Live review - Splendour in the Grass, 2009 - SaturdaySplendour in the Grass - Saturday
Belongil Fields, Byron Bay NSW
Saturday 25th July, 2009
The street we are staying on in Byron is lined with apartments and their balconies. At 10 o'clock in the morning, we wake to a hazy mish-mash of music blaring from every single one of them. Each outdoor setting is holding up guys in singlets, sunnies and tinnies talking to girls smoking, sunning and singing. We stayed out of town for Splendour in the Grass 2008 and as mad as the township was at night, we never really clicked that the festival doesn't start at 11am with the first few bands at Belongil Fields on the Saturday...but with thousands turning up the volume in their accommodation the second their bags hit the floor. Like the Eastern most bug zapper for the nation's youth, Byron is swamped with people in the single-minded process of doing serious damage to themselves. Party on.
The downside of having a festival in the surrounds and climate of Byron Bay is that you're not really thinking of going to see bands. You wanna swim, socialise, eat, drink, poetry slam. No wonder touring bands think it's an attractive date on the calendar. Splendour in the Grass is the svelte younger sister to the Meredith/Golden Plains festivals; the airbrushed photo to the harsh reality at the Big Day Out; the intoxicating perfume to the toilet lollies of everything else.
After a breakfast surrounded by models dressed for sunshine and a man with skateboard wheels strapped to each foot, we start making travel plans. Word is that the bus into the festival site is running late. We head over to the station to see a long line of people standing motionless while buses bank up in the standstill traffic. We decide to walk, and start out along the Pacific Highway out of town along with sunscreen, Nutrient Water and five thousand other people doing the same.
It's easy to see why at least the immediate locals would get the shits with this Splendour weekend. Every few houses along the walk are having parties, each one a scene from 2084's Natural History Museum. One weatherboard house pumping hardcore music is teeming with tattooed emo's drinking bourbon and southern. Another with balloons tied to its trees has gorgeous girls sunning around while a few shirtless guys lean over the fence. Another more sparse affair has doleful, thuggish chumps looking stern, smoking as hip-hop pumps from the household. There's no gorgeous girls in this exhibit.
As the sun begins to sizzle, so too does it add to the effects many are undergoing. We're out of town now and walking alongside bushlands and marshes. The orange plastic railing alongside the road is doubling as a bottle shelf and every 100 metres or so there's remnants of vomit or someone attempting to produce it. One group are off in the trees standing in a circle around a guy sitting down with his head on his forearms. "Fuckn' get up dickhead" says one.
We turn and walk into the site, a criss-crossed zig-zag of security fencing, tan bark, tents and lush trees. There's a packed chunk of people welling at the ticketing entrance and we somehow navigate around to a shorter line near the front. This maybe why: a guy in front of us is crouching on his hands and knees spewing on the ground. The crowd closes around him again, as he stands up, finished, wipes his mouth, then bends down for a second heave as the crowd blooms out around him again. There goes a third. And a fourth. He manages to hold it behind his trembling lips whilst passing the initial ticket check, then crouches and spews again between stations. And then finally, like us, makes it inside the festival. Spent. It's 2.30pm.
Which means that despite our best intentions, we miss Art Vs Science, Leader Cheetah, and Manchester Orchestra. Crap. We do manage to wander over to the Super Top in time to see Children Collide take the stage and they knuckle down to their grunge workouts intensely with 'We Are Amphibious'. For a three piece they sound massive. But we're not up the front, and they're not back-of-the-tent stuff, so we head over to the GW Mclennan field to see what Bridezilla are up to.
Moodily going about their business it turns out. Having seen the band live a bunch of times we're yet to discover the supposed layers of worth (Nick Cave approved, no less) that emerge via their odd set up of drums, guitar, vocals, violin and saxaphone. Maybe it's in the lyrics we can't hear, maybe it's in absorbing the downbeat smattering of instruments, maybe it's just the fringes, dresses and their quirk. Whatever it is we leave it behind as we head back to the Mix Up tent...
