Sat 14 Mar – SOUND RELIEF Melbourne
As has been and will be remarked upon many times, how ironic that 25 mm of rain fell on a day specifically chosen to raise funds for the bushfire appeal… We could've used it 5 weeks earlier, but on the 14th of March it was just damn inconvenient. The MCG must've made a killing on ponchos - which were necessary, but due to the rain stopping and starting up again just when we were dry, the whole crowd had to keep taking them on and off.
Also, standing for 13 straight hours is unbelievably painful, though maybe needed to keep our position a few rows from the front until the very end…
kicked things off around noon… adequately. Nic Cester has a great voice and scream, and the band played fine, but I maintain that their songwriting has no originality whatsoever. Only the last song Cold Hard Bitch really went off. Gabriella Cilmi
played a convincing set despite a few problems - a gender-balanced audience who only knew Sweet About Me, and her microphone lead awkwardly falling out twice. Here come the clichéd, prescribed - although true - journalists' comment: she performs with a maturity beyond her years (being 18, I say this with some sense of irony). But her final cover of Whole Lotta Love took her from merely impressive to astonishing - with much credit to her backing band, it was the first real highlight, managing to out-heavy Jet's entire set.
The collective screams upon Kings of Leon
's entry were actually the loudest thing I've ever heard - you know that point where the screams are so loud and numerous they start phasing? At the very least, they proved their recent stadium-rock direction is perfectly adapted to stadiums, though it wasn't too taxing a set for them, especially compared to what we saw of Coldplay
at Sydney's show. Despite being in the same nighttime headline gig situation, they seemed to put in more effort at engaging the crowd - whereas Caleb Followill mostly sipped champagne nonchalantly between songs. Most surprisingly, they didn't play Sex on Fire (having been used in official bushfire footage montages, its appropriateness wasn't an issue), finally giving the absurdly large OMGZ!!!! THEYR SO HOTT SEX ON FIRE IS THEIR DEBUT SINGLE crowd something to complain about. Paul Kelly
only played a stripped-down acoustic set with Ash Naylor accompanying on electric guitar, but it was no less effective. Though not loud enough to keep the crowd talking over them, the audience mostly didn't - all seeing the brilliance of hearing Leaps and Bounds sung at the MCG itself. From Little Things Big Things Grow would've been nice, but we did get How to Make Gravy nine months early, and the hymnal Meet Me in the Middle of the Air sung a capella. Though great, I got the feeling his lack of a full band might've been the reason for his set's early timing. Augie March
lacked the "triple j indie with sophistication" crowd I can't help but assume they attract, possibly not being quite direct enough for this audience's liking. They seemed a little lacking in dynamics too - strumming everything with distortion, but there was no such shortage of energy. One Crowded Hour was fantastic simply for the fact that everyone knew it. Bliss n Eso
arguably got the second-most ridiculous response after Kings of Leon - this time, the sunnies-wearing shirtless Corey Worthington prototypes started to pop up. They got crowd participation to a record high, which I admired, but I couldn't say the same for the music - which sounded like beats alone, no backing or even samples. Not sure about the lyrics overall, but some of the PUT YA HANDS IN DA AIR choruses sounded so contrived I almost expected Shane Skillz to walk onstage and yell "I fucken reprazent cunts!" - it was that close to a hip-hop parody. Paris Wells
' guest appearance to belt a verse or two was a nice diversion. The turntables and microphones managed to lose power at the end of the second-last song, prompting Bliss n Eso to show their love for the audience even more visibly, eventually ending the set in a chant of "Peace! Love! Unity!" I nearly laughed out loud, but I couldn't argue with their intentions... Kasey Chambers
was remarkably candid, or tipsy - joking about her marriage to Shane Nicholson
, and telling us we "secretly love bluegrass music, or at [should] least pretend to for this song". They made no secret of the fact that they were playing to the wrong audience - but there was enough alt in the alt-country to win over (or at least tolerate) rather than alienate. Liam Finn
's never used nepotism to further his solo career, and as a result, he had the least expectations, something that suited him perfectly. Together with fellow child of a famous musician EJ Barnes, his one-man band act was a sight to behold - looping vocals, a separate riff and octave pedal bassline halfway through a song and going nuts on the drums to finish, with near-My Bloody Valentine noise and theremin freakouts where appropriate. It was both a shame and a blessing that he only had time for two songs, bringing out "the family band" right after - dad Neil and uncle Tim making an early appearance, also with "uncle Nick" Seymour and brother Elroy. It was effectively Crowded House
with Liam slightly bored with the simplicity of just playing drums, though their heartfelt versions of Don't Dream It's Over and Weather With You were brilliant.
