"What's the weather looking like for the next few days?" I asked the taxi driver as we pulled out of the airport in Hobart. "There's a saying in Tasmania," the taxi driver began in response. "If you don't like the weather, move 10 metres or wait 5 minutes." And so it was at the 2008 Tasmanian edition of The Falls Festival. Almost in keeping with the eclectic line-up, which offered a myriad of musical styles, the Tasmanian weather gods served up a veritable smorgasbord of weather conditions. From blustery winds and driving rains to patches of intense sunshine, the ever-changing climate kept festival-goers on their toes for the majority of the three day event.
For the most enthusiastic of punters, the revelling began on December 29, with the Falls Funk 'n' Soul Revue. A selection of Australia's best funk DJs, including Tassie native Emma Peel got a large crowd jumping and shaking with a collection of rare grooves and soul classics, while the go-go dancing lessons offered by Anna's Go-Go Academy proved popular with many members of the crowd.
December 30 saw the festival proper commence, and along with a sizeable influx of punters came some ominous grey clouds. Undeterred, C.W. Stoneking & The Primitive Horn Orchestra got things off to a leisurely start on the Field Stage with some vintage blues and southern wailing before effervescent Californian rapper MURS positively willed the rain to stay away. Stirring up the crowd with an onstage taste testing of Tasmania's two most popular beers (Cascade and James Boag's), MURS bounced and rhymed his way through a number of tracks off his new album MURS for President and gave a shining example of how live hip-hop should be performed.
Over on the Main Stage, Architecture in Helsinki showed that recent overseas touring efforts have moulded the group into a sleek live unit, delivering a dynamic performance in front of a highly appreciative crowd. While "Hold Music" and "Like It Or Not" were well-executed, it was the thundering rendition of "Heart It Races" to close the set that gathered the biggest crowd response.
As night set in and the sporadic sunshine was replaced by occasional showers, UK band Gomez hit the main stage. Staring out at the massive crowd which braved the wind and rain, the veteran rockers must have thought they were performing at Glastonbury or Reading, not an Australian summer festival. Not even a sore throat to guitarist and occasional vocalist Ian Ball could detract from a truly polished performance, as the knowledgeable crowd showed its support, ably assisting Ball in his singing endeavours.
It was then over to Scottish lads Franz Ferdinand to light up the Main Stage. New tracks such as "Ulysses" were integrated seamlessly with old favourites including "Take Me Out" and "Michael" before an impressive four song encore was capped off with the stirring "This Fire." Nearing 1 AM, Jamie Lidell hit the Main Stage for some soul-laden grooves before A-Trak rounded off the night's proceedings with a typically frenetic party set.
After a wild and windy night, which led to the demise of several tents, up and coming Sydney electro act Grafton Primary kickstarted proceedings on the final day of the festival with an up-tempo and thoroughly impressive set. No doubt we will see much more of the trio on the Australian festival circuit in the years to come. Melbourne hip-hoppers Tzu maintained the energy on the Main Stage while Swedish pop chanteuse Lykke Li drew a large crowd on the Field Stage. Backed by a dapper all-male band and utilising a range of horns and sirens, Li delivered an action-packed set complete with innovative dance moves, French chanting and a sparkling cover of A Tribe Called Quest's classic "Can I Kick It?"
Back over on the Main Stage, Donovan Frankenreiter provided the ideal soundtrack for the afternoon, his collection of dreamy surf grooves complementing his psychedelic red, blue and orange pants. As Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara won plenty of new fans on the Main Stage with their quirky and introspective pop tunes, Atmosphere also drew a large crowd at the Field Stage. Joined on-stage by blind albino rapper Brother Ali, the engaging performance vindicated the high regard in which Atmosphere is held and showed Brother Ali to be much more than a novelty act.
Sunset once again saw the temperature drop, but the emergence of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings on the Main Stage ensured the crowd stayed in good spirits. Jones showed off a selection of her best dance moves and also demonstrated her talent-spotting abilities, plucking a particularly smooth mover from the crowd to strut his stuff with her on-stage before launching into a rousing rendition of "How Do I Let A Good Man Down?"
As the crowd caught its collective breath, The Kooks arrived onstage for what was a charming, if not overly interactive, set. It was then over to The Cat Empire to increase the intensity. While the group's newer tracks may not have the same broad appeal as its earlier material, The Cat Empire has never been short of enthusiasm and some colourful solos captured the crowd's attention as the clock ticked towards midnight and the beginning of 2009.
Barely a minute before midnight, The Hives nonchalantly sauntered out onto stage and charismatic frontman Pelle Almqvist assisted a receptive crowd of 16,000 in a countdown to the new year. With 2009 officially launched, The Hives began a blistering set. "Main Offender," "Supply and Demand" and "Hate to Say I Told You So" were all received to rapturous applause. The end of the set saw many weary punters call it a night, as Late of The Pier had the unenviable task of following up The Hives' electrifying performance.
After surviving another stormy night, festival goers had one more hurdle to overcome before leaving picturesque Marion Bay. Random breath-testing was carried out by a paltry four police officers and delayed the exit of punters for up to seven hours. It was a case of a good idea poorly implemented and a sad way to end a festival which was otherwise extremely well-organised. If the festival organisers can arrange better testing procedures for next year and attract an equally impressive line-up, there is no doubt that it will be another great event.