Laneways takes over from BDO

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2013

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Auckland no longer has the Big Day Out, but Laneways Music Festival might just be the next big thing. Matthew Littlewood gives his thoughts on the acts and general vibe of the festival.

Is it time to replace one institution with another? For the first time in more than 18 years, the Big Day Out did not come to Auckland. Perhaps its demise was inevitable, but it means that many music fans were left without their annual go-to music festival.

This brings us to Laneways. Silo Park at the Auckland waterfront can hold about 6000 at full capacity, a mere fraction of Mt Smart Stadium, so getting, say, Metallica, to play Laneways is just not an option.

Although Laneways has had an Auckland wing since 2010, this was my first experience of it- as a former Big Day Out veteran, I needed to get my fix somewhere. So how did it shape up?

The gates opened just after midday, with Norwegian folk duo Kings of Convenience. The title of the pair's 2001 debut, Quiet is the New Loud is indicative of their low-key approach. Over their hour-long performance, the music occasionally wafted aimlessly, but Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe charmed the crowd with their amiable banter, and note-perfect harmonies: no one even seemed to mind that they went quite a bit over their running time...except for Street Chant.

"If you like clapping, you're gonna hate us", sneered guitarist Emily Littler, before the band launched into a typically stroppy set. It was a performance that promised a lot- Littler is a forceful and frank stage presence, while bassist Billie Rogers and drummer Alex Brown bounce off each other perfectly. Yet Kings of Convenience's meandering cut into Street Chant's already truncated set, and the band's monitors were shut down mid-song. Poor form from backstage staff.

Never mind, Minneapolis's Polica was up next- their electronic tinged indie seemed a winner with the crowd, but personally I would've liked more spike. Nice grooves, but ultimately a bit airy.

I decided to venture to the far end of Silo Park, just in time for Lawrence Arabia's set. Frontman, James Milne, sporting cricket whites soaked up the sun, while the full band- which included a horn and string section- breezily trotted through selections from latest album, the Sparrow. Perfectly pitched for a warm day.

The best thing about Wellington six-piece Phoenix Foundation's set was a good-humoured introduction from Auckland mayor Len Brown. Both the band and the crowd seemed to struggle with the fact that the set consisted almost entirely of new material. It lacked the sense of being swept up in a drunken melodic wave that can overtake their best performances. As for New Jersey boys Real Estate, they have the charm, but not the substance, to make their jangling sunshine-pop stick, but Iceland's Of Monsters and Men , with their anthem-ready folk-rock, got the biggest reaction of the day. The group's reliance on call-and-response games with the crowd was obvious but effective- and nearly every song hurtled to some sort of massive, soaring chorus. In short, they were custom-built for this environment. Alt-J, on the other hand, would have been better in an indoor setting. The British four-piece lacked stage presence, but their sound is oddly mesmeric: cluttered guitar-lines, deep bass frequencies and agitated, panicked vocals. Sometimes the sound's impact got lost in the open-air environment, but the band's intensity made up for it. On the back stage, Canadian duo Japandroids frenetic punk boogie was a winner, while Londoner Jessie Ware crooned as the sun went down. She's almost certainly going to be huge- she's gorgeous, she's got an alluring voice and her dub-step influenced take on modern R ‘n' B is undeniably trendy. It was occasionally too smooth for these ears, but she's nonetheless an engaging performer.

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Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to Bailter Space's set, and I wished I couldn't hear Yeasayer. Everything about their sound is ugly and needlessly processed. Thank goodness for Bat for Lashes. Singer Natasha Khan was utterly at ease on the big stage, and her flair for melodrama, along with her striking voice, controlled the crowd. Everything about her performance, from her banter with the crowd to the way she paced the set- ending with a spirited rendition of "Daniel"- worked perfectly.

Finally, it was time for headliners Tame Impala. The Perth band's second LP, Lonerism, is so densely layered in its "psychedelia"-influenced rock that it's surprising how much more expansive it sounded in a live setting. Sure, it sometimes felt like the separate band members were all playing different versions of the same song, yet it all came together at the right moment.

But did Laneways fill the Big Day Out-sized gap? The organisers need to decide how much more they can expand it, right down to the variety of acts on show. The size of the venue, as well as simple things such as making sure the bar doesn't run out of alcohol, also need to be addressed. Even so, Laneways has deservedly cemented its place on the calendar. I'll be back next year- it was, after all, a Good Day Out.

- The Timaru Herald

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