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FALLS DOWNTOWN @ Fremantle Oval gets 7.5/10

Chvrches

Falls Downtown @ Fremantle Oval
Saturday & Sunday, January 5 & 6, 2018

7.5/10

In its third year, WA’s ‘Downtown’ incarnation of Falls Festival proved the value of currency as much as anything. Big Australian acts of the moment consistently drew larger crowds than cooler, international names like Interpol and Chvrches, whose most recent albums failed to capture the public’s interest. A parochial Australian audience raised on Triple J, a number of big names we’ve become accustomed to on their festival circuit, and some strange decisions on the playing times, all added up to an uneven weekend, albeit one with plenty of highlights.

Soccer Mommy

Soccer Mommy had a huge 2018 on the back of her breakthrough album Clean and a dedicated few braved the early heat for standouts Last Girl, Your Dog and Cool, as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. It wasn’t the last Boss cover for the arvo either; Dean Lewis dusted off Dancing In the Dark soon after, and covers became a theme for the weekend.

NSW duo Hockey Dad rocked out early, and displayed a more emotional side with Zach Stephenson performing Two Forever solo, before Billy Fleming returned to the stage to take over vocals on Sweet Release. Tkay Maidza was a Saturday highlight and had new addition the big top tent, which housed stages three and four, going off. She blazed through a mix of her own material including M.O.B., Martin Solveig collaboration Do It Right and Ghost mixed in with a few covers, including a snippet of tune of the moment, Sheck Wes’ Mo Bamba.

Tkay Maidza

It felt like a fail in the new layout that punters couldn’t walk 20 metres from the big top to the Dancetaria, housed this year in new Perth venue Rock Rover (aka the South Fremantle footy club’s clubrooms). It was a great idea to use the space, but so out of the way that few found their way over to locals such as WAMAward winners Feels. Their DJ set may not have included the amazing equipment that tends to light up their stages, but it did give us an insight in to some of the WOMPP producers’ inspirations such as Ejeca’s Jalek.

Briggs

88Rising proved disappointing as hype DJ Don Krez warmed up the crowd – ok at your own show but at a festival, for it to go on so long, was frankly bullshit. Fortunately for hip hop lovers, in the big top Briggs brought it home strong. Heavy hitting hip hop, he busted out Bad Apples and the Aboriginal flag for A.B. Original’s January 26. Their backdrop was an election styled banner proclaiming #briggsforpm, and right now, why not? One of our country’s best rappers and a vital Australian voice.

Amy Shark

For the most-part Saturday afternoon was a little lacking in highlights, although Amy Shark busting out Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag cover had punters singing along from Eat Street nearby and Mallrat‘s rap-singing over simple, sparse but clever production was infectious, as was her fun stage presence. Heaps Gay DJs‘ non-stop dance party, starting with Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, was a colourful, explosive audiovisual extravaganza with dancers.

Flight Facilities

Aussie festival captains Flight Facilities did a more subdued set from them than usual, but their beautiful track Clair De Lune (which samples the track of the same name by French composer Claude Debussy) was a highlight as the sunset cast shades of ochre.

Catfish and the Bottlemen

The UK’s Catfish and the Bottlemen (named after a Sydney busker) brought back the rock ‘n’ roll on the main stage with some stadium swagger. They took a while to warm up, but once they got going put on a solid performance. Singer Van McCann has all the rock star moves, and with great songs like 7 and Twice they won over the crowd, before finishing on an epic Tyrants.

Chvrches versus Dizzee Rascal proved the clash of the festival, with the latter’s popularity drawing a massive crowd to the big top. His rapping was flawless, and big tunes such as Holiday had the tent bouncing. But it was the finale of Bonkers that literally saw the tent go bonkers, with the most hectic crowd of the weekend, capitalised on by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, when they opened with Rattlesnake in the big top’s closing set.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Chvrches were also a major highlight; in particular the run home of Leave A Trace, Clearest Blue, The Mother We Share and Never Say Die had the main stage pumping. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s ‘Patriarchy is a Bitch’ top and Martin Doherty’s callout to Anderson .Paak’s soundcheck next door ensured plenty of Scottish attitude as well: “Can you guys hear that?” he asked the crowd. “Fucking shut up playing the bass you prick!”

