Groovin The Moo 2017
Montaigne / Against Me! / K.Flay / Methyl Ethel / Introvert / Slow Turismo
Maitland: Maitland Showground, Maitland 29/04/2017
Canberra: University Of Canberra, Canberra 07/05/2017
It was bright, warm, and - as one might expect - dusty as f*** when gates opened to the Maitland leg of Australia's arguable best regional touring festival: Groovin The Moo. In flooded hordes of hipsters, punks and muscle junkies alike, united by a love of melty reverb and pounding bass. And by the time Introvert took to the triple j stage (as winners of the youth broadcaster's Unearthed competition), a weighty crew of early risers rolled through to christen the day with a solid morning mosh.
In a short twenty minutes, the up-and-coming Newcastle shredders proved exactly why their name is inching ever closer to household status, gliding through a tight set of hardcore-tinged emo jams like a hot knife through softened butter. Making the stage his bitch as he thrashed into eternity, guitarist Mitch Raschke pulled dark, grungy tones from his piece - he laid the framework for co-shredder Audie Franks' lead vocals to shine, cleans soothing and screams ragged to a backdrop of pained six-string hums. Cuts from the quartet's Old Taste EP meet the festival setting with a surprising level of adaptability, but their overall highlight is an emotive new track that sees Franks desperately urge punters to "Staaaaaay, if you want to!”
A week later in subarctic Canberra, the coveted triple j Unearthed slot went to local groove-pop gushers Slow Turismo. Braving both a piercing sun and dry breeze, the fivesome - driven by brothers Sam, Max and Riley Conway - ushered in the day with an optimistic onslaught bright, melodic strums and hazy vocals. Though simple as their songs might be, they felt enormous in their mainstage setting; every bassy bend and gnawing hook flowed from the amp stacks with breathtaking immensity. All eyes were set on Max for the twenty-minute runtime - between his infallible charisma and skill with axe in hand, the frontman was one worth skipping the first pluto pup of the day for.
Methyl Ethel followed with a similar spread of soft and swervy indie jams, laquered in fuzz and rocking enough fleecy vocal effects to elicit a phantom high (though thanks may also be due to some crowdmates' A+ weed smuggling). Essentially a self-cover band of Perth songsmith Jake Webb's solo work, the textural guitars and sparkly synths of cuts like "Rogues" and "Ubu" sounded especially ambitious fleshed out with the added liberations of a five-piece. Traipsing between the mic, his axe and an analogue synth setup, Webb remained the focus of the set, leaving not a minute to pass before his next attention-grabbing antic.
But where Webb needed to work to retain the attention of his crowd, K.Flay (real name Kristine Flaherty) had her legion of devotees hooked from word 'go'. She - and her rip-roaring crew of instrument annihilators - carried the same weight at this year's Groovin that Twenty One Pilots did in 2016: the perfect amalgam of pop, rock and rap all tied neatly in a bale of three-minute bangers. Highlight cuts came in those from Flaherty's recent opus, Every Where Is Some Where - notably, the ominous "Blood In The Cut" (which closed her set on the highest of highs) and downright calamitous "High Enough", the latter of which made the most use out of her onstage guitarist. Despite being her first time in the country, Flaherty drew an impressively sizeable crowd. If it's any indication, the much needed headline tour should be right around the corner... We hope.
Speaking of much needed tours, the two years parting Against Me!'s last Australian jaunt has fermented a raging brew of hype and holler amongst their (admittedly) small, but loyal fanbase. Their Maitland set was a festival favourite from the second it started, the quartet kicking off with call-and-response queer anthem "True Trans Soul Rebel" and rolling straight into recent hit "333". Laura Jane Grace was well at home in the open surrounds, cracking giddy smiles and even giddier punk jumps from behind a thick veil of hair and tattered Nash JM-63 - a guitar she had Bill Nash himself custom build her. Paired with her prized (and goddamn sexy) Rickenbacker 360, Grace shredded with the ruthless indignation only she can, dragging out scuzzy, beaten punk hooks and chewy alt-rock riffs in abundance.
Lead guitarist James Bowman drew less attention to himself, trading onstage antics for steady devotion to ripping out on his trademark '57 Les Paul Goldtop. But even with all eyes on Grace, it was impossible not to gush over Bowman's brutally skilled axemanship: every jangly riff in "Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong" and groovy bend in "Crash" powered by with the kind of painstaking proficiency that only ever cements shredders in a status of legend. Come country-punk banger "Haunting, Haunted, Haunts", he and Grace buddied up to become an unruly force of skull-rattling six-string sorcery.
After being thoroughly ravaged by the punk prowess of Against Me!, there were few theoretical acts that could keep our energy bubbling on. Sydney art-pop artisan Montaigne (Jessica Cerro) is one of those, however, and though guitars were sparse in her sprawling set of rhapsodical pop theatrics, she had us well and truly head over heels for a solid 40 minutes. And despite almost cancelling at the hand of a persistent throat bug, it was the Canberra leg of the run that carried with it her most poignant impact; to a crowd so frenzied they nearly eclipsed her mix, Cerro launched into a buoyant and booming sampler of her show-stopping 2016 debut, Glorious Heights, all the while tracing, twisting and tearing to bits her Cattleyard stage.