Live Review: Splendour In The Grass

1 August 2012 | 4:49 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

Free Berocca Twist’n’Gos are a smashing idea and promise to “enhance your day” into the bargain.

More Tame Impala More Tame Impala

Organisers need to change this festival's name to Splendour In The Mud, already! En route to the site via the carpark entrance you can hear frogs merrily ribbiting away in the puddles that have sprung up as a result of much local rainfall throughout the preceding week. Free Berocca Twist'n'Gos are a smashing idea and promise to “enhance your day” into the bargain.

This year's triple j Splendour In The Grass competition winners Kingswood provide cranking sounds to open the Supertop and the yoof radio station's The Doctor is invited onstage for a jam. He's wearing a rainbow tie-dye t-shirt and loves it up there. So that's how you get guaranteed j radio play! It has to be said Kingswood do own their slot, though. Should go far.

With drink tokens in tow and established bearings, we head to the GW McLennan Tent for the electronic soul-fest that is Chet Faker. The crowd kookaburra in day one excitement and revel in hits Terms And Conditions and I'm Into You, a tune that oozes one hell of an addictive, earthy beat. Vocals akin to Dave Hosking ripple through the tent before Faker, aka Nick Murphy, ends the set with a cover of Blackstreet's No Diggity, with the buzz lingering long after he leaves.

Next up in Supertop are Pond and some of the band members warm up sidestage with a bit of spontaneous frisbee. Wow, Joe Ryan's 'fro truly is a work of art. All equipment is brought in close and set up downstage centre. This instrument-swapping band of multi-instrumentalists have come along leaps and bounds during Tame Impala's downtime and Jay Watson takes on lead vocals for one song. Enigmatic frontman Nick Allbrook's treating what ails him by swigging cough syrup straight from the bottle, but sadly doesn't play his flute today. You Broke My Cool is a standout and Fantastic Explosion Of Time perfectly sums up this occasion. “Thanks for giving us so much love, muthafuckers!” Watson extols before the band play a brand new track, which is heavier than their previous output. Pond's closer is a “short version”, which still clocks in at six(ish) minutes.

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Ominous clouds and a skull backdrop make for chilling suspense in the minutes leading up to DZ Deathrays' performance. The rockers pound through a set of thrashing guitar licks and vigorous beats before they're left to compete with the rain downpour. The crowd scuttle in from every corner to the tent's sweaty warmth until the area is swelling with bodies, a type of exposure that this band most definitely deserve. The mosh pit goes wild above a muddy slosh before the sun's timely arrival.

Melbourne duo Big Scary announce it's the biggest gig they've ever played, but you wouldn't know it. The chemistry of the duo is explosive as they smash out indie hits Mix Tape, Leaving Home, Bad Friends and new psychedelic song Belgium Blues. Lead singer Tom Iansek swaps grins with bandmate Jo Syme and the crowd, who sing along to just about every chorus with gusto before a sea of phones charge in the air for closing hit Gladiator.

Big ups to the random blonde lady invited up onstage during Howler who keeps yelling indecipherable shit into the mic and then dances like a crazy bitch, avoiding multiple security guards who try to remove her from the Supertop stage.

Over in the Mix Up Tent, Nice & Ego – a DJ/AV mash-up act in the same vein as Sampology – utilise segments from films such as This Is Spinal Tap and School Of Rock while also typing live messages to us that appear, in real time, on the giant screens. Underworld's Born Slippy is mashed up with Scribe's Not Many and an earlier inclusion of Cold As Ice by Foreigner brings smiles to dials. Behind the duo, members of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble peer through the curtains, sussing out their future crowd.

The band of brothers should probably have opened with a number showcasing their rap majesty for this festival appearance – they're a bit slow off the mark. Some ensemble members have plastic bags tied around their kicks in an attempt to protect them from the mud. The set really comes to life from War, which features on The Hunger Games soundtrack. “We take you outta economy and put you in first class,” one MC promises. The lighting operator is then instructed to turn out all the lights so we can “turn this place into a space ship” by waving mobile phones in unison. From this point onwards, HBE are off the chart with all present put through their paces: call and responses, directions to squat and then jump up for unison pogoing – they sure do “get the party started”. And we're spent! At set's end, the Ensemble jump into the photographer's pit and front row fans are treated to high-fives and hugs.

