On what must have been the hottest day of the summer in Auckland, St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2018 took place yesterday in Albert Park, perhaps the ideal location for a hugely successful event.
The idea behind Laneway is a broad selection of artists encompassing a broad and varied range of genres, and this goal was met quite comprehensively. Early in the day, the awkwardly-named Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever played a very strong set of classic rock with a sharp modern edge on the Fountain Stage, one of the four stages set up around the park; the response they got from a very enthusiastic crowd suggested that they might have done better higher up the bill. Less impressive, on the Thunderdome stage, under the shade of the trees on Alfred Street, were Die Die Die and Wax Chattels, unfocussed noise bands both; at one point during Wax Chattels’ set, the three member of the band appeared to be playing three separate songs. On the Princes Stage, the showcase stage that straddled Princes Street by the university’s belltower, Perth-based Pond impressed with a pleasingly odd set of psychedelia fronted by singer Nick Allbrook, also of Tame Impala and a student of the Julian Cope school of profoundly eccentric and deeply engaging stagecraft.
Less interestingly eccentric was Connan Mockasin on the Fountain Stage. While Allbrook seemed genuinely very slightly unhinged, Mockasin’s eccentricity felt entirely more mannered. His fascination with Brian Jones is clear — his tour posters feature him with a distinctly Jones-esque style, and even his guitar, apparently a trimmed down Stratocaster, mirrored Jones’ famous Vox teardrop guitar — but his noodly, jangly guitar pop felt just a little self-consciously artsy, featuring, even, a guitar played with a drumstick as a bow. Over on the Rotunda Stage, on the other hand, in front of a huge crowd on the grass, in the trees and searching for shade, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals worked through a very energetic dance show that, rather awkwardly, clashed with Unitone Hifi on the Thunderdome stage, Unitone’s Stinky Jim having told Crave! earlier in the afternoon that Anderson .Paak was one of the bands he would particularly have wanted to see. Unitone Hifi, for their part, played the most bass-heavy set of the day, their sample-rich music augmented to great effect by a three-piece horn section playing live the samples that feature heavily on the band’s recorded output, while Joost Langveld, the only original member of the band to play a live instrument on the day, laid down a bass line so prominent that standing close to the stage became quite viscerally uncomfortable.
Stinky Jim of Unitone HiFi talks exclusively to Crave! at Laneway 2018:
Wolf Alice provided the day’s angriest, shoutiest music. The band describe their music as “rocky pop,” but the pop aspect of their sound was not in evidence as Ellie Rowsell howled, roared and screamed into her microphone. Perhaps the most energetic, certainly the most fist-to-the-face, set of the day, Wolf Alice were then followed on the Princes Stage by Aldous Harding, one of the acts Crave! can exclusively reveal Jacinda Ardern, there to open the event, was looking forward to seeing. Harding’s introverted, delicate pop is better suited to a dark bar, later in the evening; in the hear and the light of later afternoon, her set was a little incongruous, her subtle, understated and considered playing a stark contrast with the sheer venom of the act that had preceded her.
As the sun started to set, and the mercury finally dipped back into the more sensible 20s, the two biggest draws of the day played on the Princes Stage. Father John Misty, the latest manifestation of American singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, played a fifty-minute set of extremely agreeable, but for the most part somewhat anonymous, pop-folk-rock that was well suited to its late slot in the schedule, the late-twenties bros with the post-hipster beards who’d got a little sloppy-drunk through the day singing along and passing around their cigarettes, some of which I’m sure might have contained actual tobacco. Closing with Holy Shit, he finally found some passion and energy at the very end of the show, but, unlike, say, Wolf Alice’s Rowsell, who seemed generally delighted to be, as she told the crowd with a huge smile, in New Zealand for the first time, Tillman’s only interaction with the audience was a mumbled “Thanks for having me.” His audience didn’t mind, though.
The evening closed with The War On Drugs, a war that was quite possibly lost by the end of their set. Perhaps the most conventionally rock-oriented sound of the day, The War On Drugs clearly owed a huge debt to Bob Dylan, frontman Adam Granduciel’s nasal whine unmistakably nodding toward Dylan over a definitely classy and polished, but ultimately a little polite and unremarkable, pop-folk-indie rock.
And so the day ended, and the 13,000 punters who had filled Albert Park would surely have left happy. From its origins in Melbourne’s actual laneways, the Laneway Festival has grown into a rather special event. Now two years into a seven-year residency at Albert Park, having shifted last year from a significantly less idea location at Silo Park on Auckland’s waterfront, it has found a fantastic city-centre venue. With a stunning setting, excellent organisation including an extensive food selection, and a fantastic, varied, and consistently high-quality lineup, St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is proving to be an important fixture on the Auckland musical calendar.