Meredith is getting old. Twenty two years old. That’s pretty old in festival-years. But with age comes wisdom and that wisdom showed in one of the strongest festival line-ups this country has ever seen down at the infamous supernatural amphitheatre on the weekend.
Where to begin? Great sets from Pond and Snakadaktal warmed the crowd up nicely, but 6pm was the first time for the weekend the slowly growing audience would be blown from their feet. Earthless, out of San Diego, complete with the monster guitar sound of Isaiah Mitchell sent the audience into an air-guitaring frenzy during their single-song 50 minute set consisting pretty much of a combination of the two songs on their 2005 album Sonic Prayer.
Brous had a tough act to follow, but lacked the wow factor that the crowd had already become accustomed to. With this lineup, expectations were high amongst the 12,000 or so attendees.
The rest of the night was ready to deliver though. Canadian electro-indie-pop artist Grimes drew the first massive crowd of the festival. The young, face-painted, animal-onsie-wearing, glitter-covered hoards descended onto the hill where they threw their adulation towards the stage in the form of dancing and singing and generally grinning from ear to ear.
It was this thorough electro sound that sounded a world away from The Sunnyboys’ first gig (aside from a “secret” show in Sydney earlier this year) in 21 years.
The original four were back on stage again. At first they sounded a little loose. A decade of being separated on the stage might have taken its toll, but it only took a few warm-up songs for them to be back to their old selves. Joking around and powering through Aussie rock classics like Happy Man and of course the unforgettable Alone With You.
It was pretty special to have The Sunnyboys there. There are a lot of people who would have loved to have seen their first gig in two decades, but honestly, it felt like most of them weren’t at Meredith.
One of the truly spectacular shows of the festival was undoubtedly a very mellow set from Spiritualized. From the opening notes of Hey Jane from their latest album Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, the dimly lit stage oozed charisma from the band led by J. Spaceman from his stool. The crowd was mostly mesmerised, but none more than the extra special version of their signature tune from their signature album of the same name Ladies And Gentlemen We’re Floating In Space mixed in with The King’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.
An unusual performance was to take place at 1:30am. Syrian artist Omar Souleyman took to the stage dressed in a thawb to blast the half-confused-half-baked crowd with Arabic pop. His nearly twenty-year career has seen him work with Bjork and Gorillaz and his performance of traditional Middle Eastern songs has been given a wider showing than ever before.
Souleyman’s performance was made a little more poignant with the benefit of hindsight. It was later that we learned that he was told of the bombing of his hometown Ra’s al-‘Ayn by Syrian government warplanes shortly before he was due on stage. Rather than leave, the devastated performer burst out onto the stage and gave a show like nothing had happened.
The first night was drawn to a close by a fairly uneventful Four Tet. One guy standing behind a bunch of electronic noise making devices. Those who were the highest stayed to dance, the rest of us went to bed to prepare for the brutal heat of day two.
Those of us unfortunate enough to misjudge our alcohol intake on the Friday were paying dearly as the 40-degree day drained our already dehydrated bodies of any remaining moisture. If anyone saw a sad looking man in a Hawaiian shirt and a straw hat eating a pizza standing alone in a one-man-sized patch of shade staring at the stage whilst Chet Faker played an otherwise excellent set, that was probably me.
Royal Headache – who followed – are generally excellent straight up garage punk, but if you really want a cure for a hangover, forget a can of coke and a greasy burger. What you need is some Big Jay McNeely.
The 85-year-old saxophonist stood just in front of the sound desk while he watched his band belt through the first song. “Please welcome Big Jay McNeely!” his MC said as he pointed to the middle of the crowd. Much of the audience turned around to see an elderly man in an immaculate white suit sporting a fluoro orange saxophone standing in the middle of the field and when he began to blow, the crowd began to go wild.
Walking with the help of an equally well dressed man and two security guards, Big Jay slowly waltzed down to the crowd, but rather than taking the expected route of a diagonal path to the edge of the barrier where he could head for the stage, he walked straight into the middle of the dancing throngs and played surrounded by bewildered people some of whom would have been young enough to be his great grandkids.
Eventually he made it to the stage where he played from a chair, screaming into his microphone when he wasn’t blowing his horn and whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy.
“They’re not going to let me play no more!” he said as he prepared to walk off the stage. “Ahh whatever, this is my first hit. I recorded it in 1949!” he said as he blasted into Deacon’s Hop. Who is going to stop him? This was one of the most well-deserved encores this (or any other) festival has ever seen. To hell with the schedule!
