Report: Homebake, Sydney 2012
The Domain, Sydney
Saturday 8 December, 2012
By Liam Casey
It all makes sense now: last year's Homebake festival was tagged with the unnecessary qualifier “Classic Edition”. Organisers were presumably paving the way for this year's “Global Edition”. ("Global Classic Edition"? - Ed.) For the first time, the festival's line-up was expanded beyond its usual usual scope of Australian and New Zealand artists. Original New Wavers Blondie were given “honorary Homebake visas”, but all the press release guff can't hide the fact that it was a cynical move.
Aside from Blondie sitting atop the bill, however, very little has changed about Homebake, with a varied line-up of Australasian acts. A few of last year's issues had been resolved, namely patchy sound issues and extortionate water prices and policies. This year organisers ran a smooth show, with most stages on time and plenty of space to move around free of congestion. (Though that could have something to do with a notably lower turnout.) The Domain offered plenty of shaded, chill-out areas, though it made for smaller crowds at some sets as punters listened from the relative cool of nearby trees.
Early in the day, San Cisco and Ball Park Music showed surprising muscle, considering the pleasantly lightweight sound of their releases to date. Parachute Youth's live show was, unfortunately, rather redundant, relying as it did on vocal effects and pre-recorded elements. A shame, as I otherwise enjoy their gloomy hipster take on trance.
The day really got started with Tim Rogers. I confess, there's an inexcusable You Am I-shaped hole in my record collection, but I was impressed by his set, not least because of its wandering moods. When I arrived, Rogers was playing laidback country tunes which wandered close to adult contemporary territory, peppered with f-bombs. Next, he was thrashing it out with his shirt off to 'Heart of the City', before winding things back with an acoustic cover of Bob Dylan's 'Boots of Spanish Leather'. (Rogers also popped up in a pimp suit for a guest turn with The Bamboos, whose pastiche of 60s and 70s funk and soul was perfect festival fodder.) Following Rogers was a disappointing set from The Saints. Pitchy and listless, it wasn't a particularly engaging set, though to the band's credit it wasn't just a tired recitation of The Hits from an iconic outfit: the title track to this year's King of the Sun, for example, was a true highlight.
Conversely, DZ Deathrays' set was a little too involving for my taste. Although their excellent debut, Bloodstreams, was declared the best hard rock/heavy metal album at this year's ARIA Awards, producer Richard Pike (of PVT) had worked hard to give their material a glossy finish that often hid its harder base. Their live show is much grittier; full of sweat, sandpaper riffs and a circle pit completely at odds with the laidback vibe elsewhere in the festival.
I find the release of a new Something For Kate album every few years comforting, as though some small part of the glory days of Juice magazine lives on. Aside from that, I haven't paid much attention to them, and I realise now, that will have to change. Emerging from hiatus with this year's Leave Your Soul To Science, their first new record since 2006's Desert Lights, the band were playing their ninth Homebake, and they nailed it. From radio favourites like 'Monsters' to new material 'The Fireball At The End Of Everything' and an acoustic sing-along rendition of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run', Something For Kate are at the top of their game. (Furthermore, it doesn't look like they've aged a day since I last saw them in 2004. Lucky bastards.)
The Sydney Comedy Festival stage should be noted. A well-curated mix of established and emerging comedians, like the sweetly sardonic Genevieve Fricker and the animatedly furious Matt Okine, churned through 10 minute sets. The crowds often spilled beyond the reach of the speakers, as it was a pleasant space to chill out and have a laugh before heading back to the festival proper.
The Rowland S. Howard tent was similarly relaxed the rest of the day (excepting DZ Deathrays' set): the tent couldn't contain the crowd wanting to see Emma Louise's tepid take on Sarah Blasko's sound, while Jinja Safari offered an energetic (if self-consciously quirky and antic-riddled) set. Husky played some pleasantly rambling indie, and the evening was closed out by Pond, the rockier side project of half of Tame Impala.
Seekae played a strong set, despite a few technical difficulties, to what was unfortunately the smallest crowd I saw all day. Their ambient, glitchy RnB makes for great late night listening at home, but their live renditions here were far more propulsive and playful. They were competing, however, with the siren call of Tame Impala. Swinging by intending to check out a song or two, I instead stayed for the whole set. What a band! With none of the self-involved noodling that often typifies a psych-rock revival outfit, the Perth outfit created gorgeous, involving soundscapes, reaching a zenith with the swooning 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards'.
A pleasant surprise was Daniel Merriweather. “Really soulful and funky,” a friend described him to me, using two adjectives guaranteed to make me run. Well, I'll eat those words, as Merriweather was one of the most engaging performers of the day, with a fantastic voice. He pulled out a cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer' but, to his credit, the inclusion of that well-known track didn't overshadow his own fast-moving material.
Tim Minchin was a surprise, too: not for me personally (I'm a left-leaning white guy with a communications degree—of course I like his stuff), but for the crowd. I didn't know if his wordy and cerebral lyrics, married to jazzy, proggy arrangements, would resonate with a festival audience, but they did. I suppose that's the brilliance of his work: it's easier to sell people ideas like the equal treatment of minorities and the fallibility of the Pope with lines like “I love boobs” and “fuck the motherfucker”. Right?
And now, the headliner. What does a band formed in New York City nearly 40 years ago have in common with Australian music in 2012? Not much, is the unsurprising answer. Speaking as a man who loves Blondie's back catalogue (even their post-reformation output), the band couldn't have been a more disappointing headliner. Sporting skull belt buckles, a fright wig that even Billy Idol would deem “a bit much” and a keytar – a keytar! - Blondie have become your grandmother's idea of what a rock band looks like.
Conversely, Kiwi Kimbra was on at the same time in the Big Top. Due to the overexposure of that song, I'd avoided Kimbra's own material. What a mistake! The girl is a star. Kimbra's music is playful and idiosyncratic, and she makes for an enchanting performer. Excuse the tired old comparison, but I've never seen an artist who reminded me so much of a young Kate Bush, with a restless energy and an unembarrassed love of art school theatrics.
Though I don't begrudge Blondie their pay cheque, I still can't figure out why they were at Homebake. While the mood of a crowd coming together to sing along to an undeniable classic like 'Call Me' is a great feeling (and perhaps a necessity—Debbie Harry's voice isn't what it once was), you can evoke the same response with a good round of SingStar. Just across the field was a young woman carrying a torch for the future of Australasian pop. It seems insult to her—and to everyone else who played on the day—to import another to crown their efforts.
(Photos: Clare Hawley)