Laneway Festival – January 30, 2012

Well it looks like summer finally arrived in Auckland, just in time for this year’s Laneway Festival. This is the third year for the up-and-coming music event and the third venue. The Silo Park site seems to have worked out pretty well. There was plenty of room to move around, even when the crowd reached its largest size, the sound from the two main stages was reasonable and the third, Park Lane stage, even offered some grassy area to roll around in. There was a decent selection of food, but the queues were a bit long and the most popular times, hopefully something can be done about that in the future, but other than a few tweaks here and there, I think the new venue is a success.

The beautiful weather didn’t hurt matters any. The sun was already beaming down when Opossum took the stage at 12:30. This is the act featuring Kody Neilson, Bic Runga and Michael Logie. In this configuration, Kody plays guitar and handles most of the vocals while Bic drums and sings and Michael plays bass. Bic came out from behind the kit to play some guitar as well. The sound was rougher and louder than what you’d get from a Bic Runga gig but not a raucous as Kody’s previous band, The Mint Chicks. They have a new album due out in a month or so and this was a good preview.

Next I caught a bit of Canadian electro-popper Austra, while nursing a beer in an area with bean bags and gummy bears. Very nice.

New York band The Cults came on at 2:00 and were hampered by a few technical glitches making the vocals difficult to hear during the first few songs. Singer Madeline Follin sounded like an indie-rock version of a Shangri-la and the band finally managed to work up a head of steam by the end of their brief set.

Next came San Francisco’s Girls. Despite the fact that this was new drummer Derek’s second gig with the band, they sounded tight. They put on a few rock star moves which were thoroughly appropriate for the venue. Good stuff.

After a brief greeting from the mayor, British folkie Laura Marling and her band populated the Cherry Lane stage. The band consisted of an electric guitarist, a banjo player who doubled on horn and mandolin, a cello player, a double bassist, a drummer and Marling on acoustic guitar. The wispy blonde quickly made her presence felt. It was good vibes all around with the cello and mandolin making for some lovely sounds in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Marling herself was charming, amazed at how hot it was and wondering why she was wearing a jumper.

After a brief beer break it was over to the more intimate Park Lane stage for the performance I was most looking forward to. And Anna Calvi did not disappoint. In fact she and her band (Mally Harpaz harmonium and percussion, Daniel Maiden-Wood, drums) exceeded those expectations. I’d read that she was an accomplished guitarist, but I had no idea she was as good as she demonstrated here. And her voice is amazing, both powerful and emotive. I have to say, watching her play that guitar was one of the sexiest things I’ve seen on stage in a long time. Her set seemed to go by in an instant. Here’s hoping she returns soon for her own show.

After a dinner break, it was Feist at 7:15 on the Penny Lane stage.  The Canadian indie-rocker was clearly thrilled to be in New Zealand, claiming that her tune How Come You Never Go There was written with New Zealand in mind. She suffered an equipment failure while performing the song, but quickly turned it into a positive, miming into the dead mic and generally having fun. The fun was infectious and Feist was a hit.

The Horrors were next. The English rockers didn’t faire quite as well.  The band, led by Faris Badwan, didn’t quite have the power to transcend the crowd. It looked like the folks in the very front were enjoying themselves, but further back lethargy set in and there was quite a bit of chattering among the crowd during the set. If the band is going to continue to play to larger crowds, they should take a few notes from The Rolling Stones or U2 and learn how to work a stadium. Standing there with your hair in your eyes doesn’t cut it.

That was it for me; I left with the sweet sounds of Shayne Carter ringing in my ears. With the Big Day Out now but a memory, it looks like it’s up to Laneway to fill the gap. Judging from the diverse line-up and excellent new venue, I’d say things are looking good for next year.

Marty Duda

Photos courtesy Kathryn van Beek and Marty Duda