Firsts and Seconds: Bon Iver and Death Cab for Cutie make Wanderland 2016 Unforgettable

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Words by Weng Cahiles | Photos by Karen De La Fuente

Upon seeing the headliners, everyone knew that this year’s Wanderland would be one big cry fest. Having Bon Iver and Death Cab for Cutie play minutes after the other is simply a recipe for heartache, whether imagined or real, past or present.

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But Wanderland started cheery and sunny by having bands on the earlier slots provide us with the energy that we would all feel being drained out of us as the two top acts do their thing. This year’s Wanderband winner, Oh! Flamingo, started the space-themed festival which is quite appropriate as this young and talented band skyrocketed towards the place they have in the current local music atmosphere.

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Masters of suave, Jensen and the Flips, were like a splash of cool water in the middle of the scorching sun or they made everything hotter as they were on point with their sexy, smooth songs – it all depends on who you with the time they played.

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Next were no strangers to festivals, Cheats. Still on a high from their successful Laneway Singapore performance last January, you could see that they are comfortable playing for huge crowds plus the fact that they are the kind of band whose members exude confidence on stage.

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Australian electronic duo Panama was the first foreign act to perform. With their fantastic stage presence and infectious energy, they treated the crowd to their brand of synth-pop. There is always something very impressive with a musical duo that manages to put out an encompassing sound just between the two of them. It requires multi-tasking, a great understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses and the smarts to make listeners feel like there are more of them on stage.

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There were a lot dancing during San Cisco’s set who caught a lot of attention when they did a terrific cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky on Triple J. They displayed their wide array of influences including disco, indie pop and even a bit of hip-hop all mixed together to create a clever set. They were obviously a hit amongst the younger crowd as they find it hard to resist the band’s summery vibe.

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CRWN and Jess Connelly were fire and ice together. They could very well take the best local performance of the day with CRWN starting off with an assault of beats, and sultry layering of samples and grooves. With Jess Connelly now as a solo artist, she showed everyone that she could her ground. Just give her a mic and she could weave magic. It is amazing to see cast a spell and lull us into a drunken stupor that only good, music with soul could do.

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To talk about The Naked & Famous’ set was to talk about how long it took for their crew to set-up. It took them the entire duration of Chad Valley’s set at the Globe Tent plus a good 15 – 20 minutes more of people scrambling on the stage trying to fix what seemed to be unfixable. The good thing, though, was when they finally had everything in place, they performed their anthems with ferocity. Alisa came into the stage holding her phone, capturing how the sea of faces changed from impatience to excitement. This New Zealand band established a rhythm that their fans enjoyed as they ploughed through song after song, probably to make the most out of lost time. Theirs was a showcase of synth-rock mastery and what seems to be a natural ability to constantly keep the listeners at a high. It is hard to imagine that there could be a disappointed The Naked & Famous fan last night with the kind of showing they had.

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And now, we talk about the heavyweights. At first, it seems silly, actually, to let Bon Iver and Death Cab for Cutie play consecutively. Was there a conspiracy to turn us all into a massive group of inarticulate crying adults? Who hurt these people and why do they want to hurt as well? But if you were there and you look back at it, it makes absolute perfect sense.

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Seeing Bon Iver live for the first is like meeting someone you’ve always admired from afar, finally gathering all the courage in the world to finally ask that person out to see if he or she is indeed the fine specimen you secretly pine for. And in that rare occasion, you are overwhelmed with the discovery that this person is a thousand times better than what you hoped for. A lot has been said about Bon Iver’s music but to listen to the records and to experience them live calls for a separate discussion. Nothing prepares you for how potent each song is, how the lines seemed to take physical shapes so they could be magnified in the sky in huge block letters. But let us remember is a band fronted by Justin Vernon – it is a collective composed of individuals who happen to know what folk music is and what isn’t and turn it into a complex, rich and sophisticated sound. Their set was absolutely flawless and they owe it to how efficient their crew worked in setting up all the instruments. Seeing them do it was a kind of performance as well as they slither through the stage with grace, knowing where one should go and quickly adjusting when things don’t seem right. Opening with Perth seemed brutal. It is like Justin Vernon’s way of telling us, “It would all end in tears anyway so why should I start soft with you?” And indeed, the set was a reminder how pain could be cathartic. The Staves provided hypnotic backup duties, adding more depth to each song. Justin Vernon mentioned something about time constraints that left them performing in a pace that matched their passion. 13 songs were packed tightly yet each one of them was done with accuracy, ruthlessness and sheer talent. The crowd seemed like they were waiting their whole lives to shout out lines that were the most scathing (Never gonna break / never gonna break from Minnesota, WI; Would you really rush out for me now from Blindsided; And at once I knew, I was not magnificent from Holocene; What might have been lost from The Wolves). But perhaps what everyone was waiting for was a stripped down Justin Vernon, just him and a guitar. His rendition of Skinny Love sounded like it came with a lot of honesty, sincerity and just raw emotions you get from a person who lived through what he wrote.

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Death Cab for Cutie is about reminiscing and/or regrets. Their first concert here was exactly four years and it could act as a point to gauge your life. Where you were back then and where you are now. The magic behind Death Cab’s music is that it acts as a landmark, their songs like post-its you leave in a book to mark a passage you like or the page you last read so you could remember because you are afraid to forget. What they lack in technical flawlessness (Ben Gibbard had quite a few complaints that night, how the stage was springy and probably made out “of a fucking trampoline”, his guitar was off-tune in several songs), they more than made up for earnestness and effortless ability to propel us to the past. Yes, they might fall under the category stadium rock but their hits, even the ‘mainstream’ ones still manage to maintain a sense of intimacy, like you are still listening to them inside your room, shamelessly singing each line at the top of your lungs. With Chris Walla’s departure long after their first visit, we were introduced to a new line-up this time around with Zac Rae on keyboards and Dave Depper on guitars. Their first song No Room in Frame is a look into their post-Walla discography but their set was a good mix of the old and the new as 2005’s Crooked Teeth was followed by 2001’s Why You’d Want to Live Here and then back to 2015’s Black Sun. But perhaps the biggest emotional blow of the night was the one-two combo of What Sarah Said and I Will Follow You into the Dark.

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Looking around, people were crying unabashedly or gripping the arms of the person next to them and blinking back tears. Just imagine the collage we could make out of the faces each one of us thought of when Gibbard asked us “So who’s gonna watch you die?” As soon the chords of Transatlanticism were heard, there is a collective realization that everything is about to end. Dressed up in confetti and the words “I need you so much closer”, endings of this kind are the rare ones for they are beautiful.

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“We play here just once in fucking four years. Let’s get it right” said Gibbard before Cath.. Sure, they didn’t play A Movie Script Ending, Passenger Seat and A Lack of Color. There were technical problems that frustrated Ben Gibbard. You could nitpick all you want but as their eight records would constantly remind us, it is these imperfections that make up our past and what make it worth visiting from time to time.

 

 

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