26th November, 2016
Coburg Cycling Velodrome, Melbourne
Gizzfest, much like the raucous and brilliant Australian band who organize it, is a paradoxically modern step back in time. At its simplest, the festival is some booze, food, dunnies, hay bales, and a monumental collection of good vibes perpetuated by a very relaxed, stoned, happy, easy-going crowd of patrons and musicians in a repurposed velodrome. A closer look finds a beautifully idiosyncratic festival free of many modern stigmas, rules, or inhibitions that ludicrously heavy-handed OH&S laws, drug laws, noise laws, and all the other conservative, bureaucratic stigmas that have gotten larger and shittier since this reviewer started getting crushed against barricade-free stages at all-age punk rock shows in bars that have long since been killed over the last two decades across Melbourne’s perpetually quietening city.
Paraphernalia from Gizz’s award-winning People Vultures film clip was strewn around the wonderfully unique stadium, and it wasn’t long before giddy punters were making off with bits of it all to bandy excitedly around the festival. Four back-to-back hire annexes populated the Velodrome car park, stage left of the main area. These usually cold and dry testaments to linoleum and tin built solely to function as building site offices had been converted for the day with stage lighting and scaff on a miniscule scale to host non-stop local bands from the midday gate time until late in the afternoon. Dozens of punters squeezed themselves in and poured from these tiny rooms, no bigger than the back of a Budget rent-a-truck, to watch mates’ bands, or any of the several subsidiary musical projects with which members from headliner bands play. It was a brilliant idea, and made for music to watch at any given time throughout the day, especially while grabbing festival food or a tinnie at the neighbouring trucks and bars away from the main stage throng. You can always find them since they have massive branding in the form of flags and posters, you can tell none of them paid out of pocket cause they all share a small mention in the corner of https://libertysigns.com.au/, anyway enough about corporate take overs of festivals and into the real stuff.
Long ago vacating a waify approach to folkish glam rock since their 2010 debut, Victorian sisterly quartet Stonefield emanated burbling, confident, wailing slabs of sludgy, Black Sabbath-infused rock across the increasingly populated space as the sun found gashes through the otherwise overcast and dense cloud cover at about two o’ clock. As the heat intensified, these very talented and pretty ladies barely let up as they spellbound an immediately engaged crowd, most of whom were arriving fashionably late (this punter included). The Findlay sisters set a wonderful precedent with their heavy, engrossing vibe, and were a big highlight of the day.
The vast majority of folks not utterly dedicated to the overkill of chill that Mild High Club, The Murlocs, and White Fence permeated throughout the afternoon still sat back, relaxed in the sporadic sunlight, took caps, blazed, bought merch, drank all the bars out of beer (more on that later), and set about solving all the world’s problems through conversations with friends and strangers. There is nothing inherently wrong with the three aforementioned bands who occupied the headliner stage for three hours, but their evenly-paced, 60’s-centric jangle rock had a lot of folks getting a big sense of sameness, as was evident in the crowds somewhat disengaged behaviour. Sure, many festival goers were transfixed, surely because that genre is their present favourite, and weed makes most music, like, totally awesome, man.
Beach Boys meets stoner rock is all the rage at the minute, but a change of genre would have split things up a bit for the better. Regardless, it was a small qualm in an otherwise peaceful and beautiful day that gained a shit load of momentum once the sun started heading to bed. Even if some of the crowd weren’t gagging for the afternoon trio of bands, their relaxed tunes washed over the content audience, further perpetuating good vibes through the entire event. A small handful of young, trendy-looking police showed up mid-afternoon in full uniform, and casually strolled through the festival. They received high-fives and friendly chats from an utterly trouble-free crowd for their visit, and little else. Many punters blazed jays no more than a few feet away from the fuzz, and security couldn’t have cared less either. Their presence was a mere formality at such a peaceful gig. By the time the cops had to leave, they’d ceased walking about, and had taken to high ground on stage-right of the velodrome to watch music, and keep half an eye out for trouble that never came.
The bars running out of beer well before Pond took the stage was a poor oversight. When something dedicated almost entirely to psychedelic, old-school, anti-establishment, and very druggy rock n’ roll is going on, it’s easy to conclude that a lot of folks are turning up to drink the shit out of some beer. Whoever did the booze math needs to formally apologize to punters, slave-driven bar workers, and whoever from their company was doing mad dashes to Cricketer’s Arms HQ (or Coles down the road) in a station wagon to collect slabs the crowd had to drink warm once they’d come back an hour later. Mercifully, everyone was too zen to really care, and pounded ciders and watery cocktails out of plastic cups during beerless interims.
