The story goes that the famously hot Jamaican summer of 1967 produced reggae's easiest tempo -- the rocksteady style -- because the people could not keep up with the urgency of ska in the blazing sun. Perhaps something similar happened at Laneway Auckland on Monday. Because for all the thronging, this was a day that got more relaxed as it proceeded.
As the sun came low over the main stages, the noise from Bailter Space, the local headliners, was less industrial clang and more a golden wash of sound. Even their punk rock number -- the closing 'Machine Song', borrowed from their historic incarnation as The Gordons -- seemed pretty sweet.
And over at the pocket-size Cactus Cat stage, where the packed crowd jumped with my-E-is-coming-on exuberance for the Aussie wunderkind Flume, there was still an amiable air about things. No rock gods a la the Big Day Out, and most certainly no bogan metal. Say what you like about hipsters, they're nice to party with.
Remarkably, with a lineup that made most people go "huh?" when it was announced last year, the wandering inner-city festival seemed to find its perfect pitch in 2013. If it wasn't the perfect bill, it was a very good fit for what the Auckland leg of the Aussie-based urban festival wants to be.
Earlier in the day our crew arived on the Outer Link bus, entered without any fuss and proceeded over to Cactus Cat, where Lawrence Arabia was playing with a 10-piece band that included a string section. You might expect such intricate arrangements to get lost on an outdoor stage, but they captivated the audience and our first set of the day was one of the best.
From there, it was the Phoenix Foundation, who were introduced with inevitable enthusiasm by Len Brown ("The Auckland mayor introducing the Wellington band!"). Their opening song, 'Black Mould', the first track on their forthcoming album Fandango, was spellbinding, but there was a sense that both the band and the crowd were stil getting to grips with all the new material in the set. It possibly didn't help that Luke Buda kept drawing attention to the whole playing-our-new-stuff thing.
We repaired to the (improved and expanded) Friends and Family area for a beer and a rest, and it was only the search for a shorter toilet queue that led me bakc of to Cactus Cat for one of the surprises of the day. New Yorkers The Men finished with a great cover of The Chills' 'Pink Frost. As ever, mobile phone microphones don't quite to justice to what went on, but they fairly blazed to their conclusion.
After a little of the sweet noodlings of Real Estate, we were back at Cactus Cat for the most rockin' set of the day, from A Place to Bury Strangers, the New York-based band of former D4 frontman Dion Lunadon (nee Palmer). I have seen Dion set a PA system on fire just by playing through it. On Monday, I saw him break a bass guitar just by playing it. They were a howling storm, and pretty impressive. This is how they finished (and that's the second bass guitar trashed in 45 minutes):
Thereafter, there was Alt-J (still not convinced, but man, do the kids love them), a spell in the Thunder Dome (where 95bFM's Pennie Black brilliantly dropped The Gordons' 'Adults and Children' into a DJ set) Japandroids (diverting two-piece rockaboogie), Divine Fits (dullest band of the day) and the beautiful, roaring sunset soundscapes of Bailter Space. (NB: Stuart Page, who recorded the audio above, has video on the way.)
I wish I'd seen Jessie Ware, but we took another little rest before going over to see Flume, where the dance party was officially on. People here generally don't realise how big this kid is in Australia. He recently had four tunes at once in the Austraian Top 100 and some weeks he sells more records than One Direction. What he does is a mixture of chilled hip hop (he dropped Notorious B.I.G.'s 'Juicy' to wild aclaim), pop, soul and dubstep, wrapped up in an old-school warehouse party vibe. Only complaint? Not loud enough:
Then, the day's other big surprise. I can take or leave Bat for Lashes' records, but hearing Natasha Khan sing live was a revelation. I'm struggling to think of another big-stage act so clearly and strongly led by its lead voice. 'Laura', the showpiece, was magnificent. No one seems to have caught that on video in Auckland, but take this performance at Laneway Singapore and multiply it a few times.
By that time our crew had separated and it was just me and my boy Jim who went over to catch Nicolas Jaar, with a three-piece band, in more of a party vibe than you'd expect from his 2011 album. God, I loved this. It was beautiful, educated bass-conscious music, full of art and soul.
Jim and I left a little before the end, to beat the rush, passing Tame Impala, who seemed to be doing the business as headliners. We swiftly found a taxi and as we cruised home to the Chev, the driver quizzed me about the show. It was not, he noted, as big as the Big Day Out, where he'd take fares from people who'd travelled from all over the country. And no, it isn't: there were perhaps 6000 peple through the gates (by comparison, in one rather trying year the BDO attracted 50,000). But that pretty-but-constricted waterfront site at Wynyard wouldn't be nice with too many more punters on it.
I think this was pretty clearly the best Auckland Laneway lineup yet. The sound was good (if, as ever, a little quiet on the small stage), there was more space and more shade and the perennial problems with bar capacity weren't quite as bad this year. It felt like most of the people there liked music and knew what music they liked.
I presume it will be back on the same site next year, although the announcement of a swanky apartment development on the edge of the site isn't promising. Cities need places to play, and wealthy new residents need to play by the city's rules sometimes. Len Brown is clearly a fan. I hope his mayoral influence can come to bear on the survival of what has become a great Auckland day out.
Hey, so, I'm sorta recovered and tonight there's a show I've been looking forward to for quite a while. I've been personally advising the Big Day Out to book Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights, for three years now -- and when they finally did this year, there wasn't a Big Day out in New Zealand. But he's over playing a side show at The Studio in Karangahape Road tonight. Get there by about 11, I reckon.
And guess what!? Thanks to CRS Management, I have two double passes for tonight's Pretty Light's show to give away. You'll need to be in in the next two hours, telling me whose voice is sampled in this, perhaps his biggest tune.
Click the envelope icon to email me and put your answer in the subject line. If you ain't heard from me by 2pm, you're buying your own ticket.
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