Sunset Sounds 2011 – Day 1, Live Review

Review: Lauren Sherritt
Photos: Matt Palmer
InterpolBilled by organisers as the perfect way to cap off New Year’s celebrations, Brisbane’s Sunset Sounds has become renowned for its impeccable line-ups and alluring Botanical Gardens setting. With headline act Interpol leading the charge of an impressively diverse set of artists, the 2011 festival kicked off on the muggy afternoon of Wednesday January 5th.

After a short delay at the gate (a mix-up with letting the media in probably not the kind of press that organisers had hoped for) I head straight for the River Stage to catch the first winners of the festival’s ‘Sponsor the Band’ competition Ball Park Music. Halfway through their set and the local six-piece has drawn a small but decent crowd for early in the afternoon, mixing originals and covers and making big sound for a group of not so big kids. Ending with ‘iFly’, their most well known track, the swelling audience joins in with a rousing chorus and the day is kicked off to a glorious start.

As the day begins to roll along Cloud Control take to the Gardens Stage, thrilling the audience with a strong, tight set. They make it clear that they are a band made to play live and the crowd shows their appreciation. After lapping up the band’s Kid Kudi cover ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, they chant along to ‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ and from my position seated under a tree at the back it’s a lovely afternoon out.

Meanwhile, Charlie Parr is the first act to take to the smaller Hibiscus Stage. Seated simply on a folding chair, Parr proceeds to stun viewers with what he can do with just a guitar and his voice. Devoid of flashy light displays and elaborate costumes, the country blues singer uses pure musical talent to enrapture his audience and soon we are all toe tapping along. Hailing from Minnesota, Parr is an excellent example of the diversity involved in this festival, and it’s an honour to witness him play.

At this stage I break for a minute to take stock of where the evening is headed, the impressive line-up for the event meaning quick trips between stage areas will be vital. Formulating my game plan, I head towards the sounds of Sleigh Bells on the main stage along with the crowd who are getting in early for the Cold War Kids set that will follow. In all honesty, when I saw Sleigh Bells on the line-up I had wondered how well their particular brand of noise pop would translate in a live setting and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. From the outside it just doesn’t seem to be gelling for Sleigh Bells, the vocals are too weak against their trademark discordant music and the set just seems too stark for a warm afternoon in a park. The fans seem to be enjoying the show, however, and the stage certainly looks impressive with the lighting design coordinated with the music.

I leave in favour of Hot Hot Heat, who place as a must see on my list. The instant the band takes to the stage I can tell from their expressions that they are here to enjoy themselves and boy do they do just that. Front man Steve Bays works the stage like he’s playing for a million, rather than the hundred or so that have gathered. As they lash out first song ‘Bandages’, Bays’ distinctive voice draws more people in and he gets the crowd moving. Throughout the set he delights the audience with his interaction and breaks through any performer/audience barrier there could have been, and the entire trio exude intense energy from start to finish.

It seems a shame to leave them as they finish, but Cold War Kids have already started on the other side of the gardens. The sky is beginning to look threatening with darkening clouds rumbling into view, and vendors begin to put out signs as they add ponchos to their repertoire of goods. I pass Tijuana Cartel and it sounds like they’re having fun, but I keep going. I reach Cold War Kids just as the first splat of rain lands on my shoulder, and I decide it’s time to take advantage of the VIP tent located up the hill. I squeeze in to the red roofed tent, where everything is tinted crimson, and I find myself a seat where I can still see the action on stage. My time congratulating myself on the ideal positioning is brief however, as suddenly the heavens open and water pours onto the crowd below. Within seconds everyone with access to the tent has wedged themselves inside and I can no longer see, let alone barely hear Cold War Kids at all.

The tent shakes as thunder starts up and I find myself wondering just how safe the construction really is and if there was ever a numbers limit. I confirm with myself that a music festival is really no place for neuroses, and turn my attention back to the music. With the sound unfortunately fighting a losing battle with the rain in the tent, I make the decision to head to the food corner, shell out five dollars and join the poncho army.

As the last strains of ‘Hospital Beds’ ring out across the grassed amphitheatre, the rain eases to a steady drizzle and the crowd roars. Ponchos swishing, a steady stream of people walk down towards the Gardens Stage where Ladyhawke will soon appear and I join them. For the first time I admire the set up of one-way tracks organisers have put in place for crowd control, which are now allowing mass amounts of people to move without confusion from one stage to the other. I arrive while the stage is still being set and find myself next to a girl who physically defines excited. I don’t need to be told by her friends that she’s a big fan, and as she jigs up and down next to me her excitement is catching. Soon, Ladyhawke takes to the stage and the crowd surges forward.

