Even though it's only an hour's drive away from Brisbane, it can be all too easy to take the Gold Coast for granted.
From the relative safety of the inner city, it's often cynically seen as the great south-east's skyscraper-strewn, tourist-riddled relative, of whom we speak only as much as we have to. A seemingly mystical melange of bohemian beach bums and urbane go-getters — and their either tiny or unreasonably large dogs; there is no middle ground — it's a city where all walks of life collide and coalesce, as suit-wearing business types on a schedule share footpaths and tram lines with surfboard-toting adonises who have no real place to be right now, while holiday-makers of every ilk fill out the gaps.
This is an image that, at first, is only reinforced as I make my way down from my hotel room — at the exceptionally accommodating QT Gold Coast, about which I couldn't possibly rave enough — to the idyllic Esplanade, heading towards Cavill Avenue mall. I pass market stallholders setting up for their Friday-night fare, offering all manner of wares and curiosities from the chance to have my photo taken with a macaw, or buy some beef jerky on a whim, to the option to pick up a shell sculpture or go home with a keepsake from the "YOUR HAND IN WAX" tent.
Still chuckling to myself about the unabashed absurdity of it all, I arrive at Cavill Avenue. For the next three days, the mall and its nearby beachfront will serve as the main drag for Surfers Paradise LIVE, a free annual festival curated by the local businesses of the Surfers Paradise Alliance to encourage residents — and, in my case, northern neighbours who have maybe forgotten the laundry list of treasures that the Coast has to offer — to get out and get amongst it. It's a chance to celebrate and explore the sprawling mass of wonderment that helps make Surfers and the broader Gold Coast a truly unique place. Hey, if nothing else, it should at least be good for a laugh.
However, the first layers of big-city cynicism instantly start to melt away as I hear Lily Papas' distinct, dulcet voice floating down the mall from the smaller of the event's two stages. Wandering up for a better listen, I see a number of bean bags set out in front of the platform — many of them filled with easygoing early-birds clearly possessing an acute understanding of how to pace themselves for a multi-day party — as the golden-locked guitarist helps us slide into the festival with her accessible acoustic tunes.
She's not playing to a bulging audience — it's too early in the day, and the festival, for that — but she's performing as though she is, dotting her set with affable banter as she switches from a love song to a break-up song (Where Did It All Go). She treats us to a newbie with California Kingdom and hits a high point with the warmth of Heaven, generally winning us over with her formidable vocal and instrumental talents.
Down at the beachfront main stage, three members of prodigious young indie-pop foursome Ivey start off with their take on classic surf-rock instrumental Wipeout, throwing in some impressive solos that ensnare the attention early. Joined by vocalist Millie Perks, the band soar as they take full flight by serving up old track Coffee, a cut from their first EP, which demonstrates that they've apparently been damn solid songwriters since day one.
The quartet oozes confidence and charm, but without the insidious sense of ego that tends to emanate off several similar acts that spring to mind. There are some nice little groovy breaks and solos throughout, as well as an unexpected cover of INXS' Devil Inside and a strong rendition of recent single All Good Things. They play an as-yet untitled new song for the second time ever in a live setting — not that you'd know — and the Phoenix-esque Be Here, scoring themselves at least one new fan as a result of their catchy tunes in tandem with their earnestness and evident appreciation at having been asked to play this event.
With my companion having now arrived at the event, we go for another stroll through the now-functional markets and spend some time watching a man painted silver and pretending to be a statue, at least until, every so often, an opportunity presents itself to move suddenly and frighten the bejesus out of passing tourists.
As I've discovered through the day's early acts, earnestness and appreciation are two qualities in abundance on this line-up, a fact that's evident back up at the Cavill stage, where troubadour Jacob Lee is making solid use of his well-honed voice and loop-pedal talents in front of a now-substantial crowd of people. He tells us enthusiastically that he used to busk nearby, marvelling at the fact that he's now a part of an event such as Surfers Paradise LIVE. It's a story both simple and sweet, both elements also shared by his tunes. Lee makes a standout effort with So Wrong, from his EP, Clarity, as it generates an infectious clap-along from those in proximity, and serves up an unreleased tune called Never Mind, about a friend who suffers from depression, among his enjoyable and thoughtful set.
