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Report: Harvest Festival, Melbourne 2012

Report: Harvest Festival, Melbourne 2012

Harvest Festival
Sunday 11th November
Werribee Park, Werribee VIC

Whatever ghosts were lingering from last year's organisational debacle were thoroughly laid to rest at Melbourne's Harvest in 2012. In fact, it's hard not to see how this year's event wasn't the perfect festival.

If your Pitchfork-approved and/or '90s leaning iTunes playlist became sentient and booked a day out at a golf course in Thailand

Tottering around the sun-drenched manicured lawns amidst art sculptures and prehistoric trees; international artists stretching out on generous hour plus sets with no stage bleed; an array of toilets, fine foods and alcoholic beverages available precisely when you felt the urge; the option to spend most of the day enjoying the arts program; a hot day with plenty of cool alcoves and shade ahead of a t-shirt friendly velvet night. And free bananas. So popular were the free bananas that you can imagine them building vast underground storage units full of them; Magic Balm Wands for any future pickles: "Listen everyone, the firestorm is now visible from space and it looks like our only shot is to jump in the lake. Only 5% of us have a chance of survival so free bananas." *wild cheers*

Organisers would be disappointed that the problems of last year are barnacled onto their history. But if last year had to happen to get this experience, then every dead drink ticket and car park waiting minute in 2011 was worth it. (And that's nothing to say of the previous day's show, featuring the same bill. If this year's bands return home talking about spending two leisurely days in the sun, strolling between gorgeous Werribee mansion, polo fields, an exotic zoo and 20,000 people on tap, future lineups look rosy.)

Outliers

The War on Drugs should open every Harvest festival. The Philadelphia band's melancholic tinges of Southern rock are perfectly suited to the laid back vibe of the event; their guitar twang and Adam Granduciel's voice lifted straight from the Great Americana Songbook. I don't know any Dexys (and the Midnight Runners) songs beyond 'Come On Eileen'. So I was enjoying its 10+ minute duration as much as anyone on the Windmill field could while watching Kevin Rowland in incredibly high-waisted pants and a slouch cap dancing around next to Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds in the hot sun. 'Come On Eileen' goes for 4:17, so it's remarkable that they could turn it into today's 'Paranoid Android'. The song eventually finished and two thirds of the crowd promptly left. I would have felt a little sorry for them if not for this exchange between Rowland and faux-Waltz immediately after the song:

"Hey Kev. Before you go, how was she?"

"I've 'ad werse!"

Jerry's Vegi Burgers is a front for Viking metal

No matter what the festival their food truck appears at, Jerry's Vegi Burgers are rogue lovers of the dark arts. Today's t-shirt slogan: TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD. The other guy was wearing a snowboarding t-shirt from the '80s. No wonder fashion outlaws like these offer sweet chili sauce WITH satay. They're listening to this:

Alas, a tent is not a club but we'll take it

Liars most recent, electronic-built album WIXIW is a great record for festival sets. They get to pulverise guitars and drums while Angus Andrew does his shrieking scarecrow thing AND they get to utilise the electronic spectrum of sub bass and danceability. One minute their disco'ing away on 'Brats', the next they're pounding everything in sight during 'Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack'. It's super serious and a goof = tense. By the time they arrived at 'Plaster Casts Of Everything' there was an actual pit. How I wished it was 1am in a dark and sweaty club, and not here amongst foliage and shorts.

How I wished it was 4am in a dark and sweaty club for Adam Miller and Johnny Jewel's artful, dark-disco outfit Chromatics. Having just watched their new vid for featuring the band playing atop an enormous podium at a Chanel fashion show in Paris, the sight of Jewel fiddling with a bum cable on his sampler in a hot tent was a bit deflating. But as soon as opener 'Tick of the Clock' unfolded into its proper shape and followed by 'Lady', it was if the shades were drawn. Like Liars, watching them set up I was dubious if they could sell me on the subconsious netherworlds that their records and imagery induce, but testament to each that nary a gimmick (beyond Jewel's black tears and the fact that Chromatic's frontwoman Ruth Radelet looks like a Bond girl) is required. The music is plenty evocative enough. Highlights both of them.

1996 - 1998

I didn't see Cake. I didn't see Ben Folds Five. I saw the Dandy Warhols play 'Bohemian Like You' while I drank a free Iced Tea care of Liptons (tagline: "Drink irresponsibly"). Cake, I'm told, were runaway pick of the bunch but well, I just didn't want to go back there I guess.

Maybe he just is?

