In only its second year, I was hesitant to grab a ticket for 2012’s Harvest Festival in Melbourne. Last year’s setup was a full out clusterfuck and on top of that, I had my apprehensions about a lineup that was a little too 90s throwback for my liking. Beck, Cake, The Dandy Warhols – nein. They were offering a foundation membership for last year’s attendees to make up for 2011’s vendor and facility mishaps which only meant having your convenience/admin fees waived when purchasing tickets. I didn’t bother.
Only two weeks before the event did I decide to go, after learning Silversun Pickups were added to the bill and now with Sunday’s show sold out, an additional Saturday with the identical lineup likely meant lower crowd density. Good call because there was only 4000. Just rock up to any scheduled stage time 5 minutes ahead and stand 5 rows back. No queues for booze. Onya!
Still, it’s bit of a joke that for an event held SW of Melbourne, the Werribee train line was shutdown all weekend for repairs so you had to drive down or catch a direct express bus from Footscray. Took me 1.5hr by public transpo from the city’s north.
Onto the acts, I only caught five minutes of Dandy Warhols’ jamming at the tail-end of their set before deciding the sidestage PA would better capture my attention while waiting for Silversun Pickups. I’ve heard mixed opinions about SSP’s stage show but the only complaint from my end was guitar too low in the mix and that was a given since Brian Aubert makes heavy use of overdubs in studio. With bassist Nikki Monninger preggers, fill-in Sarah Negahdari performed more than adequately including a solo ridic in length. Don’t think I saw her once without a cheek-to-cheek smile painted across her face. I guess that’s what it’s like travelling around the world as an artist before cynicism takes hold? And drummer Christopher Guanlao? Pull that cymbal down dude, you’re gonna pull your back. Their setlist was dominated by the last two full-lengths until opening notes of “Lazy Eye” were met with multiple utterances of “finally.” Just play the hits you puppets!
Next was a trek back to the main stage to witness four songs from Mike Patton & Mondo Cane. It’s the chameleon rock vocalist’s take on Italian pop standards… in Italian. A little cultural pizazz on the day and it was likely the most fun and entertaining with dozens of musicians backing the singer. Now I’ve had Toronto’s Little Italy festival outside my doorstep and that traditional jig was a snorefest – bring on Patton weirdness. His exaggerated performance fit perfectly into volatile songs of love and death. And of course a megaphone made an appearance.
Unfortunately Mondo Cane cut into The Black Angels’ schedule. My idiot self went to the wrong stage and sat through a few notes of Cake before bolting for the half-filled tent housing Austin’s psych-rock band as they’re not for daylight. In TO I already saw them twice since 2010’s Phosphene Dream but that didn’t change BA from being in my trifecta of must-sees. Lack of crowd was bit of a bummer but that at least permitted my late arrival’s easy access up front. Their droning rhythmic assault hit the right notes of paranoia and dread; fuzzy bass and reverb guitars fulfilling Velvet Underground meets Joy Division.
An itinerary lapse permitted me to check out a few Beirut tunes in front of Werribee Mansion. Although their brass-heavy, microphone-proximity stillness caused a visually unremarkable performance, many crowd participants danced to the contrary. Like Mondo Cane’s timeslot, this eclectic instrumentation was a welcome respite to a mainly rock festival – trumpets and Zach Condon’s soothing voice setting a pleasant tea time mood unlike 2011’s The National whom I thought missed the mark.
Last year I waited 1.5 hours for grub, but not a single queue in sight this time. Due to mere proximity I just decided on Ninja Burger where upon hearing my order the counter girl on from-corporate-cue immediately screamed my order at the top of her lungs to the cook. Immediately followed by a stunned silence that can be summed up by, “yeah, that was awkward for both of us.” The food was unremarkable in relation to its price point.
Not too fussed, I mosied on over to the main stage for Beck’s set. Without any pleasantries he immediately jumped into four straight big hits with his Odelay-era backing band so it was certainly a professional execution. But eh, he has never really been my bag. I won’t whinge if he’s over a PA but there are always other options…
…so I jetted for the start of Fuck Buttons off-stage set. Saying their tent was empty is an understatement. I’m talking a dozen punters. Given they’re a dance act that incorporates post-industrial noise over escalating layered atmospheres and beats, the setting was a massive disappointment. Fuck Button’s two members stood profile on stage at opposite ends of a long table and showed little animation aside from a few headbobs and knob twiddles and a single snare drum rolled out for one track. Nobody moved. Compared to last year’s marquee dance act Holy Fuck (who blew that roof the fuck off), it was a time I kinda wish was spent suffering through Grizzly Bear instead.
Anyhoo, main event was Sigur Rós and that’s the real reason everyone made the trek down south, yeah? My first time witnessing their live production after being a fan since 2001, I was fairly ecstatic the whole performance. To raise this experience to another peak, they also played new song “Brennisteinn” that had just been introduced a week earlier at Icelandic Airwaves. Four minutes of chunky synths, dramatic strings, and a repetitive drum pattern gave way to a bassline and up-tempo dance-beat that may be indicating a futurist direction for the band. Of course it then descended into enveloping drones and feedback. Their lighting, video projection and stage setup created a surreal affair with silhouetted players orchestrating the overwhelmingly beautiful noise. As a whole, it’s fair to say there are few musical performers out there that can reach out and touch the sublime like Sigur Rós.