Making use of what little time we have between acts, we head to a nearby restaurant called Betty's Burgers & Concrete Co., a name that perplexes me until I discover that a "concrete" is a fancy name for the eatery's especially thick, custard-laced ice-cream concoctions, which include a range of monstrously moreish shakes and desserts. We fang into some of their outrageously delicious food (seriously, I would kill for one of these to open in Brisbane and, until one does, I am considering making future Coast trips just to eat here — I am honest-to-god not just saying that) to fuel up for the night's final two acts.
After weeping at the beauty of all things Betty's, we return to the beach stage, where stalwart Sydney outfit Tigertown have ensnared an audience that now sprawls across the (thankfully closed) road. The five figures on stage — the four permanent members plus their drummer — are in fine form indeed, capably aided by a crystal-clear mix as the tightness of their layered sound carries well beyond the immediate proximity of the pit. Frontwoman Charlie Collins catches the ear with immediacy and intensity, ably complemented by husband Chris on co-vocals and guitar, the pair's voices working together in preternaturally refined concert.
This is a band who — understandbly, at this point in their career — are clearly comfortable with each other and in control of their performances, happy to sprinkle their set with new tune Warriors as well as more established favourites such as Lonely Cities and Papernote — and even a vigorously received cover of old Michael Jackson staple Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.
With one act to go, we make use of our VIP passes (no apologies) to assume a balcony-level position for sibling duo The Veronicas and, for the first time, can properly take in the true extent of the crowd that has turned out in time to witness the first night's main event. The area in front of the beach stage is crammed in with eager gig-goers, sprawling outwards along the Esplanade before bottlenecking back in and up part of Cavill Ave's mall. It's a truly commendable effort on the part of the Gold Coast locals to have turned out in such force, and encouraging to see the sheer numbers that are keen to enjoy an event of this scope, albeit a free one.
That said, even if Surfers Paradise LIVE had a ticket price, The Veronicas would more than do their share towards making it worth it. Opening their set to a rapturous response for Untouched, the Origliasso sisters stage a sprawling and super-entertaining performance that canvasses their decorated career while maintaining an endearing degree of self-deprecation that makes it impossible for even the coldest of hearts to not warm up and get into it by the time they're done. "The last time we were on Cavill Avenue, Jess was vomiting in a shoe," laughs sister Lisa, both radiating happiness at being home after a prolonged stint away.
The pair are palpably appreciative of their fans and their backing band — who, by the way, are super-talented players and deserve as much applause as the act's front-twins — as they storm through favourites such as Hook Me Up, Everything I'm Not, Lolita and an absolutely jaw-dropping acoustic version of You Ruin Me, which their keyboardist transposes on the fly to acoustic guitar following a technical glitch. While they're waiting to get it sorted, the girls engage in some delightful sibling banter and tell their enthusiastic crowd there's a new album and single on their way. With the keys back, we're treated to the "very first love song Jess ever sent her girlfriend", a faux-earnest introduction that leads into a truly enjoyable, expansive take on Drake's much-memed hit Hotline Bling, which takes a few instrumental breaks to pay homage to the girls' backing band.
The Veronicas are masterful harmonisers, and those talents are on abundant display here tonight, as is a genuine attitudinal and humorous edge to the whole affair that can so easily get lost in radio translation of their songs. The love on stage is tangible, infectious and supremely genuine; there's no pretence, no irony, no too-cool-for-schoolism here. As they blitz through sincere highlights in Take Me On The Floor, If You Love Someone and In My Blood, the audience's fever only continues to heighten before they close out with an authentic and impressive cover of Tracy Bonham's Mother Mother — featuring full-on aggressive screams — and evergreen favourite 4ever. With that forceful dual encore, so ends the first night of Surfers Paradise LIVE. I have to say, I was not expecting to feel this energised by these acts, but I'm all too happy to admit how wrong I was, and we head back to the hotel feeling ever-more optimistic about what lies ahead for days two and three.
