Review by KTBell, photos by Stu B
The most glorious, sunny morning greeted us on New Years Eve, and the main arena looked like it had been hit by a maelstrom of rubbish… Or perhaps like 16,000 people had used it as their own personal rubbish disposal the night before. Bright and early the army of volunteers were attacking the clean up with vigor and precision, Emu Parade style. It didn’t take long for the Valley to be returned to it’s rolling, green, inviting condition in preparation for what was sure to be an epic day. The weather was a completely different beast with punters huddling and scrabbling for shade wherever possible. Clamoring for relief from the scorching heat, we clung to the shade cast by recycling bins more often than not.
A modest crowd assembled for Gossling‘s Valley Stage opening set, scrabbling for shade right up by the barrier. Overhearing the chatter about the previous night’s exploits resulted in a pair of lost thongs, purchased mohair and bravado personified. Drawn back to the promise of music and opening with a piano intro, Helen’s voice welcomed everyone to the day while “Days Are Over” gently greeted us all. It’s great to see her with a band behind her, giving the tracks a full sound. Among the pinwheels, Helen thanked the crowd for “coming down the hill and giving us a listen” and proceeded to hypnotise the growing numbers with “War”.
Helen switch to an acoustic guitar and commented that she had never played guitar on stage before and proceeded to play what I think was a new song as I didn’t recognise it. The crowd steadily grew as songs progressed and once returned to her keyboard, “Hazard” presented itself to the eager listeners. A drawn out note and solemn mood came over the stage as “The Only Way” seeped forth and the lament spoke solemnly across the valley.
Sharing the Falls Festival bill with 360, Helen went on to divulge that she would indeed be appearing as a part of his set later that day in The Grand Theatre which made the crowds very happy. The familiar heartbeat like thump of the bass drum introduced “Ancient Love” beautifully. To follow up, Helen explained that the next song was a slower song and not really a festival song but that they would give it a go anyway and delicate chords introduced “Oh Darling” to the valley. Her popular cover from Uncovered, “Dance The Way I Feel” was very well received and it seemed only appropriate to close on crowd favourite “I Was Young” to mark the start of an exciting afternoon and last day of the year.
We headed up the hill to The Grand Theatre to see one of Timber and Steel’s favourite yet relatively undiscovered acts, Kim Churchill. A very chilled out crowd lazed all over the grass inside the huge tent, we weren’t sure whether they were there to see Kim or not, but were soon roused by Kim‘s striking presence and opening performance. Kim had a whole swag of songs for his set, one haunting and introspective about life dreams and goals, laced with a questioning tone, another inspired by a literal dream after attending a party and catching up with childhood friends. One thing is sure, after early afternoon festival slots his presence, charisma and cheerful manner will impact on audiences and Kim Churchill will soon become a staple festival draw card.
As we stumbled out in to the blazing sun and trekked back down the valley, Alpine were blowing retro styled socks off left, right and centre on The Grant Theatre stage. I haven’t heard much from these indie popsters but their retro onesies, girl pop voices and super on stage presence had an energy that could draw anyone in for a bit of a fun fling in the sun.
Down at The Village, a shirtless, Swedish Larry Bang Bang pondered ‘Who put the c*nt I country?’ and rambled about a ‘British politician lady, fortunately not in power anymore’ and amused punters with “Margaret’s Grey Eyes”. His guitar was covered in bright stickers and he even managed a costume change while he introduced a song, ‘an Egyptian love story of a love that failed because of camels’ and both confused and amused the audience. Larry had a comedians air about him as he told endless jokes that introduced songs or gave context, including his harmonica supposedly sold to him by Bob Dylan a a flee market and that we should support independent musicians like Bob. Larry specialises in just weird songs that are amusing really, including what seemed to be an Eskimo song. He also managed to speak to us or say Thank you in 9 languages (I’m not sure which). Brite Fight who had performed on that stage earlier in the afternoon and who has been touring Europe with Larry, joined him on stage accompanying his next song “Postcard From The Moon” on grater and spoon, kind of a Clayton’s washboard I guess. All in all an intriguing alt-country and somewhat cheeky and vaguely folkish act I’d see again, just for the laughs.
