Report - Harvest Festival, Sydney 2012
Parramatta Park, Sydney
Saturday 17th November 2012
By Jonno & David Seidler
Jonno: Unlike the widely publicised travails of Melbourne last year, the 2011 Harvest festival in Sydney was pretty much perfect. There’s only a few ways Mr Maddah and Co. could have screwed it up, and Beirut pulling out and throwing his penultimate headliners into direct opposition with each other certainly wasn’t his fault. But shifting the layout of the festival, which was so simple and easy to navigate last year wasn’t the best of moves from a punters perspective. The newfound natural amphitheatre for the main stage worked against a larger vibe; appropriate for Sigur Ros but not the resulting wide open flat terrain for the second stage. But that’s a minor quibble given that the sound was once again impeccable across the day and majority of the performances were stellar.David: With only three albums to their name, Austin’s The Black Angels might’ve been younger than many of the veterans playing mid-afternoon but still drew a sizeable crowd to the Big Red Tractor stage. Many might have been turned off by the alternatively screeching, crooning of Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane just below in the natural amphitheatre. Whatever the case, the purveyors of blues/psychedelic rock – not unlike a heavier Black Keys – had the lion’s share of silk shirts as the sun began to recede behind giant gum trees. As drummer Stephanie Bailey kept her male counterparts in check through a rambunctious but tightly controlled set, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Woodstock, 1969. The Black Angels’ appropriately dark, guitar-heavy ride through their discography had the time-travelling set – all vintage Ray Bans, floppy hats, patterned shirts and cowboy boots – rapt. It was nothing spectacular, nothing soaring, but highlights from the recent Phosphene Dream particularly demonstrated that the Angels had their wings screwed on just right.
J: Everyone hates on Cake but those people evidently don’t know how to have fun. Easily the most entertaining and self-effacing set of the day, the ‘90s two-hit (or multi-, if you were that girl next to us who knew every word to everything) wonders made the best of their unannounced upgrade to the main stage by blasting out trumpets, slapping vibraphones and making all the couples swivel their hips. Whether you view them as a novelty or not, as performers, Cake are quite close to flawless. After twenty or so years, they’re a well-oiled machine and every song sounded and came off perfectly. Frontman John Mcrae was in brilliant form and his deadpan banter could have been on stage at a comedy club, while his recently minted rhythm section chugged through a solid hour of alternate, Southern-fried mariachi whatever-it-is-they-do and everyone dug it.
Beck (pictured) didn’t do it for me as much as Ben Folds did. Somehow, with all the hype and all the songs and even a visiting sitar-player rolling on-stage to play ‘Loser’, there seemed to be this vacant space for the firecracker that never quite went off. Hansen didn’t help matters by dropping a number of Seachange slow burners and deep cuts from the Information in there and backing it up with newer songs. To his credit, when Beck got going - whipping out incredible solos on ‘Where It’s At?’ and getting his bass player to unleash punk rock screamo hell on ‘One Foot In the Grave’ – he nailed it. But it wasn’t consistent enough, something you’d expect from a guy who has spent most of his career shape-shifting. By contrast, Ben Folds smashed out ‘Underground’, ‘Kate’, ‘Brick’ and ‘Army’ in under twenty minutes, despite being relegated to the back of the woods. His ability to read his audience, something Hansen didn’t seem to particularly care about this evening, was unparalleled, as was his voice.
D: After the alt-tronica highs of a Beck set that skittered across genre so effortlessly, the prospect of listening to indie rock big fish escaping the small pond of Brooklyn—the band we’d heard called ‘Grizzly Bore’ umpteen times this week—was less than appealing. And yet, as founding member and frontman Ed Droste shirked small talk for tunes, (earnestly offering, “we’re trying to get through as many songs as possible in our slot”), this generation’s bandwagon band, which everybody is now in a hurry to disembark from, proved their staying power. Grizzly Bear songs aren’t easy to reproduce live. They’re messy, noisy, harmony-filled beasts. Droste, job-sharing vocal duties with the equally able Daniel Rossen, steered the band magnificently through gripping renditions of ‘Ready, Able’, ‘On A Neck, On A Spit’ and countless other complex ditties. You wouldn’t believe thinking man’s rock would translate, but as the moon made an appearance and the Parramatta-bound train rattled behind them, Grizzly Bear shone. That the ubiquitous ‘Two Weeks’ wasn’t a premature climax is testament to the band’s capacity to enthrall.
J: Sigur Ros were beyond amazing. Jonsi opened his mouth and a thousand people had collective spine-tingles (official). Credit where it’s due; we’ve never heard such spectacular mixing in an outdoor setting for a small orchestra in our lives. Everything was crystal clear and pure, from delicate glockenspiels of ‘Saeglopur’ through to the heavens-opening crescendos of some other song we cannot possibly notate properly. All around us, fans broke into fits of ecstasy that was unusual and endearing, flailing their arms and singing the notes to a language that they would never comprehend. It was art at its peak and it was easy to close our eyes and be submerged fully in the wash of sound that could only come from that corner of the Earth. Time has never passed so fast.
D: Tearing ourselves reluctantly away from the aural explosion of Sigur Ros, we trudged back up the hill to witness Santigold (formerly Santogold, formally Santi White) provide an otherwise incongruous but very well received alternative headliner performance. Having toured the hell out of her eponymous debut since 2008, Santigold gives palpable expression to the title of her second album released earlier this year, Master of My Make-Believe. From go to woe, from ‘Shove It’ to newbie ‘The Keepers’, Santi had the whole thing down to a fist-pump and a butt-shake. Presenting a supremely choreographed show that belied her indie roots, the reggae-inspired Brooklynite positively sizzled on stage, maintaining high energy through three dress changes and a couple of dance skits. Some lesser tracks stultified when reproduced by a live band, repetitive beats undermining Santi’s impressive vocals, but thicker cuts like recent single ‘Disparate Youth’ made up for any patchiness. Watching 20 kids, picked from the crowd, lose their shit to the tribal ‘Creator’ left a lasting image, Santi beaming, reaping the harvest of a hyper-organised, well-tuned show.
J: We round out the night dancing to the retroactive acid-disco of Crazy P, because strange and unusual contrasts are what Harvest is all about. The great thing about this festival is that the no-dickheads mantra has still managed to carry over and everyone is really there as a music appreciator. There’s so much space, but a close sense of community nonetheless. Providing they never serve Pina Colada ice tea mixer again, you can sign us up for next year asap.
Jonno & David Seidler
(Photos: Will Reichelt)