Live Review: Splendour In The Grass 2012

More Splendour In The Grass More Splendour In The Grass

After a couple of years at Woodfordia there's an inevitable element of déjà vu returning to Splendour In The Grass at Belongil Fields, and when the heavens open mid-afternoon on the first day and spew forth a torrent of rain and hail we're reminded of the mud that so often dominates proceedings here. Somehow the weather stays fine for the remainder of the weekend and a cracking time is had by all. Here are just a few of the weekend's myriad highlights:


Kicking things off at the GW McClennan tent, Melbourne's Chet Faker draws in the crowds like bees to a honeypot, playing to his biggest crowd yet, laying down his mellow, chilled-out beats and sweet melodies from his EP, Thinking In Textures, which perfectly resonate with the occasion. Finishing up his set with his own rendition of Blackstreet's No Diggity, it has everybody feeling the groove.

Devonshire surfer lad, Ben Howard opens his set under the Friday mid-afternoon sun rather surprisingly with his sombre Oats In The Water. From then on he kicks up the intensity with The Wolves, getting the crowd to back him up. His hair-tingling howling opens up the skies, from where mid-set rain and hail bucket down, which only adds to the mood – but leads to that infamous mud.

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Over at the Supertop the massive storm has done local duo DZ Deathrays a huge favour, ensuring that the huge tent is packed to capacity with people avoiding the deluge as the pair go through their frenetic paces. It's hard to tell how many people are here to see the band and who's here to stay dry, but as they smash out a succession of party bangers like No Sleep and Dollar Chills, it's obvious that they're winning over a heap of converts.

Emma Louise may look diminutive onstage but her sweet voice shines through as she opens with an ethereal a cappella before the stunning Al's Song. Playing new single, Boy, early, the dedicated crowd is captivated enough to stick with her through the dirgy keys and smacking percussion of Cages until the obligatory uproar signals the pulsating introduction of Jungle.

From the first chords of opener I'll Get Along, Michael Kiwanuka is in cruise control and provides the perfect complement for the day's declining sun. Over a backing band that is gentle in their stride, his smooth vocals are carried throughout the tent with a crystal-like clarity that delivers gentle touches of hope and sorrow along the way.

Introducing themselves as Jack White, Howler offer a rollicking mid-afternoon set. Whilst it takes a while for the quartet to warm to the occasion, Brent Mayes' rifle-shot drumming and a basketball jersey and sunglasses-clad Jordan Gatesmith sneering with a reckless swagger has the crowd in thrall. Too Much Too Blood is a particularly strong counterpoint to their indie rock shtick, while a beautiful cover of Husker Du's Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely is a welcome surprise.

Kate Miller-Heidke looks resplendent in a sequined red dress as she launches into the poptastic Words, though the set feels a little flat until her four band members gather centre-stage mid-set for a quick little ditty where she sings: “Someone's drawn a penis on a poster of my band” in typically irreverent style. The highlight comes with the hilarious medley of Eminem's The Real Slim Shady and Kanye's Monster, showing off Miller-Heidke's vocal acrobatic ability, and when placed in a set including the beautifully sad Sarah and Last Day On Earth, exhibits the full breadth of her talent.

The Shins are no strangers to these parts and their set beautifully mixes the classics with newer fare from latest album, Port Of Morrow. The gang ramp up the instrumentation as far as they can take it, providing highlights such as a Beatles-esque instrumental sojourn through Saint Simon, a soporific Mine's Not A High Horse and an exuberant So Says I. By the time the final strains of New Slang ring out, the crowd is hypnotised.

Over at the GW McLennan Stage a small but enthralled crowd have gathered to see the first ever appearance in these parts by seminal US alternative heroes The Afghan Whigs, and they're not disappointed. Frontman Greg Dulli is in scintillating form, leading his stately and elegant band through a bevy of classic tunes, tracks such as I'm Her Slave and Gentlemen captivating in the extreme. It's beautiful and powerful in equal doses, and they even find time to cover Frank Ocean's Love Crimes before Debonair raises the bar once more. Brilliant.

