Adelaide Botanic Park, Fri 11 Mar
Stage Two – Violent Femmes
My first ever WOMADelaide begins with a band I feared I’d never see again after a very public dispute over selling their music for advertising in 2007 eventually led to their break-up in 2009. However, three years after reuniting for Coachella 2013, Violent Femmes kicked off WOMADelaide 2016 with their biggest hit, Blister In The Sun, and set about rocking the joint Femmes-style, reinvigorated with a new drummer and a new album out this month, their first in fifteen years.
Though seeming to knock a bit of rust off early on, by the time they’d run through Kiss Off and American Music, the Femmes were in fine form, and new songs like Memory and Travelling Solves Everything fit nicely between classics like I Held Her In My Arms and Gone Daddy Gone. Gordon Gano has added some tasty fiddle work to his bag of tricks since last I saw him twelve years ago, and he also played a bit of banjo in addition to his usual guitar and lead vocal work.
Brian Ritchie’s bass has always done the musical heavy lifting for the Femmes, and he attacked his parts with the blend of aggression and melody that fans have come to expect. The line-up was augmented by a saxophone player, a second guitarist, and, of course, new drummer John Sparrow, who actually plays a full drum set for part of the show, as opposed to the band’s traditional snare and cymbals set-up.
The WOMADelaide audience responded warmly to several of the Femmes’ mid-song freak-out jams, and by the time the band closed their set with Add It Up, the crowd was well and truly rocked.
Foundation Stage – Angélique Kidjo and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
I only caught a few songs of legendary African diva Angélique Kidjo’s performance with the ASO, but what I saw was lovely, her voice strong and soaring over the ASO’s tastefully arranged accompaniment, with a massive audience enjoying the change of pace and turning the Foundation Stage area into something of a large picnic/garden party.
Foundation Stage – The Cat Empire
After a quick break, I returned to the Foundation Stage just as The Cat Empire were launching into their set, which (if I’m not mistaken, as I was still approaching the area as this was happening) was heralded by a hype mix of 90’s dance classics from the likes of C+C Music Factory, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Heavy D & The Boyz.
Those who have seen The Cat Empire perform probably have a good idea of what happened next, which is basically pandemonium. The last time I saw them, at the Thebarton Theatre maybe five years ago, they were an incredible live act, virtuosic on their instruments, and as tight and danceable as an ensemble can be. The time since has only tightened and refined their craft, and when placed in front of a game crowd of ten thousand or so revellers they were nothing short of electric.
Perhaps the most impressive thing the intervening years have brought are the songs, as eleven of the evening’s sixteen songs were taken from their last two records, to the band’s credit and the audience’s delight. A high point was the undeniable reggae of Bulls, from their new album, Rising With The Sun, the deep dub and horn blast chorus of which had the crowd jumping wildly. Much of the new album was aired, including the uptempo Latin funk of Daggers Drawn, Paris tribute Bataclan, and the bouncing hook-laden single Wolves, all of which were strong additions to setlist mainstays like The Wine Song.
The energy exchanged between the band and the WOMADelaide audience was continuous and a pleasure to behold, with percussionist/singer Felix Riebl thanking the audience and offering the microphone for sing-alongs repeatedly. After dancing non-stop through the band’s one and a half hour set, the crowd demanded an overtime encore, eventually granted in the form of All Night Loud, which sent everyone home well and truly satisfied.
Novatech Stage – Miles Cleret
Well, I should say, nearly well and truly satisfied, as the wild international sounds of Miles Cleret’s DJ’ing near the Frome Road exit at the Novatech Stage were irresistible and a welcome refuge from what would have been a crowded walk up Frome back to the car. Somehow Cleret’s beats gave me the energy for another ten to fifteen minutes of dancing, which, under the circumstances, is very impressive.
That’s one day down and three to go, but wow, what an amazing start to the festival.
WOMADelaide continues at Adelaide Botanic Park from 11am until Mon 14 Mar.
Book at BASS or www.adelaidefestival.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Matt Saunders.