After heaving our bodies against the current of Shins fans heading to the Supertop, we arrive at the GW just as Lanie Lane graces the stage. Lane's style of country, blues, and spaghetti western twang during Oh Well, That's What You Get For Falling In Love With A Cowboy is a valuable addition to the line-up of mainly rock and dance acts, and one the couples in the crowd relish. Thrown into the mix is an impressive duet with Spiderbait's Kram.

Ohio six-piece The Afghan Whigs look monochromatic and slick, juxtaposing the mud-sodden crowd beholding them. Frontman Greg Dulli asserts himself as an alpha, fronting the band with confidence and attitude. The group start up Crime Scene Part One. Deeper in we hear I'm Her Slave before rocking out with Gentlemen. Veils of cigar smoke in the air break up the lusty green lights. The chameleon keys player wields a cello, then a violin. The sound is grinding, string-heavy and emotive. The intimate crowd grows thick. Dulli is under our skin as the punters are getting down, bouncing carefree carried by the dirt, life and sex of his lyrics.

Damn near the whole festival has rammed into the Supertop. You have to climb your neighbour to get a glimpse of Jack White. Giant lights onstage appropriate the moon; orbs cast an ice-blue wash upon White's playground. It appears he's trawled the blues bars of New Orleans for his band of the evening (all male). The set runs like a hoedown, peppered with new solo tracks off Blunderbuss tangled with well-loved White Stripes tunes. Mid-set we bid farewell to his male posse and welcome a bevy of divine female musicians to lift the show to new heights. The crowd howls and feeds off tracks such as Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground, Freedom At 21 and Seven Nation Army.

Day Two: 28/07/12

The fact that one must choose between Bleeding Knees Club and Wolf & Cub as opening sets just after midday speaks volumes about this festival's pulling power. Wolf & Cub calls ring out from Mix Up and lure us through the squelchy mud. The band have recruited ex-The Scare bassist Wade Keighran of late and he brings laid-back swag to the pack. Previously notable for their double-drum demolition, one of the band's drummers also juggles keyboard duties these days and you'd never cast these boys in a shampoo commercial. After thanking us “for coming early”, hirsute frontman Joel Byrne jokes, “and we're gonna make you cum early as well”, while his bandmates cringe. This Mess does sound orgasmic, especially with the genius inclusion of a segment of David Essex's Rock On inserted in the middle. Byrne's a superstar and needs to conquer the world stage.

Over in the Supertop tent The Cast Of Cheers liven up our lives with their infectious stage antics. A dude in the crowd decides to shout the obvious, “You're Irish!” Some of the tempos of these songs are so speedy you'd have to Riverdance just to keep up: those bass riffs are impossibly fast! Human Elevator scores nods of recognition throughout the audience and samples, drum machine plus live beats prove an intoxicating brew. Guitarist Neil Adams gets a shout-out from some smitten ladies in the crowd who then proceed to take selfies, pointing to the object of their affection in the background. The Cast Of Cheers do their own highland fling up there and are welcome to grace our stages anytime.

The sun is shining and the Supertop is full of good vibes for baby-faced act Last Dinosaurs, who perform with talent well beyond their years. The indie-disco beats swivel amid wicked lighting shows, most notably during Time And Place and their cover of Mojo's Lady (Hear Me Tonight). The banter is inaudible beneath the loud cheers and whistles from the crowd, and completely coats the song Zoom to the point where you can hardly hear anything else. These guys are bound for big things.

