Live Review - Sound Relief, 2009What looked on paper to be a golden oldie review, instead turned into an epoch defining experience of high drama, incredible music and 80,000 people etching themselves into the history books.
Some background. TheVine sponsored a party the night before Sound Relief to which I attended. As a result, I arrived at a sodden, brutally cold Sound Relief a broken shell of a man. Little did I know that this hollow vessel would be the ideal state in which to park myself into a cushioned seat and settle into eight and a half hours of uninterrupted music, broken only by a four minute leave to purchase chips. I was a blank canvas. I was a dry sponge and Sound Relief was to be my giant, thundery, Berocca.
Due to such a state, I did not see Jet or Gabriella Cilmi perform. Being an innocent bystander to the former and violently opposed to the latter, I didn't feel it was a great loss to anyone but my seat. Instead as a typically menacing Melbourne thunderstorm hammered the roof of my
Kings of Leon look sharp, even at 2,000 feet. It was a necessary but fortunate tactic of the Sound Relief organisers to have their international stars on early. Necessary because they - Coldplay in Sydney and Kings of Leon in Melbourne - both have their respective shows to put on that night. But it also gave the early part of the day a sense of occasion and otherworldliness. I mean, Kings of Leon playing between Gabriella Cilmi and Paul Kelly. Weirdly terrific.
As the surprisingly clear strains of 'Use Somebody' followed the boys into the backstage ether on a trail of estrogen, I settle into my chair. Which, oddly, is standing completely on its own. I have found myself in the one square metre reserved for '50 year members'. Considering there is but a solitary chair here I deduce that, a) a lifetime of yelling 'YOU WHITE MAGGOT' must thin the blood and b) in my crushed state I'd stumbled into the single best seat in the house. Having come here on my own with a laminate but nut no numbered reservation, this was akin to Captain Ahab opening the blinds to see his white whale parked in the driveway. Frown < upside down.
To hear Paul Kelly sing "I'm high on the hill looking over the bridge to the M.C.G. / and way up on high the clock on the silo says eleven degrees" surrounded by the facts of his 22 year old lyric writ large, is a greatly beautiful thing. Backed by Ashley Naylor from Even on electric guitar, the icon's set includes 'To Her Door' and a crowd pleasing 'How To Make Gravy'. Unlike Jack Johnson to come, the man has the crowd transfixed and misty eyed with nought but his words and an acoustic guitar. Augie March are up next and suffer a little at the hands of the blustery conditions. Electing to play some of their more menacing work in 'Brundisium' and 'Train', the melange of sound ricochets around the giant stadium unsympathetically. It's a brute stance against the greater portion of the crowd that finally stirs during the singalong strains of 'One Crowded Hour'. For which the sky suddenly takes on biblical proportions. The frantic assembling of rain jackets down on the turf directs our collective heads upwards, where we see a thick, roiling mass of ugly green clouds bearing down upon the M.C.G, signalling either the mother of all rain storms or the interdimensional portal from Ghostbusters. The camera flashes popping around the great darkening expanse paste a surreal wallpaper on the momentary room in the song at hand.
Gozer does not descend with the ghosts and end of days, rather Mother Nature relieves herself at great force upon the assembled. Who begin cheering. We are, after all, here to help the bushfire victims. And alongside money and goodwill, what's been lacking of course is rain. It's maybe the first time at a festival that such an experience has been defiantly welcomed; for once it's ironically appropriate. Powerful stuff. Fortunately I'm on Level 2 nestled about 20 feet under Level 3 and so shielded from every element but myself. The big screen cuts to Architecture in Helsinki playing in Sydney, and while they sound sharp the sunny footage makes their relief effort seem phoned in. We're here dealing with the Gods.