After the opening pulses of Arcarsenal escape the stage, At The Drive-In erupt into their furious brand of song and dance, and simultaneously burst the anxious-anticipation born of their 11-year absence. Cedric Bixler-Zavala shrieks and flails across the stage throughout, while Omar Rodríguez-López stands motionless with eyes fixed on the thrashing of time-keeper Tony Hajjar. Some of the sharpness and brutality of their assault seems lost on the large stage, however, a thrilling rendition of Quarantined goes some way to neutralising this effect. And by the time One Arm Scissor brings the set to its climatic close, the transmission is sent loud and clear.      

Texas post-rock quartet Explosions In The Sky “can't help you with the mud, but grab somebody close and we'll help you get warm” – and, boy, truer words were never spoken. From go to whoa, through the crescendos, decrescendos, lifts, drops, ebbs and flows of EITS' lush, complex instrumental rock, it's easy to tell that all in attendance are simply enthralled by every single technically perfect note. The Birth And Death Of The Day, Your Hand In Mine and finale, Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean, are all particularly sublime, but then, really, the entire performance is.

Jack White starts off his headline set with his male band in tow and all bombastic, channelling his inner Led Zep as he intersperses solo material such as Missing Pieces with older tunes such as The White Stripes' Hello Operator. At the halfway mark the men leave and suddenly White is surrounded by sensuous ladies, the mood still rocking but instantly more refined as they move onto the classic Hotel Yorba and The Saboteurs' Top Yourself. The opening notes of Seven Nation Army sends the packed tent into raptures, and the communal celebration ends with White surrounded by both bands, taking a huge group bow to wrap up proceedings on day one.


Gold Coast brats Bleeding Knees Club brazenly confirm that they've come a long way since their slacker inception. The most impressive thing about the brace of frenetic punk rock tracks is that they're tight and driven with purpose, an inimitably good thing. Highlights include sneering tracks Problem Child and Rachel (Is A Slut), whilst the boys get some very keen female punters up to sing the chorus of Girls Can Do Anything. A band growing in ability and confidence.

Hoo-boy, we hope you brought your dancing gumboots, because Dublin-based math-poppers The Cast Of Cheers are here to get your bodies moving in ways you didn't even know they could. All angular, technical guitar, precision loop pedals and almost epileptic bodywork, the pale-skinned foursome bring a sense of fun and vitality to proceedings. Sure, the well-known Family goes off, but it's songs like Human Elevator and Goose that are more engaging musically and thus a little more rewarding in the grand scheme of things. Top stuff all round, though.

The last-minute sickness of a member isn't enough to stop Brisbane's Mosman Alder from making a powerful impression. Their fill-in keyboardist does well to transition into the fold, and the dynamic six-piece holds strong to deliver their emotive and thought-provoking blend of rock. Latest single, Raisin Heart, shines bright amongst a potent set that sees them playing to their strengths and making the most out of the band's multiple singing talents. 

Brisbane lads Last Dinosaurs are not-too-long home from a European tour and it's clear that their time abroad has given them a newfound confidence, as though they've come to terms with the idea that they just might be cut out for this kind of thing. They appear super at-home in front of the main stage's audience, launching straight into the well-received Time & Place and stopping for nary a breath as they belt out their jangly, hook-laden tunes, all the way through to old favourite Honolulu and new favourite Zoom.

Here We Go Magic treat an intimate crowd to an alluring set of pop songs with psych and Krautrock leanings that are as hypnotic as they are fun. Make Up Your Mind lays the groove down early, with the incongruous crunch of organ an eccentric delight. Hard To Be Close and Tunnelvision offer upbeat jams, juxtaposed by the funky jangle of I Believe In Action. They finish strongly with the bouncy How Do I Know.

English rockers, Band of Skulls, smash it up at the Supertop, drawing in the late afternoon crowds. As darkness draws in, the tempo rises, making the band's clattering drums and massive authentic riffs all the more awe-inspiring, especially when it comes to their big singles I Know What I Am and The Devil Takes Care of His Own , with which they finish their set.

