A biased review of Frankly! It’s A Pop Festival 2010: Guy Blackman + Surf City + High Places + Xiu Xiu, 04.09.10

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I spent the majority of Saturday at work in New Farm, painfully waiting my clock-off time. Arriving short of breath at the Powerhouse, I was greeted with a string of bad news: that Fabulous Diamonds had already played (“So loud! So good! They’re going to be huge! You missed out”) and that during their Sydney and Melbourne shows, Xiu Xiu sold out of merch. Dispiritedly tucking away my bundle of money, I settled to watch Guy Blackman.

I spent the majority of Guy’s set wondering why people were sitting down and eyeing the kiddie pool inflatable whales which were strung from the amphitheatre’s ceiling in correlation with the festival’s whale decor, slowly rotating like eerie celestial bodies. I last saw Blackman support Owen Pallett in Melbourne and had fond memories of his endearing awkwardness. His simple piano love ballads, sung with an earnest, slightly off-key charm, were aided by Crayon Fields towards the end of the set. I’m of the opinion that such a high concentration of awkward music nerds has never been witnessed before. Before his last song, Blackman smiled serenely and politely thanked Lawrence English for the festival’s set-up, a lovely way to end his mild afternoon pop performance.

Next up were New Zealand’s Surf City, who ascended the stage in silence and, indifferent to the audience, began their brand of fuzzy surf riffs and indistinguishable lyrics in an odd mixture of self-consciousness and tired after-school-garage rehearsal vibe. The lead singer perfunctorily introduced songs and murmured thank you’s, yet this disaffection perfectly juxtaposed the intense ravaging of their instruments, culminating in a mountain of pop glory on ‘Headin’ Inside’ and ‘Dickshaker’s Union’. I garnered the distinct impression these guys benefit for closer headphone listening as to appreciate the hooks that have given them an international standing in the surf rock circuit. [So it’s just me who thinks their guitars sound like U2 then? – Ed.]

I would like to give a beautiful rendering of Crayon Fields, but this review is imbued with my own bias and I found Crayon Fields unbearably dull. So alas, I can’t give a review of them. I could however give a review of the amazing chips that I scoffed while Crayon Fields were playing.

Upon returning, after technical difficulties were smoothed out, the reluctant crowd rose to their feet for High Places, the first band to inspire such a courteous gesture [except for Fabulous Diamonds – Ed]. Awkwardly holding a guitar, her hair and white garments flowing angelically, Mary Pearson began her exotic ethereal electronica with and Rob Barber. Their newest album has not clicked with me yet, but somehow their textured, layered music makes a lot more sense live. I found myself thinking more and more about Xiu Xiu, however, and by the end of the set, my mind was elsewhere.

After a short wait which felt excruciatingly long, Angela and Jamie of Xiu Xiu begin their set. A minute in and Jamie is drenched with sweat, unsurprising given the vivid intensity and focus he exerts when orchestrating the band’s traumatic avant-garde pop. The set is nothing short of harrowing. The disconcerting contrasts were what made the show: Angela’s unperturbed expression while thrashing viciously at cymbals; the band’s trademark eerie calm before descending into harrowing caterwauling, particularly notable during ‘Fabulous Muscles’. Songs off the new album Dear God I Hate Myself were rendered with a sinister intensity absent from the decidedly pop recordings. By the end, I was gasping for breath along with the band-members.

All up, the day was a spectacular line-up of the finest avant-garde pop artists from Australia, NZ and the US. Here’s to next year’s being such a whale of a time. (I’m sorry, I had to.)

Photography: Reuben Beer

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