Mersey showcase continues to beguile...
The Flaming Lips

As we amble around Sound City’s new portside home of the Bramley-Moore Docks, something Wayne Coyne mentioned during his charged keynote speech plays on my mind. Surprisingly, it's simply the moment of lucid clarity when he expressed “Boredom is the enemy”.

The EVOL & DIY curated Baltic Stage does not disappoint as we start our day and sink into distorted splendour. YAK expand upon psych and garage rock to a devastating effect. Having only released a handful of singles, as lead singer Oli Burslem thrashes onstage he performs with an instinctive and brutal vehemence many seasoned front men yearn for.

Over at the Atlantic stage Everything Everything - or if you’d rather refer to them as they were almost known: ‘Infinity Face’ or, failing that, ‘Leg’ - debut some frankly baffling, but tremendous new tracks. Influenced by the turbulent events of 2014 the subject matter is darker, even if the music is frolicsome as ever – but then things take a rather, sonically sinister turn.

Recently named as one of the loudest live acts touring, earlier in the day we’d spotted Swans mastermind Michael Gira lingering beside the stage as if planning his aural blitzkrieg. The band were unleashed on the audience for a two and half hours headline spot, performing some songs so long they make live jams by The Grateful Dead and Hawkwind feel like fleeting radio ditties – yet for the faithful few down front the performance seemed to verge on a semi-religious experience.

Saturday, the sun is out, the site seems fresh and renewed and the Swans-induced mild tinnitus has subsided. It seems fitting that both All We Are and Stealing Sheep’s first festival appearances this year should be on the main stage at Sound City. All We Are come across collected and confident, as onlookers bask beneath the blissful melodies of Luis’ silken guitar lines and Guro’s immersive bass playing.

Clash catches brief glimpses of Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl as psychedelic heavyweights, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger. Both ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Animals’ particular brand of heavy, hazy vintage psychedelia is enough to thoroughly impress us and send ardent fans into rapturous uproar.

Just then, the delightful opening harmonies of Stealing Sheep’s ‘Shut Eye’ ring out across the site and we get a wiggle on to reach them over at the Atlantic Stage. Their live set has evolved remarkably since we first saw them in 2012; it’s an audio-visual assault, and by the time they are joined onstage by Duncan Wallis (Dutch Uncles) and Andrew Hunt (Outfit), the audience is already suitably charmed.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra prove our first major highlight of the weekend, and their live show has never seemed sleeker. Their new material presents heady hook after hook, and sounds familiar instantly; we may have had the singles on repeat, but the fresh album tracks go-down like old favourites. They end with one of their best songs to date, the euphoric far-out funk of ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’.

As promised The Flaming Lips pull out all the stops. A frog-haloed Wayne fronts the band as they meander through their patchy back catalogue, teetering between whipping the crowd up into blind singalongs, to at times leaving them totally bewildered. Then there’s a proposal, tears during ‘Do You Realise’, an immense ‘Fuck Yeah Liverpool!’ balloon and so much more to treat us drunken converts.

Come Sunday, Scotland’s Honeyblood help shake away the slumber with fury-driven songs like ‘Super Rat’ spurring us on for the day ahead. We then catch the end of a storming set by excitable-electro shoegazers Moon King and are drawn in by Clarence Clarity’s glitchy psych-funk. Coming on like a schizophrenic Ariel Pink, they power through slamming, synthesised soul tracks like ‘Bloodbarf’ before imploding before our eyes.

Natalie McCool performs rippling indie-pop on the North Stage, slickly backed by two members manning drum pads. As a songwriter she’s certainly matured; the angular guitar work and memorable melodies of new tracks ‘Fortress’ and ‘Cardiac Arrest’ float on high in our minds. Gengahr, meanwhile, close their set with the formidable neo-psychedelia of ‘Powder’, Felix Bushe’s airy falsetto freely climbing higher and higher with no intention of coming down.

The weekend ends on a high with Scottish indie darlings Belle & Sebastian. The band’s on top form and Stuart’s onstage patter with the audience feels like a warm exchange between old friends. Kicking into the confessional, soon-to-be-classic ‘Nobody’s Empire’, select words and lyrics like ‘Companionship’ flash up on the screen - instead of feeling nauseating, in this context it all comes across as quite moving.

As we’re looking out, blurry eyed over the Mersey, as it’s framed by the peculiar sight of fun fair rides and a moored tall ship to our left and wind turbines ploughing on through the night at our right, it’s very hard to be cynical about sound bleeding between stages and any other technical hitches. Honestly, you’d have to search long and hard to match this weekend’s festival in terms of diversity of acts, price and setting.

If Wayne Coyne’s mantra rings true, for now consider boredom well and truly thwarted.

Words: David Weir
Photo credit: Liam Evans

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