LIVE REVIEW: Groovin The Moo – Bunbury

A grumpy old 'Festival-Goer' drops in on the 'Moo' - Bunbury Western Australia - May 13th 2017

When I first started attending festivals things were simple – you’d plan for a year with your mates, wait patiently for line up announcements in the music papers, listen to the bands on the media of your choice (those new fangled CDs, vinyl or tape), grab your tickets from the Ticket Shop queuing up for hours on the day they went on sale, draw straws for who was going to drive (failing that get the festival bus). On the day you’d get up early, pocket your cash and driving licence (with no photo) as ID and hit the road. At lot of the time the journey there was a huge part of the fun – whether you were travelling to Reading, Donington or Glastonbury. The music was of course always the main event – bands often from overseas and many huge names – legends you only read about – it was sublime; and then the ride home and talking through the day capped it all off again till next time.

Things have of course changed but I’ve kept going to the Festivals – starting in the UK, then Europe, the US, Australia and most recently revisiting some of those festivals of my youth again. Over the years by my reckoning I’ve attended over 70 Festivals across the globe from the tornado-threatened campgrounds of Oklahoma to the latest – the grassy fields of Bunbury, Western Australia.

Yes, things have certainly changed…

It started smoothly enough, and unlike a lot of Festivals there were no large queues (though a huge crowd), no people lugging huge backpacks full of provisions, no kids drinking cans of premix before they hit the gates. It all looked to be beautifully organized. Strangely though no one was talking abut music, no one checking off who they wanted to see, people were too busy you see – taking selfies even before they hit the stages, all duck lips and flicked hair as professional ‘photo bombers’ made slightly less distorted faces in the background. It was worth a sigh but merely a sign of the times in a world where showing you were there is more important than enjoying the moment.

Festivals across the world differ wildly of course but there are few you get into before the first act strikes up, and GTM gives us a pleasant surprise with the music starting to great and already growing crowds. For a Festival that’s been going since 2005 (though only since 2010 in the West) Groovin’ the Moo has thrived where other bigger Australian Festivals like Soundwave and Big Day Out have fallen – and one of the reasons I wanted to go was to see how a regional festival could survive when the city based festivals failed. (Up until 2016 regional WA also sported another Festival based in Busselton called ‘Southbound’ that sadly was cancelled due to Bushfires in 2016 and hasn’t resurfaced this year).

At least part of the reason Groovin’ continues to ride high is its simple ‘early Glastonbury-like’ ethos- delivering  an eclectic mix of music with a little light art and a dab of culture, decent facilities and a nice selection of food and drink. And whilst you might feel that diversity of artists might water down the appeal it actually does the opposite – giving the festival-goer time to relax rather than speed from stage to stage like you were often forced into at festivals like Soundwave which suffered from too many acts, too many stages and often conflicting scheduling.

The mix of internationals and a good proportion of Australian acts is good too, and like Festivals the world over ‘Indie’ acts are a safe bet – a sure fire way to capture the youth, and the cooler you are the more you must profess your love of the obscure, the arty and even the downright ‘ironically awful’. Thankfully as a music fan I’ve always been too open minded for my own good, sure I love my rock but it comes in all kinds of shades: basically as long as it has a guitar and doesn’t rap or inflict jazz on me I’ll give it a fair listen. Music after all only comes in two forms – good or bad. And it’s with that thought I throw myself through the gates into a sea of people who all seem younger than me, all have more tattoos and piercings than me and all seem to be glued to their technology.

I do wonder though about some of the fads of the modern day: the great thing about music of course is that at it’s best it makes you forget about the Ned Kelly beards, skinny jeans and deck shoes for a while and Morgan Bain is the perfect opener for the day, bluesy, rootsy, earthy and real and a local WA boy too. His short twenty minute set does manage to get the day off to a great start though, it’s just a shame he’s not climbed a little further up the bill.

Touted as having one of the best live shows in the country on Triple J Unearthed  (though not on the Triple J stage) ‘POW! Negro’ and their mixture of electronica, hip hop, jazz and funk with heavy ‘Rage Against the Machine’ meets Funked up Rap vocals  are simply awful. Amazingly they seem to take all of the worst bits out of the mixed genre pot and regurgitate. Five largely subdued guys on stage swaying whilst their Rapping vocalist shakes about does not make a great visual or aural spectacle and certainly doesn’t propel the band to ‘best live show’ territory. Look at the potential and power such a heady mixture of diverse influences can create in bands like Skindred and try again.