Chvrches

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals had the last laugh however, with the set of the festival. Emerging behind smoke jets and dancer-cum-backing vocalists like he wanted to headline, it was a step up from Laneway 11 months earlier. He crowd surfed and high-fived the crowd, played drums while rapping and singing Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, baited Trump on 6 Summers and blew up the festival with Come Down and streamers flying over the audience. What really took his set to the next level though was an encore of Dang!, his collaboration with late US rapper Mac Miller, and a pic of the two young stars smiling and having the time of their lives on the big screen to follow. The emotional scene resulted in a tear for many.

The Vaccines

Sunday featured arguably its best act early. The Vaccines put on a show no one saw coming in 37 degree heat at 2pm, as entertaining frontman Justin Young crooned and put the moves on in a tradie shirt. From singalong Post Break Up Sex to Ramones-inspired rockers Wetsuit and Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra), there was a charming effortlessness that had us wishing for a better timeslot for this much-improved live act.

Ocean Alley

Meanwhile Cub Sport had the crowd cheering for marriage equality in the big top, and Ocean Alley got a massive crowd singing along to their hits The Comedown, Confidence and a fun cover of Player’s Baby Come Back. DMA’s might not have been as good as their massive show last year at Metropolis Fremantle, but it was an entertaining festival set, including acoustic renditions of The End and Delete, plus Feels Like 37 from their first EP – rather appropriate for the scorching day.

Toto

Toto was a big drawcard for the Sunday arvo masses, and while it didn’t seem to work quite as well as Daryl Braithwaite last year (surprisingly Braithwaite has more hits) they wisely backed up Hold the Line, Rosanna and 10-minute highlight Africa with covers of The Beatles and Weezer in a fun, if unspectacular, festival set. Meanwhile, freestyling beat poet Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers attracted some decent numbers to the big top with a unique combination of spoken word, rap and manic ranting over minimal indie-funk grooves. He looked a bit like a young Adam Sandler in his sports jersey, and charmed the crowd with his awkward, funny ramblings, wisely declining to do a shoey after footwear was thrown on stage.

Hilltop Hoods

Hilltop Hoods probably never thought they’d follow Toto playing Africa on stage: “How the hell do you follow that?” Certainly not an easy feat – but the Hoods had it covered. They blazed through a set of hits old and new with a live horn section – new track Leave Me Lonely, The Nosebleed Section, Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom and Cosby Sweater among them. DJ Debris stuffed up a mix and as is band tradition was forced to do 10 push-ups which they decided to turn into a mock NYE countdown. Then out back at the big top, Juice Wrld brought that auto-tune, ghetto rap shit that seems to be so popular for some reason, and got a bunch of people up on stage dancing.

NYC’s Interpol are a great band with a massive worldwide following, but apparently this wasn’t the festival for them, failing to draw a big a crowd. They’re a band to immerse yourself in, and this lack of atmosphere along with some seriously poor sound (they need to find a new sound engineer), detracted from their performance. But there was still plenty to enjoy as they played recent single The Rover alongside classics like Roland, Evil, Public Pervert (featuring a stunning disco-ball display) and All The Rage Back Home (complete with intense strobe). Slow Hands and Obstacle 1 were highlights in a rampaging finish.

Putting Golden Features on the main stage at the end was either clever programming or a good reason to pull up stumps early on a Sunday, depending who you asked. The masked one has improved every year, and now has a finely orchestrated set, full of massive bangers with his trademark heavy bass sound and a very impressive visual show, which dazzled. And for some reason after Interpol’s quieter set, there was loud, clear sound.

Either way, only a sparse crowd made it back to the big top for Swedish Americana lovers First Aid Kit, who were nonetheless wonderful. With the sweet sounds of country and pedal steel they proved more than a one-trick wonder, rocking out a number of songs at a rock festival lacking in guitars. A clear highlight for those in attendance, they brought out Freo favourite Stella Donnelly for a cover of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, while Emmylou, My Silver Lining and a surprising white noise finale for Nothing Has To Be True ended the day in style.

Falls Downtown has built an admirable reputation in a short space of time, keeping things fresh by changing up their venues year on year. While the low key Dancetaria plus less local bands and comedians, and a largely recycled line up saw them lose a few points in 2019, the proven live acts led by Anderson .Paak, The Vaccines, Dizzee Rascal, Chvrches, Hilltop Hoods and Tkay Maidza made it a weekend to remember.

HARVEY RAE & ALFRED GORMAN

Photos by Daniel Hilderbrand

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