As it turns out, what lies ahead is another ticket to food nirvana, as we discover on the morning of day two that QT Gold Coast is home to possibly the most expansive breakfast buffet I have ever seen in my life. From the usual hot fare and pastry selection to freshly cooked waffles, rows of cereal, yoghurts, soft-serve ice-cream, juices and different flavoured milks, no taste is left uncatered for, and for the second time in as many days I find myself making a mental note to make more trips to the Gold Coast for the food options alone. Sated and surprised that I'm still able to walk, we set off for another round musical action along Cavill Avenue and the Esplanade.
Ambling up the mall, we're struck by the heavenly voice of singer-songwriter Joza, who's plucking out a cover of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's famed version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow on his ukulele. Joza is a broad, tall man with fierce vocal range and dynamic power, serving a delicacy of sound at odds with his physical stature.
Switching to his acoustic, he plays us a nicely balanced mix of cover songs and originals, including the mellifluous Burning Up ("It's pretty repetitive, so feel free to sing along," he smiles, to an encouraging response) and Something I Need, which shares a partial melody — and is consequently interspersed with — Every Breath You Take, wrapping up with an untitled love song he wrote for his wife (aww), and a stripped-back rendition of classic tune Can't Help Falling In Love.
It's at this point that I'm drawn to two sculptures down the way slightly — two koalas, one painted to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, the other in honour of Wonder Woman — that are subject to child after child climbing all over them despite the pretty clear signage to avoid exactly that, though it's hard to begrudge their parents the obvious photo opportunity too much. Still, as well-made as they are, they're deeply unsettling (and, as we eventually find out, only two in a set of three, with another one painted like Mario located up the escalator out the front of the nearby Timezone) and we decide to return to the beach stage to see what's next.
Down near the ocean, future-soul songstress Sarah Frank is dropping deep vibes and some smooth dance moves with the assistance of offsider Lydia Kivela, whose primary role appears to be providing choreographed undulations (which she executes with aplomb). Frank's set is certainly enjoyable enough — EP title track Valley Of Highs is a particularly polished piece — and she's a clearly capable singer and performer, but with a lack of live instrumentation backing her up (with the exception of an acoustic guitar, which gets brought out partway through the set) it's hard not to ultimately take away an image of the performance essentially being little more than high-quality karaoke. In total fairness, there may have also been some live keyboard parts, but the midday heat makes it hard to get too invested. Instead, we chat to the guys at the free sunscreen dispenser and help them brainstorm ways to monetise their contraption.
Of course, I mean no disrespect to the delightful Ms Frank — it's just that, as the festival goes on, and being only the two stages, it's hard to not get distracted by the wealth of other attractions that are within walking distance and earshot, from Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum to the nearby "7D Cinema", bowling alleys, shooting range, retail centres, restaurant after restaurant and the aforementioned Timezone upstairs, which was recently voted the best family entertainment venue in the world (so, you know, as if we weren't going to check that out).
As a result, in thrall to our exploratory urges, we only catch about half of local four-piece Crown The Humble's set of accessible acousti-rock indie-roots jams, though they — like everyone else on the bill — are clearly a talented, tight group of musicians, despite having only formed in 2015. Frontman Jimmy Brine's earthy vocals are an especially nice feature of the band's well-developed sound; in particular, Granville Street Sidewalk proves a memorable cut, its upbeat strums and driving drums underpinning some truly impressive vocal output from the band's founder.
Regaining focus, we return to the beach stage, where local electro-pop-rockers Sunset City are set to deliver a polished mix of originals and covers to help keep the afternoon's entertainment ticking along. They turn out an infectious and inviting cover of DNCE's Cake By The Ocean, giving vocalist Parker Rose ample room to show off his range and power. His bandmates, too, are polished instrumentalists across the board, though bassist Rob Johnson deserves special mention for effecting a believable air of casual-cool with his occasional pop-slaps and general demeanour.
