Tuesday, 16 February 2010

LANEWAYS ~ From the Energised Hotspot of the Red Bull Ana(b)log Board

With a line-up that reflected the eclectic, yet streamlined zeitgeist of 2010 indie hipsters, the inaugural Auckland Laneways was a much anticipated event and welcome addition to the festival circuit.

The Red Bull Ana(b)log crew turned up early, when the clouds still seemed formidable and we soon had chalky digits. With a blank canvas in front of us, we quickly filled our blackboard pun-o-blog (aka ana(b)log) with anecdotes and previews for the day ahead. The first challenges involved mastering the snapability of the chalk itself and subtle lashings of rain on the blackboard – akin to a traditional blogger spitting on their computer screen – not ideal.

Positioned between the two stages was a great spot to post the day unfolding and catch revellers as they swung between - or headed off to the ‘world record wait’ queue for beer or a pottle of hot chips. Anyway, enough has already been said about these teething problems, and I’m sure there were many logistical/council bylaw issues that will be ironed out for the next Laneways. But first let’s crack into this gig at hand.

Kicking off the festival, are Street Chant, the perfect outfit to open proceedings with their no-frills garage rock and showcased a band that could grow within their limited parameters. The arty nature of Laneways quickly sunk in as Dear Times Waste took to the Red Bull Stage. They meandered through their own brand of brittle melancholy, as the official Rayban sunglasses count rose above the 500 mark and the sun had moments of sneaking through the grey urban landscape and mute tones in the sky.

Next up were The Naked + Famous who intoxicated the daytime crowd with their narcotic industrial hum and sexy tension, probably the ones to watch for international expansion. Switching channels, Family Cactus hit the Red Bull Stage and all of a sudden, the festival seemed a lot more pastoral – in a great way – their earthy rock seemed a musical notation of some New Zealand landscape. It is a quality that Wellington bands seem to master – the Family Cactus struck a warm heartfelt chord.

Again swinging past ana(b)log H.Q. I drop off reviews, previews and quotations to the chalky digit scribers. At the same time a guy writes the date above the ‘Tweets’ section – 01.02.2010. Kind of like a mirror image numeric palindrome (the day and month ‘spells’ 2010 if read backward) - cosmic shit! The dude tells me it won’t happen again for 1000 years, auspicious at the very least.

Meanwhile Surf City pay homage to sub 4 minute Flying Nun pop to a loyal bNet crowd, of which there is a large contingent. Bachelorette follow on the Red Bull Stage, having replaced Hockey, her floating electro pop bellows out like Styrofoam over the east section of Britomart square.

When The Phoenix Foundation hit the stage they draw back the clouds and holy light funnels into Gotham City. Is this the second coming? Samuel Flynn Scott dressed in a technicolour dreamcoat and Luke Buda in the Jesus Christ Pose? With their typical cynical swagger and great pop tunes, I think not.

Next up, Sarah Blasko walked onto stage like a film noir pixie, dressed in a vanilla polka dot dress and twee pop songs that probably go best with wee cupcakes and a pot of earl grey tea. Delicious indeed.

To many the anticipated highlight was the Xx, and the real thing did not disappoint. With their mixture of sparse hypnotic bass lines, swirling synthetic beats and Mazzy Star styled fuzz guitar, the Xx seduced the Auckland crowd as Madley-Croft and (the ladies favourite) Oliver Sim shared the vocals. Any naysayers who coined them as a fad band where soon silenced as bass massaged the rib cage of most punters and you realised just how many of their stealthily sexy pop songs were stuck in your head. Magic stuff.

If the glimmer of cool youth had just been witnessed, then the shabby naive genius of an aging cult hero was about to take place on the Red Bull Stage. Daniel Johnston masks his madness with Beatlesque pop ditties and Casper the friendly ghost always at his side (in his mind anyway) guiding him through the lo-fi wilderness. His performance did either confound or caress festival goers. To the initiated with Mr. D Johnston, this was like seeing the Little Richard of American indie, the great grandfather of grunge (or something). To others this was like a barely audible weird old uncle up on stage. The former were drawn to his performance like moths to light, the latter scattered like autumn leaves, some deciding this was the time to queue an hour for a beer.

