Festival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Featured Artists: Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic, Meg Mac, Paul Kelly presents the Merri Soul Sessions
Photos by Stuart Bucknell
At every multi-genre festival, there is a variety of acts that are both very folky and others that may only just touch on the concept of what Timber and Steel covers. But at Falls Festival, I had three acts I could not miss, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I was a huge fan of Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic in my teen years, and I was delighted to see him included on the Falls line up after his string of hit parodies over the last 18 months. Never one to follow the norms, Yankovic started his much anticipated set from a disabled portaloo somewhere out the back of the stage and sang and danced his way to the stage with his hit Tacky – complete with cheerleader dancers. Weird ‘Al’s set was full of colour, energy, costume changes and read much like his early albums with segues and videos of historical footage and mock interviews conveying his quirky sense of humour and making time for his quick costume changes. I think these interludes were lost on a predominantly younger crowd who wouldn’t know how his albums include these kinds of quirks when played start to finish, however his recent hits Foil, Fat and Smells Like Nirvana still whipped up the crowds. I particularly enjoyed his high voltage performance of Now That’s What I Call Polka, a mashup parody of some of 2015s biggest hits from Miley to Psy, Gotye, Mackelmore and much more, really brought the crowd together. He brought both old and new to the stage, Amish Paradise and Word Crimes both got a spot and in all, his set was action packed and full of laughs from start to finish.
Meg Mac is a name I’ve been hearing regularly on the radio and among friends, I’d been looking forward to catching her live and getting a real sense of her style. Performing on New Year’s Day at the Forest Stage, you know you’re on to a winner when crowds scramble to the front at the end of the previous act to wait the 20min turn over before her performance. The crowds were relentless and energised, this would be a great set, no matter what. As Mac took to the stage, resplendent in all black and large sun hat, her smooth, sumptuous tones washed over the crowd and the spell was cast. She commands both the stage and the crowd, sauntering from one side to the other, engaging with her fans effortlessly. Her rendition of Before Trouble only proved her status as a consummate performer, even though she only won Triple J’s Unearthed as recently as 2014.
Black was the uniform and it was a tight performance from all, from her backup singers to each band member. She sipped on honey to sooth her voice throughout – she says she struggled while performing at Marion Bay, but you couldn’t tell from the superb vibrato and stunning vocals she delivered.
From an absolutely jam packed set, highlights included Never Be, Turning, Every Lie, and of course Known Better received rapturous applause, and every person singing along, only to be outdone by a superb a Capella opening and beautiful performance of Grandma’s Hands.
There is a certain pleasure in hearing an act at a festival sound just like they do on record, but being able to add to the chorus in voice, body and rhythm from the audience takes the whole experience higher. Meg Mac is a star on the rise.
I feel like I have waited my entire adult life to see a collaboration like Paul Kelly presents The Merri Soul Sessions. On the first day of the new year, I lined myself up in the perfect spot to soak up their entire Valley Stage show. From the get go, it was clear this is a slick set of friends who can bounce off each other and share the stage equally. A cool, soulful beat introduced the ladies and gents to the stage, Vika and Linda Bull, Clairy Browne, Kira Puru and Dan Sultan! The Bull sisters took the reigns with their contributions What You Want and Smells Like Rain that held the crowd captivated. I’ve never seen Dan Sultan as a backup singer but he took to the role well and provided his beautiful timbre to the depths of the harmonies.
Kira Puru’s Righteous Woman, achieved a tone of a more Australian soul than the traditional expectation and engaged the whole line up beautifully. Claire Browne, rocking a white full length jacket and matching two piece, gave a lamentful rendition of Where Were You When I Needed You. We are so used to seeing her as a brazen soul sister with her Bangin’ Rackettes, that it’s a wonderful contrast to see her collaborating on the Merri Soul Sessions and delivering something delicate and with a whole new aspect to her repertoire. Dan Sultan brought a more upbeat tempo with Don’t Let A Good Thing Go and had the audience begging for more.
The set suffered a major power outage, cutting everything except some basic stage lighting. A testament to their experience and years of performance, the entire troupe continued on playing, jamming, clapping, singing and engaging the audience in the front who all joined in while the issue was resolved. It took a few minutes to fix and as soon as the lighting and sound came back on, they rounded out their jam and swung straight back to pick up the song right from where they were cut off. It was a spectacular site and a seamless cover for the inconvenience.
The Merri Soul Sessions are a captivating collection of masterful musicians, working together to create mesmerizing, transcendent tunes that make any soul happy. Between them, they each have their specialty, Clairy Browne commands the stage and captivates the crowds with stoic stillness, Kira Puru brings her signature style melded with a gospel soul sound, Dan Sultan’s rock tinged melodies soar over the Bull sisters’ famous close harmonies, all creating planes of sound and story to explore.
In spite of the technical hitch, they played their entire album plus some surprises for the eager audience. The highlight towards the end was always going to be Dumb Things given the full Merri Souls treatment which was met with rapturous applause and every voice joining in from the crowd. But the most beautiful shared moment would have to be the very last, all 6 of them crowded around one microphone to sing, a Capella, a stirring Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air. Words cannot describe the hush of the crowd, the weaving of harmonies, or the electricity in the air. Simply magical.
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