Thursday, 2 August 2012

Live Review: Splendour In The Grass 2012

Another year, another Splendour In The Grass and yet another year where I find myself recovering from too much alcohol, nicotine, sun and time spent on my feet. Was it worth it? I keep going back, so I guess that answers the question.
After the previous two years where SITG found a new home in Woodford just West of Caboolture QLD, the event returned to its spiritual home of Byron Bay and in particular the Belongil Fields. Here’s hoping the organisation can sort out the much publicised purchase of the block of land four kilometres west of Bryon as, in my opinion, Belongil has just about run its course.
Not only was the North Beach Campsite commute a ball-ache for campers (despite the free buses) but the seating for punters inside the venue was sparse and almost non-existent. Even without Friday’s pissing exhibition displayed from the heights above, many would’ve found it difficult to find space in order to take some weight off.
The organisers have said in the past that they attempt to progress the show. Line-up aside, I think they had the venue spot on for the previous two years, even if by accident and not design. Some things happen for a reason. A site like Woodford was made for an event of SITG’s magnitude. And it only gets used once a year for the Woodford Folk Festival. A complete waste and those of you who can relate will agree. The Amphitheatre alone is one of the finest live outdoor venues in this country, yet we fail to utilise its greatness.
Anyway, enough of the logistics. We go to these events for music and although the line-up was patchy at best, I find that such circumstances are a nice ingredient to add to the whole festival experience. You can spend time at your campsite inhaling the vibe as opposed to running around from stage to stage seeing bands all day.

More often than not Friday is the biggest day on Splendour’s bill. This year proved no different. Youth Lagoon played to a rather large crowd which grew even larger midway through their set due to the heavens opening up and turning the site into a mud bath for the remainder of the weekend. A nice set to start the day and the only act I saw until attempting to line-up for The Shins. That didn’t work, due to sinking in mud. Needless to say I wasn't left heartbroken, as I find their new album is rather average.
The GW McLennan stage never fails with quality. Over the years I’ve been wowed by great performances by the likes of Broken Social Scene, Band of Horse and Mogwai. The Afghan Whigs are well and truly added to this list and in fact now stand on top of it. Greg Duli’s soul boy essence was the perfect foil for blues licks and white noise delivered from Rick McCollum and Dave Rosser, respectively. The latter's inclusion into the band has added an extra dimension to their live performance, with Duli obviously impressed with Rosser's work in his other band, The Twilight Singers. This was easily my set of the year, as The Afghans’ tore through classics off “Gentlemen” (title track and ‘Debonair”, "1965" (‘Crazy’, ‘66’) and “Black Love” (‘Crime Scene Part 1’, ‘My Enemy’). As close to flawless as I’ve seen since Mogwai played the same stage at the same festival 12 months prior.
Explosions In The Sky capped off a brilliant day, taking its audience into a happy place, knocking out elegance such as ‘Your Hand in Mine’ and the brilliant ethereal, ‘The Moment When We’re Alone’. It was as if I floated back to the campsite on Friday night, thanks to the adorable Texans.
Saturday was cruisy, mainly because of the anticipation for a band I'd never seen.  Mudhoney lived up to my expectations, blasting out a set of hits. They stole the show and again this happened at the GW McLennan tent, as they ripped out classics such as ‘In and Out of Grace’, ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ and the face melting closer (and a personal favourite), ‘Hate the Police’. Mark Arm, like Iggy Pop, minus the leather, pranced around the stage for the second half of the set letting the vitriolic toxins flow from his body. Slacker grunge riff-o-rolla at its optimum.

If Mark Arm was a highlight, then Lana Del Rey was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The less said the better however all was lost when she held a knife to the throat of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”. Her beats were substituted for a white grand piano that would've looked better off in Elton John’s lounge room. Need I say more?
Dirty Three are just about the best band to come out of this country in the last twenty years. Warren Ellis is quite simply a king; Jim White’s not far behind and in saying that, neither is Mick Turner. Ellis’ in-between song-banter is the finest going around and perhaps the finest that’s ever been, as he conjured yarns pertaining to Bono’s bizarre love triangle with Gina Rinehart and Paul McCartney, eventually digressing to a Bunnings Warehouse in Port Macquarie. They were similar anecdotes to the ones he delivered earlier in the year when the band toured, but it never became dull. The world doesn’t produce Warren Ellis’ anymore and I’m quite content about this fact. The most gorgeous moment in their set was when the pace slowed for "Toward he Low Sun’s" great ‘Ashen Snow’, which then bled into Ocean Songs'" closing track, ‘Ends of the Earth’, two songs destined for weddings and funerals for long time D3 fans all throughout Australia. The rendition of ‘Sue’s Last Ride’ was physically staining for the crowd who decided to stay and fend off the cold (many probaly wished they could’ve had Warren’s bear-like jacket, which was also the butt of a joke from the bearded "lord"). Saturday complete.
Sunday was Sunday, tired frames battling mud and hangovers dragged themselves for one last dance with Australia’s premier camping festival. Django Django made it worth it, feeding off their Beta Band pastiche to render some dance rock delight for those willing to listen. It created a good atmosphere, which was made all the better from my campsite neighbour and friend, Sam, who continually wigged out to their sounds wearing a Flash Comic Superhero outfit. Brilliant.

The Kooks didn’t fill me with any great enthusiasm, but not many Soccer Am bands do. The crowd dug them, so maybe I’m missing something?
The Smashing Pumpkins were the last band of the festival, the headline act of the Sunday and the only headliner I got to see (due to clashes, plus those wondering about At The Drive-In, see a previous post on this blog; that opinion hasn’t changed). Okay, so Billy Corgan is a dubious character. I could use stronger words but will refrain. However the dubious character was one of my biggest heroes’ way back when. Rather than bore you with reasons as to why he was held in such esteem, I’ll bore you with the fact that he and his band put on a damn good show. Whether I can class it as a 'good' or 'surprising' may hold some debate, but I'm going with the former for now. Along with ‘Zero’ ‘Today’, ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, ‘Tonight Tonight’ and ‘Ava Adore’, the new material sounded tight. ‘The Celestial’ is the best song off their new album, “Oceania” and Corgan delivered it with aplomb, as he did with the album’s title track. I’m a little suspect on the song titles, though. Isis vibes, anyone? I’ll leave that alone for now.

All said and done, Splendour is Splendour. If you have a bad time at this festival you’re obviously not trying hard enough. There’s a vibe at this festival. It’s hard to explain but it’s there. Having now been to this festival seven times, no matter what kind of crowd it attracts that vibe doesn’t waver. For all my objections about the venue earlier in this piece, there’s no escaping the fact that irrespective of where this event is held in the future, Splendour In The Grass will always be Splendour In The Grass.
By Simon K.