How the fuck did Jack Johnson
get so popular? He's the kind of dude who, despite being your totally chill best friend, should never have made it beyond open mic nights. Friends have to be honest with each other - in Johnson's case, someone should've told him he wrote half-decent poetry but absolutely ballsack boring music. His lack of a backing band only made it worse - with no dynamics to speak of, his guitar playing - limited to strum chord, slam ball of palm onto strings to mute - sounded exactly the same on all five or so of his song (intentional singular there). Good intentions, nice guy, but after Liam Finn outdid him in every possible way, shape or form, it was clear that popularity and greatness don't necessarily mix. And damn, was that John Jackson guy popular. I should've actually
fallen asleep standing up instead of threatening to. So utterly inoffensive I was offended.
Though it might just have been part of Andrew Stockdale's plan to make the new four-piece incarnation of Wolfmother
look better. And indeed, Wolfmother were sufficiently heavy and engaging, though never as brilliant or energetic as many have suggested. It might be something to do with my being a huge Black Sabbath fan rather than the new band members being lax (and not having seen them before, I can't compare them to the old ones). There isn't really much to say - it was just good, but hearing Mind's Eye would've improved that. Perhaps the most entertaining part was how out of it Andrew Stockdale was - managing to sit on the keyboard during
the solo and collapse the stand, rendering the new bassist/keyboardist merely a bassist for a good minute.
One distressing side effect of Sound Relief - credible evidence that I am straight may be gone, for not only have I seen Kylie Minogue
perform live, but I've also sung with her. After the Corey Delaney hacks' jingoistic "Aussie aussie aussie" chants all but spoiled the minute's silence, she had the unenviable job of ignoring that… and leading both the Melbourne and Sydney crowds in "I Still Call Australia Home", a capella. I always thought the overly processed fembot vocals in her songs might've been there to cover for a slight lack of singing ability, but she sounded great unaccompanied, with a nice vibrato showing the expression lacking in (but admittedly unnecessary to) her dance music. Major respect for taking on that difficult role - apparently how she would actually perform was decided on the day. Hunters and Collectors
kicked off the first of three classic bands' reformations in style. The fact that they hadn't played together for over a decade didn't seem like much of a burden - in particular, Mark Seymour was in fine voice when we could hear him over the crowd. Say Goodbye's standout "you don't make me feel like I'm a woman anymore" line, and the especially heartfelt Throw Your Arms Around Me were both contenders for biggest crowd singalongs of the night. They even pulled out awesomely weird early song The Slab for an unexpected encore, made possible by the announcer's initiative alone - who asked "how about an encore?!", dazing the roadies who'd already started packing up. Split Enz
marked Tim and Neil Finn's, as well as John Butler Trio/Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson drummer Michael Barker's second performance of the night, and if anything they seemed even more energetic after it. Tim Finn nearly gave Peter Garrett a run for his money with jerky dancing and swimming motions in Shark Attack. Though their songs were lighter and quirkier than much of the other bands' fare, they were just as well-received - I Got You and Six Months in a Leaky Boat being highlights. Eddie Rayner even had time to pull out the classical piano solo of Pioneer. One of the night's strangest moments came during the frantic I See Red - it seemed Red Symons saw the potential for a typically cheesy joke and wandered randomly onstage halfway through, scaring the shit out of the band in the process. His appearance was like... a metaphor for the entire Enz set stretched to fit: weird, but awesome and deeply entertaining?
And finally, it seemed Peter Garrett's controversial role as a politician had only increased the crowd's reverence for Midnight Oil
. Theirs was honestly the best performance of the night, and what Peter Garrett lacked vocally (as usual I suppose), he made up for in sheer energy and entertainment. Ever since those Rove/The Chaser's War on Everything episodes showing footage of the Power & The Passion
video, our generation is familiar as anyone else with Peter Garrett's crazy dancing - and it almost seems as if he was exaggerating just to please. But the rest of the band were just as great - especially Jim Moginie's Hendrix-esque instrumental Advance Australia Fair, and Rob Hirst's classic drum solo in Power & The Passion. Beds Are Burning, especially its iconic three-note brass riff, seems to have become the most powerful of the numerous Aussie standards played on the night - and after the actual government apology, Garrett sung it with a sense of personal triumph to add to his conviction. Shame it was only a one-off reunion - Hunters and Collectors and Split Enz could and probably should continue, but Garrett's obviously busy. At the very least, Sound Relief ensured he'll be remembered fondly for years to come regardless of whatever else he does. The same is also true of the entirety of 2009; hopefully we'll associate it with the collective spirit shown in our recovery from the bushfires rather than the tragedy itself. And even disregarding what it did for the recovery effort, Sound Relief was a landmark, truly once-in-a-lifetime show.