I'm not a Mike Patton fanboy that thinks everything he touches to gold by any stretch, but everything he touches turns to gold. Because he's willing to follow his muse off a cliff. And is prickly, charismatic, has the voice of ten men and thinks that touring a 30-piece orchestra to play '50s and '60s Italian pop songs around the world is even remotely a good idea. Were the band alone to play on their own here today, the field would be empty. But Mike Patton in front of them? Genius. He croons, he screeches, he conducts and you can't look away. The sets tour through mutiple-genres within the Italian pop framework aren't that dissimilar to Mr. Bungles excesses it turns out, just packaged differently. Striking, fun and—considering it's WTF-spectacle element—possibly the must see of the festival.

Get some sleep Zach

Beirut's Zach Condon has a bad track record with Victoria. His first appearance in the state saw him play an awkward set at the Meredith Festival, plagued with sound issues. He subsequently cancelled his sideshow at the Corner due to exhaustion (word was he was hungover), and at his last—incident free and fantastic—show at the Forum he still mentioned tiredness. Sure, he's just flown in from somewhere around the world (sidenote: a number of artists coming from the US reportedly had hellish flight delays to Australia thanks to Hurricane Sandy) but repeatedly saying how jetlagged you are on stage doesn't have to be shared. Musically, the band sounded a little flat also, which is a shame considering Beirut's often excellent music has such a giddy communal feel to it. Still an ideal slot, with the sun beginning to lower in the sky but...jeez, Zach get some sleep!

What's the Icelandic word for karma?

Beck and his energized four-piece backing band ruled. 'Devil's Haircut' > 'One Foot In The Grave' > 'Loser' is the kind of opening to get even the security guards nodding. He forgot a couple of verses amongst 'Soul of a Man' and 'Think I'm in Love'. 'Modern Guilt' into 'Hotwax' brought the set to an early apex, before he bantered about walking through the animals out back (the Werriboo Zoo is just across the way) and coming across a shimmering thing that turned out to be an '80s guitar solo. Which he happened to have right now on stage, did we mind? No we didn't. "Oh I think that was Santana," he said grimacing. All was happy until he said "I should leave some up here for the other bands. Sigur Ros. I'm sure they could use it."

If he was pissed that he wasn't headlining over the Icelanders it's understandable. Considering: a) all the literature for the festival had his name at the top of the bill b) in the shared consciousness of media and public alike he seemed to be the main draw, and b) he hasn't been here for eight years. And he's loaded with hits, none of which have aged a day. After a slow lane detour into 'Jackass', 'Golden Age' and 'Lost Cause', the band took off on 'Soldier Jane'...and went too far, the wig-out costing Beck a set closer three songs later with (what was supposed to be) 'E-Pro'. Bummer ending, still one of the sets of the day.

Outliers # 2

Crazy P were a caricature of a stage headliner, their appearance last on the Big Red Tractor Stage above Liars, Chromatics, The Black Angels and every other band on the stage surely a crowd thinning tactic to get people moving towards the exists. The 40 or so people there probably had the easiest ride home. It's further head-scratching that they followed Fuck Buttons, who sounded akin to a million cicadas being jammed into a drum machine. That's meant to read like a good thing, the Bristol 2-piece working their table of gadgets into a dervish that had the tent alternately dancing and pleasantly zoning out.

There's still no atmosphere on the Windmill Stage. Which is odd, because just behind the fence there's rolling vineyards; on tip-toes it looks like the south of France. But instead (and in lieu of video screens), you're stood watching Grizzly Bear or Santigold and wondering how Avis and AEL (Australian Entertainment and Lighting) designed the logos on their trucks that flank the stage. Santi was fun and a blast of energy at the end of a long day, despite bringing the same show that she did at Parklife last year. The Bear were good but not great here, their intricacies not given room to breathe in the plainer setting -- the clarity and grandiosity of the main lawn might have done more.

Closure

That's if there was any more gravitas to be had in the vicinity of Sigur Rós. You know what they do and there's just no one like them (or as loud as them), especially when Jonsi opens his mouth to sing. I'd been wondering all day just why the main stage was so incredibly enormous (verging on a couple of hundred feet high perhaps?), and the answer came in Sigur Rós' backdrop. The back wall and side videos became a cinema, one cued to the music and that worked in tandem with the pulsing lanterns on stage (most spectacularly in 'Svefn-g-englar'). For a band that so evokes vast landscape, the group (joined here by a mini-orchestra) were the perfect soundtrack to the dusk, trees and mansion looming up behind us, and an elegant end to what has become—in just its second year—easily the most elegant festival on the calendar. Credit where it's due.

Marcus Teague (@marcusTheVine)

Photos: Leah Robertson

Correction: This review first stated that the free Lipton's Iced Tea drinks were alcoholic. Unfortunately, they were not.

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