A three-part live review of the music festival Splendour In The Grass 2011 for Mess+Noise. Excerpts from each day are included below. The photos used in this blog post were taken by Justin Edwards, who shot the event on behalf of M+N. His photo galleries are linked from my reviews.
Report: Splendour 2011 Day 1
Woodfordia is a really good venue, Gotye will top the Hottest 100, showers are best taken in the day and Kanye West apparently likes fish sticks – things learned on day one of Splendour In The Grass 2011 by ANDREW MCMILLEN.
In the lead-up to Splendour In The Grass 2011, it felt like the first year where the honeymoon could be over for Australia’s largest music festival. Most notably, this is the first Splendour in recent memory that failed to sell out. Days away from gates opening, promoters even decided to offer tickets to each of the three days at a heavily discounted price. Compare this to last year’s event – the first time the festival had been staged at Woodford in Queensland, and also the first time it stretched across three days – which sold out in around five hours. Evidently, an $80 price hike while offering what’s arguably an inferior line-up appeared like a mistake, but once on site, all the bad press in the lead-up to the festival all but slips away.
Organisers even seem to have sorted out a better entrance process this year. Rather than hours spent sitting in slow-moving traffic kilometres away from the gates, those who arrive after midday on Thursday are impressed by how smoothly it all runs. Perhaps the speedy entrance can be attributed to the lax security when it comes to searching vehicles for alcohol. The tray of the M+N ute could’ve been filled with bottles of spirits – and we’d have gotten away with it. Maybe they were relying on last year’s scare tactics to discourage BYO booze? It didn’t seem to work. On a cold Thursday night, a man next to me at the urinal exclaims, “There’s fucking steam coming off my fucking piss!”
Day One: July 29
We learned last year that Woodfordia is a very good venue for accommodating 30,000 music fans for a weekend. This rings true today. Very little has been changed as far as the layout is concerned. The majority of the musical action occurs at three stages. Mix Up and the G.W. McLennan are housed under tents in the centre of the festival grounds, while the Amphitheatre – the main stage – is located at the far end. It’s a huge bowl that’s entered by taking either the high road – which is quite a steep climb – or the lower path, which funnels into the “D” section in front of stage. The first Amphitheatre performance of the festival is scheduled to start at 11am, yet the gates remain closed until 11.10am for no apparent reason.
Once inside, Brisbane act Millions are playing to a crowd that seems to consist largely of triple j staff, including music director Richard Kingsmill. The quartet won an Unearthed competition to play today. They play catchy indie pop built around confident songwriting and a laidback delivery. This slot may well give their profile a nice boost. The band who played at this time last year, Jinja Safari, take the same stage at 1pm today to what I assume is a far bigger crowd than their first time around.
For the full report on day one, visit Mess+Noise.
Report: Splendour 2011 Day 2
Perfect 10 performances from Gareth Liddiard and The Grates, strange timetabling decisions and disappointing sets from Mona and The Mars Volta – ANDREW MCMILLEN reports on a musically inconsistent day two of Splendour In The Grass in Woodfordia, Queensland. But, hey, at least the weather was good.
All weekend, the weather is a dream. It couldn’t be better. It’s so good that you tend not to notice the clear skies, and instead take it for granted. There isn’t a moment of rain, which makes for happy camping.
First on the Mix Up stage are Ghoul, who admit to not having played a show in six months but prove to be captivating. Evidently I’m not the only one who’s fond of Ivan Vizintin’s distinctive voice. By the end of their 45 minutes there’s a few hundred heads facing the stage. At the Amphitheatre, it’s a tough day to be a Cut Off Your Hands fan. Their set is bland and uninspiring, but this could well be the Kiwi quartet playing at their best. It’s indie pop that you can dance to, but the absence of hooks leaves the crowd cold. They lean heavily on material from new release Hollow. Fifty minutes of Nick Johnston’s voice becomes grating. They save their best for last, when Johnston ditches his guitar and wails along to early singles ‘Still Fond’ and ‘Expectations’.
“If I was booking a festival, the first thing I’d do is not book me,” says a typically self-deprecating Gareth Liddiard. He attracts a few hundred punters to the McLennan tent at 1.30pm just to hear his voice, acoustic guitar and between-song gags. He tells us about the inspiration for writing ‘Highplains Mailman’ and ‘Strange Tourist’. He refuses ‘Khe Sahn’ requests as he says he’s got his own; in ‘Shark Fin Blues’, presumably, which he plays without fuss. He mocks the techno bumping from Mix Up, and reflects on how people tend to romanticise the decade in which they were raised. He bemoans the current fascination with the ’80s. “Joy Division and The Birthday Party aside – what the fuck?” A stagehand gestures at him. He replies, “Is that 10 minutes left? Or 10 out of 10, Gareth?”, before finishing with ‘Jezebel’. The latter, Gareth.
Looking down on the Amphitheatre at 2.20pm from the top of the hill is hilarious. “We’re Mona from Nashville, Tennessee,” one of the tiny figures on stage says into a microphone. “Let’s bump up the party!” There are perhaps three dozen people in the D-section at this point. The entire crowd here wouldn’t fill The Tote. It’s mind-boggling to look down at the mostly empty hill and recall that last night, every square inch was packed during Kanye West. “Never trust anything that blows up,” the figure says after a few songs. “All great things start small.” Right. Their music is embarrassing. It sounds like a cross between Jet and modern Kings Of Leon.
For the full report on day two, visit Mess+Noise.
Report: Splendour 2011 Day 3
A fatigued ANDREW MCMILLEN powers through the final day of Splendour In The Grass 2011, taking in performances by Pulp, The Panics, Coldplay, The Vines and the last ever show by Townsville’s The Middle East.
By now, fatigue has set in. I’ve spent Splendour sober – I’m in the midst of a three-month break from drinking – and I’m still ruined from the walking, the dust, and the volume of food and soft drink consumed thus far. Time for one last push. At the Amphitheatre, Melbourne’s Alpine are winning fans under a cloudy 11am sky that threatens to break. They tell us that it’s their first festival, yet the six-piece handle their set like true pros. “I can’t stop smiling, even though some of the songs are sad!” one of the singers enthuses between tracks. They end on ‘Villages’, a fantastic indie pop song that hints at their potential for greatness. The prospect of relocating to another stage is too much to handle, so I sit in the shade and wait for Grouplove, a band about whom I’m blissfully ignorant.
As it turns out, they play a set consisting entirely of Arcade Fire covers. I kid. these guys are from Los Angeles, not Quebec, so there’s at least one point of difference. Their showing at midday is powerful and evocative. It’s all blustery, feel-good indie rock, which fits the zeitgeist like a glove. They pull a big crowd. It feels as though a lot of those here are discovering a new favourite band. They thank Splendour co-founder Paul Piticco for inviting them here, and dedicate ‘Naked Kids’ to him. They’re a very easy band to like.
On the same stage at 1.10pm – like I said, fatigue has set in – Hungry Kids Of Hungary prove their sound works well in an arena context. With no one else really playing at the time, they’re handed the perfect opportunity to impress a good chunk of Splendour-goers. They don’t miss the mark. They play most of debut album Escapades and kick beachballs into the crowd (as you do). With a new record reportedly underway, they’re well on track to continue ascending the Australian pop ladder.
Under the McLennan tent, Leader Cheetah sound great but are otherwise dull. They show strong songwriting, but give us nothing else to latch onto. We might as well be listening to the album. I arrive in time for ‘Bloodlines’ and a wave of material from the newly-released Lotus Skies. I stand at the back of the tent and look out across the pond of filthy water upon which the nearby “pontoon bar” is housed. There’s a momentary break in the timetable, so I scamper for an early afternoon shower and return to catch the final 30 seconds of Liam Finn’s set – which is a shame, as it looked like a good time. A decade into their career, The Herd are a classic festival draw by now. They play a set of crowd-pleasers intermixed with material from forthcoming fifth album Future Shade, which are well received. I prefer them over most Australian hip-hop acts because they treat melody with as much respect as their rhymes. Watching thousands of people sing along to their hooks, it’s easy to see why they’ve established themselves near the peak of the genre. While they mightn’t have the hardcore fanbase of acts like Hilltop Hoods or Bliss N Eso, they’ve certainly carved out their own niche.
For the full report on day three, visit Mess+Noise.