Laneway Festival Concert Review: January 31, 2011

I hadn’t planned on attending this year’s Laneway Festival. Unlike last year, when acts like The Dirty Three, Echo & The Bunnymen and Florence & The Machine were enough to get me in, this year’s line-up of indie faves like Deerhunter, Yeasayer and Foals just didn’t have the same appeal. But a free pass came my way and I thought I’d check it out.

Last year’s initial Auckland Laneway was marred by long queues, bad food and a less than cosy atmosphere (at Britomart). This year was a big improvement, logistics-wise. There were virtually no long lines and the new Aotea Square had plenty of places to chill out if you didn’t want to be glued in front of the two stages all day long. Plus, the food selection was of a much higher calibre than last year, so kudos to the organizers for a job well done.

So, how was the music? Well, it was good, at times, a bit tedious at others.  An Emerald City kicked things off at 1pm with a dazzling set of instrument tunes that featured electric violin player Felix Lun. It was a perfect opening set. What followed was a shock to the system to the sensitive, indie-rock crowd. A very loud set of heavy, doom-laden rock from Headless Chickens predecessors Children’s Hour quickly separated the men from the boys.  Personally I loved the set, but it probably would have gone down better later in the day, or over at the Powerstation.

Lawrence Arabia sounded perfectly twee after Children’s Hour aural assault, but their shimming harmonies and melodic pop set the tone for the rest of the day.

At 3:15 the first international act performed. Toronto’s Holy F*ck consists of two synth players duelling face to face while a drummer and bass player lay done a solid dance beat.  It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but they were impressive…furiously plugging in new keyboards and getting the first big reaction out of the crowd of the day.

Blonde Redhead

Australia’s Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti came highly recommended but quickly disappointed. The ended up sounding like a second-rate pub band who happened to dress funny.  Blonde Redhead followed with a much better set. Singers Kazu Makino and guitarist Amedeo Pace traded vocal riffs and built up quite a bit of good energy. It was rather disconcerting to see Amedeo’s twin brother Simon playing drums, dressed the same as his brother. At times it felt like I was watching a video…but better.

Next came all-female quartet Warpaint. Other reviewers have raved about their performance, but I don’t get it. Aside from one or two tunes, the sounded uninspired and mediocre…especially in the vocal department. Ladyhawke was next, and while I missed most of the set due to eating requirements, I returned in time to hear hits like My Delirium and Paris Is Burning. After Warpaint’s bland set, Ladyhawke stood heads and shoulders above them, thanks to the presence of some real songs.

The evening progressed with sets by Deerhunter,  Yeasayer, Beach House and Foals, and I must say, aside from Beach House, they all sounded pretty much like generic indie rock. Each band certainly has its own musical point of view, but they fail to back it up with anything substantial so that after about three tunes you feel as though you’ve heard everything they have to offer. I will say that the crowd, in general, was very appreciative, but many of them seemed to be, shall we say, experiencing an altered state of consciousness by this time.  Beach House is a quiet, Baltimore-based duo featuring ethereal vocals by Victoria Legrand. They were pleasant, but nothing special, and should have been placed earlier in the line-up, maybe switched with Children’s Hour.

So there you have it. Strangely, the best musical moments seemed to come early in the day. Yet, according to Yeasayer, this was the indie-rock hall of fame. Perhaps it shows just how disparate the music scene is when thousands of young fans can go ga-ga over a group of like-sounding bands, while other dedicated music fans can come away scratching their heads, wondering what all the fuss was about. Put me in the latter group.

Marty Duda