Review: Parklife – Empire of the Sun, Crystal Castles, Metronomy & more

10 Feb

PARKLIFE – EMPIRE OF THE SUN, CRYSTAL CASTLES, METRONOMY & MORE

Sunday, September 27, 2009, Wellington Square, East Perth

Parklife started out back in 2005 as a predominantly DJ festival, but this year, it boasted its biggest event yet with more live pop and indie-dance bands than ever before spread across five stages. The immense line-up was partly due to electronic pop duo Empire of the Sun, originally the pairing of The Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele and Pnau’s Nick Littlemore, and their first-ever live spectacular. It’s not everyday you get an act championed by US President Barack Obama and rap superstar Jay-Z to headline your festival now, is it?

But it became known not long after the announcement that Littlemore wouldn’t be making an appearance due to Pnau commitments (not a surprise given he hasn’t been in the past two video clips either) and then a few days before the Parklife tour kicked off, Steele revealed he’d had no communication with Littlemore for five months and that he’d be officially flying solo.

None of this deterred the 25,000-strong crowd though, excited about the start of the festival season on a beautiful warm day. Punters streamed through the gates early to catch Sydney trio Arts vs Science entice the crowd to “use their flippers to get down” in a performance some young punters pegged as the best set of the day.

Bertie Blackman drew a big crowd at the Fire Stage tent, even though it was an early timeslot. Her pitch-perfect voice enticed all those nearby to take a closer look as her band plus a DJ delivered a dancier set than her recent solo shows. The songstress comfortably belted out hits like Byrds of Prey to warm applause, despite the poor sound quality that plagued that tent throughout the day.

UK duo AutoKratz’s first Australian appearance and knob twiddling didn’t make much of an impression even though they were energetic and put in their all; and the over-hyped UK pop band Little Boots didn’t cut it either with a lacklustre performance that sounded like blonde bombshell Victoria Hesketh was singing along to a backing-track, even though there was instruments on stage.

The first Australian appearance of Canada’s indie electronic band Junior Boys on the Earth Stage might have only drawn a small crowd, but they were actually one of the highlights. Playing laidback live electronica, Junior Boys delivered a sincere performance with Jeremy Greenspan’s sweet vocals one of the most memorable parts of the day.

When British electro-pop band La Roux hit the Water Stage at 6pm, punters flocked over to see the androgynous Elly Jackson strut her stuff. A girl turned to me and said, “I really want to see La Roux”, not realising the band she most wanted to see was already playing. Apt given the hype surrounding La Roux at the moment, and while the band churned out the hits from their debut album Bulletproof, it wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, but fun nevertheless.

In contrast on the Fire Stage, the UK’s Metronomy as a four-piece dazzled a packed tent with an entertaining performance that included synchronised chest lights along with brilliantly delivered indie-electronic tunes. Midway through the set the crowd went wild singing along to Radio Ladio off their sophomore album Nights Out, and impressively closed the set with the catchy You Could Easily Have Me off their debut Pip Paine…

Electro-punk band Crystal Castles lived up to their controversial reputation with a short set due to the sound cutting out and Alice Glass decided enough was enough and grabbed part of the drum kit and threw it off stage before making a hasty departure.

It seemed every one of the sell-out crowd wanted to see Empire of the Sun and they all headed to the Water Stage. The unusual three layers of graphics surrounding the stage came to life as Luke Steele backed by two members of Adelaide disco-house band The Swiss opened the show with Standing on the Shore.

Billed as one tonne of costumes, a feature film’s worth of visuals, 1.21 jigawatts of lighting, dancing swordfish, evangelical narration and four pink guitars, the performance-art side of the show did live up to all it was promised to be, minus the tigers and elephants. It actually sounded good too. Standing on the Shore led into Breakdown and most of the tracks off the album, including Half Mast, We are the People and Without You.

Unfortunately the majority of punters weren’t able to appreciate it, because if you managed to get to the front you couldn’t really see the full extent of the visuals and if you were at the back, you couldn’t hear the sound too well. Shame there wasn’t big screens erected and a better space to crank up the sound levels. But Emperor Steele was a sight to behold. With two costume changes and an amazing headdress, there’s no disputing the man pulled off his fantastical dream, even though Empire of the Sun was always meant to be the spiritual quest of two people on a sonic and technicoloured journey together, not one.

[As published in The Wire, The West Australian, Issue 19, 1.10.09]

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