A great songwriter and musical talent, Ladyhawke unfortunately just doesn't have any vibe in a live setting – she doesn't even seem to notice the crowd in front of her as she bangs through Back Of The Van, Black White And Blue and Paris Is Burning with her four-piece band. New single, Love Don't Live Here, is deliciously fuzzy but her lack of movement makes it difficult to not go spend time in the toilet queue instead.

A relatively massive crowd has assembled to witness grunge stalwarts Mudhoney, and the four-piece are in caustic mood from the get-go, frontman Mark Arm looking lean and aloof as he smashes out tunes such as Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More and F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers). The classic Touch Me (I'm Sick) elicits some old school moshing, while Suck You Dry gets fists pumping and the dirgy When Tomorrow Hits shows a different side to the veteran performers.

Perth psych troubadours Tame Impala walk out to a packed Supertop and launch into a set that leans heavily on Innerspeaker whilst offering some pieces of what's to come on their imminent follow up. It's clear from the crowd's reception that the band have really made an impression, yet there's something missing from their live performance that would help these great songs transcend their recorded template. It is an efficient performance, but one wishes they'd truly let go.

Gliding ethereally onto the stage wearing a wedding dress complete with veil and flowers, Lana Del Ray is certainly a sight to behold, but will she back up the hype? The beautiful songstress opens with Blue Jeans as elegant images of ballet, clouds and beach holidays show off her full production. Without percussion though, by the time she gets to a mournful rendition of Born To Die, it's all very same samey. Her cover of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box drags, though the mass singalong of Video Games is hair-raising.   

To sum up Miike Snow in one word – amazing. The Swedish trio open with a massive intro, before unleashing their electro-pop grooves across the packed Supertop. The hour-long set features songs spanning all their albums, laden with crowd favourites such as Burial, Silvia to Devil's Work and Paddling Out. The incredibly energetic set draws to a close with no less than Animal, of course, which is followed by rapturous applause.

Curtains shroud the Dirty Three, who waste no time launching into a truly iconic set. Ringleader Warren Ellis flails about like a malevolent scarecrow, ranting interminably between songs, but such madness never supersedes the trio's majestic dynamics though, as they swing between newer tracks like The Pier and classics like Restless Waves. Whilst Ellis conjures magic from his violin, the growing prominence of Jim White behind the skins increases the impact of their songs. Mick Turner, as always, remains their core, ensuring that their wilder moments stay in check. Finishing with a blistering rendition of Sue's Last Ride, Dirty Three reinforce their iconic place in Australian – nay, global – musical history, the dotted line signed in their own feverish blood.

Returning for their fourth Splendour, it's clear that Bloc Party are no strangers to this crowd as their arrival sparks an unparalleled celebration en masse. They're mighty tight and their sound is near faultless, with even the more busy compositions coming across marvellously in the mix. The energy hits peak after peak with gems like Mercury, Hunting For Witches and Banquet, to name but a few, providing delicious tastes from each album. Kele seduces the crowd with his between-song banter, but ultimately it's the epic set of treasured songs that forms the bond across this vast crowd. 


The opening strums from The Medics set a fascinatingly dark and brooding tone, layered with additional drumming from guitarist Andy Thomson that pierce like gunshots before the sweet vocal contradiction of Golden Bear. Continuing with Beggars, the energetic four-piece show their knack for pulling off big, epic rock melodies with quieter, clear-riffed moments. Running out of time, there's no Joseph in their set, though the tension of Griffin makes for an apt set closer. 

Melbourne's Husky are on early, humbly setting up their own stage at the GW McClennan tent – which is pretty much full of punters who looked like they've seen better days. Husky's tender, chilled-out acoustic performance is perfectly apt. Opening up with Tidal Wave, before breaking mid-set into a piano solo, which mesmerises the audience, the Victorian four-piece eventually bring things to an end with singles The Woods and History's Door.

London's Zulu Winter do their best to energise the by-now ailing crowds, who seem to be succumbing somewhat to the inevitable fatigue brought on over the course of the weekend. That sense disappears, though, as an infectious atmosphere takes over, vocalist Will Daunt endearing himself to us with his everyman-style banter (“this is the first festival I've ever gotten sunburnt at… Why are you clapping? That's not cool!”). He's rewarded by a lift in enthusiasm that sees the masses appreciatively sway and groove along to catchy compositions such as We Should Be Swimming, Let's Move Back To Front and People That You Must Remember.

