watoday– Play On Victoria: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Amyl and The Sniffers, Baker Boy, Vika & Linda, Grace Cummings and Her Band
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, October 30
The sign spells “WOO”. Lovingly hand painted on three sheets of yellow cardboard with a certain psychedelic flair, it’s mainly for the Gizz, says Benji, though his mate Durham is more of an Amyl fan.
“I’m here for everyone,” third sign holder Dan says, opening his arms to the sky. Fair call. If a single thought bubble could summarise the mood of this occasion from seated stage front to carefully spaced picnic rugs on the hill, “WOO” will do nicely.
Sprawling under threatening but mostly benign clouds, the flagship Play On Victoria concert is billed as a “COVID-safe Test Event”. With tickets capped just south of 4000, it trashed the box office test in a matter of hours last week.
Homegrown psychedelic voyagers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might have sold it out on their own. Likewise, middle-fingered mullet-punks Amyl and the Sniffers. Both are hefty international players. But Play On Victoria is about solidarity, not pecking order.
“You gotta go away to come back,” Grace Cummings barks for openers. She’s not the kind to wallow in self-help platitudes for those feeling frail from lockdown. She means business from her band’s first electric chord. Her voice is a bone-shaking boom and her attack anything but polite.
The seven-piece line-up morphs to include acoustic strings, violin and saxophone but Cummings’ commanding presence and growling blues-rock delivery is most of the show. It peaks with the ebbing and thundering drama of Storm Queen. Not a trembling soul will leave unconverted.
Aptly introduced as “Fitzroyalty”, Vika and Linda Bull pick up the gauntlet with another seven-piece ensemble led by guitarist Ashley Naylor and The Wait — their first album of original material in almost 20 years.
On a bill that skews mostly youth market, the sisters’ peerless voices and the pedigree of their band cuts through with new tunes by Kasey Chambers and Don Walker (look ’em up, kids) and the kind of shimmy that pulls the first dancers out of their chairs.
Chairs? Picnic rugs? Baker Boy, the self-stayed “fresh prince of Arnhem Land”, makes them seem like excess baggage in no time. Propelled by Benny Clarke’s live drum kit and flanked by two dancers, the all-smiling, all-breakdancing Yolngu hip-hop wunderkind flips the switch from daytime to party time in two songs flat.
With a couple of years worth of relentlessly escalating hit singles and his debut album Gela just weeks old, Baker (Danzal to his friends) exudes the kind of career confidence and physical momentum that’s impossible to resist.
“I’m loving the vibe,” he decides, just before he whips out the yidaki and slams the whole thing home. Baker Boy is the kind of performer who only needs to say “make some noise” once, and we make noise.
In her trademark short satin boxer shorts, wrestling boots and string bikini top, it’s a different kind of noise that Amyl and the Sniffers frontwoman Amy Taylor brings. Pitched in constant battle with her sinewy garage-metal trio, she’s like one long indecipherable shriek of indignation from one two-minute punk slammer to the next.
You want to believe her when she hollers: “Security will you let me in your pub/I’m not lookin’ for trouble/I’m lookin for love,” but there’s something about that smudged lipstick grin that trashes the benefit of the doubt.
Still, there’s something totally compelling and endearing about the way she thrashes her rat-tailed hair and paces and prowls and ultimately drops her shorts to shake and slap the bottom half of that silver string bikini.
If this is a statement, it’s a gleefully, unapologetically sweary one wearing one of the least compromising haircuts in rock, and Melbourne is undoubtedly richer for it tonight.
King Gizzard have come to psychedelicise and mesmerise us, in that order, with the devilry of stoner rock guitar riffs, mind bending sound manipulation and really trippy videos.
How else to explain the throng – what did we call it, a mosh? – that’s gravitated towards the stage in a manner most unfamiliar and yet, curiously exhilarating.
Even from a polite distance, it’s some finale. Stuart McKenzie and his fellow wizards have evolved into a multi-headed reptile of astounding chops in their endless quest for musical adventure.
Sometimes it meanders bluesy and sometimes it’s a rampaging monster truck, but it’s always dead sure where all the notes are.
So passes a consistently brilliant and surprising first gig of the rest of our lives. Bring on a thousand more.