Bliss n Eso are up next and I'm convinced the Sydney hip-hop trio are going to go down like a sack of shivering punters. They are, instead, fantastic. As the heavens pour they enter the arena on a wave of goodwill and party starting, which as it turns out is exactly what the lubricated ground levels need. Some focus. Even their standard "Say oh-oh" goes down a treat, and after the jumbled sound for Augie March and Paul Kelly, the crisp thud of 'Up Jumped the Boogie' travels satisfyingly all the way to the back. Halfway through they lose power to the stage, suggesting the weather is relieving itself harder than welcomed. It's soon back on and they return as if nothing's amiss. Though perhaps this is why the relentlessly advertised Paris Wells performs just one song with them.
When they're not cutting to Sydney between acts to show what's going on up north (at this juncture a bonnet-clad You Am I seem lively) a cavalcade of commercial radio "personalities" are coming out on stage to delete any sense of drama, occasion or familial joy that may have been arrived at by the pea-brains in the audience. Barry Bissell seems to be the main offender. A typical announcement might go, "Wow. What a great audience! This is a truly amazing day!! All the artists are coming off the stage and saying *dramatic pause* 'This. Is. The. Best. Crowd. They've. Ever. Played. To!! Give yourself a round of applause!!!" There's 80, 000 people here Barry, the largest paying gig in the history of the nation. None of the performers have ever played to this many puffy-chested sycophants egging on the do-gooders. Why don't you add: "Just in! Every performer coming off stage has mentioned to me personally that All. Music. Sounds. Better. When. I. Punctuate. It. With. Base. Observations. While. Overriding. The. Inherent. Beauty. In. Lyrical. Connection. And. Live. Music. Performance."
Up next is Kasey Chambers and perhaps the most fortunate late '90s middling Oz indie muso Shane Nicholson. Nicholson's voice lies warmly behind Chamber's, complimenting the group's country stylings perfectly. Chambers is gracious and excited. So I feel sore in saying this was the only time during the day that I wear earplugs. They stayed in for the obligatory cut to Sydney for the sleepy gospel of Marcia Hines.
Liam Finn first appears, not on stage, but on the jumbo screens, holding two fingers up above some jovial blockhead from another radio station. Already he's killing it. The perennially impressive 'Second Chance' from I'll Be Lightning manages to flex every excitement gland within Finn and cohort EJ Barnes for 4 blistering minutes. Then the duo then move to more indulgent territory that threatens to derail this fine start. Until Liam introduces his "friends' including one "N Dogg" a.k.a Neil Finn. With Jr on drums, uncle Tim in the middle, Nick Seymour to the side and Neil posited next to his son, the opening strains of 'Don't Dream It's Over' send the crowds streaming from the exits in droves. Holy shit. Crowded House. By the time 'Weather With You' is on camera phones and 'Better Be Home Soon' is in its extended crowd-participation coda, the place is in raptures.
From this unexpected high, a musical and cultural lull begins that wouldn't resurrect until the onset of darkness. We watch the Channel Nine footage of Koala "Sam" be "reunited" with the fireman that famously handed the little guy a bottle of water to drink. A touching feat that has since been reliably stomped all over by the media. "'He' is actually a 'she'", coos the caretaker of the recuperating Koala. "And she's got a boyfriend now called Bob" she convinces, while the camera crew in the background will the simple beast to draw a crude love heart in the leaves scattered over the kitchen floor. Red Symons and Dannii Minouge appear on stage saying something about something or other and feebly work the crowd like it's 1985. We watch an American poppet named Taylor Swift in Sydney set popular music back to the dark ages as her fabricated band of soulless gigolos mince through sonic vomit. I think my hangover is starting to wear off, feeling good. A humble Jack Johnson appears on stage to a giant roar and then good-naturedly lolls around in neutral, playing what seems like the same song over and over and over. As he disappears we see Eskimo Joe pouting in Sydney. Darkness descends.
Tensions rise palpably for a reunited Wolfmother to take the stage. Will they be any good? Why do they need three members to replace two? Will anyone care? Turns out "pretty good", "not really", and "yes". Maybe it's unfair to judge this new lineup still in its infancy (and in a stadium no less) but the band shows none of the leanness that made it so lively. Andrew Stockdale's voice is as strong as ever and the riffs are legible, but there's a lithe rawness missing. It doesn't deter the crowd, who lap up every familiar epic. But when the new keyboard/bassist goes for a keyboard stand tilt, a la the departed Chris Ross, the whole thing collapses to the floor in a heap. Literally. Early days.