The best thing about a Festival though is often the train wrecks come up against the sublime and after ‘Tobacco Rat’ (great rat costume, awful take on bass-heavy electronica which shouldn’t be heard before 2am let alone lunch) and ‘L-Fresh the Lion’ (Rap over great sampled music, how stunningly original) drives me to search out craft beer (I’m still waiting for my beloved craft beer to become unfashionable again). I’m back for a rather enjoyable slice of indie-rock-pop by the wild-haired ‘Methyl Ethyl’ even if they did sport that ‘I’m completely disinterested and far too cool to be here’ stage prescience. Musically (where it matters) it was more than agreeable.

You know those guitar strummers who put on those fake, twee voices and act so serious – Triple J Unearthed winner Luke Fox does that on the Triple J stage when we pass, and whilst you could never find enough substance in music like that to find it offensive it does make you wonder how far JJJ has fallen from cutting edge to elevator music.

Thankfully after the much hyped ‘Allday’ (Dontcha love these guys who three quarters of their act is pushing the play button) and his half mumbled rapped accompaniment to his ‘dancey-trancey’ backing track fails to even register any emotion, just the question ‘why?’ I head over to see K-Flay on the main stage and find myself impressed by her mix of Drum, bass, electronica and just a touch of rock, there’s also a huge amount of love in the crowd here for her. Anyone who can write big soaring choruses like that deserves to be on the big stage.

The biggest surprise of the day for me is perhaps the fact that arguably the two Rockiest acts of the day (along with the Darkness) hit separate stages almost back to back. ‘Against Me!’ I’ve seen before though then it was obviously a bad day as this afternoon in Bunbury they soar really igniting the crowd properly for the first time all day. It’s a non-stop set that closes with front-person Laura Jane Grace’s most personal and emotional song ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’. Judging by the crowd reaction it’s the best set of the day so far and I have to agree, arriving late to see The Architects open their account with their own brand of Metalcore.

It’s a crushing and heavy set from The Architects and odd that they grace the same stage as ‘L-Fresh the Lion’ and ‘Tobacco Rat’. It does however pack out the tent before opening track ‘Nihilist’ has even ended.  If you seen Brighton’s finest before I’m pleased to say they do put on rather a fine performance that I can appreciate even though I do find Metalcore a little clichéd these days. ‘Broken Cross’ seems to establish the sonic peak though for me it’s the crushing closer ‘Gone With The Wind’ that does most damage and creates most joy and mayhem. Sadly the band lost guitarist and main songwriter Tom Searle last year after a three year battle with cancer and it does make you wonder where the band will travel musically without him.

Back on the main stages The Smith Street Band were more than impressive live, and to me that’s the real test of a great band – managing to impress even those largely unfamiliar with the bulk of their material.  I did of course recognise the closing track: ‘Throw Me In The River’ as did it seems everyone in the crowd,who took crowd lyrical participation to a whole new high. Immediately after one-person-band ‘Tash Sultana’ who pulled out of a few previous ‘Moo’ dates due to illness is simply irresistible musically and leaves the stage making a huge impressionon all present.

A well-timed food and craft beer break ensues whilst bands like ‘The Jungle Giants’ and ‘Milky Chance’ take their slots. the former I’m reliably informed are great Indie-Pop/Rock from Queensland (and there is a moment or two where I look up from my pulled-pork) whilst the latter ply a rather crowd pleasing blend – taking the fine musical forms of Reggae and Folk and squeezing them into an artificial skin of electronic dance music but to rather pleasing effect. It’s something that proves that Germans do have a sense of humour, do have great rhythm ad I bow to the crowd who seem to rather enjoy them and who are certainly more familiar with their music than I.

PNAU was another of the bands of the day I’d been completely unfamiliar with until arrival and with them second on the bill on the Triple J stage I was expecting a nice surprise. Sadly the Sydney duo’s blend of house-influenced dance music was perhaps the most uninspired, unoriginal and vacuous act of the entire day. If people ask me in the future to sum up what I dislike about music, what I feel pulls the soul out of that great human endeavour I have a new word for it – PNAU. To me music is one of humanity’s greatest and most wonderful creations – something to sooth us, inspire us and keep us sane, not something to fill the void with aimless, meaningless noise – its like drinking to get drunk and to be perfectly blunt if you wanted to mass together all those in attendance today who had slipped a pill or two they were all here swaying to the beat. I’m also at a loss to describe how much of the set was sampled rather than performed live.

