in which they permanently inhabit the festival stage.
The Sup was now filled to the brim, couches hauled in and every fourth position occupied by an Esky. Nashville’s Bully came to see what all the fuss was about. “I’ve heard only suspiciously positive things about this festival,” said singer Alicia Bognanno. When she wasn’t making sweet remarks, Bognanno’s full belly howl likely hastened any late arrivals’ entrance.
A quick clean up and the tallest man in art rock, Thurston Moore, had a new band to show us. With help from Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe, Moore took us through his solo LP The Best Day. At 57 years old Moore has an indelible niche, recalling the stoic sneer of Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed while making a whole lot filthy guitar noise that’s all his own.
The clouds hadn’t left us alone, but the Strip still accommodated a devoted mass come sunset. The animated wind farms in the distance reminded us to be thankful; Malcolm Turnbull ain’t no saviour, but at least that future-fearing nitwit’s gone.
OK, time to get this thing moving. Big Daddy Kane was the perfect man for the job. The New York classicist was sans hype man, but skipped not a single line of his fast-paced golden era rhymes. The crowded amphitheatre took Kane’s energy as a directive, priming limbs for the splattering of rhythm that was Goat. The collective of androgynous creatures reeled in percussive motifs from Nigeria to rural Sweden while winding a hypnotic wheel of melody, showing us that psychedelic could be a group sensation.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra are a shapely festival act, and their catalogue is loaded with hit-candidates. The mix wasn’t on their side for the first sequence of songs, but by the time they brought it home with a one-two of Multi-Love and So Good At Being In Trouble, no one’s affection was divided. While a few people raised doubts about Tkay Maidza’s suitability, these fears subsided once the Adelaide MC beamed out onto the stage and gave us banger after banger after banger. It ain’t exactly underground, nor dog-eared with integrity, but at 1am on Saturday morning Tkay gave us just the push we needed to make sure this night didn’t stay young for long.
It was a cold, cold night, but sleep-deprived exhaustion wasn’t an option. No time for showering either, as Jessica Pratt was ready to see us. Looking every bit the ‘70s glamour figure, Pratt brought us back up with a set of acid folk introspection, her gently plucked, cobwebby nylon string accompanied by shudders of electric mist. Julia Holter’s well-wrought, jazzy complexities returned texture to the imagination. Holter recurrently remarked that this was “a nice festival,” though her deadpan tone made it difficult to tell whether or not she actually hated us.
The sun grinning through a wide aperture, the temperature gained additional weight when Briggs puffed into focus. There were a few aesthetic question marks about the boy from Shepparton’s rap rock parade, but Briggs’ personable attitude and depth of purpose roused more than a few boots of approval.
Some of the finest Meredith performances have come from local acts who’re more attuned to the nature of the spectacle. GL certainly knew where they were, and employed psychedelic colours, a duo of dancers and disco-pop sensuality to wipe away any audience-crowd divide. Bodies sweaty, we were in the mood to move, and Neon Indian’s beefed up new wave was happy to facilitate. It’s easy to get carried away glorifying the all-round excellence of this festival, but the programming was unbelievably spot-on. What might’ve looked like a somewhat mismatched lineup was in fact curated to anticipate our impulses’ every move.
On that note, The Peep Tempel probably haven’t played to many crowds of such volume, but the Melbourne trio’s barrelling punk rock was unanimously embraced. Saviours of Aussie rock is a garbage notion to throw around, but however you frame The Peep Tempel’s significance, it’s alive and fucking well.
While the Sup was heaving, the campgrounds also brought their fair share of novel stimulus, from an outer space part to a sorely uneven game of beer pong. On the losing end of the latter, it was with a decadent spirit we awaited Father John Misty. Perhaps the biggest name on the lineup, FJM’s irony-laden folk rock role-play was more than enough reason to skip this evening’s sunset. He’s a verbose chap, but more was communicated in the delivery – over-earnest, pleading and angel voiced.
The Pink Flamingo bar had become a congregation of voodoo tricksters, the mind’s defences weakened by the pace at which those dazzling pink cocktails were going down. Meanwhile, with a team of gifted instrumentalists plying an unrelenting disco groove, the Fatback Band reminded us the party was really just getting started.
Ratatat are ridiculous. Invoking video game soundtracks, their guitar-led arena pop dodged all conventional notions of cool. Never mind that though – abetted by multiple flashing light rigs and tree-illuminating lasers, their set illustrated how the intellect has little to do with our thirst for good times. One gleefully eccentric cock rock banger after the next, boots fanning the early-am amphitheatre.
Levins began by projecting images of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which got alarm bells ringing. However garish his act was, at least it wasn’t imposing. Up next, Floating Points’ busy, vinyl-only, soul, jazz and funk-heavy DJ set again affirmed the prowess of the programming. All of his selections were well timed, familiar in essence yet predominantly unearthed obscurities, and his live song-conflating was seriously fascinating to watch.
Oh boy. Sunday was beautiful. The clouds had been abolished and Jess Ribeiro’s haunting, melodramatic storytelling was all the encouragement we needed to make the most of the festival’s final hours. Totally Mild followed suit, splicing surf rock freedom and fumes of ‘60s folk pop to cap off what’s been a golden year. Steve Miller Band are the ultimate wedding entertainers; classic songs, debauched delivery.
Boys and girls got their private bits out and went for a run, we downed a few Pimm’s cups and realised it was time to go. Murmurs of “best Meredith ever” were heard, but regardless of where the festival’s 25th instalment sits in relation to previous years, there were no doubts this place of happiness has no rivals.
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Photos by Laura May Grogan
Drank: A lot of tinnies.