HEAPS GOOD review: Arctic Monkeys and more

Heaps Good is a fantastic addition to Adelaide’s festival calendar and will hopefully be a fixture in future years.

While many of the acts touring for Falls festival have bypassed SA in summers past, here we have a new festival that acts as a side event for Falls in the way that Spin Off is the midyear spin-off to Splendour.

One such international act that had announced its Australian tour without an Adelaide date was Arctic Monkeys, only to be subsequently revealed as this new festival’s headliner and delivered a memorable performance as the final act on Friday night.

The band has enjoyed one of the more interesting careers of any act in recent years, making the transformation from raw adolescent riff-rock to polished lounge crooners, while picking up a new legion of dedicated fans courtesy of social media. Their longevity also gives them the kind of inter-generational appeal that makes them perfect for a festival like this; looking around the audience at the Adelaide Showground, it was a real mix from festival first-timers to hardened veterans, and all enjoying the set for different reasons (although the guy behind me calling for ‘First Nation Army’ – possibly ironically, but I’m not sure – was probably at the wrong festival).

The big question about this current chapter of Arctic Monkeys, was how comfortably they could marry their older material with their new stylised version. Very successfully, as it turns out!

They achieve this by adopting a comprehensive seventies lounge bar aesthetic, with a commitment to projecting everything through this lens. This includes the velvet curtain back-drop, the costuming (with special mention for keyboardist, Tyler Parkford’s moustache), the posturing of front-man, Alex Turner, a low-res filter on the big screens, and the inevitable appearance of a mirrorball. It’s a set-up that requires a lengthy 45min break between sets – but it’s well worth it.

After the subdued opening of ‘I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am’, there might have been fears the show would be entirely devoted to the new stuff of the last two albums (although The Car did make it onto our list of best albums of 2022). Such thoughts are quickly assuaged, however, with a ripping rendition of ‘Brianstorm’. This has the audience in raptures, and we know we are in for a great night. The setlist is, in fact, a clever mix of the old and the new that surprisingly draws from 2013’s AM more than any other release. There may be a new direction in recent times, but this is still a band who know how to skilfully work their audience.

And for all the affectation of the new veneer, the restless energy that made Arctic Monkeys so likeable in the first place is all there. In between songs, guitar noises are heard and Turner doesn’t waste much time talking to the crowd, preferring to be immersed in the music and the band’s current character. It’s his birthday and the crowd sing to him at various points but the frontman doesn’t let that distract him. While Turner may be taciturn, the performance is endlessly engaging, with rockstar kicks and theatrical facial expressions – often from behind aviator shades. And his singing has never been better, all helped by a great mix from the sound desk.

There are many highlights, particularly the AM cuts: ‘Snap Out of It’, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ and ‘Do I Wanna Know’ – with the crowd singing along enthusiastically. But the real showstopper is 2022’s ‘Body Paint’. Its intricate arrangement and Beatlesque guitar work make for a stunning end to the main set.

After a break and a minute to get reset with instruments, we are into another big moment of the show, with the huge Zeppelin style riffs of ‘R U Mine’. Turner then adopts an acoustic guitar and it’s back into the loungeroom with the recent single, ‘There’d Better Be a Mirrorball’. And yes, there is one, making its long-awaited appearance to light everything up at the end of the song. There is still time for one more song, curiously it’s ‘505’, a slow-build album track from their 2007 release but a tune that has found a new life via TikTok and the crowd sing along to every word. The 17,000 person lounge bar closes for the night and we head off having had the best time.

The cooler vibe of the evening was also a pleasing contrast to the heat of the day.

Kicking us off with the sun at its peak, was local five-piece, Mum Thinks Blue, with an energetic pop-funk set that helped set the mood for the day. Their performance was fun and tight, with real crowd connection and cool sax solos, culminating in their recent earworm single, ‘Headspin’. Read our pre-festival interview with the band here.

