St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival – Auckland [live review]


12,000 music fans came out in their droves earlier this week for the annual Laneway New Zealand Festival which celebrated its fifth year at Auckland’s Silo Park on Mnday; a venue part surrounded by the sea, part surrounded by the impressive city landscape – a memorable and relatively intimate setting by most festival standards, and one that was made even more enjoyable thanks to the Kiwi summer.

These Laneway celebrations took place a few days after the international festival kicked off in Singapore and, while many of the high profile artists like Grimes, CHVRCHES, Beach House and Purity Ring were travelling on from the first leg, the New Zealand line up naturally benefited from a roster of domestic acts who are breaking waves overseas.

Of those homegrown talents, there was one in particular that I was keen to see live. LEISURE last year dropped a handful of singles that created something of a buzz online (To The Top, Got It Bad) and by the end of October, they were headlining their first live show at Rough Trade in New York City, c/o the respected music site Pigeons & Planes. The Auckland-based five piece’s 40 minute set on the Mysterex Stage at the start of the afternoon – their first live show on home turf -was the perfect introduction to the streams of gig-goers surging through the gates.

Through the earphones, LEISURE’s vibe sounds intimate and chilled out; their mix of R&B, pop and funk melodies creating a catchy, slow-burning groovelike state. In open space, not only did it become clear that the groove is less slow-burning, more guaranteed to turn out full on, body-shifting dance moves – it also gave the band the opportunity to showcase the full scale of the talents on display. Joking with the audience that they’re a bit like a boyband because they like to share the vocals, LEISURE benefit from being the sum of their hugely talented parts. The quality of their talents – vocally and on the strings, keys, synths or drums – comes from years spent exercising their skills in prior guises around the music scene so it’s no surprise that they can all play their part and still sound incredibly in sync. Setlist-wise, the singles were all there, peppered with new material that I just want to hear again, in particular the stirring, psych-like turn Your Love which needs to be heard to be believed.

Another Kiwi performing who has been turning the heads of the music press for some time now was Lontalius. With his debut album I’ll Forget 17 set to land next month, the Wellington musician gave the audience plenty of tasters from the upcoming record (including recent single All I Wanna Say) and squeezed in a goosebump-inducing cover of an Anika Moa track to boot (“She’s the queen of New Zealand as far as I’m concerned”). A modest stage presence and a gifted storyteller, Lontalius managed to captivate the crowd with his downbeat, snapshot lyrics and crackling vocals.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was Shamir. Not such an unassuming stage presence, and clearly an indomitable force to be reckoned with on all fronts. In his low-slung, faded blue jeans and brightly coloured shirt, the 22 year old Vegas native cut an eye-catching figure on the stage where he let his dirty electro-hop beats, snappy, fast-fired lyrics and disco-fuelled falsetto do most of the work. Despite all the plaudits he received for his 2015 album, Shamir seemed resolutely down to earth and likeable, sparking off the crowd and getting up close with them in the pit. It’s not hard to see why this gent is deemed a star-in-the-making.

During the mid-afternoon, fans of the heavier stuff were treated to blistering performances from Californian punk band FIDLAR, and alt-rock outfits Battles and Health. It was The Internet though – a group I’d never heard of let alone seen live – who really got the increasingly large crowd gathering at the main stages going, thanks to an energetic set of soul-infused, acid funk and hip-hop, led at the front by the massively charismatic Syd ‘Tha Kid’ Bennett. Their Kaytranada-assisted single Girl got a huge roar of approval (Kaytranada receiving a second shout out, after rapper GoldLink earlier performed Sober Thoughts which she produced) but it was Just Sayin’/I Tried from The Internet’s 2015 album Ego Death that really worked everyone in to a frenzy. What crowd with a few cold beers in them when the sun’s blazing down wouldn’t be down with erupting in to a big “You fucked up!” singalong?

As the day started to come to an end, I managed to catch another couple of acts who benefited from a massive past twelve months. First up was Grimes whose recent LP Art Angels was a frequent high flyer on those Best of 2015 countdowns. As a casual fan (ie; I’d not heard her three previous records but I loved AA), I was keen to see what all the hype was about and, despite some early sound issues, she lived up to the buzz. The only act I saw at Laneway to have invested in some dancers, the Vancouver-born star and co received a tremendous roar of approval for high-octane performances of GenesisScream and Kill v. Maim with plumes of smoke erupting from the stage, and ferocious choreo.

Scottish trio CHVRCHES came straight over from Singapore but they set the stage on fire as night fell with a terrifically illuminated show, as they rattled through eleven tracks which covered off all of the album standouts from The Bones Of What You Believe and Every Open Eye. Thus, we had We SinkThe Mother We ShareRecover, Under the Tide and Gun from their 2013 debut, and Clearest Blue (that second third gear change live…WOW), Leave A Trace, Keep You On My Side, Empty Threat, Bury It and Never Ending Circles from last year’s follow up to contend with. And I never had a moment to catch my breath.

Lauren Mayberry may be small in stature but the way she owned the audience as she energetically threw herself around the stage was incredible. Throwing in a dirty joke or two between tracks, CHVRCHES balanced banter with bravura and were not once off form for one moment throughout their electric set. A band that I’ve been wanting to see ever since I first heard their music three years ago, it was the perfect end to a first Kiwi festival experience for this Brit.

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