To their credit, they play with the kind of gusto that, again, suggests they're just stoked to be here and be heard, though that reliance on covers to fill the set — which includes a run at Panic! At The Disco's I Write Sins, Not Tragedies — detracts somewhat, as does a momentary technical glitch that halts proceedings (but allows the band a quick airing of The Offspring's Intermission, itself based on Tea For Two). Still, their original material, such as never-before-performed tune Move On and objectively infectious single Can I Go Back?, displays a musical strength and pop savvy of which the band should be proud.
We head back to the mall to see a lone baritone saxophonist at the Cavill stage, each member of Sydney's 10-player-strong Hot Potato Band — drummers, a sousaphone, a trumpet, vocalist, and alto, tenor and another bari sax — gradually joining him and adding to his funky under-layer to create a smooth, multi-layered groove, moving in sync and insantly grabbing our eyes and ears from the outset.
The performance that ensues is truly world-class, the members positively radiating ebullience and talent as they lay down their boisterous, brassy vibes, topped with the remarkably smooth vocals from singer Dylan Wright. They're proud of the sound they manage to create without the assistance of electronic instruments, and rightfully so: this band sticks out as one of the biggest highlights of the festival for pure talent and showmanship alone.
The camaraderie flows fluidly between the members, their respect and appreciation for each other as musicians outwardly evident. They're totally unconcerned with being cool — and are all the cooler for it — "rowing" with their instruments during Sail Away and dancing about the stage (and through the crowd) as they deliver a ream of tunes from their recently released album of originals, Paint The Town (2016), among other cuts. Further high points ensue with the solo-splashed, virtuosic strains of songs such as Reach, the eminently catchy Let It Go and inherently optimistic Believe In Yourself, though it's honestly fair to say that the entire performance is a cut above from start to finish. I leave the stage feeling genuinely revitalised and considering myself a newly minted fan.
In the wake of that buzz — and with their drummer bearing the full brunt of the mid-afternoon sun — local indie-psych-rock cohort Yes Sir Noceur have their work cut out for them, but make do admirably nonetheless. Their cover of Queens Of The Stone Age's Make It Wit Chu is superb, while their aptly named original Battles — no prizes for guessing the evident aural influence on that one — is also a quirky, effects-laden delight, though their audience seem rather perplexed by it, and it fails to generate much of a response at its conclusion, which is truly unfortunate. Closing out with their recent single Turn To Fire, the band shout out Aquila Young, who features on the recorded version of the track and is up next down at the Cavill stage in the mall.
However, with deepest apologies to the talented Ms Young, we actually miss the entirety of her set, as we've a date with a cheese-and-champagne pop-up event atop the Q1 tower, at its Skypoint Observation Deck, generously arranged for us by the team at the Surfers Paradise Alliance. As I said earlier, it can be quite difficult to review an entire festival as well as take in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area, so we try to take in as much as we can to absorb the full Surfers experience, but unfortunately that means the occasional act does get missed, through no fault of their own. Forgoing the champagne — I end up getting a coffee instead, caffeine-addicted hack that I am — we take in some stellar sky-height views and some live music from local troubadour James Scott (hey, it all worked out!) before returning to earth for the next act.
To be honest, it's hard to get more down-to-earth than vintage Aussie pop-rockers 1927, who these days are comprised of sole remaining original member (and frontman) Eric Weidemen flanked by a new line-up that he brought together upon deciding to revive the band back in 2009 (they originally dissolved in 1993). The group's multi-Platinum-selling songs are as easy on the ears as ever, and Weidemen cuts an affable, likeable figure as he and his backing players let loose with a career-spanning set that digs from their acclaimed debut album ...ish through till 2013's fourth studio effort Generation-i.
There are several people in the crowd wearing what appear to be original-era 1927 T-shirts, and it's clear that the band's enduring appeal has brought more than a handful of dedicated punters down to the beach for a bit of halcyon-days wish-fulfilment. Sure, it's all just the littlest bit daggy — none of the beach stage's big names tonight are exactly in their prime — but it's earnest to its core and, as someone who isn't really of the era, I'm surprised by how much I actually enjoy their set, from deep cuts such as Don't Forget Me, Nothing In The Universe, Scars and newer track The Story Never Ends right through to their bigger hits such as That's When I Think Of You and If I Could, both of which generate some solid responses from the now-actually-quite-sizeable audience, even breaking out into audible sing-alongs from time to time. It's truly heartwarming to see, and I imagine that Weidemen and co are truly thankful for the opportunity to feel this loved again.
