With the likes of Johnny Marr and Vampire Weekend set to perform, the first day of 2014 was looking pretty damn bright for those in attendance.
First up was Triple J poster boy Chet Faker, aka Nick Murphy. With help from a live band, Faker’s electronic beats and soulful vocals attracted a sizeable crowd to the Amphitheatre Stage – and with good reason. Tracks such as ‘I’m Into You’ and his cover of ‘No Diggity’ translated excellently, sounding atmospheric and lush whilst highlighting the performer’s understated vocal ability. Unlike most electronic acts, who can be one-dimensional live, Faker’s set was engaging, dynamic, and exceeded expectations.
Following on from this was another Triple J favourite and Hottest 100 contender, The Preatures. Attracting a somewhat smaller crowd than Chet Faker, the Sydney quintet performed a handful of new tracks alongside Triple J hits such as ‘Take A Card’ and the retro-tastic ‘Is This How You Feel?’
Dressed somewhat inappropriately for the hot weather, lead singer Isabella Manfredi entertained the crowd with her playful presence and political remarks about current Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Whilst there were no huge faults, their live performance could benefit greatly from some minor tweaking in terms of volume.
In the meantime, those looking to escape the indie pop exhibit at the amphitheatre were treated to a delightful display of noise and angst by grunge revivalists Violent Soho on the Forest Stage. Since the release of their new album Hungry Ghost last September, Violent Soho’s live show has improved significantly. Their set at Falls was no exception.
Vocally, Luke Boerdam’s nasally growl sounded impressively painful. Musically their abrasive brand of rock was aggressive yet controlled, making for a set that was explosive and free of the hazy aftermath that many grunge acts suffer from.
Back on at the amphitheatre, Morrissey’s right-hand man Johnny Marr, one of the most influential guitarists in the history of indie rock, was set to play. Unfortunately, however, most of the crowd seemed to be completely oblivious to just how monumental Marr’s appearance was, with his set attracting a disgracefully small crowd.
Marr arrived on stage after an unexplained 20-minute delay, Fender Jaguar in hand, and instantly made up for his lateness by launching into ‘The Right Thing Right’ off The Messenger. Marr amused the crowd with his comical rock n’roll moves and banter but, unsurprisingly, it was the inclusion of four songs from The Smiths that had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. From the instantly recognisable jangle of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ to the eerie delay of ‘How Soon Is Now’, the sound of these tracks ringing through the air was a truly surreal experience. Even without Morrissey’s disdainful vocals, Marr’s peppy demeanour and innovative guitar playing were well received by the crowd.
Following on from the Brit-rock flashback was UK producer/DJ Bonobo, who had the crowd grooving and shuffling. Props to singer Szjerdene whose breathtaking vocals complemented the smooth grooves marvellously. Set highlights included ‘We Could Forever’ and ‘Kong’.
The streak of incredible live artists didn’t stop with The Rubens, whose blues/rock sound entertained more than just their quasi-indie fan base with fan favourites such as ‘My Gun’ and ‘Lay It Down’.
The four members of Grizzly Bear – Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Chris Bear – were next up, instantly proving why they are one of the biggest indie rock bands in the world.
The moment the set opener ‘Speak In Rounds’ finished, it became quite apparent that their show was going to be on par with the likes of Radiohead in terms of sheer excellence and musical precision. Accompanied by only a smoke machine and neon lights (no backdrop!), tracks like ‘Yet Again’, ‘Gun-Shy’ and ‘While You Wait For The Others’ were made all the more enjoyable by lead vocalist Droste’s commanding stance, their chilling four-part harmonies, and drummer Bear’s ability to improvise.
Additionally, Droste’s humble demeanour between songs endeared the crowd. He apologised on behalf of the band for not being an electronic act, telling the crowd that they “probably won’t know the lyrics” before launching into ‘Knife’. They did.
From the blooming yellow wash in ‘While You Wait For The Others’ to the spooky crimson bath of ‘Ready, Able’, Grizzly Bear’s light show was well thought-out, mesmerising, and in no way excessive – much like their music.
It’s a rare pleasure to see a band that is able out-do themselves song after song. Melancholic closer ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ – which featured bassist Taylor on the saxophone – was beautifully thunderous and left the audience with one final awe-inspiring moment.
The Cat Empire’s hour-long set was sure to have converted a fair few nonbelievers into born-again fans. Led by vocalists Felix Riebl and Harry James Angus, who were undeniably charming and superb vocally, the backing band were playful and laidback, kicking beach balls into the audience. After Grizzly Bear’s sleepy (but beautiful) set, these whisker-wearing lords revitalised the crowd just in time for the night’s final act: Vampire Weekend.
The American four-piece band’s signature combination of afro-pop licks, peppy rhythms, and literary lyrics are usually well suited to late afternoon slots – not cold, starlit nights. With a fresh setlist including tracks from the critically lauded Modern Vampires Of The City, Vampire Weekend definitely deserved the headlining spot by showcasing a newfound maturity and versatility.
Opening with the rollicking ‘Diane Young’, the rockers were off to a fiery start, followed by the familiar ring of the Graceland-esque ‘White Sky’ and the secretly vulgar ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’. ‘Step’, and ‘Ya Hey’ were highlights of the night, dripping with a poignancy that earlier hits such as ‘Cousins’ could never conjure up.
Cramming 16 songs into 70 minutes and keeping the banter to an appropriate minimum, Vampire Weekend’s balanced set was endearing and proved that they’re not going to dry up anytime soon. Without four-part harmonies though, they were no match for Grizzly Bear.