...to see returning Splendour sons - and new Dew Process signees - Bluejuice take the stage. On the back of their then radio hit 'Vitriol', Bluejuice took to the Splendour stage in 2008 like e-ing debutantes, thrilling the crowd and themselves in the process. As well, it seems, the organsiers. They're back now on the eve of releasing their newly recorded album and as such play a bunch of tunes from it. Which all sound quite album-y. This is a good thing. Pegged simply as a "funk" band for most of their early days, Bluejuice are on the cusp of melding their disparate influences into a new creative vein for the band. One that could have played any stage at the festival today, and judging from the calibre of new songs - their heaving, confidant live show was never in question - are about to find a whole new audience. As well as probably a few more rungs up the ladder of festival timetables this summer.
Dappled Cities arrive on the GW McClennan stage with not so much fanfare but a sizeable crowd. Tim Derricourt confusingly says "We're Dappled Cities Fly" despite the band's supposed dropping of the "Fly" already, and launch into robust versions of songs from their upcoming and fabulous Zounds record. The mix isn't kind to the guitars but the keyboards are massive, nowhere more so than on recent single 'The Price'. Indie-rock songs, with all their plinks and clever turns and "part of a whole-ness" can be tough things to sell live. But Dappled have evolved with a confidence and skill that makes it a non-issue, able to deliver their songs in a way that engage without the listener having to know how it goes; grasp what it all means. If it does. Which it does. We think.
We miss the start of You Am I. Which sucks because we hear they opened with Regurgitator's 'I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am'. Which in 2009 seems a perfect introduction to the universe You Am I find themselves in - on the downhill side of the pervasive popularity they found in the '90s, but with the ability, wit and fire to remind everyone who ever wrote them off why they were so fucking great in the first place. Rogers is sporting a poncho and a gunslingers hat, throwing devil signs and romancing the crowd even as he baits them. By the time 'Berlin Chair' hammers home, Rogers is shirtless, belting his Jazzmaster, throwing kicks, our patrons are screaming and the band are waving and everything after all this time is - thank god bless - just how it should be.
The frankly amazing guest bar has by now wrested us to its teet, providing us with dubious nutrients, conversation, and chandeliers just a few metres from gum trees, the main stage, hoi polloi, musicians, friends, dickheads and the opportunity to make ourselves one. It's hard to remember - post weekend - how much you didn't notice the satisfaction in the small moments at a festival. It's the bumps and spills and funny stuff and stupid stuff and beautiful people and fuckwits that weave their way through your time here, give shape to the experience and become the glue between whichever bands were there to attract us and so allow these moments to happen. We never saw you DJ Spex, Raz Bin Sam or Hula Hoop w/Spaghetti Circus but if the elf telling everyone "Roll Up! Roll Up! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF!!" through a megaphone outside the "Naivety Tent" is a fan then thanks so much for playing.
Paul Dempsey was here last year playing solo. This year he's back under the same moniker but with spanking new band - and album - in tow. The crew feature two members of Dallas Crane and multi-instrumentalist John Hedigan and this is the band's festival debut. They seem more confident and in tune with each other than the solid set we saw them perform a week ago at the comparatively tiny Workers Club in Fitzroy. It is still weird to see Dempsey with a band not of the Something For Kate variety, especially when they sit in the shadows while he plays the odd SFK favourite. But when they pull together on risky moves like a blazing cover of Neil Young's 'Cinnamon Girl' - complete with bang on harmonies - it's hard to imagine Dempsey changing tack this effectively any other way.
Architecture in Helskini is our Plain Jane. On record she's strangely flat;, interesting but unremarkable, even kind've annoying for long stretches of time. Live she's a sex goddess, a writhing multi-talented vixen whom we want to dance with and be danced by. If Architecture made a live - or even live-ish - album I'm convinced it would be impossibly great. As we waxed after seeing them at the Laneway festival earlier in the year, they've completed the mutation from whispery share house musings to a tropical explosion of insidiously catchy dance tune commanders. There's a slight lull in the set as they get their slow jams on but the closing triumvirate of 'That Beep', 'Do The Whirlwind' 'Heart It Races' sends the Mix Up tent into knock-kneed spasms. And may well rival any other band on the bill - or going - for sheer dance-pop perfection.
