Queenscliff Music Festival – Saturday (26/11/11)

As we made our way through the gates the heavens opened up and an apocalyptic storm that would consume Queenscliff for the next 24 hours erupted, soaking everyone not already well under cover to the bone.

The Brothers Grim & The Blue Murders offered some shelter, but did their best to ensure the crowd nearly drowned in their own sweat. The Sydney four piece were obscenely fun and energetic for a 2PM timeslot and they rocked the crowd at The Rip Stage with dirty, rockn’roll blues, sounding something like a cross between The Vasco Era and Graveyard Train – tight, mean and wild.

James Grim not only knew how to whip the crowd into a frenzy, at one stage walking out onto the supportive hands of the audience, he also possesses a fantastic rock growl and one of the best beards in Australian music. Their all too brief set was very enjoyable, hopefully we will see more of this band at other festivals in the near future.

Immediately afterwards an MC introduced the next band on the Lighthouse stage as being “a band no one has seen in a long time”, and No Fixed Address assembled themselves, issuing a set of their distinctive blend of rock and reggae with Aboriginal instrumentation and themes. Bart Willoughby sounded unchanged by the years since the band’s heyday in the mid-80’s, he still has that a great voice.

Unfortunately however, decisions have to be made during a festival as busy as QMF, and all too soon we had to rush off to catch the 3PM QMF Family Express Train AKA The Blues Train. For those uninitiated, this is a 19th century steam train, which operates along Swan Bay and features artist performances in each of the carriages.

Having heard good things of their performance at The Pelican Bar the previous night, a spot in the carriage where The Dead River Deeps were set up was secured. It can’t have been the most natural of environments in which to perform, there was not much space at their end of the crowded train and we were all jammed in pretty tight, but the band seemed to be enjoying the slightly surreal experience, and ripped through a 45 minute set (the second of three) that was over all too soon. As the beautiful surroundings passed by the windows, the rain continued and continued as the Melbourne four-piece showcased some great rock/pop songs, “You Let Your Guard Down” being a particular highlight.

It was now time to return to the festival grounds and secure a spot for one of the most anticipated events of the festival, the two-and-a-half-hour reunion of The Triffids. The subtitle of the band’s brief tour, which encompasses a show at the Brisbane Powerhouse, QMF, and next week’s appearance at Homebake, is ‘The Triffids and Friends Present The songs of David McComb (17/02/62 – 02/02/99)’, in honour of their late singer. The iconic band had pulled all the stops to gather together a group of guest vocalists and musicians who would be able to do justice to their mighty legacy.

Before the band even took the stage Oh Mercy kicked off proceedings with a cover of “Reverie”, the first track from The Triffids debut EP of the same name, from 1982. Alex Gow & co. did the song no disservice but, with respect, they were not who we were here to see.

Handsome Steve Miller, long-time tour manager and close friend of Dave McComb’s, strolled on to recite a poem and introduce each member of The Triffids, who then took their places. Besides the remaining five members, being Graham Lee, Martyn Casey, Jill Birt, Robert McComb, and Alsy MacDonald also present were James Hazelden on cello and former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, who guested on guitar at various points throughout the show and also contributed lead vocals to several songs.

After playing a few of their early singles, featuring first Harvey then Lee on vocals, Lee announced that they were now sufficiently warmed up to play 1986’s Born Sandy Devotional, the band’s best known record, and one that is consistently listed as one of the best Australian albums of all time, in its entirety.

Kicking off with “The Seabirds”, featuring Harvey on vocals, the songs remain as powerful as they have ever been and the performances were passionate and true to the original arrangements. Birt’s rhythmic singing on “Tarillup Bridge” was fantastic, and directly preceded the first appearance of Simon Breed who blew the audience away with his incredible reading of “Lonely Stretch”.

The UK singer/songwriter’s imposing physical appearance was matched by the depth of range and aching beauty of his voice, singing every line with conviction and passion. This performance was obviously an intense labor of love to those gathered onstage, a fact that was not lost on the audience many of whom were singing along to every word.

Breed would return at various points, notably to perform “Stolen Property”, and was the guest vocalist who suited the material best, although no one could be accused of a lackluster performance. Rob Snarski from The Blackeyed Susans, the band formed by Snarski, McComb and MacDonald after The Triffids’ demise, was also incredible, contributing vocals for “Life of Crime” and “Wide Open Road”. Gow returned at various points also, however, although he sang with emotion, his voice suffered by comparison, and just didn’t quite suit the material as well.

