Savages were always a good idea on paper. I liked the image, the manifesto, the album cover photo, I just didn’t think much of the music the couple of times I tried listening to the album. Everyone told me that I needed to see them live so I quit Haim after a couple of songs and watch almost all of Savages set. Live, they’re still nothing special. For the most part it’s a work(wo)man-like performance with no real thrills or much in the way of stand-out moments. The best song they play for far is the song they end with, a 10+ minute long epic that starts with a drawn out monologue by Jehnny Beth as the intro to the song that sounds far more scripted than it does a spontaneous soliloquy. Not being overly familiar with their songs, I think it’s called ‘Fuckers’ and appeared on a Record Store Day release earlier this year. It’s the one truly exciting moment of their set, the only time when it all comes together to a point where you can understand why people said that they were a band that you have to see live. Even though it might be a perfect 10 minutes and go a long way to making up for what proceeds it, it’s not really enough to justify the hype. I had high hopes for photographing them but instead they play with only backlighting and so the photos I get are really disappointing.
Lorde’s Pure Heroine was my favourite album of 2013. It’s a ridiculously assured and confident album and at less than 40 minutes, it never outstays its welcome. I love her voice, especially when she sings in her lower register and as a big fan of female vocals and harmonies, it was always something I was going to really like. Despite that, I was apprehensive about how it would work in a live setting; how do you replicate all those vocal tracks? If you don’t, it’s highly unlikely that the songs would stand up. In the end she did the obvious approach and used backing tracks, with just another two musicians on stage, one on keyboards, one playing drums. They’re hidden in the background and in the midst of all the dry ice so they don’t distract from the main focus and at times you can barely even make them out. From start to finish, you just can’t take your eyes off Ella Yelich-O’Connor, it’s just a complete performance. Plans to nip off and photograph Jaguar Ma are ditched to spend more time watching Lorde and by the end of the set there’s no doubt as to who the act of the day will be.
One of the great mysteries is why on earth The Jezabels are headlining Laneway. By headlining I mean playing last on the festival’s largest stage, even though there are still bands playing after them on the other stages. Whereas both Lorde and Haim packed the Alexandria Street stage, The Jezabels played to about 10% of the crowd that had previously been here only about 30 minutes earlier. Compared to earlier, when it was a struggle to push through the crowd to the photo pit, it’s now just an easy stroll. I stick it out for a couple of songs and that’s more than enough.
The Zoo stage area is packed for Danny Brown. Whereas getting through the crowd into the photo pit for The Jezabels was a breeze, getting into the pit for Danny Brown is a real squeeze that gets worse the closer you get to the stage. It’s one of those moments, the only one at this year’s Laneway, where you feel uncomfortable in the photo pit, when there’s an air of dread about the whole thing as you consider the structural integrity of the steel barrier and the pressure that’s being exerted on it by the very large crowd. It’s insanity at the front and I can’t say I miss those days of being crushed at the front of a show that I used to endure in my younger days and before I started photographing. It can be bad enough when you end up pushed up against the stage at some shows at The Zoo, with only a few hundred people behind you, let alone when you’re pushed against barrier with the weight of thousands to support. As excellent as Danny Brown is (and I love the photos I get of him tonight), I only stick it out for a couple of songs. I might have a barrier between me and the audience but I just don’t feel comfortable thinking about what happens if that barrier collapses.
As good as Warpaint are tonight (and they are excellent), it’s disappointing that they play in a mix of no lights and red lights together with a smoke machine; all the things my camera hates. Thinking about the band in retrospect, they’re one of those acts that seems to only ever play festivals in/near Brisbane and so we never get an opportunity to see them play a full set at a headline show of their own. I guess we’ll be seeing them again in Brisbane at one festival or another the next time they put out a record in three or four years time.
Laneway ends with a couple of sets on The Zoo stage from Run The Jewels and then Earl Sweatshirt rounding off the day. By this time of the day fatigue is really setting in and it becomes a case of marking time sitting down until the next act. It’s always the way at music festivals; by the time you get to the pointy end of the day with the main headliners, you’re too tired to appreciate and enjoy it. It just becomes part of a countdown until the end of the day when you can get off your feet, get the 10kg camera bag off your shoulders and have something decent to eat and drink. Both Run The Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt are fun but lack the excitement/sense of dread that came from seeing Danny Brown a couple of hours earlier.
Laneway was an exceptional, easily the best booked festival of the year by a country mile. As can now be seen by a Splendour bill that recycles a fair chunk of this year’s Laneway (with a few BDO acts for good measure) but for about 4x the price. At something like $120 a ticket, Laneway represents ridiculously good value when the other summer festivals were well over $150 (I think Soundwave/BDO are in the $180 area these days). I can’t wait until next year.