In its comeback year, Laneway delivers the kind of edgy artist line-up the festival became known for. The sprawling venue, however, is a different story, writes Harvey Rae.
St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival
Wellington Square, 12 February 2023
In 2020, Laneway found itself at a crossroads. Before Covid put the much-loved boutique festival’s future in doubt, it hit record attendances after bringing commercially popular artists in to headline, the 1975 and Charli XCX among them. Great for ticket sales, it seemed at odds with the uber cool line-ups and fresh acts Laneway made its name on.
After the cancellation of the 2021 and 2022 editions, this year felt like a recalibration, with effortlessly cool Phoebe Bridgers and hot-right-now post-punks Fontaines DC reminders of past festivals’ very best drawcards.
And yet, new venue Wellington Square seems to fly in the face of this. Known for dance parties like Future Music Festival and Parklife, its wide-open expanses are a long way from the “laneways” of Perth’s original cultural centre venue. It also lacks the gorgeous shaded stages of Freo’s Esplanade Reserve, where Laneway has spent much of the past decade. It’s as if organisers scaled back the line-up, but prepared for even bigger crowds.
Although the new venue is fine, it’s a bit of a miss compared with previous high standards, especially during a hot afternoon. Ultimately though, it doesn’t detract from an incredible day of music.
From Perth’s own Siobhan Cotchin opening the day with some wonderful heartland rock; newcomers the Lazy Eyes putting a psychedelic twist on The Bee Gees’ More Than a Woman; Kiwis The Beths (featuring Perth expat Elizabeth Stokes) rocking out a side stage as Bridgers watches on; or Harvey Sutherland bringing live synths and drummer to an excellent dance set scheduled way too early in the glaring heat, Laneway is quality from the get-go.
Mid arvo sees fast-rising Aussie stars Sycco and Mallrat delivering big triple j hits, with the former’s Ripple almost as good as her bespoke, homemade costume. Exhilarating Leeds punks Yard Act amuses and rocks in equal measure with Payday and 100% Endurance. (Sadly, Elton John does not make an appearance on the latter, as per their latest single.)
Not every post is a winner. Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas is a brilliant producer but lacks his sister’s clever turn of phrase; his occasionally epic sounds sadly dumbed down by mundane songs.
On the other hand, Norway’s Girl in Red, who Finneas regularly provides beats for, is the day’s revelation. Her frisky, high-energy odes to same-sex love are blistering, and the mid-arvo main stage crowd laps up every innuendo. Girls, Serotonin, Bad Idea!, I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend and Midnight Love play like a greatest hits set for the one-album 23-year old, as she spectacularly climbs into the crowd, giving it absolutely everything.
But what about the headliners? Bridgers steals the show, for mine. From Ryan Adams-baiting opener Motion Sickness to her hilarious lambasting of homophobic tennis great Margaret Court, Bridgers’ oft-mellow tunes come to life in a festival setting, and when she finishes on I Know the End it is a hands-in-the-air moment of communal bliss.
With perhaps the biggest crowd of the day, Fred Again makes a surprise play, mixing his best tracks Jungle and Turn on the Lights Again.. into one another very early to create a heaving dance floor.
Finally making their first appearance in Perth, Dublin’s Fontaines DC don’t disappoint with a setlist of modern classics, highlighted by Boys in the Better Land and I Love You. Their overlap with Bridgers may have been the day’s biggest programming disaster (although many of us were equally as devastated to miss out on genre benders 100 gecs and Baltimore punks Turnstile in favour of the headliners).
It all left sister act Haim to bring it home and they do exactly that. Over the course of just three albums, the Californian trio have built a formidable catalogue of Fleetwood Mac-inspired indie pop, and in matching black bikini tops they regularly swap instruments, shredding guitars and pounding drums in a rocking set. Never is this better than in a well-deserved encore of the Wire and their iconoclastic feminist anthem the Steps.
It is the perfect end to a day rich with talent and memorable moments. Welcome back, Laneway.
Pictured top: Phoebe Bridgers steals the show at Laneway, her oft-mellow tunes coming to life. Photo: Charlie Hardy
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