After Born Sandy was completed the band continued with some of their other most well loved songs, such as “Bury Me Deep In Love” and the set closer, “Raining Pleasure”. It was an incredible experience, a privilege to have witnessed and the highlight of the festival.

So where do we go from there?

BOOM! BAP! POW! have been recently earning themselves a reputation as upbeat purveyors of soul/jazz, extending their fanbase beyond their native Perth. Their set was slick and centered completely around their frontwoman, Novac Bull, who put on a sultry Marilyn Monroe type act, which the audience loved, but was a little over the top.

Bull has an impressive and strong voice, but as part of her showmanship she over-sang much of the time, and it felt like the rest of the band would not be particularly interesting without her, musically their set was fairly generic soul.

Over at the Lighthouse Stage a group whose latest album, Rumble, Shake and Tumble, has seen their profile rise dramatically, Wagons were delivering their high energy country cheese to an enraptured crowd. Led by the enigmatic and irreverent Henry Wagons, the group has been touring constantly for the past year and is sounding at the top of their game, even if Henry’s banter is getting a little repetitive.

Playing material largely from the new album as well as 2009’s The Rise and Fall of Goodtown, highlights included “I Blew It”, the sing-a-long moment of “Willie Nelson”, the cautionary tale of “The Gambler”, Elvis cover “Never Been to Spain”, and drummer/bass player Sai the Philanthropist’s rap song “Sai Got Tha Bizness”. At one point someone from the side of the stage asked Sai to make an announcement that people should go and check on their tents, as many were blowing away, at which Henry interrupted, telling the crowd “Your possessions are all gone, let go of your material goods and concentrate on this next song!”

The Cruel Sea were up next, and although Tex Perkins may have outlived his sex symbol status, he’s still got the swagger and the voice to match. As this was one of their semi-regular reunions, Perkins & co. performed a ‘best of’ set, including “Better Get a Lawyer”, “This Is Not the Way Home”, and what was introduced to us as “1993’s song of the year”, “The Honeymoon is Over”. By this stage workers were desperately banging in new pegs to ensure that the big top did not fly away in the torrential rain, and what was needed was the warm glow of a soul band.

Over at the Hippos Stage, The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker were bringing late 60’s, JB’s-era, funk and soul to the people, with Walker’s impressively powerful and expressive vocal, which is somewhere between Otis Redding and James Brown, being the focus.

Walker first got his break supporting Brown in the late 60’s and was urged out of retirement by bandleader and chief songwriter, Leo Black. Black and co. provided a fantastic and authentic sounding taken on the vintage soul that they obviously love, but it was Walker whom one could not stop watching.

Suitably suited, the seventy year old blew the crowd away, whether shouting his way through the material off the two Dynamites records, or crooning his way through Donny Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, the energy and lung power of the guy was certainly impressive.

Having heard vague rumors and good things, we hurried off to The Pavilion, a stage curated by Freeza Central, to catch Hunting Grounds. One of the most enjoyable things about festivals are discovering new bands to get excited about, and Hunting Grounds are definitely a young group with a future. Their energetic, loud rock was delivered with an ear for effective arrangements not common in musicians as young as these, and some of their songs, most notably their new single “In Colour”, which had the largely underage audience jumping about in excitement, were an absolute treat.

Having won the Triple J Unearthed High competition, this is exactly the sort of band who will receiving industry interest at the moment and lets hope that they make some wise decisions and continue to develop their craft, as their set was fantastic.

Before we could call it quits, however, a visit to see The Snowdroppers at a packed Rip Stage was in order. Following along similar lines as The Brothers Grim, the Sydney band’s take on raw blues was backed with wild, loud personas and showmanship, involving the in-turn raucous crowd with their infectious energy. Most of their songs seemed to be about sex , sexual misdeeds, or just plain crude behavior, and the entire crowd shared a unifying moment when frontman Johnny Wishbone urged everyone to shout their catchcry of “Shit! Fuckin! Yeah!” back at him, which they did with joy. This is a band that does not mess around lyrically or musically and need to be seen to be believed.

Outside the storm continued and people went off in search of their scattered possessions, more to come…

Originally published on The AU Review on 30/11/2011. View original article.

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