Harvest @ Parramatta Park, Sydney (21/11/2012)

Image for Harvest @ Parramatta Park, Sydney (21/11/2012)

Having attended the first Harvest festival last year, this year’s Sydney show was definitely on par. If you weren’t getting a drink or going to the toilet right after an act finished, it was in-and-out quick smart. If you were, well, it still wasn’t that bad. Minus a few logistical no-brainers and the overwhelming police presence at Sigur Ros, this year’s edition certainly deserves as much praise as 2011.

It’s just such a relief to go to a festival these days and listen to good music with good people. Aside from the line-up, the crowd is what makes or breaks a festival experience. Not having fridge-like men on the juice bench-pressing their friends next to you makes all the difference, and while I did see one guy with a back tattoo that read “Don’t get big, get massive”, he was somewhat the skunk of the jungle.

The first band we saw was The Dandy Warhols, and I’m glad we did. Their set suited the lazy afternoon slot and was one of the drawcards for the placid late Gen X, early Gen Y crowd. Admittedly hungover from a night out at the World Bar the night before, the Dandy’s set started slow but picked up with songs such as Bohemian Like You, Horse Pills and the guaranteed crowd pleaser We Used to be Friends. Front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s vocal levels were too soft for his singing style, but with lots of people relaxing on the ground, it wasn’t an issue.

Getting away from the main stage at the end of a set was a hassle this year. Three meter wide one-way stair passages were the only way out, with security at the top and bottom diligently not letting people go through the opposite way, even if there wasn’t anyone around. “Rules are rules,” I was told by two security guards who were identical twins. Really, though.

Next up was Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, and it was incredible. On stage were twelve violinists, two percussionists, two guitarists, a variety of woodwinds, three back-up singers, a thereminist, a conductor and… Mike Patton. With so many people on stage props must go to the sound mixer, who did a fabulous job of making sure each instrument was heard.

Patton’s orchestral album of old Italian pop covers is a dynamically volatile experience live. Songs like Il Cielo In Una Stanza have a grandeur about them while the performance of Urlo Negro warranted nothing short of a circle pit, with Patton growling with the microphone inside his mouth into a megaphone. Even the string section were pleasantly shocked at how heavy that song was.

Next we went over to a crowded Big Red Tractor Stage to see Texan psychedelic outfit The Black Angels. These guys have been making headway both in and out of the psychedelic scene and have fine-tuned their live show over the past three years. Playing a mix of songs from all four of their albums, Science Killer and The Sniper were standouts. Those who had watched these guys before may have been happy that the sound tent had the reverb/delay situation under control, as past Sydney shows have been lost amongst the echo.

Chromatics walked onto the Big Red Tractor Stage at 6pm, which was around the same time the bar stopped selling full strength beer. This no-lollies-before-bed policy is such a shame, though to be fair it wasn’t Harvest’s choice but Barry O’Farrell’s.

We soon forgot about the beer because Chromatics played a brilliant set. The large crowd from The Black Angels had disappeared and we were free to dance about in front of the stage. Chromatics completely transform themselves live. Songs like Kill for Love were naturally dancey, but numbers like Into the Black, which closed the set, were completely rearranged with loads more groove than the album version – a definite plus for the mixed festival crowd.

The decision between Beck and Grizzly Bear was a hard one, but we ended up heading over to the Windmill Stage to see the latter. Grizzly Bear’s latest album Shields is amazing and sounded even better live, although front man Ed Droste’s vocal levels were a bit soft for some songs.

By mid set it was clear that this reviewer had actually had too-many-lollies-before-bed and as such decided to have a lay down on the grass to listen to the remaining songs. A very placid crowd nodded along to Yet Again and While You Wait for the Others and sang along with a bit of out of tune falsetto to Two Weeks.

I was a new man by the time Sigur Rós started, and luckily so as there were police everywhere. I’m not sure what sort of anarchy they thought four Reykjavikians and a quiet, attentive crowd were going to create, but at least they also got to experience something amazing.

The opening track was the thundering but delicate I Gær. On stage was the band, but also a string and horn section, and it sounded perfect. At this point in time I had lost everyone I was with but it didn’t even matter. Smoke floated and lights flashed in front of images of storms, clear skies and fields as the band played songs such as Svefn-g-englar and Olsen Olsen.

Live, Sigur Rós have the amazing ability to transition from ambient, melodious verses to rib-shaking atmospheric breakdowns, and back again with ease. With minimal talking in between songs the band finished on Popplagio with no encore, to the applause of an entranced and appreciative crowd.

Harvest have really created something special with this festival. It’s clear how much thought goes into the line-up each year, which is ultimately why the festival attracts such a good crowd. With minimal lines for most of the day and sets running to time, this year’s festival in Sydney was one to remember. Keep it up AJ, and I’m sure everyone will be back next year.

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