Gig Review: Farmer & the Owl Festival

Saturday 14th March @ University of Wollongong

Wollongong is only an hour away from Sydney, and yet I have never been there. How Sydney is that? Staying in one’s own little bubble is as much as part of the Shitney lifestyle as overpriced coffee that you’ll insist is delicious, and getting coward punched in the Cross. Whether you live in Bondi, Newtown or the Northern Beaches, there’s an adverse reaction to leaving for anything more than a 15 minute bus ride away from your front door.

But with Farmer & the Owl Festival, now in its second iteration, the lineup was too good. A short ginger simply needed to sack up, brave the train ride and seek adventure down South, armed with only unconventional but nonetheless solid good looks and an iPod loaded with the latest Dead Farmers record.

Despite the train trip being pretty bluddy beautiful, that shit is longer than a turd after $2 taco night, and it forced a few unfortunate misses of fantastic acts. However, having bore witness to the pleasant pysch-pop sedation of Sunbeam Sound Machine and Richard in Your Mind many times before, for those who haven’t managed to catch them thusly, get off your thick backside, and buy a goddamn record. Spookyland was the first act to be ingested into the soul, and they were as good as any goddamn paleo diet that I’ve ever tried. Look past the sheer pop prowess of “The Silly Fucking Thing”, and stare on in wonder as Spookyland shred a potent mixture of The Birthday Party meeting Tom Verlaine and The Reid Brothers darkest fantasies. “Blood In the Rain” is particularly demented in the live setting, and when Marcus Gordon looses the shrill cry of “…with that gun in your hand!“, an eel of excitement involuntarily worms its way through your soul.

The Peep Tempel follow up on Spookyland’s brand of eschewed rock with a set that makes it feel like they could be the last real pub rock band in the world. It’s basic stuff, delivered with nonchalant snarls, stirling guitar veneer, and a glittering meanness that would make Scar from Lion King say, “Hey, woah fellas, chill out“. A tighter band couldn’t have been wrought from the slobbery floorboards of The Tote if they tried. A crowd slowly started to gather and build steam towards one of the standout sets of the day. But it still felt like punters didn’t deserve, or at the very least “get” the sheer greatness of a band like this. One dickhead went about his broken tape recorder routine of asking for “Carol” at the end of every single song in The Peep Tempel’s 40 minute set. Fuck, you know, this band has more than just one song, right? In fact, they have an entire catalogue of music, which they have kindly and strategically sorted into a setlist. If you shut the fuck up for a second, shit, you might even get to discover your new favourite song, like “Big Fish”, or “Vicki the Butcher”. God knows we don’t deserve The Peep Tempel already, and deadshits soured the experience.

Luckily, the deadshit factor was kept to a relative minimum, or at least, was herded into the DJ tent for the rest of the festival.  From herein, punters only lapped up the goodness that was served to them at a hurtling rate. There was Jeremy Neale (more like Jizzemy Neale, amirite), ever the showman, lashing up the love with his token mixture of 60’s pop reverie and an ability to make every audience member feel just a little bit loved. Combined with his throat-puncturing performance with Velociraptor (in its smallest form yet, a mere 5 piece), Nealemania is sure to become a hashtag of the future. Then there’s Hockey Dad, who are truly in the midst of their own lil’ Beatlemania replication. Sure, they were on hometurf, but this kind of horny reception was something that would make Ron Jeremy red with rage. Actually, it is understandable, because when you toss two good lookers up on a stage, and then allow them to blast through an EP of surf-rock nuggets that would make any self-respecting mammal with a working pair of ears wet between the knees.

At this point, old mates Big Dick and Brad had sat down with this ginger nutjob to enjoy the lush soak of Shining Bird. Y’all heard this band? Prepare to be casually buttfucked by brilliance. These guys know their way about a pop song, but what’s more, they can extend it past that radio friendly 3 minute mark, and still keep you interested. How many other bands can do that? Yo La Tengo? Stereolab? My Bloody Valentine? That’s about it right? Well, Shining Bird did their hometown proud, as “Stare Into the Sun”, “Keep Warm”, and a laced concoction of others spiralled through the lazy arvo. But that kind of melting haze can only last for so long, which is where a packed room of Los Tones fans made the difference. Do yaself a bloody favour, and go see this band. Strong fucking riffs delivered with an off-kilter craze from a couple of blokes that probably moonlight as whiskey connoisseurs between their day jobs as Lux Interior proteges. Their loud and vivacious brand of medicine bag garage took full-flight in the dingy sideline of the “Thrash Room”, a pleasure to watch, and a pleasure to boogie to. Pro Tip: bring earplugs. Step-Panther are as loud as they are awesome.

