Friday 29th June, 2012 – Review by Keaton McSweeney
A bitterly cold evening greeted punters headed down to the nine-band guitar music showcase OUR FESTIVAL at The Bakery this last Friday night. The show was devised by local muso and WASH guitarist Ben Pattison, as a way “to get people who don’t go to gigs, to start coming to gigs”, but with a $20 door charge and a diverse line-up of largely unknown local acts ranging in genre from psych-rock to hardcore punk, it was always going to a be a hard sell. But while the show may not have been the raging success that some may have envisioned, the evening certainly had its moments.
First up were pub-rock five-piece The MDC. Looking as if they’d just come from a high-school battle of the bands, these guys do rock, but they’re definitely in need of some fine-tuning. For example, lead vocalist Richard Stagg has a screech that would make Nic Cester proud, but his stage presence is awkward and his lyrics are just a little too by-the-numbers. And then there’s guitarist Chris Action’s “rock” moves, which would probably be funny if he’d stop taking himself so seriously. As things are, you can’t help but cringe every time he pulls the ol’ “Brian May playing a guitar solo on top of Buckingham Palace” pose, especially considering he’s the rhythm guitarist and the band were playing in front of 15 punters. On the bright side, jangly closing number ‘Mr Sugar’ was toe-tappin’ fun, and hopefully a good indicator of things to come from this young band.
Local oddballs 44TH SUNSET were a revelation. Led by rake-thin vocalist Nik Thompson, the five-piece breezed through an engaging set of slow burning, emo-tinged blues. Though raven-haired keyboardist Jess Clancy had to abandon her instrument due to some technical difficulties (apparently forcing the band to forego playing any of their “indie pop numbers”) the band played well regardless, with Thompson’s gruff performance nicely complimented by Clancy’s swooning backup vocals. Stark, emotional ballad ‘Cages’ was the highlight of their short set, and fans of Oberst-style folk-rock should take note; these guys are an excellent alternative, and they’re from right here in your own backyard.
In the true spirit of the festival, THE TUMBLERS played a guitar-heavy set of sludgy haunted-house grunge, with hair-flicking frontman Tim Gordon’s keening vocals evoking some serious Robert Plant comparisons along the way. In fact, with the amount of organ and synth coating their prehistoric riffage, these guys were closer to a 70’s prog-metal band than anything Cobain and co ever released. Well rehearsed and huge sounding, the band guys drew one of the larger and more responsive crowds of the evening.
After a lush, emotional set from post-rock soundscapers LANARK, THE SPITFIRES were quick to take the stage. These guys have been kicking around for ages, and don’t seem to be getting anywhere fast; after watching their solid but generally unremarkable set of wirey English punk on Friday night, it’s not hard to see why. While Liverpudlian lead singer/guitarist Sean Regan is a fine enough frontman with a good ear for earworm lyrics, any cool he exudes is firmly overpowered by bassist Paul Bovenkerk, who flops around the stage like a third-rate Mike Dirnt. On the contrary, former Aaagh Bats! drummer Lauren Reece was a welcome addition behind the kit, pounding out the opening beat to recent single ‘Suffer Kate’ with fierce concentration. Angsty closer ‘Smile’ was a clear highlight of this fairly tame set.
Completely blowing The Spitfires off the stage, festival curators WASH quickly established themselves as a well oiled, high energy rock’n’roll machine. Led into the fray by frontman/guitarist Ben Pattison and propelled by the fierce drum work of Aedan Sykes, the band tore through a well-rehearsed selection of trebly indie that drew a solid response from the crowd. Expansive recent single ‘Quick One (I’m On My Own)’ was given a good airing early on, while several of the ensuing tracks showcased some unexpectedly nifty guitar work on Pattison’s part. Though the songs these guys are playing are still a little lacking in the song-writing department (unfortunately there weren’t a lot of big hooks flying around), musically the band is spot on, and judging by the sounds of closer and upcoming single ‘Florentine Dreams’, they’re definitely a band to watch.
Popular local post-hardcore quintet FOXES were up next, and they rung in the midnight hour in style (drawing what was easily the biggest crowd of the evening in the process). Cranking the volume up to 11 without hesitation, the band soon had the room overflowing with the sound of buzz-saw guitars and throat-shredding vocals. The guys worked well to compliment each other, with the band’s four musical members laying an undulating, chaotic foundation for their lead vocalist to scream his emotional ramblings over. With said lead vocalist taking to the floor in traditional hardcore style towards the end of the set, the band’s performance was a breath of fresh air for the evening, and even inspired some short-lived slam dancing towards the front of the stage. Closing out the set with a veritable maelstrom of feedback, the band received the warmest reception of the evening.
Taking the stage around 12:30am, only a small crowd remained in the by-now freezing band room to catch adult contemporary six-piece THE MORNING NIGHT. Though the band were probably the most established act on the bill, they were almost laughably tame in comparison to the high octane performances that preceded them, and the band’s underused three-guitar line-up failed to lift the room. Confined to a short set due to Foxes’ set going over time and visibly frustrated with the poor turnout (bassist Michael Savage eventually dropping his bass and questioning “Is that it?” when the band were told to wind up), the set was nevertheless a (mostly) professional affair, with the natural charisma of frontman Adrian Hoffman and keyboardist Chloe McGrath charming what little crowd was left. With his band mates packing up around him, Hoffman then treated the remaining punters to a quietly beautiful instrumental that ended the evening on a bittersweet note.
It seems likely that the folks behind Our Festival will see this show as learning exercise; although the volume of bands on the bill was promising, the quality of the bands booked was noticeably inconsistent, and few of the bands appeared to have any kind of fan following. While the short-set format was effective, there was little done to maintain a festive atmosphere between the sets (even a DJ would’ve been a nice touch). And then there was the price; while it could be argued that 9 bands for $20 is quite the bargain, it’s 2012, and expecting punters to pay that amount to see a bunch of bands they don’t know from a bar of soap was unrealistic at best. Still, for a first outing, the inaugural Our Festival could have been a lot worse. Though it is definitely in need of some fine tuning, here’s hoping Pattison and his gang of guitar slingers take what they’ve learned and give it another go before too long.