By RUBEN MITA

 

2017’s Laneway Festival commenced on a swelteringly hot Monday of all days, which for me followed three equally scalding days of live music at the Auckland Folk Festival. Though my tiredness didn’t dim my eager anticipation for many acts, it did combine with the weather to make me unbelievably thankful for Laneway’s choice of venue change this year.

This was my first Laneway, so I can’t properly compare this year’s Albert Park with last year’s Silo Park, but I can say that the new venue offered a lot of much-needed shade, grass and trees to rest under, while also providing a spacious and scenic setting for the four separate stages.

Following the announcement of the lineup months earlier I had decided, after briefly flicking through the names on YouTube, that aside from a few personal standouts, this would be a festival peppered with acts I would enjoy watching but wouldn’t pay for on their own. This does add up to more than it seems.

My musical experience started with New Zealand’s own dream-pop quartet Fazerdaze. The band were clearly delighted at finding themselves on the main stage at such an event, and definitely stood up to the occasion, delivering a set that sonically served to match the blistering summer sun and lush scenery, setting the mood for the day.  

Fazerdaze at Laneway 2017. Photo by Connor Crawford.

Fazerdaze at Laneway 2017. Photo by Connor Crawford.

Exposing local acts has always been one of Laneway’s fortes, and this year’s particularly long list of NZ artists included Cut Off Your Hands, Fortunes, K2K, Nikolai, Yukon Era, Purple Pilgrims, The Veils, and veterans The Chills. While it is fantastic to see New Zealand music featured so prominently, people paying large prices for an international touring festival may have harboured the feeling that these easily seen local acts were being used as lineup filler to justify the lack of more international attractions. However, this decision was by no means reflective of their musical worthiness of a place, with Fazerdaze, Cut Off Your Hands and the festival’s youngest performers Yukon Era all pulling out great performances.

America’s Whitney were an early highlight from the Thunderdome, the smallest stage, located down a luxuriously leafy side-street. Vocalist and drummer Julien Ehrlich commanded a loveable and engaging presence from behind his drum kit, and guitarist Max Kakacek’s clean, crunchy licks were my musical highlight for the first half of the day. Not being familiar with the group’s material, they proved the pay-offs of taking a chance on the range of artists included on the lineup. Despite this, I made myself leave with ten minutes left of their set to catch Car Seat Headrest at the more spacious Fountain Stage, idyllically nestled before the trees at the base of Albert Park’s grassy slope.  

Yukon Era. Photo by Connor Crawford.

Yukon Era – young and bold! Photo by Connor Crawford.

On the back of Teens Of Denial, one of last year’s strongest albums, frontman Will Toledo was joined live by three others to play a set consisting solely of tracks from that album, aside from one beautiful and surprising cover of The Boys Next Door’s Shivers (Nick Cave’s first band). While their set admittedly seemed slightly lacking in energy at times, they played exactly as expected of them, no more or less, and the dynamic changes in their songs do seem to hold an anthemic festival appeal. They left the stage with plenty of time to spare of their already-short allotted time, which was a disappointment for those there to see them.

There were some technical issues throughout the day, with Clams Casino’s DJ set apparently being cut short and problems on the Rotunda Stage delaying Aurora’s performance, but for an outdoor festival in a first-time location they did well.

Thankfully the Rotunda stage’s problems had been cleared up by the time all seven members of Australian psych band King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard (two drummers included) took the stage to soundcheck. The group were a late addition to the lineup, but thank God they were included, as their set was the festival’s highlight and raised the musical bar of the entire event.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Photo by Connor Crawford.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – a surprise highlight. Photo by Connor Crawford.

For 45 minutes, they treated the hillside to a display of relentlessly energetic and incredibly accomplished psychedelic rock’n’roll, and in return were met with the most adoring and frenzied crowd of the day (and night). In terms of both performance and musical skill, they were unmatched that day. The two drummers rolling through complex time signatures together with needle-like accuracy. I only wish they could have turned the harmonica up.

From then on, I caught bits and pieces of various artists. While Glass Animals drew a large crowd, I left after a few songs, unable to take any more of the lead singer’s over-the-top prancing over such inoffensive background music. Instead, I caught part of rising rapper Mick Jenkins’ punchy delivery on a smaller stage. A last happy surprise came when wandering past the Fountain Stage, where Floating Points were halfway through their set. Their instrumental fusion of psychedelic rock and electronic dance music was instantly captivating and made me regret missing the first half. These moments of accidental discovery are the true benefit of major festivals such as Laneway.

The choice to book Tame Impala as headliners was a surprising one, given that they have already ‘graduated’ as such from Laneway’s usual pool of popularity, having graced the festival twice previously. Playing in the late-coming summer darkness to a packed Princes Street crowd, they delivered exactly as expected, energetically enhanced versions of their grooving danceable psychedelic tracks.

Tame Impala at Laneway 2017. Photo by Max Lemeshenko.

The crowd goes wild for Tame Impala! Photo by Max Lemeshenko.

While more dedicated fans might have been slightly unsettled by their unmistakeable movement towards stadium-pop gestures (the confetti cannons looked amazing floating before the trees), at the moment they are in a sweet spot between their recent pseudo-pop leanings and healthy doses of their classic psychedelica. Although they neglected their debut album completely, and Kevin Parker’s vocals are never at their strongest live, the set was nevertheless a satisfying and sonically pleasing end to the day.

Overall, it was nice to see Laneway settling down snugly into its new venue, finding a location worthy of the music. Perhaps a more cohesive and satisfying lineup will follow now that they have this major change out of the way, but certain highlights easily warranted the business of the day, and there are few nicer places in Auckland to experience live music. All the other aspects, such as overpriced food and drinks, long queues and rushed set times are all accepted parts of festivals the world over, and really weren’t major enough to hinder my enjoyment.

The Veils. Photo by Max Lemeshenko.

The Veils in action. Photo by Max Lemeshenko.

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