Splendour in the Grass. The seminal Australian music festival had been on my bucket list for a while now, and with this year’s lineup being Britpop-heavy, I acquiesced. (Unlike many others – this year didn’t sell out in record time, as has been the case in the past. Whether this is due to the apparently underwhelming list of acts or the hefty price tag of ~$500 is anyone’s guess).
Today’s hit list included James Blake (who is my future husband, he just doesn’t know it yet), The Hives and Kanye West. Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised with the relatively hassle-free entrance, perhaps due to the fact we weren’t camping, and it was pretty early. I was expecting the prolonged crush that awaits patrons outside the Big Day Out, and I am pleased to report it was not like that at all.
After a quick wander around, checking out the random, hippy stalls (a week later I am still shaking the sugar out of my clothes from the Byron Bay organic donuts) we make our way to the Amphitheatre to see British Sea Power – a band I am not aware of but have been told are ‘alright’. And they are, as are the sprightly fellows of Jinja Safari. That’s what I love about these festivals – you are exposed in a very visceral way to music you probably wouldn’t have bothered with at home.
I was going to check out Illy in the mix up tent (as I had interviewed him earlier in the year), but scheduling issues meant my ass stayed parked on our patch of grass at the Amphitheatre. Jebediah were pretty great (hearing Leaving Home, reminded me of my youth *sigh*), as were The Kills. Checked out a bit of James Blake nee Rehder, and then wandered over the GW McLennan Tent for a bit of Boy and Bear action, and caught the last bit of Warpaint, who encouraged everybody to “connect, and breathe with each other”. Yeah okay.... A feed (surprisingly not bad – I had envisioned horrendous carny scran, but the chicken Panini went down a treat) and then we make our way over to the main stage for the big acts. Modest Mouse – eh, alright. To be fair, they are probably good at the pub, but when you are performing on the big stage, you gotta rise to the occasion, and I personally thought they were a bit weak. And then, The Hives. I must preface this by saying that I was a fan before, but after their show, I am going to devote much of my next years on this Earth as being their groupie. They were, in musical parlance, fucking awesome. I’ve read somewhere that The Hives are being touted as the best live act around at the moment, and I couldn’t agree more. They were funny, interactive with the audience, and their set was loud – everything a good act does when they are on the big stage. Their set was a belter. And now Kanye. I need a moment.
Okay, I’m back.
First off, I had seen the video of Kanye’s performance at Coachella this year and so I thought maybe, just maybe, he might bring it to Splendour. (Click here for his Coachella performance). I am delighted to report he did, and then some. The ballerinas, the pyrotechnics, the entrance atop a spire amidst wind machines; it was all there, in its outrageous, profligate glory. Yes it was over-the-top, and yes some would point and laugh at the audacity of a man who put an artistic alfresco as his backdrop, but you know what? Fuck the haters. Every single person who was at the Amphitheatre was on their feet for the entire show, and he held us in his hand. From the opening number of Power, to Goldigger, big tune All of the Lights, and then finishing it off with Hey Mama, he slayed us all. For me, that was worth the price of the ticket alone.
Sidenote – I am totally kicking myself for not seeing Gotye, and news that the show at the Powerhouse in October has just sold out has made me quite inconsolable. On to Saturday.
Saturday was more chilled. Late start, got there just in time to see Kele, who is the lead singer of the Bloc Party (I’m a mental fan), but was performing at Splendour as a solo act. I actually went in to the mosh pit for this show, and I’m so glad I did. Big number Tenderoni was so good to see close up, and when he played This Modern Life I sort of had to pinch myself. A young lad behind me burst into tears when Kele left the stage “he’s been such an inspiration for me, in my life”. Not sure what exactly that was all about, but nevertheless, nice to see someone ‘enjoying’ themselves as well.
