FALLS DOWNTOWN @ Kings Square, Fremantle

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Kings Square, Fremantle
January 7-8, 2016
Rating 9/10

What a venue. The historic Kings Square in Fremantle provided the location for WA’s first Falls “Downtown” Festival, two days of completely sold out performances in one of the best places you could hope to host 8,000 plus people a day.

While there were plenty of big international drawcards even after headliner Childish Gambino pulled out, it was Melbourne’s The Avalanches that stole the show. Their high energy set was easily the most hotly anticipated of the festival, having not played in Perth for well over a decade.

The Avalanches

The Avalanches

 

While reports of early comeback shows overseas weren’t great, fears were laid to rest as a different looking line up to any we’ve seen before wasted no time getting into Because I Can and Frankie Sinatra. Radio and Subways were big highlights, as were the visuals flicking from Jay and Silent Bob to Molly Ringwald, among other icons.

If there was a knock on The Avalanches it was the all too short rendition of Frontier Psychiatrist, which morphed into The Who’s My Generation and never returned. But Electricity, a cover of the Beatles’ Come Together and spine tingling finale Since I Left You ensured things ended on a high.

The Avalanches

The Avalanches

 

Plenty of WA artists made Falls their own, whether it was Pond and Ta-Ku bringing big productions to huge crowds, or Stoney Joe and Luke Dux entertaining in the lovely Fremantle Town Hall, dubbed the Old Time Music Hall.

Rag N Bone

Rag N Bone

 

North Perth’s Rag N’ Bone were the first band on at our first ever Falls and they wasted no time getting into last year’s hits Last Kind Words and I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore, the latter aired on Triple J just an hour earlier as the J’s did a good job of getting us pumped for the festival’s debut.

Norwegian outfit Lemaitre dished out commercial indie-electronic hits such as We Got U before Melbourne’s City Calm Down brought a horn section and a cover of the Smith’s This Charming Man to compliment their own hits such as Son.

City Calm Down

City Calm Down

 

Covers played a big part in the festival, from City Calm Down and the Avalanches to Client Liaison getting the crowd rocking to Savage Garden’s I Want You and local sensation Elli Schoen transforming Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River.

But the best of the weekend, and arguably song of the festival, was the Jezabels’ note perfect Tina Turner impersonation on The Best, sung word for word straight back at them. It was as electric as it was anthemic.

Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

 

Parquet Courts were the first big drawcard of day one for many, and frankly were unlucky not to score a better playing time after several cancellations. Their Velvet Underground-inspired dose of New York cool was highlighted by old faves Master of My Craft (“Forget about it!”) and Borrowed Time early, then an epic One Man, No City which devolved into a sea of Sonic Youth-like feedback so good it almost made up for Sunbathing Animal missing the cut.

Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball

 

Alunageorge

Alunageorge

Philadelphia emo outfit Modern Baseball got the crowd surfers up and the audience singing along to Your Graduation, while Alunageorge played a commercial dance set that was more style than substance.

Grandmaster Flash has finally stopped schooling audiences on the history of hip hop, and while his playlist at times resembled a wedding mash up, everyone was up and grooving to Let’s Dance on the day before what would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday.

Showing everyone how to rock a dancefloor properly was Booka Shade, the surprise hit of day one. Perhaps not so surprising for those who’ve seen them live before, the German house duo brought a big set up and absolutely powered through In White Rooms and their M.A.N.D.Y. collaboration, Body Language. Night Falls/ I Won’t Back Down (Sunday Morning) was the huge send off.

Booka Shade

Booka Shade

 

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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Fresh from headlining their own Gizzfest in December (and just added to Laneway), late call up King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard seemed a little lost on the main stage massive, and might have benefitted from swapping stages with Hot Dub Time Machine, who like Grandmaster Flash DJ’d a bit of a wedding playlist but had the crowd in raptures with a mash up of the Chili Pepper’s Give it Away and Rage’s Killing In The Name, plus a live sax solo accompaniment for INXS’ Never Tear Us Apart.

