Concert review: Girls ruled the night at outstanding Laneway Festival

Girls ruled the night at this year's Laneway Festival, with back-to-back sets at the main stages by three of the most compelling female artists in the indie music world today.

American singer-songwriter Jillian Banks, aka Banks, enthralled with neo-soul tunes brought to life with her sultry vocals, followed by English singer-songwriter FKA twigs who breathed new life to 1990s trip-hop with her brand of music.

Then came American singer-guitarist Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, who gave a rousing end to the fifth edition of Laneway Festival, wowing the crowd yesterday at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, with her complex guitar fingerwork and choreographed robotic dance moves with her band members.

Their performances capped off the night to what was the biggest instalment of Laneway since its debut here in 2011. In total, 19 acts performed over 12 hours to a sold-out crowd of 13,000 - a first in Laneway's history here.

This year's line-up was heavy on neo-soul, a genre of music considered more mellow and chilled out, but stars like FKA twigs were still able to get an entire sea of festival revellers moving to the beat.

Dressed in a gold skirt paired with a mesh crop top with gold sequins, the trained dancer rocked her moves as she performed her hits, including Two Weeks and Pendulum.

Earlier in the day, British duo Royal Blood created a princely racket with a mere bass and drum live rig. Undeniably the tightest - and loudest - act of the festival, their riff-laden tunes swaggered with riffs that are as ferocious as they were groovy.

The elements got a little harsh in the daytime.

The sun was out and pleasant, if a little strong, when Malaysian indie-rock/electro foursome Enterprise kicked off the festival just before 1pm.

It then started drizzling intermittently during the subsequent sets by British noseniks Eagulls and Australian psychedelic rockets Pond, before developing into full-blown rain after kooky Canadian crooner Mac Demarco took to the stage.

While it wasn't the extended festival-long cloudburst like the one that hit the inaugural Laneway Singapore (leading it to be dubbed "Rainway"), most of the punters were still seen whipping out the translucent ponchos handed out at the entrance.

The sun came out for good by the time Australian singer Courtney Barnett came out and played a neo-grunge, fuzzy set marked by her voice, which switches from sweet to snarling, reminiscent of The Muffs' Kim Shattuck.

Hanging Up The Moon, a quintet of local alt-rock vets fronted by Concave Scream singer-songwriter Sean Lam, had an unfortunate set, however.

Their thirty-minute slot was marred by sound issues, and while their vocal harmonies and folksy vibes were tight and on point, Lam's acoustic guitar was constantly plagued by unwelcome and shrill feedback.

Earlier, homegrown electronic wunderkinds .gif played a mesmerising set, with singer Weish's unique and expressive voice ringing loud and clear despite having just recovered from a bout of cold.

The two, the only Singapore acts on the bill, performed on the smallest among the three stages, the Cloud Stage.

Other highlights throughout the day included performances by British modern-soul collective Jungle, whose music - a blend of 1970s funk, trip-hop, soul and electro-carribean beats - provided a fitting soundtrack as the sun set.

They were followed by American synthpop act Future Islands' bass-heavy tunes, which at times, seemed to channel seminal English band Joy Division.

Like previous years, kudos must be given to the organisers for running a tight ship - the acts were all faithful to their stipulated set times and the line-up ran like clockwork.

The trademark side-by-side stages for the main venues was, again, a godsend as there was minimal waiting time between acts. Most would come on an average of 10 minutes after the previous act on the adjacent stage ended.

Even the queue for food and drinks this time around seemed a lot quicker and more organised, with more food options for festival-goers.

If there was a gripe, it was the distance from the two big stages - dubbed Garden Stage and Bay Stage - with the Cloud Stage.

Tucked all the way at the back of Gardens By The Bay's The Meadow, it was even further from the entrance than last year.

There was also some consternation among fans when set timings clashed. For example, many had to choose between Banks and Australian crooner Chet Faker, who both started their sets a little after 9pm.

Those who opted for Chet Faker's set also had to battle a massive crowd that spilled beyond the Cloud Stage's much smaller confines. Chet certainly deserved air-time on the main stage given the large fanbase that came to see him.

Sure, there were plenty of distractions away from the stages, like a barber tent and activities like a giant version of balancing game Jenga, that added to a carnival-like atmosphere for the crowd packed into the venue's green fields.

But the most important marker of an outstanding music festival is the quality of the live performances and variety of choice acts.

This year, Laneway certainly knocked one out of the park.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

melk@sph.com.sg