Fan-girl grabs my arm, crying, “Isn’t she stunning?!” and I have to agree that she is. Quietly charismatic, Ladyhawke proves that rock doesn’t have to be showy and special effects laden with her tight pants and trademark long golden hair, and the crowd join in as she smashes through hit after hit. When she addresses the audience in her soft New Zealand accent they swoon and she holds them in the palm of her hand. The highlight of the set comes as she reaches ‘My Delirium’ and the audience move as one to the beat of the chorus.

The National are up next and I decided to stick with the Ladyhawke fan, who is now nearly delirious herself with excitement. As a group we decide to push forward closer to the front and make it nearly all the way. The rain is starting to get heavier and the light is fading fast and a couple of times the crowd almost anxiously starts a chant for The National to begin. Whoops go up as the horns section is set, trumpet and trombone laid out and ready and the crew clear the stage.

The music is superb, Matt Berninger in particular a brilliant performer. The band work together to interact with the audience, making brother jokes (there are two sets of brothers in the band) as they set to perform ‘Abel’. All jokes aside, these guys are putting up a great set.

The drama of the show, Berninger’s frantic, tension filled movements, the couple beside me who have picked this very opportune moment to break-up and the crush of hundreds of bodies behind me build together in a crescendo that peaks with a delicate and stirring rendition of ‘Ohio’. I lose fan-girl and her friends and at the end of the song the male half of the fighting couple pushes through to get another word in with his girlfriend, falling on one girl and then elbowing me in the face. It’s an accident, but the security guard in front of us drags him away from his now no longer girlfriend and I get a front row spot. I count this as a win for all involved.

The rain absolutely pours down on the audience but no one cares. Berninger steps from the stage to the security rail and into the crowd and for awhile all we can see is the tech guy holding the mic cord above the audience’s waving hands and tracking the musician’s movements. He re-emerges minutes later minus the suit jacket he was wearing, saturated and still singing. By the end of the set the full band look exhausted and the crowd is elated, affording them the rousing applause they deserve.

As the stage darkens it becomes clear that night has truly fallen and it’s getting quite dark. People shift and as we spread apart the cool breeze whips at damp legs and hair and sets teeth chattering. I hear from others that the VIP tent has lost power and that Tame Impala played an almighty set. The transition period before Angus and Julia Stone take the stage seems long, and while some perform wild alcohol fuelled dances in the rain the rest of jig about in huddled groups trying to keep warm. As we mill around I can just hear the echoes of Public Enemy over on the River Stage

and it sounds like they’re putting on a great show. I’m tempted to leave just as the lights burn on on stage, lighting up the setting of two colourful prop hot air balloons surrounded by clouds and the waited for duo enter.

As always Angus and Julia’s music is ethereal, earthy and soulful. They delight the audience with a mix of songs from both their new and old albums, really hitting their stride when Julia croons the first contemplative lines of ‘Wasted’. At this point I realise that a small river has been created of flowing water down one side of the audience area and it’s rapidly spreading outward. People shuffle closer to the centre of the platform and for awhile I lose concentration. Soon there is hardly anywhere to stand that won’t have you in ankle deep water and the rain just keeps coming, so we stop trying to move out of the way and just put up with it.

I don’t know whether it is the discomfort of the water or not, but I find it difficult to connect with Angus and Julia. They are true to form, sounding pitch perfect to their recordings, but there is little interaction with the audience and compared to previous acts they lack energy. As they wind up this year’s hit ‘Big Jet Plane’ I decide to head over and catch some of headline act Interpol.

On the way the grass is heavy with water and quickly getting churned into mud and I wonder how it will look by tomorrow afternoon. When I arrive at Interpol they are well into a solid set and there is a massive crowd gathered. The band sounds loud and full and fans revel in a set full of their older hits. A few not so entertained by the music are taking turns sliding down the hill on the slick grass and build up quite impressive speeds, but the majority are focussed on the stage and move with the music as one.

Interpol begins their last track and I make a start trudging up the hill ahead of the crowd. There is a cheer as the band leaves the stage and then en masse the audience turns towards the exits, suddenly weary of the rain and ready to go home. On the path outside the flood from the Gardens Stage has spilled over and we walk through more water. Many are now shoeless and most formulating plans to gather together more comprehensive wet weather gear for tomorrow. As the surge of people winds its way up Alice and Albert Streets towards taxis, buses and trains there is the feeling from all that it was an impressive day; long and wet, yes, but certainly inspiring to come back tomorrow.

Sunset Sounds 2011 – Day 1 Photo Gallery [by Matt Palmer]
Sunset Sounds 2011 – Day 1 (part 1) Photo Gallery [by Stuart Blythe]