Once more, time restraints (and the human need to eat food) result in us missing out on a set from self-described "one-womyn Gypsy-rock" act Felicity Lawless, though we catch the slightest sliver of her sounds as we head towards dinner at Steampunk restaurant, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, only with way better food than you'd expect. Aesthetically, the joint draws on some pretty risible steampunk influences, with cog-pattern wallpaper and even some moving mechanisms, while bartenders dole out cocktails that literally list "science" as one of the ingredients, but the quality of the meal — perfectly cooked, texturally rich, thoroughly flavourful — outstrips any need for gimmicks. (That said, the pipes on the roof out front that periodically spew flames into the air are pretty cool, if just a tad ostentatious.)
With full bellies, we gingerly stroll back to the beachfront, pausing briefly to take a photograph of a vending machine that dispenses pairs of pluggers for five bucks each. I note that it's the "most Gold Coast thing I've ever seen". Two people from Sydney take the opportunity to compulsively point out that their city has them too, which is pretty much the most Sydney thing I've ever seen. Somewhat upsettingly, it becomes my most popular Instagram post all weekend.
Back at the beach, we find a spot to witness the vintage madness of the dual-keytar-wielding Pseudo Echo, best known for giving us a hugely popular cover of Lipps Inc's iconic tune Funky Town (which, naturally, makes an appearance tonight, to boisterous response). But the Melbourne new-wave veterans — like their peers in 1927, actually now comprising only one founding member, Brian Canham, alongside a group of gradual conscripts — actually prove to be a deceptively deep well of entertainment over the course of their hour-long set.
Along with the aforementioned Funky Town, the band also put out some standout efforts in You Seem So Blind, Destination Unknown, Living In A Dream, Send Me An Angel and a cover of Nutbush City Limits that sends the crowd into a woefully uncoordinated but utterly wonderful dance-along. It's all just ridiculous enough — just carefree drunk-wedding enough — and outwardly unashamed of itself, as to be impossible not to be utterly taken with, unless you're allergic to unironic fun or something.
And, to be honest, if you couldn't find the unbridled joy in Pseudo Echo, then my condolences to you, because tonight's headliners, Mental As Anything, take that sense of unabashed energy and crank it up several notches, centred on the (literally) colourful vocalist/keyboardist Greedy Smith — resplendent in top-to-bottom red suit and accompanied by what appears to be a full jug of coffee — and vocalist/guitarist Martin Plaza, both of whom have been with the band for more than 40 years. They, too, are joined by a group of relative newcomers, with drummer Jacob Cook being the longest-serving of the remaining accompaniment, having been with the band since 2012.
Not that any of that seems to matter: opening with 1981's Too Many Times, the band prove early on that they still more than live up to their name, with Smith routinely offering up honestly hilarious anecdotes and loosely related ramblings between songs, such as when he precedes Let's Cook with a vociferous, "Look out teeth, look out tongue, look out yum-yum, here it comes!", and when, before Berserk Warriors, he details how, "1000 years ago, the Vikings came here … only to return as pimply backpackers". There's also a story about how he's "sworn off having mushrooms for breakfast anywhere near Mullumbimby" before they launch into Come Around, though my notes don't contain the context (not that you really need it).
The band continue to perform with the kind of clarity and energy that would put several of their younger peers to shame; old favourite Date With Destiny generates an appreciative response, as do expected but still highly enjoyable highlights Live It Up and Mr Natural, though it's not just the hits to which we're treated, as the band also let fly with a couple of new pieces in The Luckiest Player and Shake Off Your Sandals & Come Back To Bed, both from their forthcoming five-track EP, which they tell us is titled Five-Track EP. Honestly, this band is a gift.