It was time to head back to The Grand Theatre for Emma Louise where the crowd was quickly settling in. She had played at the Marion Bay festival the day prior and was very excited that it was her first time ever to Tasmania. 2011 was a crazy year for her, where in previous years she was ‘busking to no people’, suddenly she’s in a position of success and lots of plans to go overseas and regularly playing festivals like Falls. Backed by a band, complete with members switching between instruments to complete the right sound for the right song, Emma Louise is at the forefront with a burgeoning unfolding in front of her.
We went to check out Kimbra on The Valley Stage based solely on her collaboration with Gotye. Bedecked in a fun, pink, puffy, frilly and outrageous frock, akin to something Bjork might be seen in, she really let rip with funky pop, soul fusion. Every step and every note captured the crowds imagination. A truly enigmatic performer, Kimbra seems to have an endless source of energetic on stage. Her second song was the hugely popular “Settle Down” which had the crowd excited, opening with looping and just keys as support, building through the first verse and ramping up with the crowd in tow. Funky staccato rhythms and attitude filled vocals made her a great act to watch.
The crowds stayed through the blistering sun and were rewarded as Josh Pyke took to The Valley Stage to cheers and clapping. He’s a stylish lad, looking cool in a pink shirt and aviator glasses. The airy opening to “Clovis’ Son” with full band bolstering the melody had us cruising through the afternoon. Josh looked very comfortable and happy on stage and said it was a ‘pleasure to be back here at Falls’ shortly followed by “The Summer”, a very appropriate choice that had the audience swaying.
He wanted to play a few songs form the new album and asked the crowds if anyone had the new record. Looking out at the crowd’s response, he delighted announced ‘Most! That’s sick… As in what the kids say’ and broke in to “Good Head Start”. His set also featured “Goldmines”, “No One Wants A Lover” and of course the sing-a-long favourite “The Lighthouse Song”. It’s easy to see why Josh has become a popular festival act, with strong sets, affable demeanor and really delightful performances, he is a clear crowd favourite.
We popped in to The Grand Theatre to try and catch the end of The Head And The Heart and caught enough to be enchanted and excited by their music, but not enough to give them a whole review. Though their distinct harmonies and lilting melodies certainly have me keen to hear more and their confort on stage, jovially interacting with each other tells me they shall become a furute hit festival act. Happily Timber and Steel caught them elsewhere on their tour and you can read the review here.
With all of the folk focused acts over for the festival (or even acts vaguely and tenuously linked to folk), we settled in to just enjoy the last acts of the night.
Aloe Blacc is a soul singer I’ve been keen to see for some time and to be honest, he stole the show! His infectious tunes infected the entire valley with ‘cool’ and proved he’s certainly no one-hit wonder. Timed in the early evening, his original crowd wasn’t overwhelming, but by the time his first song had finished, the crowd had swelled to at least twice the size and people were just flocking to be closer to the sound he and his band emanate. Almost every song was uplifting, one even inspired an impromptu flashmob style dance (which we were a part of) and was so big Blacc himself could see us from stage and some video footage made it online. I’m very keen to keep an eye on Aloe Blacc and would love to see him again.
One of the big pieces of news from the Lorne Falls Festival was the midnight countdown that went awry when the Arctic Monkeys left the stage, assuming someone from the festival would be leading the countdown. They were mistaken and came back out on stage to lead an amusingly arbitrary countdown at about 12.02am. I applaud them for their ability to roll with the punches and then rock on straight back in to their set. It didn’t matter if it was a countdown at the exact time, it was a countdown on a hillside with 16,000 of your now closest mates. Falls Festival, a truly astounding New Years experience.
You can have your say about the Falls Festival by completing their online patron survey and go in the running to win a double pass to the 2012 Falls Festival.
Read our other Falls Festival reviews, part 1 In The Beginning and part 2 Mid Stride, also take a look at our feature reviews from The Countdown, Kim Churchill and Emma Louise.