Does a festival that brings Grace Jones, Beck, Justice, and Phoenix to the stage in their first year of existence appear to have a ‘start small, grow big’ kind of mentality?
Not a chance. Sydney City Limits came to their inaugural one-day event with all guns blazing on the weekend, and those in attendance were the lucky receivers of a truly stacked lineup that had something in it for everyone. The little sister of Austin City Limits kicked the day off with some of the best homegrown acts (Bad//Dreems, Stella Donnelly, Winston Surfshirt and Dune Rats) and international guests (The Libertines, Thundercat, and Car Seat Headrest).
The crowd was properly steaming but the time the Dunies took the stage, including one punter who’d come to regret flaunting a bottle of Absolut he’d somehow managed to stealthily get inside of festival gates, but not past the watchful gaze of security. The punk rockers from Brisbane brought their characteristic ferocity to their mid-afternoon time slot, setting the bar nice and high for the epic international headliners to come.
What are you going to be doing when you’re 69-years-old? Probably not entertaining thousands of people covered head to toe in tribal body paint and a strap-on. God bless Grace Jones. Demolishing her set in an otherwordly fashion, her soaring vocals and captivating stage presence proved that she’s legendary figure whose outlasted her music contemporaries for good reason.
With easily the most extensive backing set-up of the festival, Beck effortlessly flowed between old favourites “Loser” and “Devil’s Haircut” with newer hits from recent album Colors, like one hell of a seasoned professional. Before busting out a final harmonica solo, Beck gave a shoutout to those waiting in lines for hotdogs and readying themselves for Justice on the adjoining stage, promising he’d be “watching those guys soon too”.
The close of Beck brought us to the tail-end of the night, and with it a lineup scheduling that posed a clash of epic, French proportions: to go and see the indie pop boys from Versailles, Phoenix, or the electrifying electronic duo from Paris, Justice? We divided and conquered, half heading to join the masses at the lighter shades Phoenix and the other, to the dark mind-bending of Justice.
While issues with sound affected a small number of bands on the day including Gang of Youths and Future—the latter whose set was cut in the first song with dodgy tech, but came back on stage with his band of hype men with restored audio 10 minutes later—nothing was going to affect the multi-storey speaker set-up that Justice are well-known for. Starting with the moodily atmospheric “Safe and Sound” the pair transported the crowd back a good 10 years and melted minds with the effortlessly cool yet hard-hitting song selection.
With a rock solid live set and a sense-tingling light show to match, Xavier and Gaspar dropped familiar tunes like apocalyptic banger “Genesis” and to the intensity to a whole other level with a frenzied play of “Strèss”. There were some wild shapes being thrown down to some filthy beats, and if there were a roof on Centennial Park, it would’ve been well and truly blown off.