As the sun and dinner truly settles we find ourselves again in conversational/friend-finding pinball; a blurry malaise that means we unforgivibly miss Augie March and most of The Specials. It's a tough game trying to take this music monster in, not knowing when the maelstrom is going to change the rules via our sudden choosing to wait in line for organic chocolate custard doughnuts, be taken us to task on our Top 20 Worst Band Photos lark or wondering why they hell everyone is crazily picking up crushed beer cans. The latter it turns out is an eco-saving device. Punters can exchange seven crushed cans for seven drink dollars, thus keeping the festival environment clean and getting convincingly fuck-eyed in the process. If such a tactic was embraced by the general public nationally - trade, say, your battery-leaking TV for a slab of Woodstock and 500ml Mudshake tins - we'd be the greenest country with an average life expectancy of 24 in the world.
The deal with artists at the business end of the day is that they fuel anticipation for what's about to happen. That The Living End were able to send a packed tent into raptures as ring-in's for the last second cancellation of the "OMG it's really them" reunited LA rockers Jane's Addiction, is pretty damn amazing. The End were in top form, and though not a badge-wearing fan I'm constantly amazed at what a shit hot live band they are. That their last album White Noise is maybe their best LP yet - with the excellent riff of 'How Do We Know?' being our highlight - means that they're one of the few longstanding bands that maybe generate more of a response for their new material than their old. Acknowledging the absent with a version of Jane's Addiction's signature tune 'Jane Says' is a nice touch, and if they don't erase the disappointment of Jane's cancelling, it's hard to think of another Australian replacement that could've come even close to pulling this off. Which they do, to spare.
We manage to see Midnight Juggernauts set the Mix Up tent alight, perhaps not with the same insanity as The Presets last year but in the same ballpark. Over on the GW McClennan stage Sarah Blasko has a full tent transfixed, as she is now want to do. She may be surrounded by a band nearing double-digits in number, but it's Blasko and her odd marionette moves and gorgeous voice - as well as her new, fantasticly sparse set of As Day Follows Night songs to show it off - that is significantly great. Having seen a generous set of Bloc Party the night before in the tiny confines of the Great Northern in Byron Bay we're happy to miss the start of their show, but such is Blasko's way that we probably would've anyway.
By the time we do pull ourselves away from the GW McClennan, Bloc Party are in full swing, the opening riff of 'Banquet' sending arms to the skies to disappear in a napalm-like blitzkrieg of white light and histrionics. It's funny to see them one night playing a show through a sound system much like one in any decent venue around the country, and then the next under the lasers and towering PA of the Splendour tent. Kele Okereke's voice remains the most distinctive separation between the group and anyone like them, but there's a revolving array of songwriting chops that shine through the math-y rythms and hectic-ness of both night's sets. A range that isn't apparent in one sitting. And, we find, it's almost surprising that both versions are excellent.
The halcyon days of Factory Records and The Hacienda were before my time I'm afraid, and have eluded me since. At least until the revisionism of recent years. I'm not alone in my ostracism if the strangely comfortable tent that greets these great UK survivors the Happy Mondays is anything to go by. But as soon as the band start - singer Shaun Ryder and "vibe man" Bez up front - it all comes flooding in. Oasis, Stone Roses, Brit Pop itself, its all there, here is its root. No doubt bleeding obvious to diehard fans of the band, and for those that aren't, a melted smiley face and the word "Madchester" are emblazoned across the screen. Someone tells later me that Bez smuggled ten ecstasy pills with him on the plane here from the UK. I don't know if it's true but I want it to be. The man is the most useless maraca player in the history of the business but damn he's a scene-chewing band member. The dancer does his best to rouse the slowly awakening crowd, goofily shimmying his way across the stage with the intense stare of someone wanting in his very bones for everyone to join his reverie. It works, mostly. Otherwise, Shaun Ryder's vocals are strong, backing singer Julie E Gordon provides the soul and the crack band provide the head nodding dance music for Bez to dance his heart out for. And yeah, into ours.
We trudge from the festival grounds out onto the dimly lit path back to town. In a scene straight from The Road, we walk back to town with every other hooded zombie refugee in the mist, past an upturned shopping trolley while bus shuttles with their steamed windows full of people amble past towards the town. Somehow end up in a penthouse suite til 4am overlooking the beach talking shop with food, booze and mouths flowing. Splendid.
READ OUR SUNDAY REVIEW | PHOTO GALLERY - SATURDAY | PHOTO GALLERY - SUNDAY
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