The Meredith Music Festival has turned 21 years old with another dusty year of killer music and hazy memories and Noise11 were there to soak it all in.
What the lineup lacked in big ticket international headliners, it made up for in showcasing some of the best national talent on offer and that started off with two of my favourite Melbourne bands kicking off the festival.
At 4pm Friday, the silly-named King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard flooded the famous Supernatural Amphitheatre stage and let their psychedelic garage loose on a crowd brave enough to confront the fierce sun and hungry to start their festival. There is an old piece of showbiz advice that says you should never open with a show stopper. It is advice Aunty Meredith politely chose to ignore.
This was followed up with Cash Savage and the Last Drinks. As a Cash Savage live show veteran, I feel I can say with some kind of authority that her shows are getting better and better and this was undoubtedly one of her best performances yet. With a large band backing her that included horns and fiddles and the lot, she was confident to grab the entire audience and lure them into her husky musical world – a world she seemed more than happy to have us all visiting, as evidenced by the ear-to-ear grin Savage’s hard arse exterior couldn’t even begin to hide.
Kurt Vile and the Violators brought the mood down low for the first half of his set. The audience had a mixed reaction with some saying he was disappointing, others mesmerised with his grunge-revival – a piece of the Kurt Vile puzzle that would become more obvious once his band kicked in towards the end, but Austin, Texas’ Explosions in the Sky followed up Vile’s set with a show that would summon everyone’s attention.
Explosions’ set was the first evidence that traditions from Meredith’s sister festival, Golden Plains, had bled over. As one punter down the front removed his boot and raised it to the band, many more followed suit and the boot salute – a gesture signifying the best band of the day as voted by the boot-waving audience – had made it to Meredith and Explosions deservedly were the recipients of it for the Friday.
That said, for real explosions, music lovers only had to wait for Barbarion to enter the stage. For forty minutes a few thousand newly dubbed warriors were taken down to the pits of hell while the band blistered through their hilariously ingenious half-comedic-half-serious barbaric metal and sprayed the stage in flames and sparks from everything that would hold some gunpowder. “Top that Meredith!” they shouted as they marched off the stage. With the rest of the night and two more days of music to come, the festival never quite lived up to the challenge of topping it.
The biggest crowd of the night went to Ladyhawke who also pulled out one of the dullest sets of the festival. Good on her. Fortunately Future of the Left (who to be fair can’t be compared to Ladyhawke at all) were there to set the crowd alight with a blistering set. I did spend much of my festival amusing myself by telling FOTL fans that they “just sounded like The Used covering Marilyn Manson songs” and watching their faces. This of course is not true, but highly recommended if you, like me, are a shit-stirrer.
[My] day two kicked off with The Rechords, who joked that the audience was just [Collingwood pub] locals of The Gem moved down the road and to a big outdoor arena. There is something undeniably pleasurable in watching and/or listening to a young(ish) band that is so into a certain genre that they take on the look, the sound, the instruments and everything. The amount of time this trio must have spent listening to records emanating from Sun Studios like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, early Elvis and the like sends shivers up my spine and their recreation of this era was an absolute pleasure to kick off the afternoon to.
Adalita’s performance gave the crowd another hour to lay down and absorb some stellar music in the extreme UV radiation that was pelting down on us, but come 2pm, punk supergroup Off! roused the crowd from their slumber and laid down some three-chord punk-rock glory that included tracks from dreadlocked singer Keith Morris’ previous bands The Circle Jerks and Black Flag. Morris’ emotional investment into every word he spoke or sang drew the crowd into his performance, even if they weren’t particularly impressed by the stripped back nature of the music. A touching tribute was given to Gun Club singer Jeffry Lee Pierce, who Morris said was “one of his very best friends”. Before this he paid tribute to “the guy from Magic Dirt” who had died. He was referring to bassist Dean Turner who died in 2009. This set up led the band into Jeffry Lee Pierce.
Graveyard Train have exploded onto the scene in recent years, going from tiny bar shows a few years ago to recently selling out Melbourne’s beloved Forum Theatre, the band have gathered a massive following and it’s easy to see why. The amphitheatre was packed with people ready to remove their boot and wave it in the air once again and at 4:15 when they hit the stage, it didn’t take long for the boot salute to be given. An amazing performance from the crew that was easily a highlight of the entire festival, from the blues standard St. James Infirmary to their later stuff including Move Like A Mummy, the band have all bases covered.
For those who wanted a little more nitro in their music, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears pinned punters to the hill with their balls-to-the-wall garage rock and soul. Most of the audience had no idea who they were, but what started as a fairly thin crowd was fattened out by the end of their spectacular set. On record this band sounds closer to something from The Daptone Records roster, but on stage they become some kind of wonderband that sounds like The Saints hired a horn section that strikes like lightning and a bass player (Bill Stevenson) whose fingers turn into a blur when they’re really cooking. Their blistering set ended with a cover of The Trashmen’s quirky Surfin’ Bird which sent the audience into a frenzy. Upon setting foot in my house post-festival, securing tickets to their Melbourne side show was more important than having my first shower in three days.
