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I went to a music festival on Monday. There’s only two music festivals I’ll endure. One is Camp a Low Hum. It’s the last one in a few weeks but I won’t be there. The other is Laneway Festival in Auckland. I’ve been to three now and they manage to keep it interesting and bearable enough, with survivable crowds and enough leftfield acts to be worthwhile for the musically adventurous.

Everything on my ‘to see’ list lived up to expectations, and the less well known artists exceeded them. On the smaller side-stage Doprah were ultra-cool to kick things off for me, their trippy slow-mo trance-pop captivating.

I had limited knowledge of Youth Lagoon and their back catalogue but they played a beautifully wonky set of psychedelic fairground pop. Reminiscent at times of classic mid-period Mercury Rev (a good thing) but with a lot more weird adult-child wonderment. So good I bought the recent album ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ on which much of the set was based.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra were another stand-out but I knew what I was in for, having seen them in Dunedin back in July. One of the best live bands I’ve seen. Brilliant ensemble playing and mind-blowing guitar playing if you like Hendrix-in-space acid-rock. Which I do, particularly when UMO do it.

There was a sun-faded familiarity to Kurt Vile’s set that made it enjoyable but less essential and a front row position beckoned for Parquet Courts on the alternate main stage.

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Parquet Courts were probably my favourite band of the day. While most bands had their instruments set up and line-checked/ sound-checked by stage techs, Parquet Courts did their own thing, like they were setting up at a seedy club rather than a stage in front of several thousand festival-goers.

They ripped through an energetic set of songs that bristled with their own odd mixture of apparent influences. The hint of Ramones & Jonathon Richman & The Modern Lovers understandable given their Brooklyn, New York origins. But they also seem to incorporate stylistic elements of UK bands The Fall, Wire and even Dr Feelgood just as much. A winning combination.

Here they are doing the glorious “Borrowed Time” for a KEXP live thing:

After that Savages were compelling – but more for their intense performance than the substance of the music overall. Then, while the more mainstream acts took over the main stages (Haim, CHVRCHES etc.) the smaller side stage held the promise of a Cat Power set after sunset.

I’ve been a fan of Cat Power for years but never seen her perform live. I’ve read a lot about unpredictable performances, train-wreck shows and so on. She played solo – alternating between guitar and piano. Some of the things I’ve read since from experience Cat watchers indicate this performance was shambolic and on the edge of disaster. I thought it was perfect, and whatever demons Chan Marshall struggles with were kept in check by the support of the tightly packed crowd. It might not be comfortable for everyone (Chan in particular) but it was something real, something true. I’ll take that any time from an artist whose catalogue is built around emotions & human frailty. As with shows I’ve experienced from Bill Callahan and Daniel Johnston – each difficult, intense performers – this one was genuine, memorable and at times sublime.

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