Musicology - Happy birthday Meredith

Musicology - Happy birthday Meredith

A TWENTY-FIRST birthday is always cause for celebration and the Meredith Music Festival's symbolic arrival into adulthood was no exception.

There were 12,000 happy punters on hand for the party, which did away with the birthday cake and speeches ("did enough of that last year for the 20th," Aunty Meredith said) and instead focused on a rocking good time.

Things got off to a typically raucous start on Friday arvo, thanks to the noisy garage pop of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. The Supernatural Amphitheatre was packed for their triple guitar assault but slightly less full (unfortunately) for Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, who played a powerful set of country-tinged rock.

Savage performed like the offspring of Johnny Cash and Joan Jett (and had stolen Roy Orbison's wardrobe) and seemed to enjoy the show as much as the enthusiastic audience.

Things got psychedelic and awesome with the arrival on stage of New Zealand/US trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who received a rousing reception, especially for set-closer Ffunny Ffrends.

As usual, Meredith's line-up was beyond eclectic. Friday evening was kicked off with the sword-and-pillage-themed hard rock of Barbarion, which came complete with horned helmets and flame-shooting battle axes, and was followed by Kiwi popstar Ladyhawke, whose set included crowd favourite My Delirium.

Then it was back to the rock, with an aggressive and impressive set from Welsh noise-rockers Future Of The Left, whose set peaked with a devastating rendition of To Hell With Good Intentions.

Rapper Juiceboxxx introduced the dancier side of what proved to be a balmy evening. And if you didn't feel like dancing, there was a cinema screening badly dubbed zombie films and blaxsploitation movies or you could take a ride on the ferris wheel. These kind of touches are what helps set Meredith apart from other festivals, as well as the event's willingness to evolve and grow, without upping the number of punters.

The latest addition to the Meredith plate is Eric's Terrace, a wine and tapas bar that offers great views of the stage and will make its official debut at sister festival Golden Plains in March. It was the place to be on day two as the temperature stayed warm beneath omnipresent clouds.

The Rechords got Saturday afternoon off to a '50s-flavoured start before Magic Dirt frontwoman Adalita gave a commanding performance of dark and stormy balladry from her critically acclaimed debut solo album.

Saturday afternoons at Meredith and Golden Plains seem to have a tradition of featuring at least one hardcore band to really get the crowd pumping. In the past it has been the likes of The Bronx and Pulled Apart By Horses - this year it was the enthusiastically received Californian quartet Off!.

But the best was yet to come and it came in the form of Graveyard Train, a seven-piece "horror country" group that were a hit at Golden Plains and the Port Fairy Folk Festival earlier this year... in fact, they've been a hit everywhere they've played.

And for good reason - their rustic and energetic sound is packed with haunting imagery and stirring singalongs. The crowd certainly approved, giving the band "The Boot" - a symbolic gesture of appreciation in which audience members hold one shoe aloft to signify that the band is the best one they have seen so far at the festival. So good was their set that Graveyard Train received The Boot twice; once halfway through their set and then again at the end during their excellent closer Bit By A Dog. The band looked genuinely chuffed.

Later in the arvo, grunge veterans Mudhoney were a major drawcard and didn't disappoint, driving a big singalong for their early '90s "hit", Touch Me I'm Sick.

There were even bigger singalongs for Icehouse, with the reformed synth popsters taking to the sunset slot with a set that included Electric Blue, Great Southern Land, Nothing Too Serious, Crazy, and Hey Little Girl. While the band was well received, their set was slightly underwhelming. The synths continued with Cut Copy getting the crowd moving and you couldn't shake the feeling that they'd just shown Icehouse how it was done.

But it was Grinderman that everyone wanted to see, and Nick Cave's first visit to the Supernatural Amphitheatre didn't disappoint. The iconic frontman lapped it up, getting up close and personal with the crowd and attacking his guitar and the songs with barely restrained violence before signing off by saying that Grinderman was "over". Did he mean the performance or the whole band?

The next big attraction - even bigger than Nick Cave - was a total lunar eclipse, but sadly the clouds hadn't parted. Never one to disappoint, Aunty Meredith simply moved to Plan B, which involved a time-lapse video of a lunar eclipse, Angus Sampson dressed as an astronaut in cherrypicker, and a rousing rendition of "the national anthem of the moon" - Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

Sundays are often a difficult prospect at Meredith but they were made easier by Dave Graney & The Lurid Yellow Mist, the old-timey sounds of Frank Fairfield and a strange appearance by footy commentator Dennis Cometti. And, as usual, there was the running of the Meredith Gift - the world's greatest nude footrace.

It's just one of Meredith's many long-running quirks that make the festival so great. She maybe 21, but age has not wearied Aunty Meredith.