As Wolfmother depart in dusk, we anticipate the "special announcement". Kylie appears on stage - having flown in from her London home - to sing 'I Still Call Australia Home'. Toni Collette arrives on stage in Sydney to announce a minutes silence. The first half of which is eerily punctuated by nothing but wind whistling through 80,000 souls standing in unison. The second by knobs who can't hold their drink. The "special announcement" comes in the form of Prince William and Prince Harry parked on a plump lounge on the other side of the globe, sending their sympathy. I wonder if the royalty ten rows down wearing 'Craigieburn Firefighter' tee shirts are touched.
As the brothers dim, every light in the stadium blinks out. The stage lights blaze through dry ice and NOW we're at a rock concert! Here comes the business end.
Hunters and Collectors walk on stage for the first time in eleven years and Mark Seymour leads his charges through the muscle; 'When The River Runs Dry', 'You Don't Make Me Feel Like A Woman Anymore', 'Blind Eye' and 'The Grit'. Then the tune that's rung through this arena most Septembers - 'Holy Grail' - followed by the day's first goosebumps (since his brothers band) 'Throw Your Arms Around Me'. Everyone's arm in arm. Even the elderly couple in front of me are singing. The Hunters leave the stage to a triumphant roar, before being coaxed back out by another robotic radio presenter to "play one more". It threatens to bury the starry moment earlier but 'The Slab' duly ramps things back up for the entrance of Split Enz.
Before them however we see The Presets doing the business in Sydney. It's a reminder of how guitar heavy it is down in Melbourne; this cross to the dance superheroes a welcome foot-tapping insertion. (PS: Whoever's idea it was to stagger the playing times and cross back and forth between the venues via the video screen should be high fived). Split Enz hit the stage wearing matching tassle suits and silver hair. While their anticipation may have been diluted a little by the Crowded House surprise, the band arrive blazing nonetheless. Tim and Neil jerk around the front of the stage while the rest hover like calm white spectres above their instruments. They finish with the holy triumvirate of 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat', 'History Never Repeats' and 'I See Red'. Everyone is standing.
While waiting for the environment minister we watch a glowing Iva Davies in Sydney leading Icehouse through 'Great Southern Land'. They sound as fresh and relevant as the two reunions we've just witnessed. The staying power of Oz rock huh?
Everyone is on their feet, security guards can't clear enough room along the walkways and camera flashes are glittering around the arena. The wiry figure of Peter Garrett is seen in the darkness and people near begin weeping. A couple of guitar chinks and a brief "Hello" and THERE THEY ARE tearing into 'Redneck Wonderland'. Down on the concourse the great sea of people heave; the writhing silhouettes swarming over each level, seat and doorway of the M.C.G's five stands til it reaches the top, back wall. Fucking amazing. Garrett's in fine voice; shimmying and spazzing across the stage in front of his stoic, spitting rock band. Three songs in, as the chord changes shift over the tail of 'Blue Sky Mining'...I choke up a little. I won't lie. Midnight Oil are halfway through a hiccup in time where they're still a BAND and it's blowing peoples minds.
Jim Moginie plays Advance Australia Fair by the way of a guitar solo, which leads into 'One Country'. 'Beds Are Burning', 'King Of The Mountain', 'The Dead Heart' and 'Power and the Passion' follow. Garrett strides out on the landings in front of the video screens during set closer 'Best of Both Worlds', working the arena like a club. Previous acts fade into oblivion and we could have been here for 20 minutes such is the adrenalin.
They disappear as the members area around me hugs itself into drunken pools of flesh. The band returns, blisters through 'Sometimes', says thanks and disappears back to the offices of Parliament, families and folklore.
Sometimes you're shaken to the core
Sometimes the face is gonna fall
But you don't give in
Thank you bands, thank you organisers, thank you ball boys. It was a good day.
SOUND RELIEF PHOTO GALLERY
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