But with immense and fathomless lows come great highs and after PNAU came The Darkness…

Hard Rock has and probably always will be the most maligned musical genre on the planet, never a media favourite (though of course its cool for mainstream media to love bands like Zeppelin now they’re long gone) Rock continues to get bad press, bad reviews and be written off as something ‘less’ than ‘real music’. Thankfully Rock fans don’t care: look at the Top Ten highest grossing tours of all time and you’ll find just one non-Rock tour in the list. Look at the highest grossing tours of any decade and you’ll find a Rock band top of the list. look at any list of the best selling albums of all time and it’s mainly Rock. And thankfully the organisers at Groovin’ the Moo seem to recognise a decent rock act when they see one with both Against Me! and The Architects impressing earlier in the day the Bunbury darkness saw The Darkness take the stage.

On the back of a slew of well-received solo dates (mainly sold out) and ‘Moo’ dates in other states the band were finally on the last date of their 2017 Australia and New Zealand Tour that kicked off back on April 20th. And after a fiery display in Perth the night before a nice sojourn down to Bunbury had done nothing to diminish ther desire to see us off with a bang.

If you want to see a band that is both fun to watch and one which manages to distil a lot of what makes rock music so constantly endearing over the decades then take a look at the Darkness. The Darkness is a band who  know how to rock, know how to write a hook big enough to snare a whale  and know that at the end of the day music needs to be fun, engaging and as essential as air, food or water.

Sadly for a Festival set it’s only a taste of the band in full flight, but being so concise it’s also full on, full flight, back to back crowd-pleasers. Most amazingly for a fan is that it’s almost like stepping back in time to that first seminal album – ‘Permission to Land’ with 6 of the 8 songs hailing from that 2003 release.

Justin Hawkins humour though tonight is razor sharp, and his crowd engagement second to none, taking a shoe and a hat from a member of the crowd he attempts to identify the ‘brown stain’ on the sole – it might indeed be a crushed insect, though it might of course be something more sinister, maybe he should piss in the shoe and drink it, he muses? Maybe he should take a shit in it? It’s part vaudeville, part stand up and very tongue in cheek and before long he has the crowd ‘bouncing’ to his high standards for ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, we might even be better than Canberra, though he never calls the contest…

Along the way we also get a storming rendition of second album title track ‘One Way Ticket’ and a new as yet unreleased song ‘Solid Gold’ which bodes well for the new album, and aside from Justin’s usual antics and sojourn into the crowd to soloist like the perfect cameo reminding the entire massed throng that Rock is far from dead.

It’s a great way to start the end of the night with fellow UK rockers of a very different hue ‘The Wombats’ our next stop. Opening with the wonderful ‘Give Me A Try’ the band delivered a great set of real quality that shows, coming after The Darkness’ impressive set, that rock and roll is a beautiful thing of infinite variety. As a first timer I’m more than impressed by the three piece. If crowd reaction is anything to go by it’s a close call between the two for reaction of the day.

Having seen Violent Soho a few times on much smaller stages seeing them headlining the Festival was interesting. It’s great of course to see an Aussie act right at the top of the bill but in comparison to bands like The Wombats, The Darkness and even Against Me! and The Architects as well as some of the choice acts lower down the bill there was just something missing. It wasn’t the songs, I’ve long been an admirer of Soho’s Grungy Garage Rock sound, it was  something I can’t quite put my finger on, the music was there but the real connection just wasn’t. Still the crowd seemed to love it and while perhaps not quite as vocal as they had been earlier in the evening no one walked away disappointed.

Groovin’ The Moo was a great Festival, and whilst it answered many of the questions I had going in, it also left me with a lot more questions. I was surprised by the sheer numbers of young kids, especially girls who smoked, and even more shocked by the sheer volume of litter – there seemed to be no one with any regard for just dropping their litter where they stood rather than walk a few meters to a bin. I was also baffled by a couple of frequent fashion statements – the dungarees with one strap trailing, the girls with make-up under their eyes across their cheeks, and the guys with overlong t-shirts skinny jeans and deck shoes – a fashion that will surely become old very fast. Mainly though it’s all positive.

‘The Moo’ works because of its diversity and its connection with the locals who see it as part of their own musical journey and something not for the City folk! (as one local told me). I also learnt that much as I try I can’t appreciate ‘musicians’ who rely on soulless backing tracks and technology, I can’t abide Rap in any of its derivative and trite forms and, yep, I still hate jazz. I also learnt that some people attend Festivals who just don’t like music at all and can spend all day taking ‘selfies’ and talking on their phones loved up on e, as the acts on the main stage pass them by. On the positive side I know why Festivals like this continue to be a success – they care about people, they even care enough to supply me with pulled pork and craft beer. I also realise that whilst not every band will be for everyone there is something there for us all and at least three acts I saw today I’d never heard of that I enjoyed enough to check out further.

Long live The Moo, may it Groove on for many more years.

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