Pond took to the stage with their disarmingly funny banter in full, peculiar swing at about 7pm. Idiosyncratic vocalist Nick Allbrook was a writhing, strung out revelation, and the whole band brought a huge kick of adrenaline back in to a suddenly very interested crowd. Pond’s ballsy psychedelic hooks and penchant for funky, rollicking jams that don’t overstay their welcome had the whole place bopping along like crazy. Their set was postponed for a solid twenty minutes while fretting stage hands fastidiously made safety barricade reinforcements. A situation like that at Future music, Summadayze, or any other bro-heavy, party-drug infused festival would have irrevocably ended in a riot. Gizzfest though, was very much on the contrary. A crowd of thousands complied amiably, took a collective few steps back to make space for the crew, chatted over jays and what remained of the beers with friends and strangers, listened to Shiny Joe Ryan do Daft Punk impersonations and tell band jokes from behind his keyboard, then graciously continued to rock the fuck out once Pond were allowed to keep playing. Allbrook thanked the crowd for not rioting, and sending King Gizzard down a bottomless hole of litigation, which drew a big laigh. Anyone in politics fighting for the very decent cause to legalize marijuana could use footage of these mid-headliner-set repairs and how everyone at the festival treated them as perfect exemplification of why weed is really quite harmless and lovely. Pond were awesome, and didn’t lose a moment of time playing even though the repair break could have ended their set completely. Having your good friends being the main event and also running the whole festival obviously has its benefits.
South Carolinian Pre-King Gizz warm up act Boulevards stood out from the rest of the line up like a sore thumb for all the right reasons. MC Jamil Rashard erupted shirtless on to stage as a ball of sweaty energy. He sung dirty songs about fucking, partying, and having a great time for solid half hour. It was a stroke of genius to get such a fiery and fun performer on before the headliner, as it amped the crowd right back up after a big long day of casual debauchery and music.
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard are currently the single best band in Australia. Musically, they are unprecedentedly engaging, engrossing, complex, creative, mind-boggling, and entertaining. The greater Melbourne septet’s creative output and discipline is nothing short of astonishing; by the end of 2017, they will have released a dozen albums in five years, each one as brilliantly executed and completely unique from the last. Their cultishly gargantuan global fan base has grown exponentially with the release of 2016’s phenomenal never-ending album Nonagon Infinity, and with the promise of the first of four new albums bound for January, the joint was at fever pitch before the Gizz took the stage. The boys have never been more popular, and it was evident they were who everyone had truly come to see.
The set itself was a face-melting, blistering, unmitigatedly phenomenal whirlwind of skilled musical genius. King Gizzard power-housed through nigh-on twenty songs, completely unbroken, that panned their entire rich and varied back catalogue. The energy never once dropped, and time signatures were crushingly whipped around with the ease any of us would tie a shoe. Even as a musician, it’s hard to really comprehend just how good these guys are at making music. Their approach seems so effortlessly deft, but the countless hours of practise and dedication it must take to creatively produce on the monumental and uncompromising scale that these gentlemen do leaves jaws agape. They’ve got two drummers, for fuck sake, and neither bat an eye lid while playing in sync, without error, non-stop, for a whole hour. Are you kidding?
The Gizz absolutely defy convention and comprehension. In a world increasingly dominated by 4/ 4 sugar pop, tacky, flavour of the month hip hop, and corporate Dad rock, King Gizzard screech through it all with unmatched energy and dedication. There was a new song in the mid-set that raged on for ten-odd minutes, utterly enrapturing the heaving mass of transfixed punters, that’s already everyone at the festivals’ favourite song of next year. It was truly, deeply, fucking awesome. They polished off the Nonagon-heavy set with rhythmic new single Rattlesnake, politely thanked everyone and promised to try and do it all again next year, then left us all standing there not quite sure what to do with the rest of our lives now that something that mind altering has changed our perspective of the universe for the rest of time
Last Saturday may have been the last time Gizzfest is on such a mid-level scale. I’d expect its rollicking success to transport it to a larger venue and presumably less cosy and loving vibe in the years to come. Here’s hoping that’s not the case, as it truly was a glorious and charming day from which satisfied music lovers will have fond stories to tell for the rest of their days. Music is a mystical, beautiful, vital, and wondrous universal language that can truly change the world for the better. Our town, country, and planet would be a far better place with more Gizzfests and less noise laws from soulless politicians.
Thanks King Gizz, that was spectacular.
Review by Todd Gingell