Over the Christmas and New Year’s break, the annual Falls Festival made its way to Lorne, Marion Bay and Byron Bay. A few of these a travelling troubadours stopped off in Sydney before the final festival in Fremantle last weekend. Testament to the diversity of acts that Falls is able to assemble, Backyard Opera was fortunate enough to see veteran rock band Toto play at the Hordern Pavilion on January 3 and indie English sensations The Vaccines perform at the Metro Theatre on January 4. These sideshows highlight how the impact of a festival goes way beyond a heavy head in a dusty campground.
This year, Toto celebrated their 43rd year together as a band. While the resurgence of their 1982 hit ‘Africa’ among millennials is what landed them a spot at Falls in 2019, Toto’s sideshow exemplified what has made these golden oldies so enduring over time. The roughly two-hour set was a delicate balance between energetic audience engagement and virtuosic musical performance. As true masters of their trade, Toto embraced the freedom of their own dedicated show. This sentiment was made clear when lead guitarist Steve Lukather told the crowd that unlike in their strict 45 minutes set at Falls, tonight they were going to have a little fun. These words echoed as each band member took the time to perform long, drawn out solos. Whether the scat singing, percussionists’ improvisations or the several spine tingling guitar solos, the crowd entered a trance and watched. Had any other band attempted the length of instrumental work that Toto did, the crowd would’ve switched off. However, the veterans proved that genuine talent and musicianship is enough to enthral an audience. Catering to the mix of old and young, Toto gave us an insight into their substantial body of work. For many, this was their first time experiencing Toto’s unique style of rock. The array of instruments, multiple singers and worldly genre influences kept the tone and pace of the show moving at a dynamic pace.
Embracing the audience’s acute knowledge of hits such as ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Hold the Line’, Toto made the crowd part of the performance. With singer Joseph Williams beating his chest, he signalled to the audience that it was time to draw in a deep breath and sing the choruses. After being met with a huge response of “meet you all the way” in “Rosanna” and “love isn’t always on time” in “Hold the Line”, Williams’ excellent vocal work soared over the top as he acted as a backup singer to the Sydney crowd. Throughout the entire show, however, there was one song that the audience kept pushing for. As the finale, Toto’s ‘Africa’ not only embodied the performance, but Toto as a band. The diverse musical tones and poetic lyrics built to the emotional chorus, which the crowd performed exclusively on their own. The band then engaged in numerous call and responses with the audience, followed by a solo from each member. It was the perfect example of what makes live music more than just a listening experience.
The following night, English indie rock band The Vaccines played at the Metro Theatre. Their bright, pop-driven take on early 2000s English alternative rock resulted in a set that was equal parts fun as it was energetic. The upbeat bass and drums, fast, grungy guitar and Justin Young’s punchy vocal style blasted the packed Metro Theatre. The crowd, notably younger than the Toto crowd, had a deep connection with The Vaccines, singing along to almost every song. The tales of young love in hits like “I Can’t Quit”, “If You Wanna”, “I Always” and their latest single “All My Friends Are Falling In Love” had the young crowd emotionally invested in every chorus, riff and beat. With the crowd bouncing up and down, clapping along to the music, The Vaccines fed off this energy, moving around the stage in synergy with the crazed audience. Young stood tall in front of the sea of Sydneysiders, fist raised in the air as he poured his heart out to them in triumphant melancholy. It was energetic music accompanied with powerful emotion. Ending the show with an encore of “Put It On a T-Shirt”, The Vaccines left Sydney with an unforgettable taste of underground British charm.
With sideshows such as these, Falls Festival goes beyond the three-day New Year bender, and contributes to the wider musical life of Sydney and Australia.