Adelaide Laneway Festival review

One of the best fixtures on the music calendar is back – and in a big way! For the last two years there has been a Laneway-sized hole in our hearts, due to the impossibilities of mounting a touring festival like this during the height of the pandemic. But the event has made up for this absence with a stunning line-up and a great new venue.

The switch to Bonython Park really worked. Let’s face it, it’s not a laneway event anymore and hasn’t been for many years. Interstate iterations have also moved to similar wide open spaces to accommodate the evolution of the festival – and the west parklands proved to be a very suitable site for the Adelaide date.

The grassed surroundings and increased shade are better suited to an all day festival in February (albeit the temperatures this year were not as extreme as we have had in the past). The central location and easy public transport options were also an improvement.

The ‘laneway’ spirit still remains, however, with a curated, genre diverse line-up of both emerging and established acts, as well as market offerings and some great food stalls.

This year’s headliner is Haim – and the three sisters (plus ensemble) are brilliant, delivering a polished and highly entertaining set to cap off the day. Beginning theatrically (following a blast of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’), Danielle Haim enters solo, striking a rock’n’roll posture on her SG, soon joined by sisters Este and Alana for ‘Now I’m In It’ from their excellent 2020 album, Women in Music Pt III. It’s a high-energy opening, and soon the trio are switching instruments, playing a drum solo in unison, and then into some choreography. They write such great songs, but away from the studio these feel even more potent – and the crowd are swept up, singing along. All three charm us with their banter between songs (including a call to get up on shoulders for ‘Summer Girl’) and the set flies by. ‘The Steps’ is a great closer for the event, it hardly matters that the PA dies during the final chorus – the band keeps playing and the sound is back for the final chords.

Arguably the day’s highlight is Phoebe Bridgers. She is one of the most engaging performers you are likely to see and her band is just so good (and all dressed in skeleton costumes). One of the best parts of her show is the way she plays with expectations: anyone anticipating some quiet indie-folk is met with metal walk-on music (along with associated font and flames on the screen) and during the set Bridgers even switches out her guitar for a jagged BC Rich Warlock. Throughout her show, there such joy in performance and she really connects with her audience. He chat between songs is also a feature, reflecting on her new status us a target of the Murdoch press (following her ‘Fuck Margaret Court’ chant at a recent Melbourne show) – and that it’s actually good to be hated by the right people. Bridgers also points out that her bass player, Emily Retsas, is coming home to Adelaide, having left town a few years ago for LA, becoming an in-demand session and touring artist. It’s another nice point of connection. The end of the show returns to the metal stylings, with the slow build of ‘I Know the End’ breaking to loud guitar sounds and the flames returning on the rear screen. An awesome set!

Over on ther Lion Arts Stage, Fontaines DC proved quite a contrast. Here it was all angsty atmospherics, with dark (mostly backlit lighting) and virtually no talking between songs. It is it nevertheless such a powerful performance where the songs alone do the talking. Singer, Grian Chatten, paces and prowls the stage, embodying the music. He might not be much of a talker, but he still brings the crowd in with his brooding charisma and gesturing. The set draws mainly from last year’s Skinty Fia, but covers material from all three albums. The band sounds great, having curated such a driving, visceral sound that really works in a live setting. ‘Boys in the Better Land’ late in the set is a particular high point.

Earlier, in the afternoon sun, The Beths were another festival highlight. They are disarming and polished, with a great collection of songs, mainly drawing from last year’s Expert in a Dying Field (such a great title). Performing in sunglasses while looking into the sun, they had us moving a singing along.

Other notable performances earlier in the day included Unearthed High winner, Jacotene, sounding like a young Amy Winehouse, the blissful psych jamming of The Lazy Eyes, and Yorkshire rockers, Yard Act, who have some early Arctic Monkeys energy.

Over on the main stage, Finneas relfected how he had great memories of playing in a similar afternoon Laneway timeslot with his sister, Billie Eilish, and was thrilled to be returning to the festival. Switching between piano and guitar, he delivered an entertaining and energetic show, including a leap from his piano – and all accompanying some great singer-songwriter material.

Starting with ‘You Stupid Bitch’, Girl In Red grabbed our attention from the first note and didn’t let up. The Norwegian singer sounded fantastic and chatted easily with the crowd (inlcuding much discussion of the Australian shoey).

At 6pm, The Jungle Giants could be just as easily appeciated front of stage or drinking wine and eating at the back. Their sparkling pop was the perfect soundtrack for the dinnertime set. A highlight was a collaboration with fellow Laneway performer, Sycco.

In some strange scheduling, UK producer Fred Again.. played at 6:55 with no competing performances on the other stage. The area was therefore packed for this one, with an enthusiastic crowd – also given that this artist is having quite a moment, with four entries in the latest Hottest 100.

Joji, the final act on the Never Let It Rest Stage, gave us an entertaining set of lounge pop, with spectacular light show and the theatrics of several false endings. He probably also broke the record for the most times “Adelaide!” has been shouted in the space of a single hour.

While there were some minor teething problems with new location (the occasional sound bleed or the west-facing stages that had artists looking into the sun), the latest iteration of this festival was a triumpant return.

Laneway, we missed you – it’s great to have you back!

Check out of full photo gallery here.

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor

Photos by Kay Cann