Trudging through the mud towards Mix Up, we hear Shihad frontman Jon Toogood enquiring from the Supertop stage, “Hands up everyone who's under 21!” before chuckling, “You look about 44, mate!” A much younger demographic make Friends. What the crap is with pretty girls thinking they can get away with dressing like nannas? Friends' frontvixen Samantha Urbani's baggie cream onesie does her absolutely no favours, somehow succeeding in making her butt look like porridge! And who's that mystery guitarist wearing what looks like a pink camo snuggie-style jumpsuit and raptor mask? He is later unmasked: it's triple j's The Doctor performing another Splendour guest appearance. Friends' lyrics echo the beliefs of many in the crowd, as confirmed by this sea of dilated pupils: “I don't need a prescription/I can change my own mood.” After identifying a jay-smoking punter in the crowd, Urbani goes over for a few tokes. I'm His Girl raises the roof and this band really are all about Urbani – stunningly beautiful and talented to boot with an undoubtedly huge future ahead of her.

The sound of Jumanji beats lure many through the muddy trudge to the GW stage for tribal-rockers Jinja Safari, who pull out all the stops for an unforgettable performance. Huge bursts of confetti and beach balls are thrown into the crowd, but the highlight is the random, hectic dancer on stage who manically flops his limbs to the fast, worldly rhythms. The gypsy mud-dancers and animal onesies unite and go wild for Mermaids, the perfect closer to an outstanding set.

The Supertop is packed out for psychedelic luminaries Tame Impala, and they kick off to a glorious start with Solitude Is Bliss. The group engage in warm banter, a refreshing addition that's more than likely due to their brief hiatus and consequent excitement to return. While Elephant goes down a treat, the set belongs to an extended version of Half Full Glass Of Wine, one that sees the crowd thrill with a collective, heart-beating clap.

Ditch any preconceptions you have on Lana Del Rey's live capabilities. She can sing. As she explores her sweet dusty vocals, you will struggle to find a more adoring crowd. Doll-like, she is a vision in a backless, mini bridal gown. She smokes periodically and haunts the stage from one ballad into the next. The standouts are as expected, her famed Blues Jeans and Video Games. We hear a gorgeous display of strings at the end of National Anthem. Del Rey is gone. The house lights come up. It's over as if it were a dream.

We're crammed impossibly tight inside the Supertop anticipating Miike Snow as a dreadlocked fellow considerately ties up his matted locks. A massive TARDIS-like contraption gradually takes shape onstage. As the houselights drop, a deafening roar goes up and The Wave washes over us. This Swedish/American conglomerate become a totally different beast live and inspire some crazy antics in the crowd: circus-style configurations hoist short-arses up in the air for enhanced viewing and one thrillseeker even scales the tent's infrastructure. Frontman Andrew Wyatt dedicates the next song to this nutter before his safe passage back down. The brilliance of Paddling Out almost prepares us for Animal. Almost. Our collective community of shapeshifters personifies this song and Wyatt's flawless falsetto unites us in an experience so beautiful we well up. The spell is immediately broken, however, as bodies surge forcefully into the tent before we're given a chance to vacate. Apparently Bloc Party still have massive pulling power.

Lead singer Kele Okereke takes the straight-up, no bullshit approach with, “Oi Splendour, no fucking around, show us what you got!” The Supertop and the whole outer perimeter is spilling with hyperactive dancers and fist-pumpers. It's a celebration of Silent Alarm songs, but no tune comes close to the crowd reaction of Banquet, as each lyric is hurled into the air. Okereke proclaims, “We're not fighters, we're lovers and dancers”, and then ends with Helicopter and all its arm-charging glory.

Over in the GW McLennan Tent, the psychedelic and instrumental Dirty Three are a festival highlight. The madman on violin and keys is Warren Ellis. Like a wizard, wild and epic, he thrashes about the stage. He's a mess of black hair and flailing limbs. The entranced crowd enjoy his brilliant rants in between songs. Mick Turner is ever composed on guitar. Jim White is a masterful drummer, punishing his kit all the while locking his eyes on Ellis. We hear songs old and new from Sue's Last Ride to The Pier. The trio form a triangle. They are blanketed by streams of colour, like that of light bursting through a stained glass window.