They also find room among the expansive, oeuvre-canvassing set list to fit in last year's single, Goat Tracks In My Sandpit, and Plaza's 1986 solo effort, Concrete & Clay, letting fly with several other well-honed pieces before they close out their main proceedings with 1979's iconic The Nips Are Getting Bigger before wrapping up proper with a three-song encore that culminates with their old-favourite closing cover of Chuck Berry's Rock & Roll Music and Smith's Truman Show-esque finishing line: "Good afternoon, good evening and good night!"
And you know something? It is a good night; it truly, truly is. It's going to be tough to top this one tomorrow. Side note: when are Mental As Anything next in town? Because, seriously, I am there.
The third day of Surfers Paradise LIVE begins much the same as yesterday — with an indecent amount of food and coffee being consumed from QT's extreme breakfast buffet — though, being the final stretch of the festival, I can feel my energy levels waning nonetheless. We somewhat begrudgingly check out of the hotel and, realising our need for a somewhat more relaxed pathway to the finish line, slowly make our way down to Cavill Avenue to do it all one last time.
Since we're early, we take a bit of a stroll around to walk off breakfast, coming across the fourth-most-disturbing statue we see all weekend, and eventually decide to enjoy ourselves at Timezone for a while, to see if it lives up to that sign out front so proudly proclaiming its apparent world-renowned status. To my surprise, it actually really does — it's a sprawling, exceptionally well-kept arcade with an embarrassment of riches to offer enthusiasts of all ages, and we find it so easy to get sucked into its smorgasbord of addictive entertainment that, when we look at our phones to check the time, we realise we've stayed longer than we intended.
Quickly grabbing our half-decent prizes (thank you, Crazy Tower), we hightail it back downstairs to the mall to find sandy-haired troubadour Jackson James Smith under way, sporting an electric guitar and emanating good-natured surfie vibes with the kind of effortless ease that seems perfect for a Sunday-morning set on the Coast. He sprinkles in some classic Aretha Franklin with I Say A Little Prayer and Mario's 2004 hit Let Me Love You among his enjoyable, mostly downtempo and easily digestible tunes, his velvet vocals floating sweetly through the mall and serving as a most agreeable introduction for Surfers Paradise LIVE's last batch of musicians.
Kicking off the beach stage proceedings for the day are retro-rock specialists The Waves, who serve up a run of classic covers pulled together with funky synth lines, stylish solos, male/female vocal interplay and a care and love for the songs, even though they're not their own. Starting with Jonny Lang's Lie To Me, the band move into a faithful (heh) cover of George Michael's Faith, relaying their own hopes that they will soon be joined by an as-yet truant band member who has "spent the night riding the porcelain bus", the poor guy.
They make their way through Al Green's Rhymes and Wilson Pickett's seminal tune Mustang Sally before the missing member does indeed materialise, sounding a little worse for wear given his probably rough evening, but he nonetheless puts in a valiant effort, clearly determined to make the remainder of the set count, as they launch into Amy Winehouse's Mercy.
Presuming the rest of The Waves' set will also be covers — not that there's anything wrong with that — we head off to explore some more before returning to the mall to catch a spot of celebrated local blues/folk outfit Leopold's Treat. The band are boasting an impressive array of instruments on-stage, with lesser-appreciated tools such as flute and didgeridoo getting a bit of loving airplay alongside more typical fare, including some gorgeously evocative harmonica during notable set highlight Hounddogs & Bullfrogs. The band take several opportunities to remind us that their album, Cold River, is available, though it never becomes so onerous as to be intrusive, especially amid such a generally well-executed performance.
At the beach stage, the many members of Aaron West & The Custodians are serving up boppy, big, brassy sounds that have more than a few of us nearby almost involuntarily dancing along. Covers seem to be the order of the day, as the 10-player-strong group pay tribute to greats such as Ray Charles (Mess Around) and James Brown (Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, though they admit they don't bring this one out too often), as well as including gospel standard This Little Light Of Mine and a medley of tunes by The Temptations and Aretha Franklin. Still, it's not all reimaginings, with original tune She's So Fine, written during a sojourn in New Orleans, earning pride of place among the broader set list.
