Photos: Meredith Music Festival
It seems safe to assume that most people, given the choice between camping in the bush during an unrelenting heatwave or, alternatively, not doing that, would opt for the latter. The loyal attendees who flock to the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre every December are then, at least by this definition, not most people.
But they are hardy people. And they are people dedicated to living their best lives – even if that means enduring 38-degree days and 37-degree evenings. (It may have gotten colder than that on Friday night, but it still felt like 37 degrees in our tent. And we think the subjective truth is more important here than the objective one.)
Which is all a longwinded way of saying that the Meredith Music Festival, which took place last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is more than the sum of its 34 musical acts. Anyone who has been before knows it’s worth the pain – the pain of being there when the planet is trying to kill you, and the pain of having to reintegrate into normal society come Monday morning. These are the terms, and the faithful adhere to them without second thought.
Which, again, is all a longwinded way of saying that writing a review, a wrap-up, of Meredith, is like dancing about architecture. It’s not possible to capture in words what makes the experience worthwhile, because that experience cannot be reduced to a formula (music gig x 34 + camping = Meredith). But words are all we have, so here goes.
Things kicked off slowly – blisteringly, perhaps – on Friday afternoon with a set from the Aints, a truncated version of seminal ’70s punk outfit the Saints. They were fun, though anyone who lived through the ill-advised ska resurgence of the mid-’90s likely struggled to come to terms with the band’s brass section. Still, a good pub rock band. And really, you can’t do much better than that with the opening act, who plays while stragglers are still setting up their tents and the more dehydrated are napping under trees.
The afternoon took an at times welcome, at times confusing turn for the weird with Panda Bear’s solo set, which was occasionally inspired though frequently hard to make much sense of. About what might be expected from the Animal Collective frontman, really.
The Breeders proved more than a nostalgic ’90s throwback. It was a thrill to see Kim Deal up on stage, and her two biggest hits – ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Gigantic’ – made us remember what was so special about the band in the first place. (Even if most of us were too young to really remember much of the ’90s.)
Pond closed out the night (for this writer, at any rate) with a virtuosic performance that was at times so frenetic and wild that it made Tame Impala (with whom Pond shares musicians) look positively MOR. One lives in awe of frontman Jay Watson’s stamina. Awe, and slight concern for his ticker.
Saturday afternoon brought with it an incredibly welcome cool change, and it’s probably not too much of an overstatement to say that this was the best thing to happen to anyone anywhere in the history of the Earth. But, back to the music. Filling the all-important dad-rock slot were Mental as Anything, who took to the stage just as the breeze came through. It’s impossible to say whether their 1984 hit ‘Live it Up’ is the best song ever written, as it seemed then, or if it merely just pairs well with good weather. Both are probably true.
Billy Brag played a surprising set, frequently taking time out to heap praise on his nation’s monarchy. Joke: Billy Brag still very much dislikes his nation’s monarchy, and remains steadfastly anti-establishment. He also remains a commanding performer. The set could have come off as a bit preachy if Brag hadn’t been so charismatic, his songs so listenable, and his politics so on the money.
Sampa the Great confused at least one writer who, having misread the lineup, was expecting British singer Sampha to take the stage as the sun dipped below the horizon. Confusion turned to enchantment as the Australian singer’s R&B-heavy set picked up speed, culminating with a joyously received cover of Lauren Hill’s ‘Doo-Wop (That Thing)’.
But this was all but a prelude to the two jewels in the festival’s crown: the Meredith Sky Show – a surprisingly compelling, Space Odyssey-esque laser show set to AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ – and the Presets. It had been 10 years since the Sydney duo played Meredith, but they showed no signs of rust. Their set inspired enough rapturous dancing that you could have been forgiven for thinking the heat wave had returned. When the music stopped and body temperatures returned to normal, many did what would have been unthinkable just 24 hours before: returned to their tents to grab jumpers and rain jackets.
Once again, Meredith rewarded the faithful. As if we ever had any doubts.