It was The Medics’ first year at BDO, yet the local group, previously from Cairns, have cultivated a charismatic stage presence to match their powerful songs. Some minor sound problems were the only thing that marred a majestic set featuring ‘Beggars’, ‘Golden Bear’ and the superbly sinister ‘Griffin’.
For those who wanted a party, it was hard to go past Jeff The Brotherhood’s set at Green Stage. The Nashville garage-punk brothers rocked out with killer guitar riffs and some well-chosen pedal effects. And just when things started to get a bit dull and repetitive, a guy dressed as a mushroom and three women came onstage to offer drummer Jamin a birthday cake.
Locals I Heart Hiroshima, who reformed for the festival, managed to pack a decent selection of punchy indie tracks into a forty-minute set. It seemed a two-year break had done nothing to compromise their quality, with songs like ‘Shakeytown’ and ‘Punks’ as tight and catchy as ever. Drummer / vocalist Susie Patten was quick-witted between tracks, finishing the set with the quote: "We’ve been The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sorry John Frusciante couldn’t make it".
At dusk, The Killers took to Red Stage with a set that was something of a greatest hits collection. Accompanied by a backdrop of hypnotic visuals, the Las Vegas group powered through crowd favourites like ‘Mr. Brightside’, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘For Reasons Unknown’ with an energy that left the recorded versions for dead. An incomplete cover of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ was a quirky surprise, and the firework display during closing track ‘When You Were Young’ a spectacular way to finish.
Those who rolled out of bed and braved the traffic early enough to catch budding rockers The Vernons on the Big Day Out's local stage were not disappointed. Granted, this would be difficult, as the act are little known outside of their live pub trail. But this won't be the case for long. The boys entertained a healthy little crowd with their brand of upbeat rock — heavy stomper 'Eliza' being the highlight track — proving themselves a band to watch in 2013.
Punk six-piece Hunting Grounds took the stage just after 1pm. Despite the uncomfortably high temperatures (combated in force by swarms of half-naked bodies), the previous winners of Triple J’s Unearthed High competition played to a full crowd at the Vans Essential tent. These guys present a shockingly tight set for a group so young, and their percussive antics late in the set had the punters very happy. They finished off with hit track 'In Colour', closing out a clean set.
Rolling Stone's "Best Young Gun" of rock in 2011, Gary Clark Jr, played the Green Stage mid-afternoon, as temperatures at Parklands started to cool — an interesting coincidence, as this set also signalled a drop in intensity that was perhaps better suited to the Byron Bay Bluesfest. There's no arguing that Clark Jr is a massive talent, and his raw, bluesy sound was polished on the day. However, the drawn out tracks and constant improvised guitar work, while impressive, weren't appropriate for either the crowd or mood of this festival.
Tried-and-true crowd favourites Vampire Weekend brought their unique sounding gypsy/calypso/reggae pop to Parklands later in the day, and were predictably enjoyable. The upstate New Yorkers served most of the old favourites to their sizeable audience on the Orange Stage, with singles 'A-Punk' and 'Horchata' among the standout favourites.
This could be the knock I took to the head on the way to the festival talking, but of all the acts on this year’s bill, the most talented might have been a part-time rapper with one mediocre album and a handful of vastly superior EPs to his name.
You probably don’t need to trawl through Childish Gambino’s CV yet again — the broad strokes are that, in addition to his rap career, he’s a comedy writer and star best known for his work on 30 Rock and Community — but no matter how sick you are of hearing it, it’s impressive, particularly when his live show is this good.
Hip hop isn’t a hobby for Donald Glover, and he takes to his set with a businesslike intensity; there’s very little banter between songs, and he relies on the strength of tunes like ‘Freaks & Geeks’, ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Bonfire’ and closer ‘Lights Turned On' to get him over. The nasally Lil Wayne tribute act of his early material is gone now, replaced by his own charismatic identity, and there's reason to hope his production and songwriting will eventually outgrow his blatant Kanye West influence, too.
Either way, by the time he leaves the stage — shirtless, unshaven, rocking a gold chain with what appears to be minimal irony — you're not thinking of him as Troy Barnes anymore. It's not the best set of the day or anything like that, but it's considerably better than it has any right to be.
While Glover is on the up-and-up, Crystal Castles appear to be heading in the opposite direction. Their latest album, (III), features more or less the same sounds as (II), shuffled into less memorable orders. They've stagnated, and it's no surprise that the best moments in their Boiler Room set all come from 2010's (II) — but having said that, those moments are fucking amazing.
Ethan Kath's enormous beats and Alice Glass' frantic vocals have everything rattling, to the point that it's not a surprise when their gear shorts out early on during a spirited run-through of 'Baptism'. The unexpected interlude sees the crowd thin out a little, but it's their loss — the Toronto duo are back on their feet relatively quickly, mowing through unlikely anthems 'Celestica' and 'Not In Love' before abruptly leaving the stage.
In an unusual move for a 7pm festival set, they come back for an encore, but for once it's appropriate, as they take another crack at 'Baptism'. This time around, it's flawless — better than flawless, as Alice jumps into the crowd while Ethan mashes his synth as if his life depends on it. Then, just like that — and in typically aloof style — they're gone. For real this time.
“Don’t aspire to be normal; join a band...” - Pat Davern (Grinspoon)
It’s 2:45pm and the mercury has just tipped the 30 degrees mark — Grinspoon take the stage and open with their hit single 'Hard Act To Follow'. The setlist is very light on new material and features the biggest hits from their back catalogue — Aussie rock at it’s best.
In a world where true rock stars are all but gone, it is satisfying to know there is still one out there willing to push the boundaries and put on a real show. Enter Karen O. Wow. I’m not sure if it is possible to give a valid description of this girl that would do her justice; the energy pulsating from that stage really is something that needs to be witnessed to be believed.
Dead Letter Circus is next. I swear, if KISS, Metallica, and Alice Cooper were to tour together, they would not use as much smoke for the whole tour as these guys used for this one performance. But all in all, the stage antics and their attitude towards their fans were great, and they did have a good festival friendly vibe about them.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are headlining tonight, and what looks to be a crowd pleasing greatest hits set quickly turns sour. Within five songs the energy is lost and the sound is reminiscent of a chewed cassette; bouncing between muffled and clear every ten seconds or so. The crowd begins to chant in unison “Turn it up!!” and Flea looks worried.
They kick on, as if unworried by the sound problems, but with no distinction between bass, guitar, and vocals, the audience numbers crumble. With no sideshows booked, this will surely be a disappointment to remember for first time punters.