As mentioned before, the Raptors killed it. Straight up. You’d think that being stretched to a meagre, suffering 5 piece would dilute the mania that is so core to Velociraptor shows, but they remained pinnacles of party professionals, screaming and raving through keytar laden, guitar solo saturated, shout-along ready renditions of “Ramona”, “Cynthia”, “Sneakers” and more. This kind of party merely acted as a precursor for one of Wollongong’s ultimate treasures, Step-Panther. Fuck, what a band, what a treat. If you want yourself some garage-throttled goodness from a band that just happened to put out one of the best records of last year, then look no further than these guys.

Remember when it was mentioned that The Peep Tempel might be the only remaining pub rock band on the planet? Besides that being an obvious lie, Bad//Dreems ensured that any love for draught-soaked belters isn’t being abandoned in the near future. The crowd was thriving on the pounding anthems that seem to come so fluently to the Radelaide natives, jostling to get in the best position to shout “Caroliiiiiiiine, you do it to me eveeeerrrry tiiiiiiiime!” like it was a goddamn war cry. But who can blame them? Baddies slayed it, happily decapitating punters with scything riffs made from years of studying the bible of rock ‘n’ roll. Cold Chisel, AC/DC, Eddy Current Suppression Ring – any band with a riff, a beer, and a prerogative to unleash unholy rock and roll oblivion. That’s who Bad//Dreems remind you of, and there’s no one doing it quite as strongly as they are either right now either.

By this point, night has settled upon the ‘Gong, and the rambunctious are thirsty for some action. Luckily, the final four bands were in no state to dissapoint. There was Bass Drum of Death, from the USA, who combine the leather jacket cool of The Strokes with the fuzz of a Ty Segall record, and double down on the batshit insane, high velocity appeal of Evil Knievel. It’s hard to keep a single limb still during a set that includes “Bad Reputation”, “Crawling After You”, and “Get Found”. Shit, its hard to keep your limbs attached to your body – a set in the pit of a BDOD show is basically succumbing to the fact that you’re coming home minus a few fingers. That lunacy was abruptly followed by a rare performance by The Mess Hall. By this point a band that has reached “classic rock” status, it comes as a huge surprise that The Mess Hall don’t play more frequently, as they have punched through a tight set of hit rolling into hit. Their set was sufficiently stuck in the part zone, an onslaught of crowd-pleasers for a surprisingly small lawn of attendees. However, those who did make it along will be forced to admit that the rough-hewn blues rock of “Shake, Shake”, “Lock & Load”, and “Pills” were just as prime for as they were when they were served to us on a steaming platter all those years ago.

Watching DZ Deathrays, you can’t help but marvel at the fact that this has to be one of the most hard-working bands in existence, and yet they play as though they’re fucking Metallica. That’s meant as an adoring compliment, by the way. Three guys, onstage, prowling and growling with the kind of stage presence that no one has anymore. DZ have graduated beyond mere hometown heroes – they’re bonafide rock gods. They play as though they’re in Wembley Stadium, but they’re in the car park of the University of Wollongong. They treat each stage diving lunatic with a wry grin, and scuttle down their fret boards with the same enthusiasm as when they only had an EP to their name. Oh yeah, and they continue to lay down sicker riffs than an ebola quarantine camp. They’re mental, and the crowd reacts thusly. You’ve never seen kids mosh the way they do at a DZ Deathrays show, hurling themselves at each other with the kind of reckless abandon that can only be brought on from the thundering, lock jaw inducing, brain seizures of “Less Out of Sync”, or “The Mess Up”. There are plenty of bands worthy of seeing, but DZ Deathrays transcend that – they’re a band that you need to see.

Farmer & the Owl Festival feels like what Big Day Out would be like if it were held in the real bush instead of Homebush. From the stage setups that were tiny replicas of the famous Orange and Blue stages, to the rock dog-centric lineup, it was a comfortably small throwback to what I’m sure BDO felt like. This was felt most strongly with the headliner of Jebediah, a band more 90’s than a love for Marilyn Manson that isn’t somehow ironic or attached to guilt. Despite playing to a lacklustre crowd, Jebediah still served up some meaty hits that were made when I was still shitting myself. Is there really any better way to click past midnight than with the powerful punches of “Harpoon”, “Leaving Home”, and “Fall Down”?

Look, the ‘Gong might be a little while away. But the place is loaded with royalties that you can’t get in Sydney. A coastline where the Southern Cross tattoos are minimal, cheap beer, and the great bands are just a few of the reasons to make the voyage. And when there’s a festival that can make a tiny, grumpy ginger loaded with cynicism travel an hour down the coast, and bust out white moves whiter than Bill Clinton eating gluten-free brunch, then that should be enough incentive to head down. Drop the act, Sydney, Wollongong is more than dreads and tye-dye t-shirts. It’s all a lil’ bit alright. Make sure you’re there whenever the next Farmer & the Owl fest goes down.

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