Cut Off Your Hands first cut off Daniel Johnston’s set as they hit the stage just as Dr. J was about to bring his backing band out. For this reason I boycotted their performance, which by most accounts was typically fey and heartfelt. If the tailored indie of Cut Off Your Hands was a bit too well groomed for your taste, then the spit (un)polished garage rawk of The Black Lips would have been a welcome aural enema. With axle grease under their tongues they spat out primal low riding tunes that they are infamous for.

After a little arvo chat from the Laneways Australia promoter , Dirty Three are released from the lunatic asylum and out on stage. This is the case with Warren Ellis anyway, the violin toting front man, looking like Rasputin and throwing out evil little leg kicks like Rumpelstiltskin . Songs about death never sounded so alive and a great rock ‘n roll curse was cast over Britomart square as the sun started to fade.

The buzz had been circulating all week about the mystery band of the festival – Chris Knox and the Nothing, with Shayne Carter there to help out as well. Knox, perhaps the most iconic of New Zealand’s punk and agitpop anti-heroes, suffered a stroke last year and his recent return to the stage is a miraculous form of catharsis. Brilliantly punk in itself, the event also saw Knox sneering with the same cartoonish venom of old.

With the last two acts harking back over the last 3 decades, the arrival of Echo and the Bunnymen was another majorly anticipated event. Singer Ian McCulloch entered looking like a ringleader from a post-nuclear future, hood up, sunglasses on and cigarette glowing in the early evening. After a few sound problems, the Bunnymen hit their straps and I couldn’t help thinking ‘I wish these guys and the Xx were doing a sideshow together at the Powerstation’ – however I was being greedy with my idealism and classics such as ‘The Cutter’ and ‘The Killing Moon’ sunk into the hearts of the generations here at Laneways.

In typically unassuming fashion the 3D’s were next on the Red Bull Stage. A bit of fluffing and they soon whirled into the super fuzz riffs and nasal vocals of ‘Outta Space’. For the feral youth growing up in the 1990s the 3D’s are in the premier league of indie rock, the lofty climes where The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Pavement and My Bloody Valentine reside. Like jaunty sailors they creaked and veered their own brand of guitar histrionics through the ocean of fans - happy to witness these New Zealand legends for the first time - or the elders who relished in this nostalgic chunk of timeless guitar noise.

For fashionistas and music purists alike, Florence and the Machine was one of the ‘buzz’ bands to watch. With a livewire performance, i-D magazine inspired fashion hipness and a soaring voice Florence Welch entertained the crowd like a cabaret singer abducted by aliens in 1936 and transported back to the distant future as a pitch perfect performer. In the stark surroundings of Britomart square, Florence entertained her fans with quips and all the hits. Aided by a steamy light show and blaggers sitting in city apartments taking in the free gig – it took on a futuristic, vaudeville type quality. She had great legs as well.

To many, Florence was the highlight and perfect end to the night, so as many siphoned back into the CBD, hip hop mavericks N.A.S.A cranked up their cartoon antics and O.T.T beats on the Red Bull Stage. The sole representatives of the hip hop sphere, it is a pity this didn’t morph into a block party of sorts. Wishful thinking, but this thought is just another example of how great you can imagine Laneways being in a perfect world without city bylaws. Of course this is naive idealism and just hope, now that the cherry has been popped, it can evolve into the sophisticated and adventurous orgy of rock ‘n’ roll that it should be.

The ana(b)log night ends with flash lights illuminating and capturing the final posts on the board. Fine layers of chalk fill in the background and little nibs of chalk litter the floor like innocent, non toxic ciggie butts. Our wax on, wax off approach to capturing the day has been great, giving wings to a novel concept and energy to the idea of irony and humour where analogue manoeuvres imitate a digital world.

By Brock Oliver

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