Gigs Reviews

REVIEW: WAM State of the Art Festival

Review By: Sam Farringdon

Image Credit: Travis Hayto – Rainy Day Women Facebook

Aren’t long weekends great? Especially when you’ve got a festival on, so you get an extra day to recover! WAM’s State of the Art festival took over the Cultural Centre in the city on Saturday – where everyone passing through could witness some of the finest musicians and bands Western Australia has to offer, outside PICA and inside the State Theatre Centre, while a modest fee granted you access to the marquee tents, behind the State Museum and opposite the State Library.

First things first: how good are winter music festivals in Perth?! Providing the weather is glorious and mild (which it was), and the evening doesn’t dip to an ice breathing chill (it didn’t), conditions really are much more conducive to an enjoyable atmosphere – people aren’t sweating bullets, they’re more modestly attired, and they’re not throwing back the booze with such intensity to sate their heat inspired thirst… Which means the lines aren’t long, and there’s less propensity for dickheads. Personally, I’m all for this kind of utopian festival atmosphere… But I also recognise that I’m probably getting old.

With the sun still high in the sky, Moana was the first band I caught, at the PICA stage. The harsh afternoon light was a tough sell for a band whose style best suits the dalliances of the nocturnal, but they still ably whipped up a maelstrom assault of sinewy rhythms and grungey blues. While people initially passed through the thoroughfare between stage and the amphitheatre styled seating relatively unphased by the primal rock n roll throb behind them, when singer and guitarist Moana Lutton tore into the through the tribal, psychedelic meditation that was new song “Elephant Bones”, there was movement no longer – all approaching were suddenly held captive, like rats in a trap, and flies in the ointment. Moana would have justifiably won some new fans this afternoon, even as they still developed the confidence to really assert themselves on the larger stage.

In contrast, Boom Bap Pow! totally OWNED the Museum stage, and probably deserved a larger and more appreciative audience than they had in the early afternoon, as paying punters were still filtering in. The band were tighter than a kettle drum, and the grooves were bouncy and light, without sacrificing grit and grime. Also, I’m a guy that’s a sucker for a sax, so Dylan Hooper really tickled my sweet spot in that regard. But my oh my, Novac Bull! She swaggered and purred, she shook her arse, she threatened to tear a hole in the plastic tarpaulin with the almighty power of her pipes, she primped and preened with the poise of a perfect pop star. The set culminated with the bubblegum seduction of “Suit” and oh my golly, there is justice in Diet Coke picking that song for their ad campaign this year, cos it really should’ve been a massive massive hit already.

From gleaming pop to gutbucket RAWK, The Love Junkies took no prisoners with their late afternoon slot on the Museum stage. And it’s no wonder these guys have set chins wagging in the U.S. cos they’re an absolute class act, and would fit comfortably in this slot at any festival, anywhere in the world. As a three piece they raise more hell than an air raid siren, and brandish more power than the Incredible Hulk. If Lewis Walsh isn’t the best drummer in Australia I’ll eat my hat; but in fact, I have a shrewd suspicion that he’d just about give any drummer in the WORLD a run for their money. The influence of Queens of the Stone Age may still permeate a little too strongly at times, but Walsh with guitarist/vocalist Mitch McDonald and bassist Robbie Rumble attack with such unbridled enthusiasm and energy for what they’re doing, not even the sourest skeptic could resist them.

Needing a change of pace as the sun set and the cool change entrenched itself, I sidled over to the Urban Orchid stage (opposite the state library) for a one off performance of never before heard songs by a selection of emcees, beat producers and instrumentalists. Community Supergroup comprised of members of The Community, a musical collective dedicated to developing independent hip hop and electronica in Perth. Tonight paired emcees Mathas, Empty and Wisdom 2th with live backing from Diger Rockwell, The Boost Hero Man and John  Brown. The relaxed, subtle and atmospheric grooves were contrasted with razor sharp observations of daily life, giving sway to the argument that hip hop is far and away the most socially conscious music being created in Perth at the moment. If the Supergroup didn’t collaborate very often, you wouldn’t have known it, as all 6 artists performed with a fluency and confidence that was as engaging as it was thought-provoking.

The night may have been cold, but Rainy Day Women ensured we’d stay warm, as they evoked the warmth of summer with their shimmering pop melodies. New bassist/vocalist Carmen Pepper established herself from the get go, her voice adding an ethereal dimension to Rainy Day Women’s dream like sound, while Dylan Ollivierre and Ross Pickersgill’s duelling guitars weave a transportive tapestry that elevate you to near transcendence. There’s something really special about this band: from the laconic way they hold themselves, to Ollivierre and Pepper’s tender and affecting harmonies, to the songs themselves – “Mars” could be a Neil Finn song in the hands of Guided By Voices, and that still wouldn’t do enough justice to how good it is. Even technical issues with Pickersgill’s guitar couldn’t derail what was an exciting and infectious set from a band I’m predicting very big things for.

Let’s be honest: You Am I aren’t a Perth band. Tim Rogers was born in Kalgoorlie, and has written songs about Applecross and the Raffles hotel, and drummer Rusty Hopkinson is an East Fremantle boy, though he hasn’t lived here for a number of years. So it seems slightly dubious that a festival supposedly celebrating Western Australian music would draw such a longbow when perhaps there were other local bands who could’ve been gifted the opportunity. But then let’s not kid ourselves: it’s also fucking You Am I. They hit the Museum stage to a hometown welcome and played like the heroes they are to any kid that’s strapped on a guitar in this town. They were loose limbed and sloppy, but energised and righteous. From the clarion opening chords of “Junk” to the thunderous close of “Berlin Chair”, Rogers and co. enthralled and delighted, reinforcing why they are held in such high regard as one of Australia’s premier live bands.

While some might have been hanging out to catch festival headliners Birds of Tokyo, I opted to go back to the Urban Orchid and see the “Godfathers” of the Perth scene – the original Scientists, with Kim Salmon, Roddy Radalj, Boris Sujdovic, and James Baker. Playing without a set list (apparently on the whim of Salmon), the old boys took a few songs to shake out the cobwebs completely, resulting in ragged but inspired versions of choice cuts like “Frantic Romantic”, “Drop Out” and the Johnny Thunders/Ramones classic “Chinese Rocks”. By the middle of the set though, they’d harnessed their raw power, peaking with an absolutely searing version of “Walk the Plank”. While crowd began to become restless with the simple and youthful naivety of a large swath of songs toward the end, they were won back with the sheer tenacity of the evening’s culminating number, the entrancing, squall-like dirge that is “Baby You’re Not For Sale”.

I left with no regrets (oh, there was one: I missed Rob Snarski), and filled with pride that our little isolated city is awash with such a vast array of amazing bands and musicians who are as groundbreaking, inspiring, and influential as anyone around the world. And that really is something worth celebrating.