Back in the mall, electro-pop wunderkind Ella Fence and her band — the ranks of whichinclude Aquila Young, so I guess we got to see her in some regard after all — are serving up tightly arranged, multi-layered ditties that routinely showcase the refinement and malleability of the singer-songwriter's euphonious vocals.
Originally sporting an oversize furry jacket, Fence (aka Stephanie Pickett) eventually sheds it for greater freedom of movement and comfort's sake, telling us about her upcoming tour, which is taking place exclusively in motel rooms, and mentions her new single, Dancer. She includes a performance of new song Make-up, which she bills as being "about girls being who they are, and not having to impress anyone else". Impress she does, though — as do her backing players — hitting a high point amid her uniformly high-calibre set with her now-well-honed first single Unknown Water.
We return to the beachfront to spy the velvet-smooth Hanlon Brothers easing into their set with a bit of crowd interaction, doling out T-shirts to their audience and, rather sweetly, even making sure that people are getting sizes that they can actually wear. As most of the acts today have done, the six-piece infuse their set with a healthy dose of covers, including the second rendition of Let Me Love You that we've heard today and a damn fine take on Marvin Gaye's seminal Sexual Healing, but it's their originals where they really shine.
The band are skilled improvisers, weaving on-the-fly elements into their lush fusion of hip hop, jazz, roots, reggae and soul with elegant nuance and confident charisma. They fire us up with tunes such as Magic Show and the sweet tones of Can't Wait, and cement themselves as highly capable songwriters and performers by the time they roll out recently released single Diamonds, which they announce by flattering the crowd, telling us that's exactly what we all are.
We take the chance to wolf down some dinner — we toss up going to nearby joint Latitude 28, but it seems pretty full(which, hey, is a pretty good sign) and we're in a bit of a hurry, so we return for a second go at Betty's Burgers, because once I find something I like, I find it very hard to let go. In the same vein, we inhale our food in order to make it back to Cavill mall for another date with The Hot Potato Band, who have been gifted a second slot on the stage in as many days, which sits totally fine with us. Encouragingly — probably due to the later hour — the group has pulled in an absolutely massive crowd for their second go-around, which tonight features trombonist Max Mallen-Cooper in place of last night's trumpeter, Nick Calligeros.
Many of the same songs feature as on yesterday's set list; however, given the longer performance time at their disposal, new delights are found in a couple of covers — namely, a deeply enjoyable version of Nick Murphy/Chet Faker's Talk Is Cheap and Vance Joy's Riptide, which they somehow manage to squeeze new life and delight out of, despite its saturation over the past several years — as well as Stolen, which opens with Mallen-Cooper creating a stunning approximation of a didgeridoo on his trombone and vocalist Dylan Wright acknowledging the need to "close the gap" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and first-EP cut Why'd You Have To Go?. Again, the band prove hypnotically entertaining, and, as they wrap with Believe In Yourself, their boundless enthusiasm, showmanship and willingness to just get down and have a good time cement them as a newfound favourite and genuine highlight of not just the day but the entire event.
With the sun now set, the last night of Surfers Paradise LIVE is ready to get under way. We grab a churro and coffee for some last-leg fuel (told you I was flagging) and sit munching in the mall waiting for Taxiride to start, until we realise that they actually already have — for some reason, the mix and volume seems somewhat much quieter than earlier in the festival — so we book it down towards the beach to assume our positions for their set.
It may be several years past their prime, but that also means that the band are several years past giving a damn about what anyone else thinks, and they deliver a wide-ranging set that naturally includes the hits — surprisingly, both Everywhere You Go and Get Set, probably their two biggest songs, make appearances super-early in the list — but also allows the band to dig a little deeper into their lesser-known material, as well as a cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash's Helplessly Hoping.