Django Django have their sights clearly set on some fun as they arrive sporting a uniform of matching T-shirts. An uplifting string of melodies is carried across a feast of percussive playfulness as they run through selections from their eponymous album and the ever pleasant B-side, Skies Over Cairo. A daytime set may come as a curse for some, but for these Scottish lads it's a chance to work in unison with the uplifting energies of the steaming Aussie winter sun.

Wielding a golf club, Ball Park Music frontman Sam Cromack swings onto stage and surprises the crowd by connecting with an exploding golf ball and moving into a ripping version of iFly. “You're giving me a serious boner and it's very embarrassing so don't look,” he says to a packed tent whilst expertly guiding the outfit, Jarvis Cocker-style, through the super-fun Rich People Are Stupid and the beautifully sensitive Alligator. Every move takes the five-piece up a level, including the wonderfully chosen cover of the Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons hit, Oh, What A Night – oh, what a set.

Ex-Fleet Foxes skinsman Father John Misty belies the idiosyncratic nature of his album to turn in a stellar set. All gangly frame and thrusting hips, he's a flamboyant showman, and he and his band race through stellar renditions of his eccentric and ramshackle take on Americana. This Is Sally Hatchet and Nancy From Now On are received warmly, yet it's the brilliant, rousing epic, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, that resonates the most.

What to say about New York alt-rock/indie-pop outfit fun.? Frontman Nate Ruess has an amazingly powerful voice with an equally impressive register, so due credit there. He simply soars above the (not exactly quiet) audience singers during Why Am I The One?, All The Pretty Girls and, of course, their somewhat boring radio single, We Are Young, which actually turns out to have a tremendous energy in the live arena and is admittedly a pretty catchy tune.

As the sun slowly goes down, Canadian band Metric make their way onstage, graced with the presence of a massive crowd, returning the favour with their iconic sound. Scuzzy riffs, thunderous drums and Emily's rock-goddess-like voice rumble across the Supertop as they smash through their back catalogue. Midway through their set, however, they suffer a power outage, thankfully returning shortly afterwards with Emily simply saying, “It's gonna do that,” before belting out Gold Gun Girls as if nothing had happened.

Any doubts about whether Azealia Banks can live up to the hype are immediately squashed as she storms the stage and spits her rapid-fire lyrical provocations over her DJ's stock of bludgeoning beats. New cut, Jumanji, is outrageously infectious in its live incarnation, but before things have barely had the chance to get carried away her set is sadly interrupted by technical problems and the stage is abandoned to the care of her two smartly-clad backing dancers. When Azealia returns she announces her final track, and in all its gloriousness, 212 is dropped with a violent fervour that communicates the frustration behind the fate of her only Australian show.  

Splendour is nothing without its Britpop, and 2012's quota is filled by The Kooks. They deliver a punchy set that covers the new (Rosie) alongside “classic” fare such as Sofa Song, Ooh La and Junk Of The Heart (Happy). There are strong moments, especially the heftier tracks like Sway and perennial crowd-pleaser Naive, but when the set being interrupted by a reveller climbing up a pole becomes the highlight, it underlines how perfunctory and by-the-numbers this set is.

With new album, Oceania, to plug, The Smashing Pumpkins don't indulge in the nostalgia set many were looking forward to, though they get in enough '90s favourites, including Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Zero, to keep most happy. Billy Corgan is comfortable as hell with his new lineup, a point proven by a perfect, spine-tingling rendition of Today. Though 1979 sounds tired, as does Tonight, Tonight with its string section backing track, Cherub Rock is vicious and urgent. Once Corgan shows his guitar hero skills in Bowie's Space Oddity, the set ends with a drawn out, screaming version of X.Y.U., the towering frontman visibly moved by the support as he lingers on stage in a cloud of feedback.

So there you have it, yet another Splendour is a raging success despite the elements. Not sure yet where the festival will be held yet next year, but if the lineup is this strong again it doesn't really matter where it's held…