What pandemic? Laneway festival is back with a bang

St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival ’23
Sydney Olympic Park, February 5

The success of any music festival boils down to location and the quality of the acts, something Laneway Festival has got right more often than not since its inception in 2005.

The Sydney Laneway Festival is back after a three-year, pandemic-induced absence, moving from the 2020 site at the Domain to Sydney Showground, where the four stages, three of which are mercifully undercover and out of the blazing sun, are all close to each other.

Music fans flocked to the first Laneway festival since 2020.Credit:Edwina Pickles

So, the location, swarming with thousands of young people wearing what only young people can get away with, gets a solid tick, as does the genre-hopping line-up.

The buzziest act is Fred Again, aka 29-year-old Brit Fred Gibson, an artist known for striking vocal samples that imbue his dance music with melancholic emotional heft, although he’s equally adept at producing wall-shaking bangers that work on a purely physical level.

If Fred Again sounds like the latest Exhibit A in the tired “Rock is Dead” argument, then bolshy Dublin post-punk band Fontaines D.C. would like a loud word.

The five-piece do noisy, exciting, attitude-fuelled rock ‘n’ roll, while frontman Grian Chatten, apparently channelling a loaded, tambourine-tapping Liam Gallagher, flails around looking like he’s set to launch his mic stand at any given moment.

While Fontaines D.C. do a good job of making rock feel vital again, it’s the women on the line-up that truly state the case for the rude health of rock ‘n’ roll in 2023.

Girl in Red, aka 23-year-old Norwegian Marie Ulven, puts on perhaps the most dynamic show of the day, complete with guitar theatrics, crowd-surfing and a slew of queer pop-rock anthems that get the adoring crowd riled up.

American Phoebe Bridgers manages all of the above but in a quieter, folkier way, allowing her poetic lyrics to land their intended emotional impact.

Closing the night is Haim, three sisters from L.A. set to support Taylor Swift on several of her upcoming U.S. tour dates (as are Bridgers and Girl in Red), and arguably the most successful all-girl rock band in the world today.

There’s a good reason for that: the trio performs with professional slickness and unbridled joy, whether they’re wailing on guitars or slaying with synchronised dance moves, delivering a set that ends the night on a fiery and triumphant note.

Both rock music and the music festival are in rude health after the welcome return of Laneway.

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