Dressed in signature pink, Peach PRC commanded the large stage (with only a single accompanist) in a strong performance of her clever pop material that was appreciated by the growing crowd. Commenting on the heat, she was reminded of how hot this town can can get, in what was a homecoming performance for the Adelaide-raised artist. Her cover of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ was a real winner – and the first singalong chorus of the day.

King Stingray are such an exciting new live act and got us really moving in their 1:35pm slot. This early in the day of a festival, however, there can be the odd sound issue and the vocal mix wasn’t quite there at the start of their set but seemed to settle by the midpoint. This took nothing away from the performance. Like Baker Boy, the Arnhem Land surf rock outfit are doing amazing things bringing First Nations’ language and instrumentation into the mainstream, while carrying on the legacy of Yothu Yindi before them (this band has strong family ties with that seminal act). Beginning with an explosive surf guitar and didgeridoo instrumental, King Stingray treated us to a range of highlights from their sensational 2022 debut album. There is such a raw and powerful energy in the way they make music and an unbridled joy in performance that you can’t help but be immersed in it.

PinkPantheress drew similarly enthusiastic response from the audience, performing with a hypeman, DJ and handbag constantly at her side. Hailing from England, there was some fun banter with crowd about the festival’s name and where the emphasis should go on this unfamiliar phrase. Her casual and engaging demeanour made for a fun set, despite some further technical issues that cut her set by a few mins and a soft voice sometimes got a little lost in the mix.

G-Flip, in the next slot, proved that they’re one of the best performers in the country, dividing time between the drum kit and front of stage – and even throwing on a guitar for one song. Is it possible for a person to be too talented?! They had us dancing, singing along and waving our arms in the air. Such a likeable performer, they engage in between songs with contexts and anecdotes that really make us connect. Ending with their fantastic 2022 hit ‘Gay 4 Me’, G-Flip was supported by an excellent three-piece that could sound like the Jimi Hendrix Experience one minute and go full EDM the next.

Ocean Alley is such a polished outfit and perfectly suited the mid-afternoon festival slot. It’s equally appealing to experience this performance standing at the stage-front or lying on the grass further back. They’re an act who have really distilled their sound and do it so very well – leaning into the appeal of their yacht rock style with a cover of Player’s 1977 hit ‘Baby Come Back’ (which the band appropriated a few years ago via ‘Like a Version’). The cool vibe of ‘Confidence’ in the latter part of the set was a great soundtrack to sway along to as the afternoon heat began to slowly drop off.

Spacey Jane made for a good follow up to this, bringing a similarly cool groove but upping the pace a little. Armed with a great set of songs and a great psych-rock sound, there were kicks on the stage and dance moves in the crowd. The energetic set made for an excellent transition from daytime to evening festival mode, as the grandstand shadows crept across the showground oval.

Scottish three-piece CHVRCHES are one of the event’s drawcards, taking to the stage at 8pm. With an excellent mix, they sounded fantastic, particularly the vocals of Lauren Mayberry, who is such a likeable performer – managing to be both earnest when talking between songs and theatrical in her performance. This includes costume changes: there’s a formal black dress to start, a change into a white tee with the words ‘Final Girl’ (for the song of that name) and even some stage blood to go along with the horror movie motif running through the set. Among this collection of great songs, it is difficult to pick a highlight, but it’s probably ‘Mother We Share’, with its infectious beat.

Mention should go to the effort of organising a new event like this. Heaps Good was a real success – and it’s wonderful to have a music festival in January at the Showground to fill that hole left by the Big Day Out. But things have moved on since those days: you don’t have to be everything to everyone – you just have to pick what you are and do it well. And to a certain extent, with that former festival you felt like you were on your own in the heat and conditions, whereas here there was a palpable sense that the event was looking after its punters, with a strong first aid presence, water distributed from front of stage and free sunscreen.

Along with this stellar line-up, it made for one heaps good day, and hopefully there are more ahead.

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor

Photos by Kay Cann. Check out the full festival gallery here.