The Grates were next, and they were pretty great (groan). A short spell at Architecture in Helsinki in the Mix-Up, and then on to the GW for Gomez. Gomez were cool, and as my friend says “I like them because they are real musicians”. Definitely downloading (I mean – buying their album now). One of the reasons I wanted to come to Splendour this year is performing next, her only show of the year. The incomparable Regina Spektor. I have a real affinity for piano acts, especially when it is stripped bare. And I loved it. I have read a few bits and pieces here and there that a lot of people didn’t like it “too many mistakes, bad sound quality”. Oh well, I guess opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one, just not all are pretty. I will gladly admit that I teared up a bit during Blue Lips. We walked back to our car 1.5 hours later feeling lighter, with the strains of Pnau’s Be My Embrace Now wafting from the Mix up tent into the trees.
Sunday. Britpop Day. Mad innit.
But first, some French dance from Yelle. To be honest, I thought I would be the only one in the Mix up tent to this Frenchie, but far from it – it’s packed. And she really draws the crowd in. I will say that I was probably the only one who knew the words to Je Veux Te Voir, but that was to be expected. The rest of the day is spent on the grass at the Amphitheatre, for The Vaccines, Cloud Control (during this set an impromptu dance party started at the ‘top’ of the Amphitheatre, which resulted in a weird conundrum of not taking notice of the band, but watching these mentals getting jiggy with it). The Vines are up next, and play crowd favourite Get Outta Tha Way, and then do a cover of Outkast’s Miss Jackson. The crowd (myself included) provide the backing vocals in the chorus (Wooh!)
Elbow was next, and showed their years of festival experience, engaging the crowd with Freddy Mercuryesque ‘sing-with-me’ stuff. Positive vibes aplenty. Kaiser Chiefs killed it, with a really high-energy rock’n’roll performance. And then Pulp. I need another moment.
I first got into Pulp, and I suppose Britpop during the Halcyon mid-90’s years, when Blur, Suede, Oasis, Texas etc were big. The song that planted the seed was of course Common People. It had that hook, of really ‘saying something’ which sort of transforms your life when you are a nebulous 15 year old, and opens you up to different ways of thinking, etc. The start of an ongoing love affair, with British bands, Pulp, and particularly Jarvis Cocker *swoon*. I had similar reactions to Underwear and Disco 2000, and thank fuck he played all 3 songs. Lemme just say, that Jarvis Cocker is the coolest cat of all the cool cats, and if this set was the only time I get to see them play in the my entire life, I am okay with that. I did laugh however, when my Brit friend was a peeved that he had changed the word Hampshire (her hometown) in Sorted for E's and Whizz "bloody Brisbane my arse."
Headliner Coldplay were next, and showed why they sell out arenas; big tunes, big screens, big fireworks. Special moments were had when the entire amphitheatre was singing along to Yellow. They encored with Clocks, which segued in a bit of ‘they try to make me go to Rehab’, and then “Fix You” (written for Gwyneth, who was so distraught with her father’s death and Chris couldn’t ‘fix her’ – aww).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Splendour. Given the amount of people who are crammed into a relatively small space, it seemed to run reasonably well. The rain that had been threatening for days stayed away, and despite the copious drinking, there wasn’t the ‘aggro’ that seems to be omnipresent at Big Day Out’s. In terms of fashion, it seems Reality Bites is back, and Tyler the Creator chic was in for a few of the fellas – Hawaiian shirts and long socks. As well as that ‘lumberjack hipster look’ – full beard, check shirt, black square glasses (that Jarvis Cocker has been wearing forever, mind) and tatts. For anyone umming and ahhing over whether to go or not, I would say that I think that if you are a music lover, you should go to Splendour at least once. Sure it’s expensive (2 cokes and dagwood dog for $18), and dusty, but it’s definitely an experience. And check your attitude – I will never understand those punters who want to squeeze the lemon, who stand around the edges of the stage and slag off the act – come on, as Elbow said, “have a good time and look after each other. “
“nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass” – William Wordsworth.