Photos: Kane Hibberd

You know someone’s having a good time when there’s a meridian of Melbourne’s finest circling the base of a tree. Squinting towards the sun, hands preoccupied with their hips and quizzical glances traded amongst them, the cops cruising Laneway Festival seemed to have no fucking idea what to do.

Neither did organisers, who likewise were staring skywards, snarling into radios while struggling to seduce the Peter Pan partisan down from the nest he’d fashioned for himself. That nest was the summit of the tallest tree sprouting from the grounds of the Footscray Community Arts Centre. As trash and a possible body or two were dragged beneath the Maribyrnong’s coppery current, this enthusiastic enfant overlooked it all like some Dionysian disciple discharged from decency.

Lucky bastard – he had a view that most of us could only dream of. Right in front of him Girls were thrashing out a mixture of old and new songs. Over his shoulder, past the train bridge leading back into the city, he would’ve seen the crowds swaying beneath the spellbinding harp of Active Child’s agonised electro. I think ‘Hanging On’ may have actually been dedicated to him.

Especially when he slipped and was hanging to a branch for dear life. Shit got real when he was about to splatter onto the pavement like a drop of LSD against some blotter paper. Though that was later, just after the Horrors had begun their set on the Dean Turner Stage and The Drums were getting ready to replace Chairlift on the Eat Your Own Ears & Young Turks Stage.

Before all this began, Laneway unfolded as casually as the city slipped away on the Werribee train line. Trippy Tacos were on hand for those whohad skipped breakfast, and Husky were easing punters into what would become a late-night parade of sonically satiated citizens.

After a while settling in (at the bar), most people wandered down to see Jonti’s set at the Windish Agency Stage. Those enthusiastic enough stood with craned necks while his Mac Book accompanied the bop of his head and occasional jab at the decks.

Call me old fashioned, but there’s something inherently objectionable about a dude and his computer constituting a performance. That’s not to say that he doesn’t make amazing music, but only so much passion can be provoked from the most miniscule of movements. Like, say, twirling your Touchpad. Yet judging from the sea of contented faces staring out from the miniature amphitheatre, I’m alone on that.

Up on the main stage The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ushered in the afternoon with inoffensive indie pop while Austra added a bit of melodic theatrics sprinkled with weirdo synth glam to proceedings.

That was when Tree Boy first got his climb on. This was at about three o’clock, when Girls played a handful of their best tracks including ‘Lust for Life’, the gauzy, heartfelt ‘My Ma’ and current hit ‘Vomit’, which frontman Christopher Owens appeared to have dyed his hair in. Not his fault, he was in the Children of God cult previously, so bright green hair is probably pretty radical to him. What’s radical to me is ‘Die’ which they didn’t play, but they did play the incredibly fun surf-rock throwback ‘Honey Bunny’, which has the line “but they don’t like my dirty hair”.

Which is true.

Hanging around to watch the perplexed police, I unfortunately missed Twin Shadow and Cults, which were the two directions that everyone else seemed to be heading. After Girls wandered away, a woman – Anna Calvi – took stage. The half-Italian half-English songstress strummed out dusty Morricone-like melodies on a guitar she handled like a hesitant lover wrangled into submission. Not to mention ‘Desire’ features an accordion and her voice could strip the shit of a horse’s hooves. Whether or not she’ll live up to Brian Eno’s claim that she’s the best thing to come along since Patti Smith, she’s definitely an enchanting entertainer that the next generation’s Tarantino will slather all over their soundtrack.

Yuck was the next direction to head, but Chairlift also beckoned from the opposite end of the riverbank stages while up the slope besides the old railroad, Feistsauntered onto the main stage. This was becoming a problem – the inability to be in three places at one time. The best way to decide this is a mixture of efficiency and desire – if you’re desperate to see an act, catch the tail end of a band you’re not that keen on.

Thus Feist won simply because she played before The Horrors staggered onto stage, all spidery spray-on jeans and cobwebbed curtains of hair, looking much the same as they did a few years ago at Big Day Out. Unlike their early afternoon performance then, this time around there were more than just thirty or so of us watching the show. It was also dusk, which suits their Goth-tinged garage rock better than a blazing field. They’ve also released a new album since that visit, Skying, from which most of the tracks they played were culled. Thankfully they revisited Primary Colours with a personal favourite, ‘Who Can Say’.

Though there was definitely a crowd for the English lads, it was suspiciously easy to push all the way to Faris Badwan’s pointy feet. In fact, all it really took was a slither and a few smiles to be standing down the front. Where were all the people? Probably where I was headed – back down to the river to see The Drums.

Which proved to be true. Tree Boy was rocking out from his branch while a fireman shimmed up to talk him down and the biggest crowd of the day so far was crammed into the concrete to watch The Drums.

Opening with the infectiously catchy, bass-driven ‘What you were’ off Portamento, they immediately had the audience on side. Frontman Jonathan Pierce was completely at home on stage though seemed somewhat subdued compared to past performances. As he cavorted across the stage, next playing ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Me and the Moon’, he appeared incredibly comfortable, a performer with nothing to prove. This was evident by the next song choice, ‘If he likes it let him do it’, one of the darker tracks off their second album that translated surprisingly well live. Afterwards, the mood lightened with ‘Money’, the sing-a-long friendly single off their second album before the anthemic ‘Forever and Ever Amen’. Despite suggesting otherwise to us a few weeks ago otherwise, Pierce indulged the crowd with a rapturous version of ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ before ending with ‘Down by the water’.

While it was a shame to miss the rest of the Horrors’ set, the Drums were better than expected, aided by great sound and tracks translating from album to live pitch perfectly. As the crowd dispersed, faced with the toughest decision yet, M83 or SBTRKT, word spread that Tree Boy’s trip had worn off and he’d been pounced on by four cops and escorted out in the back of a divvy van. Not the greatest way to end your day, but he’d enjoyed stellar views for hours.

Only he would’ve been able to see every act, which is perhaps the one draw back of this year’s Laneway Festival. There were a lot of clashes with the set times, though in the words of The Wire’s Marlo, ‘that sounds like one of them good problems’, because it’s indicative of the quality of the line-up.

And it was much better than the last years of Laneway in the Melbourne CBD, where stages were knitted all over the city’s alleyways and each had a different entrance and no toilets. That year security guards chased kids climbing the city’s scaffolding, this year it was one dude in a tree. It’s good to see that Laneway is still attracting acts that punters are willing to risk their lives to see.