Their banter is affable, enlightening (frontman Jason Singh details quite a bit about the band's history from their days as aspiring musicians in Melbourne) and fittingly self-deprecating, though the response here is genuine, even for second-album cuts such as How I Got This Way and Afterglow, while they precede Creepin' Up Slowly by telling us to "just, like, get real excited, because the boss is out the back". They're a band that has copped a lot of flak in their time, but those in attendance are wholly enthralled and sincerely appreciative of their performance (and their harmonies are as strong as ever, too, something which should not be dismissed), and the band shares in their gratitude, thanking all of us as well as those backstage who helped to put on the festival and worked behind the scenes throughout; it's a nice piece of selflessness and continues the event's theme of being an ego-free experience in almost all regards.
After three long but enjoyable days and nights (and a final pass through the nearby night markets), it's almost time to welcomethefinal act of the festival, Eskimo Joe. In somewhat typical rocker fashion, they're a little bit late to get under way, but the crowd loses it at the opening strains of first song, and well-known hit, Sarah.
Under the extremely charismatic direction of frontman Kav Temperley, the band navigate an expansive selection from their back catalogue, though they're not shy about dipping into 2006's lauded LP Black Fingernails, Red Wine to keep the packed-in crowd broadly on-side. To that end, New York and Breaking Up soon appear, as does the laid-back sentimentality of London Bombs. They fast-forward through to 2011's Ghosts Of The Past to bust out Echo and Temperley plays silly-bugger with the automated on-stage camera, going all extreme close-up so his face dominates the screen behind him during Not Alone, from sixth album Wastelands (2013).
As the band attempts to launch into Foreign Land, drummer Paul "Horsepower" Keenan apparently breaks his snare and Temperley launches into an anecdote about the band's tune This Room (2004), about how, every time they tried to play it, they'd get to a drum break and "the whole drum kit would disintegrate". "[Keenan]'s the only person I've ever met who's popped a kick drum," he quips. They get back on track with a new snare and power through their intended tune before returning to second album A Song Is A City to play the evocative and vivid Smoke.
Temperley trades his electric guitar for an acoustic, and he and his bandmates launch into Got What You Need, blending in parts of The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want. Temperley relays the fact that, "when I posted online about doing a free gig at the Gold Coast, everyone in Australia got really jealous", to which guitarist Stuart MacLeod opines that he was jealous because, as a Scotsman, he loves things that are free. "But there's free stuff backstage," he smiles, "so, swings and roundabouts."
Entering the final stretch of their set, the band effortlessly navigate Don't Let Me Down and the rapturously received Black Fingernails, Red Wine before cheekily informing us that they'll be back for an encore. They make good on the promise after departing the stage for a brief moment, handing a water bottle to someone in the crowd who asks for one and launching into Love Is A Drug and closing out the proceedings with fan-favourite single From The Sea, a fitting tune with which to finish this marathon of beachside revelry as Temperley leads the audience in an intensifying sing- and clap-along before everything descends into wild applause, and we watch in awe as the swollen crowd disperses into the breezy night.
To the Surfers Paradise Alliance, QT Gold Coast, all the punters who attended and all the acts who played Surfers Paradise LIVE: thank you for this breath of fresh air. It was one of the most enjoyable, least pretentious events I've experienced in a long while, and I dare say that we could all use a little more Gold Coast vibes in our lives. If it's an option for you, put it on your calendar for next year. You won't regret it.
Mitch Knox travelled to Surfers Paradise LIVE as a guest of the Surfers Paradise Alliance.
Brass Monkey, Cronulla
Darwin Entertainment Centre, Darwin
Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Hindmarsh
Perth Concert Hall, Perth
Darwin Amphitheatre, The Gardens
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre, Bunbury
Hamer Hall, Melbourne
The Big Pineapple Complex, Woombye
Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
Geelong Performing Arts Centre (GPAC), Geelong
Civic Theatre, Newcastle
Empire Theatre, Toowoomba
Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), South Brisbane
Twin Towns, Tweed Heads
Enmore Theatre, Newtown
Anita's Theatre, Thirroul
Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra
Princess Theatre, Launceston
Wrest Point, Sandy Bay
Lizottes Newcastle, Lambton
Entrance Leagues, Bateau Bay
The Prince, St Kilda
The Tivoli, Fortitude Valley
Anita's Theatre, Thirroul
Hope Estate Winery, Pokolbin