If there was a knock on Falls it was that both days’ headliners brought smaller shows than on previous visits. Coincidentally, both Violent Soho and London Grammar played Red Hill Auditorium on their last trips to Perth, and both gigs were production-heavy monsters. Without the confetti and smoke jets Violent Soho still got the crowd roaring along to Dope Calypso and Covered In Chrome, but playing to nearly twice as many people as at Red Hill, it felt a little anti-climatic.

Violent Soho

Violent Soho

 

Sunday was noticeably busier and early highlights included 80s-indebted Londoner Shura and hilarious Melbourne synth-pop throwbacks Client Liaison. While the former laid down on stage to perform hits such as Touch, the latter danced their way through moves most people reserve for the bedroom mirror. Two giant water coolers and palm trees flanked their iconic Diners Club and Ansett visuals as they generously shared a carton of Fosters with the audience.

Client Liason

Client Liason

 

Mt Mountain are one of WA’s best live acts and fresh from supporting Tortoise the five-piece gave early arrivals an epic wake up at the second stage. Elli Schoen meanwhile gave a taste of why she’s supporting everyone from Julien Baker to Ronan Keating lately, her unabashedly stadium folk-pop a la Of Monsters And Men producing singalongs to Fourteen, Hard Heart and Mumma.

The Acid’s frontman Ry X rocked the man bun in a beret combo somewhat inadvisably but produced an atmospheric electronic set that belied his Bon Iver-lite hits.

The Jeabels

The Jezabels

 

Then The Jezabels became one of the hits of the festival, dropping several of their biggest tunes early as Australia’s modern day answer to Chrissy Amphlett, singer Hayley Mary, held the crowd in the palm of her hand when she wasn’t surfing atop them. The aforementioned Tina Turner cover took their set up a notch before they closed with old favourite Hurt Me.

Ball Park Music

Ball Park Music

 

As the audience battled the sun in their eyes, Ball Park Music ripped through a set of festival favourites including Fence Sitter, Surrender and acoustic campfire singalong It’s Nice to Be Alive, before new tunes Pariah and Nihilist Party Anthem ensured they were a day two standout.

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DMAs

 

Likewise, Sydney’s answer to Oasis, the DMA’s, kept the strong Australian contingent coming with a huge crowd at the second stage, who knew every word to Laced, Delete and Lay Down. DMA’s write the sort of songs made for festival singalongs, and were on song on Sunday.

Pond

Pond

 

Pond got the crowd onside with Elvis’ Flaming Star and Waiting Around for Grace, before the five-piece-once-more introduced recent single Sweep Me Off My Feet.

Following the Avalanches festival stealing set, London Grammar was something of a come down, and didn’t quite live up to past triumphs despite nice moments such as opener Nightcall, an uplifting Wasting My Young Years and festival finale Metal And Dust.

London Grammar

London Grammar

 

With a Dancetaria downstairs in the old Myers building hosting a great little rave space manned by everyone from Pilerats to the Community to Camp Doogs DJs, and the Church of Heavenly Delights (aka St John’s Anglican Church) home to comedy from Joel Creasy, the Big Hoo-Haa and more across the weekend, plus some winning food and VIP options, there was no shortage of entertainment and curiosities at WA’s first proper Falls instalment since severing ties with Southbound last year.

But the weekend belonged to the Avalanches, whose mighty return pipped Booka Shade, The Jezabels, Client Liaison, Parquet Courts, DMA’s and pick of the locals Rag N’ Bone for act of the festival.

With a sold out first year under their belt, expect Falls to grow in 2018. If that means upgrading to a bigger space, here’s hoping the City of Fremantle host more events like this in Kings Square, because it rivals Laneway’s initial home in the Perth Cultural Centre as one of the best urban festival spaces in WA.

HARVEY RAE

Photos by Paul Dowd Photography

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