Saturday, 3 December 2011

Live Review: Harvest Festival, Parramatta Park, 13/11/2011

The threat of rain has passed and the sun is shining as I join the growing smug of hipsters heading across Sydney's West towards Parramatta Park and the inaugural Harvest Festival.

Entering the site through the arts area means a short tour of the spoken word, comedy and cat suit performance art stages before arriving at the Windmill stage and New Yorkers The Walkmen.

I am not all that familiar with The Walkmen and their choice to start the day with a low key ballad confused me. This pattern continued and I found their set to be nice enough but hard to get excited about.

Harvest Festival promoters had promised a more civilised festival experience - fewer crowds, shorter lines, better food and no under 18s. I sat in the field listening to PVT, pint of cider in one hand plate of Churrasco in the other, and believed they had succeeded.

TV On The Radio open with Halfway Home but the show doesn't feel like it really starts until the band play Caffeinated Consciousness. The crowd has woken up and will continue singing, dancing, cheering along for the remainder of the set. New songs Will Do and Repetition fit perfectly next to older favourites like Red Dress, Young Liars and Staring at the Sun. A TV On The Radio performance has a lot going on and if there can be any complaint it is that Tunde Adebimpe's vocals are sometimes lost in the wall of noise. There are certainly no complaints as everyone in the crowd loses their shit to set closer Wolf Like Me.

Watching Bright Eyes I am surprised how many of the songs I recognise. They are familiar but not fantastic, after spotting a nurse handing out free sunnyboys I move on.

The sun is still high in the sky when Mogwai take the stage. The daylight only seems to highlight the raw power of the band. Pity the other acts across the site as on song after pummelling song the Scottish prog rock group seem to get louder and louder.

In 2008 I missed seeing The National at Glastonbury due to a savage case of food poisoning. In January of this year I came down with whooping cough just days before their Enmore Theatre show. So after two previous attempts and three weeks of self imposed isolation (just in case) I finally get to see The National. The band starts with a stomping version of Anyone's Ghost before the brilliant Mistaken For Strangers gets everyone moving. Front man Berninger's lyrics are complex and full of double meaning but this thinking man's band still know how to have fun. The soaring Bloodbuzz Ohio very nearly carried the audience away. Fake Empire and Mr November had the whole hill dancing. The show ends with Berninger stranded in the crowd shouting the words to Terrible Love. It may have taken three attempts but The National were worth the wait.

45 minutes after their scheduled start time the Flaming Lips appear on stage. Wayne Coyne arrives inside a giant zorb and the rest of the band are birthed from the va-jay- jay of a large orange woman. But just because they are on stage it does not mean the Flaming Lips are ready to play any songs. First streamer cannons, then Wayne Coyne has to walk his zorb over the heads of the audience, then balloons then more streamers. Another ten minutes later the band start to play She Don't Use Jelly, cue more streamer cannons, more balloons and a big sing along. More streamers, balloons and The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song follows before I give up. The Flaming Lips live show has always had a great reputation but for me I would prefer less gimmicks and a few more songs.

Harvest festival had been great so far but the day was always going to be about Portishead. The earlier delays have pushed back the start of Portishead's show. Rather than dull the mood this delay builds on the already high pre-show expectations.

The Bristol group starts with Silence, the teasingly long intro has the band jamming for a good few minutes before we get the first taste of Beth Gibbons' perfect delicate vocals. Mysterons follows and it is one of the few times you hear the band use the samples and scratching of their early 90s material.

Beth Gibbons is a reluctant star - when she is not singing she hides in the darkness. The reticent singer is more than made up for by the video show. Not content with just projecting the on stage action onto the screens, Portishead use stage attached CCTV cameras, mirrors, VHS tapes and analog video processing tools to augment the live images with pulses, shadows and crazy animations.

Wondering Star is Portishead's most beautiful and fragile song. The whole audience falls silent as the band's minimal beat carefully supports the perfect delicate vocals. In contrast Machine Gun is the most assaulting live track I have heard all year. The crushing beat physically turns my stomach, the guitars buzz and synth drone induces paranoia while the laser eyed Tony Abbott projections add a layer of fear - just brilliant.

The guitar riff on tonight's version of Glory Box is superb, highlighting that this the band's defining song should be celebrated as more than dinner party background music.

The main set ends and the band leave the stage with a chaotic version of Threads, before returning for an encore of Roads and We Carry On. A brilliant end to a brilliant set on a brilliant day, more next year please.

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