While his band cleared the stage, he hobbled out to the crowd where he sold and signed vinyl records until he had nothing left to sign. Thus ended another one of the many highlights of the festival.
Hot Snakes were up next. “What a hard act to follow”, singer Rick Froberg declared. He was right. This potentially great band had no chance of uniting the crowd into a church service of dance like Big Jay. They were pretty great though, but the heat had begun to take its toll once again.
The human beatbox, the one and only Rahzel hit the stage with DJ JS-1 for an exercise in vocal-chord gymnastics and turntable wizardry. The one-time member of The Roots didn’t often go into his two albums, preferring instead to wow crowds by beatboxing songs like Iron Man by Black Sabbath or a spectacular live mash-up of Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together.
Although he spent much of his between-song banter telling off the sound engineers for sound issues that seemed insignificant from the crowd’s end, he still provided a show that was at times hilarious (“Where my fellas at?” “Grrrrrr!” “Where my ladies at?” “Squeal!”), at times bad-ass (“Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with!”) and at times just downright amazing (Any beatboxing moment). JS-1 ain’t no slouch on the decks either!
Regurgitator played an excellent festival set. They started out playing some lesser known later songs, but those wanting to hear their juggernaut hits weren’t left out. There is a certain togetherness felt when you’re one of several thousand people singing along to dorky alt-pop songs like The Song Formerly Known As…, Polyester Girl, Kong Foo Sing and hell, even I Will Lick Your Arsehole.
So it was time to party. Regurgitator had warmed the crowd up and Turbonegro were here with their new singer Tony Sylvester. The English accent sounded a little weird in the fiercely Norwegian band, but they were on fire nonetheless. Hey sure, I admit it. I was one of those jerks that knows Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes pretty well and only a smattering of tunes elsewhere, so I was a bit lost on some of their newer material that dominated the first half of the set, but the inner-child in me took great pleasure in screaming out I Got Erection as they brought the set to a close.
Up next was the almighty Primal Scream. I say “almighty”, but in reality, they were lost on much of the crowd. The band were given a full hour and a half, so they weren’t restricted to a cut-down “festival” set, but this wasn’t enough time to get the exhausted crowd excited.
“A high-energy band needs a high-energy audience!” singer Bobby Gillespie cried. It didn’t work. It was particularly disappointing when Gillespie held the microphone out to the crowd to sing along to their biggest hits Come Together and Rocks, but got nothing back. I’d like to say I was maybe in a dull spot, but others said the same who were scattered around the venue. Sadly a killer set list that included two (pretty good) new songs (2012 and It’s Alright, That’s Okay) and a great introduction to their new bassist Simone Butler who had replaced the seemingly irreplaceable Mani just wasn’t enough to fire up the crowd the way this band deserved.
The Meredith Sky Show was a little underwhelming. Okay look, lasers are pretty cool, but it was fairly short-lived.
The last great revival of the festival was early 90s Sydney-based techno-kings Itch-e and Scratch-e who were just as famous for thanking their ecstasy dealers at the ARIAs as they were for their music. By now, the crowd was exhausted, but the strange animal costumes that were jumping around on stage waving flags somehow felt like an extension of the crowd, or the crowd perhaps felt like an extension of the band? It was a fitting end to such an incredible lineup. Sure, there were two more DJs to go, but hey, they were for audience members who are just stronger than me.
Hot, bothered and sporting a now-pretty-thick body-wide layer of sweat, sunscreen, aloe vera and dirt cocktail, Sunday was spent in the air conditioned car driving home.
We did get to check out a bit of Fraser A. Gorman who although unnecessarily chose the most great-but-obvious alt-country song to cover (The Band’s The Weight) was a pretty sweet sight to wake up to. He’s one of the most talented young singer/songwriters in Melbourne at the moment and it was nice to see him up there.
As for The Gift as narrated by J.B. Smoove from Curb Your Enthusiasm, I had already seen enough without seeing four-time Gift winner Jarrad Kennedy’s filthy cock* once more. That was better left to the youth.
Meredith, I wasn’t going to be in you this year, but how could I turn down such a spectacular line-up? Thank you for a brilliant weekend. See you in March for Golden Plains.
*Jarrad Kennedy didn’t actually run this year, but it is not often you get to reference his “filthy cock” in a story, so it stays.
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Check out this clip of Spiritualized playing live at the Meredith Music Festival, December 7, 2012: