Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: Splendour In The Grass 2009 for Tom Magazine

For Tom Magazine. Warning: massively, and ridiculously long.

Splendour in the Grass
Byron Bay 25/07/09 - 26/07/09

Ahh, music festivals. Obscene ticket prices, and more time spent queuing for soiled Port-a-Loos and overpriced food and alcohol than actually seeing bands perform. You leave with miscellaneous bruises, a 2-day hangover, and your wallet empty of anything but the mud you’ll find in strange crevices for weeks to come. Say what you will, at the end of the weekend it was all worth it.
17,300 people made the voyage to Byron Bay for the two day musical orgy - 200 less than usual, as some fans demanded refunds when Janes Addiction pulled out ‘due to illness’ at the last minute. Aussie veterans The Living End stepped up to replace them, drawing a crowd at least five times larger than the number that forwent the festival altogether. Of these revellers, there were ageing hippies, ravers in fluro jumpsuits, scantily clad party girls, costumed weirdos, and card-carrying hipsters. But mostly, the Wayfarer and store-bought tie-dye wearing hipsters. What else could bring such a colourful and eclectic bunch together but good ol’ fashion music?

While some regular Splendour-goers complained on the festivals official forum that the line-up this time around was not as impressive as years past, it was still varied and promising enough for the tickets to sell out in mere hours. Big names thrown around on the bill were Brit favourites, Bloc Party, The Flaming Lips, MGMT, and Hilltop Hoods, while other notable talent included Josh Pyke, Grinspoon, The Specials, Midnight Juggernauts, and Sarah Blasko. Oh, and so many, many more. The only trouble was not being able to catch them all.

Walking into the festival grounds on the first day, a discernable whiff of excitement hits you, masked by a strong stench of marijuana. It looked like it was going to rain on the parade - but it didn’t - the weather held out for almost the entire weekend. There were tie-dyed people swarming everywhere, and as early as 1pm the Supertop - the main tent - was drawing an energetic crowd for Manchester Orchestra. While not an orchestra, and not from Manchester (or even Britain), these U.S indie-rockers managed to get crowds singing along to their catchy single, ‘I’ve Got Friends’, and the title track of their newly released third album, ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’. Little Brissie band that could, ‘Yves Klein Blue’, got the Supertop filling up early on in the day with an enthusiastic and polished performance with old-school rocker charm, to boot. Crowd-pleasers included their infectiously upbeat, ‘Polka’, and their youthful new single, ‘Getting Wise’. A guest appearance from members of the John Steel Singers during their obligatory ‘song about fantastic sex’, ‘Summer Sheets’, was almost as rewarding as seeing frontman Michael Tomlinson hauled onstage by security personnel after a wee spot of crowd surfing.
While Children Collide entertained in the Supertop, and revellers danced in various venues across the festival, like the incredibly awe-inspiring Jager Cube (which was a massive cube-shaped self contained club), Miami Horror were rocking the Mix Up tent. Their style of unrelenting synth sat well with a large crowd of indie-techno lovers, and the beats carried over to the drinks line to entertain the poor souls stuck in queues.
By late afternoon, the party was in full swing, with ravers out in the trippy open-air Tipi Forest, Little Red warming up the Supertop, and Little Birdy representing the Indies. Dappled Cities induced an entire-crowd sway at the GW McLennan Tent, with their eerie moans and smooth beats, but the number of people perched outside the tent, listening vaguely on the grass outweighed the number inside. Back in the Supertop You Am I got fans going with their ode to the ugly and downtrodden among us, ‘Berlin Chair’. Their brand of energetic rock pleased, and it didn’t hurt that the lead singer, who had amazing live vocal strength, was shirtless, and rather easy on the eyes. As night fell, Birds of Tokyo filled the Supertop with a number of clear fans, and played gorgeously despite not being in the least talkative. Favourite tracks included the upbeat, ‘Head in my Hands’ and the sing-a-long, ‘Wayside’.

While The Specials and Augie March entertained, a sizeable crow d of furious dancers were gathering at the Mix Up tent for Architecture in Helsinki. Yacht Club DJ’s got everyone warmed up for AIH’s winning tracks, ‘Like It or Not’, and the Triple J favourite that is infectious to the point of annoyance, ‘That Beep’. It was then time to choose between The Living End and Midnight Juggernauts, while Sarah Blasko was beginning in the GM McLennan tent. Finally deciding to catch The Living End, I discovered they’re proof that experience pays off - with no time to rehearse given their last minute slot, these guys rocked - plain and simple. The Supertop flooded over with fans shouting along to classic hits like ‘Prisoner of Society’, and recent hit, ‘White Noise’. The band managed to chide Jane’s Addiction for pulling out of their slot, stating that not many Aussie bands would ever do that, and thanking fans for coming along despite being second choice.

Finally, headliners Bloc Party drew more fans than could fit in the spaces directly surrounding the Supertop, with many perched on distant fences, trying to get a look-in, and others settling for listening in from afar. The Brits were surprisingly chatty, working the audience like soft putty - excitable, screaming, putty. The show pulled out all the big stops with unrelenting fury, working through not only BP’s newer offerings, but classics like ‘Blue Light’, ‘Banquet’, and ‘Flux’. By the end of their set, many revellers had begun to make an early departure to test their luck on the transport system, but others danced on into the night, as venues like the Jager Cube stayed open as late as 2am. Party on!

It was evident by Sunday morning that last night had left many festival-goers worse for wear, with the venue seeming comparatively deserted as late as 1pm. It’s pretty difficult to get into the swing of things when you’re sore, hung-over and running on a few hours sleep, but get into the swing of things, we did...eventually. Luckily, London outfit, The White Lies were there to ease the festival-goers who were awake in time to see them into party spirits, strangely enough, considering their dark, Joy Division reminiscent vocals and lyrics. They gave a stellar performance, and it was surprising to see so many fans singing along to most of the set, given their album was only released earlier this year. Crowd favourites included the sweetly catchy, ‘To Lose My Life’, ‘The Price of Love’, and the morosely appealing, ‘Death’.

Come mid-afternoon, it seemed the whole place was buzzing with talk of Friendly Fires. It was interesting to see that while Kisschasey were playing the Supertop to a reasonably sized crowd, the Mix Up tent was overflowing with FF fans. Rightly so, they performed brilliantly live, with just the right level of showmanship, minus the tacky ‘rock star’ element, and exceptional live vocals. The best song of the set had to be, ‘Skeleton Boy’.

A little later on, before Doves hit the Supertop, and Decoder Ring got the Mix Up tent dancing, a sea of people were gathering for Bob Evans’ set at the GW McLennan tent in the chill out centre of the festival. Evans was lively, talkative and funny, and played extremely well considering he admitted to being stinking drunk. The set list, which many swayed absently to from the lawns, included ‘Hand Me Downs’ and ‘Pasha Bulker’ off his latest release, ‘Goodnight Bull Creek!’

At this point of the night, I decided to check out the ‘Tent of Miracles’, because it all sounded so damn intriguing. Just as curiosity killed the cat, I left not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The ‘three act’ play, (which went for 15 minutes) consisted of a Chinese Virgin Mary with a visible ball-sack, an angry Scotsman swearing at the audience, and a toothless stripper. Plus, just for good measure, a Santa who’s into sodomy, and more ball and butt flashing. Walking, nay, running, from the place, I headed through the Tipi Forest, where Deegs’ techno Backstreet Boys remix was dividing the crowd in two, and found Grinspoon working the Supertop. A large crowd screamed lyrics to various grungy, well-known hits, like ‘Champion’, ‘Chemical Heart’, as well as ‘DCX3 (Dead Cat)’, which went off, as they hadn’t performed the song in ten years.

Next up in the Supertop were indie-electro poster boys, MGMT. Being in the front section of the tent felt like having the life sucked out of you; it was packed, as was the area outside the tent, and the vibe was intense. The audience was clearly familiar with most of MGMT’s offerings, screaming, cheering, sweating, and moshing (yes, to MGMT) all at the appropriate moments. They delivered crowd favourites like, ‘Time to Pretend’, ‘The Youth’, ‘The Handshake’, ‘Electric Feel’, and ‘Kids’, although the latter produced such loud screaming of lyrics from fans that the actual audio was barely audible. While it was a fun set, the band themselves said no more than two words to the crowd, and didn’t seem to be as into their music as the audience. I was off to catch Josh Pyke in the GW McLennan tent - but not before being crushed in a stampede leaving MGMT.

I found a relatively big crowd holding up the front to see Josh Pyke, and more arriving to catch the end. Pyke expressed his gratitude to the crowd for choosing him over Hilltop Hoods, who were by then playing the Mix Up tent. I don’t think he needed to thank anyone for staying along; his delivery was gorgeous, and his sweet tunes, ‘Middle of the Hill’, ‘Make You Happy’, and ‘The Summer’, were the perfect wind down after a day of dancing, laying on the grass, with your feet up and a smile on your face. I almost didn’t want to get up for The Flaming Lips...almost.

While U.S Alt-rockers The Flaming Lips drew a smaller crowd than Bloc Party, and perhaps MGMT, they gave a solid, energetic and time perfected performance, including a number of winning tracks. Fans were showered in confetti and falling balloons during the show, which wasn’t surprising given the band were once named in Q Magazine’s ’50 Bands to See Before You Die’ for their outlandish and elaborate sets and props. At one stage front man, Wayne Coyne got inside a giant bubble to crowd surf. The effects were visually amazing, the sound aurally so, and the overall experience, doubly so. Hits included, ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, ‘Do You Realize?’ and ‘She Don‘t Use Jelly’, and even though the crowd was clearly filled with Flaming Lips fans, you didn’t have to own their entire back catalogue to be amazed at their performance. While most revellers were rushing to make the last buses home at the end of their set, others with seemingly infinite energy managed to party on in the Jager Cube and Tipi Forest.
Until next year, Splendour!
By Anna Angel

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