It’s perhaps the most symbolic image of Melbourne Laneway 2014.

A crowd of people, maybe 200 or more, are huddled around a TV screen watching a headline act, because attempting to push through the hordes of fans to get anywhere near the stage requires the power of Moses.

The narrowest of layouts prevents anyone from moving. The stage is about 250m away and the performers look like specks of dust.

Some might argue, “It’s a laneway festival. It’s supposed to be tight. It’s supposed to be crowded.”

A counter-agreement would be that the organisers forewent the ‘laneway’ look and feel when they decided to expand the event, significantly increasing capacity and opting for profit over the quality of experience for the paying punter.

Some might say the talent of the line-up is spread across all four stages. Still, it’s hard to push any weight behind that theory when Chvrches, Haim, and Lorde are all on the same main stage.

Where Laneway does lose points in practicality, it does make up in surroundings. It has a lovely suburban rustic charm.

On any other day the adjacent Maribyrnong River might be just a murky flow of brown, but today it glistens gorgeously along the festival’s outskirts, shadowed by V/lines and Linfox crates stacked heaven high.

Similarly, the backdrop of the blue-collar docking yard and the city silhouette provides a lovely touch and a gentle reminder of Footscray’s hardworking roots.

It supplies an apt setting for the terrific Mt Warning. Despite being the day’s opener, they play to a reasonable size gathering, long before the Dean Turner Stage would become basically inaccessible.

Even in the afternoon sun, frontman Mikey Bee sends chills with his lower register. The band’s hungry, grinding style appeases the building crowd, and the group pushes out a far greater wall of sound than their minimal setup suggests.

Over at the Red Bull Academy stage, Autre Ne Veut is rerouting a lot of passers-by with a voice that fluctuates between smoky croon and delicious falsetto. It’s a pity he is wasted in such an early timeslot.

A hike up the train bridge to the Moreland Street Stage has Kirin J Callinan unloading his unique form. Callinan certainly boasts a tremendous amount of character, both in demeanour and outfit.

Following a cut down version of the Rage theme song, he rejects the advances of an overzealous fan who longs for his sunglasses and instead launches into ‘Victoria M’, perhaps his most well-known cut.

There is, however, a fair dose of preaching in his lyrics, which makes for uncomfortable digestion in the plus 30-degree swelter.

The Moreland Street Stage does back up awfully close to the apartments nearby. It’s a huge kudos to the council and the local residents for not only permitting the staging of the event, but also for putting up with the reverberating basslines and convoy of hipsters riding their bicycles across from Ascot Vale road.

Following Callinan’s set, the crowd has grown tenfold and so too has the volume for the much anticipated Savages.

Driven by the thump of bassist Ayse Hassan, the band rips into ‘Shut Up’ and spews forth their renowned live prowess, which – with all due respect – completely blows their studio sound away. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth (who joins the list of powerful frontwomen in this year’s line-up) stalks the front of the stage with menace, roaring out the excellent ‘She Will’ amongst others.

Despite the oppressive conditions, there is enough of a breeze rising from the Maribyrnong to keep things under control. There’s also no shortage of shade.

Unfortunately, as far as setup goes, that’s about as good as it gets. When Vance Joy hits up the main stage and capacity reaches its peak, the feasibility of being able to walk around slides drastically.

As a hyped-up prospect, Joy is more than pulling his weight to live up to such expectations. There is a majestic upliftment to his style of folk, however the heaving bulk of the mid-afternoon crowd makes Cloud Control over by the more spacious River Stage a far more attractive choice.

The band commences with material off their new album, which seems far more intense than anything off their debut Bliss Release. That said, ‘Dojo Rising’ blends seamlessly into ‘This Is What I Said’ and does much to please foundation fans. ‘Meditation Song #2 (Why, Oh Why)’ and a rocked-up version of ‘Gold Canary’ do likewise, while ‘Scar’ and ‘There’s Nothing In The Water (We Can’t Fight)’ caps off the day’s best set by some margin.

If Vance Joy is where the festival begins to dive, Chvrches is where it crashes. This is, mind you, without placing any fault on the Scottish trio or the recent Hottest 100 victor.

First, it takes several minutes for the tech crew to realise there’s absolutely zero sound coming out of frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s mic. Then, several minutes after that, the sound completely cuts off. It takes ten minutes for an announcer to explain what’s happened, then another ten minutes for them to fix everything up.

Keep in mind, this is (again) all from the vantage point of several hundred metres away and via a TV screen (oddly enough, there’s actually people taking photos of the TV screen rather than the stage – great shots for Instagram, no doubt).

Chvrches recover valiantly, rebounding in their reduced timeslot with the choice cuts off their fantastic The Bones Of What You Believe album. For her petite stature, Mayberry gives off an outstanding presence and reach.

Anyone who has listened to Kurt Vile’s outstanding Wakin On A Pretty Daze would’ve been confident that his appearance on the River Stage would prove one of the potential highs of the festival. Unfortunately, the relaxed sheen of the album doesn’t contrast well amidst pitch problems and a far heavier live sound.

Even his charmingly clumsy narrative – so enjoyable on record – is lost in the busyness of the festival.

The appearance of Lorde is one of the most anticipated of Laneway, and the sardine-packed crowd reflects this.

She appears much more relaxed and confident in her album tracks than she did during her visit to Melbourne last year, and does not need to rely as much on the likes of ‘Tennis Court’ and ‘Royals’ to ensure a positive reaction. It’s a commanding effort that proves the 17-year-old is coming into her own within a live setting.

Even while walking to watch Danny Brown, the rumour is already swirling that he cracked the shits something chronic due to the poor mixing. By the time the end of his set is nearing, everything seems to be forgiven. The hip hop artist is revving the hearty crowd with ‘Dip’ and a rather healthy enthusiasm for weed and molly.

The Jezabels, Frightened Rabbit, and Warpaint headline the festival. While they are excellent bands, the trio are an interesting choice when considering the stature of acts before them.

Frightened Rabbit end the night in front of a surprisingly large crowd consisting of ex-Brits and curious observers. The setting provides the ideal climax for their brand of mid-tempo indie rock, with the lights of the docks and the city neons glowing warmly in the background.

The band serves up a volley of tracks from new(ish) LP Pedestrian Verse – an album arguably more accessible than anything they’ve dished up previously. However, due to no fault of their own, the band does their best to overcome another set of sound problems.

Still, the remaining punters voice their praise for the Scottish group before hauling back to the always colourful Footscray Station for the return trip home.

Melbourne Laneway 2014. People will brag they were there. However, the event felt more congested than previous years.  The line-up was impressive, but whether punters were able to get close enough to see their favourite bands might be a different story.

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