Seattle’s legendary Mudhoney took to the stage in fine form with a set that included tunes from their 22 year career. Their big-muff sound that inspired so many artists including-but-certainly-not-limited-to Nirvana was probably the P.A. system’s finest hour. Nearly perfect guitar sounds hit the crowd as singer Mark Arm screamed such gems as Touch Me, I’m Sick and the first Mudhoney song I ever heard, Judgement, Rage, Retribution and Thyme which first boosted out of my bedroom speakers after I bought their then-new 1995 album My Brother The Cow with my pocket money at 13 years old.
So, Icehouse hey? This hit-filled set seemed lost on a majority of the face-painted crowd who seemed to be confused as to why this was happening to them whilst they waited for Cut/Copy and was lost on me by the way front man Iva Davies seemed determined to present himself as your friend’s daggy dad. I get what you were trying to do Meredith. It was a risk and I admire that. Keep taking them, don’t feel bad that this one didn’t really work. At least the crowd piped up Great Southern Land closed the set. It seemed that the people camping next to me’s car stereo was an accurate indicator that that was the only song a decent chunk of the crowd knew.
Cut/Copy followed and fair play to their watered down version of New Order sound, put on an astounding show that looked and sounded great.
“We’ll see you in ten years,” Nick Cave exclaimed at the end of Grinderman’s Meredith set, implying the end of the short-lived project. After just two albums, the band still managed to pack a punch on stage, but at times their brutality feels a bit contrived. Nick Cave bellowing how he has the No Pussy Blues, for example, lacks the conviction of some of his other songs because this band is an elaborate theatrical experience rather than a deep seeded emotional expulsion. That punch that they pack is closer to a great novel or film than music. If you never saw the band, sure, you missed out, but there is something admirable about quitting while you are ahead.
The much publicised Total Lunar Eclipse was a bit of a let down, not because it was going to be a lunar eclipse and not the solar eclipse the festival had pictured on their website, but because of the goddamned clouds ensuring any view of the sky was shrouded in a smoky curtain of black. It’s a shame though. A clear night combined with the footage of an eclipse on the screen and the glitter cannon going off in the middle of the field would have been a truly spectacular sight and you will have to admit, it was still pretty cool.
The Juan Pablo Family Hour was the subject of much discussion throughout the festival. It was rumoured to be The Avalanches (that was never going to happen, but it was nice to dream). It turned out to be Yacht Club DJs. If it weren’t for my determination to see Big Freedia at 2:15am, this would have signified my bed time. Still, it was worth persevering. Big Freedia’s obsession with booty shaking and repetitive music is an experience I won’t soon forget.
Sunday was fairly easy to cope with. A 10am slot featuring Dave Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist saw the best dressed performer of the weekend in the form of the enigmatic front man, Dave Graney himself. His humour was in full tact, telling exhausted punters that they were playing a lot of new and unrecorded songs and they had to cop it sweet, before playing a new and unrecorded song, Cop It Sweet. The set featured a bunch of classics including I’m Gonna Release Your Soul and the unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide which features one of the greatest guitar riffs in music history.
Frank Fairfield had that same effect on me that I had mentioned earlier whilst writing about The Rechords. The young singer is so immersed in early rural American Appalachian style blues that his set becomes somewhat hypnotic. The banjo wizard would have been well deserving of a boot salute as well, if the crowd weren’t busy staring almost rudely (they were nursing hangovers after all), saving their rapturous applause for Fairfield’s close. In the politest stage move of the festival, Fairfield stood up, took a bow and walked his instruments off to the side.
Continuing the hangover cure of a program on Sunday morning, Abbe May wowed audiences with her raucous bluesy rock and the festival drew to a close with Matt Sonic and the High Times who invoke the booming guitar sounds of bands like Kyuss.
Aside from the music, the festival was a raging success, except for one thing. Eric’s Bar. Comprehending it’s unpopularity is beyond my measly brain. One punter told me that he didn’t like it because “it’s just not Meredith. One stage, one bar. I’m going back to [the old favourite bar] the Pink Flamingo.” Well, for festival fans who take Meredith a bit seriously (and let’s face it, you’re probably one of them) the Pink Flamingo is still there serving Pink Flamingos and for the rest of you, Eric’s Bar isn’t going anywhere and they serve a killer sangria.
In other non-musical related news, the food at the festival was apparently pretty good. I wouldn’t know, because I lived for three days off the amazing chicken and/or beef rotis from the roti stand. I didn’t even take notice of what it was called (sorry roti stand owners) but they were delicious. [UPDATE: My friend Cathy says it was called “Hotties Eat Rotis”. I am not entirely convinced, as this seems like something I would have noticed, but it’s the best we can do for now.] Also, a big congratulations goes out to Jarrad Kennedy who won the Meredith gift for the third time in a row. His naked wrestling with his closest competitor displayed on the big screens whilst being narrated by AFL commentator Dennis Cometti will not soon be forgotten.
Happy 21st birthday Meredith! It was a pleasure being a part of it.
Follow the author Tim Cashmere on Twitter.