AltFest is a very welcome addition to Adelaide’s live music landscape. At a time when many performance venues are closing their doors, the organisers of this new mini-festival should be applauded for investing in original live music, including Woodville City Council for opening the doors of its town hall for the event.
For the first of hopefully many gigs in this re-launched venue, the space worked very well, with excellent sound combining nicely with the old world atmospherics of the hall. It felt very much like a small version of Thebby. But using a set up that closed in the floor space in front of the stage, it also managed to feel intimate.
With a line-up of national and international talent, the sets were punctuated by slots from local DJ Filip With An F, whose choice of indie and retro hits complemented the live music on offer and kept the party going across the six hour festival.
Melbourne artist, MARZ kicked off the live acts just before 6 with a powerful and entertaining set. A natural performer who channels the likes of Bowie, Ezra Furman and Michael Hutchence, his delivery of polished power-rock numbers provided the perfect entry into the evening. Sporting colourful makeup and a pencil skirt, he is an engaging artist who chatted easily in between songs, providing context for the material. The success of the opening slot could be seen in the number of audience members holding a copy of his EP afterwards.
Sahara Beck followed up, the artist on the bill currently attracting the most radio airplay, courtesy of Triple J. With a disarming personality, it’s easy to be carried away by Beck’s performance. Her well-crafted songs cover a range of topics: love, family, climate change and sexuality. And whether she has her highly competent ensemble behind her or is standing there solo with a guitar in hand, it’s an arresting performance. To conclude the set, Beck took on Freddie Mercury with a rendition of ‘We Are the Champions’. In lesser hands this might have proved quite ambitious, but with voice more than capable of belting out the stirring vocals this was a fantastic finish to the set.
UK blues-rocker Z-Star (the stage moniker of Zee Gachette) has been a very frequent visitor here over recent years, having only just passed through in March for an Adelaide Fringe show at the Spiegeltent (read our review here). Previous to that, there have been appearances at Blemheim Festival, the Wheaty and Feast’s Picnic in the Park. But with a number of musical incarnations to her name, each time it’s something quite different. A few months ago, she was here with her duo Z-Star Delta in a soulful, searching performance delivered mostly from behind the drumkit that blended performance poetry, delta blues and cabaret. This time around it was power trio, Z-Star Trinity, with Zee out front on her telecaster in full throttle rock and roll mode. There were less words but more guitar solos – but the impact was just as thrilling. Her original material is raw and visceral, moving seamlessly into a cover of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before concluding the set with a searing rendition of her single, ’16 Tonnes of Love’.
Headline act Dallas Frasca also served up something different. Usually appearing in as a three-piece, the AltFest show treated us to a very full stage, thanks to the addition a third guitarist and three back-up singers. While the band can always be relied upon to deliver a big sound, this new incarnation pushed the material to the next level, with added instrumentation and delicious harmonies. Dallas was her usual engaging self, interacting with the audience and bringing us all into the show.
The performance even reached Spinal Tapp proportions when the fierce wall of sound caused debris from the Woodville Town Hall ceiling to come falling down – a performance that literally blew the roof. But there was also light and shade with a paired down, acoustic version of the ‘Battle of Evermore’ showcasing the talents of the vocalists. By the time the set and AltFest ended with ‘All My Love’, we were left with the buzz that comes from a great night of powerful rock music, having seen some of the best front-women-and-men in the business.
While the numbers through the door may not have been huge (and understandable given the wet winter’s night), AltFest had the vibe of something that could evolve into an important mainstay on our gig calendar. The venue really worked for this kind of show – let’s hope there is more of it!
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Photos by Kay Cann
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