Day Three: 29/07/12

“This is fucking overwhelming!” says Sam Margin, lead singer of The Rubens, to which a chick a few rows in front mouths to her friend, “You're telling us!” The soulful rockers draw a strong and feverish allegiance to their 40-minute set, despite Margin being on the verge of a lost voice. His crackling vocals are surprisingly amazing and he huskily gets his way through It's You and My Gun. Solid stuff from a band who have yet to release their debut LP.

Django Django filter onto the Mix Up stage sporting matching burgundy t-shirts with large, pale blue polka dots. The British band inform us they've only been in our country about three hours. Their harmonies are spot on and sound very reminiscent of The Beach Boys live. Just how they met (or indeed became a band) when they're all from different countries and boroughs is baffling, especially considering they harmonise like siblings. There's military-precision drumming, a massive tambourine that could double as hula hoop and the lads give it their all. Skies Over Cairo and Default inspire afternoon dance-offs and these modern day Proclaimers seem such lovely chaps.

A massive crowd at Supertop appreciates Ball Park Music so we must wait until the end of their set before negotiating a decent posi for Fun. There are so many '80s influences at play here you'll scope the periphery for a time machine. Frontman Nate Ruess could be Marky Mark and Rick Astley's lovechild, vocal melodies meander as if he's making them up as he goes along and those sustained notes inspire awe. All The Pretty Girls (“on a Saturday night”) helps dudes pick up just by pointing toward the object/s of their desire and the kids belt out every single lyric. We Are Young makes us feel old though, which isn't much Fun.

The drummer of The Fleet Foxes is a man of many talents. He is J Tillman, aka Father John Misty. Bearded and paisley-clad, the lithe singer has his audience enraptured. He banters, thrusts and shimmies as though trying to lose the devil from his shoulder. The six-piece are playful and tight as they bang out songs from their recent album, Fear Fun. Misty's fingers intertwine around his skull as he sings Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings. We soak up the set of velvety folk rock – perfect foreplay for the final festival day ahead.

Metric's frontfox Emily Haines is ridiculously genetically blessed and her personal style is incredible: burgundy ankle boots with gold heels, redanza tights, black hot pants, black leather jacket with chain detail, Debbie Harry (in her prime) bouncin' and behavin' hair, gigantic neck bling and customised black guitar strap with white embossed skulls. The band's new Synthetica material nestles organically alongside old favorites such as Gold Guns Girls and it's all systems go until the power cuts out leaving only a few safety lights illuminated. After leading a slow clap-along, Metric leave the stage. Thankfully the situation is rectified after about five minutes and Haines remarks, “We broke the PA together,” before turning to her band, “Should we do this?” Once again it's all eyes on Haines and our hearts, irrespective of which way we roll, are “beating like a hammer” in her presence.

Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale owns and commands the crowd from the opening White Feather through to the closing Joker And The Thief. The set is stadium-big and the crowd roars to every guitar lift and tumbling beat that blasts through the Supertop, especially during the mash-up of White Unicorn and Pink Floyd's The Wall. Their new tune garners a mediocre response, an expected reaction from a crowd only eager to hear their favourites. With Stockdale's double-neck guitar and huge fro, it's good to see them back and rocking.

Harlem's Azealia Banks looks like ghetto Barbie. Rapunzel hair. Magazine print pants. Heels. Seasoned with an unapologetic potty mouth. Splendour is exhilarated by brutal rhymes, impressive rapping technique and talented back-up dancers. A hysterical dance riot is carrying out in the Mix Up Tent. Hoods up, people crumping and getting low. There is a sticky smell of weed and sweat as we adventure through the EP 1991. Banks closes her set with her thrilling debut single 212. Though the set is short-lived (scheduled for an hour but finishing in 30 minutes) everyone has a blast.

The '06 nostalgic magnetism of Seaside has punters swarming into the Supertop for swoony-rockers The Kooks. Fans of their debut LP Inside In/Inside Out are treated to the likes of She Moves In Her Own Way, Ohh La along with Konk hit Sway. Singer Luke Pritchard nails every vocal lilt and lives up to the charm of his lyrics before the set momentarily stops. Officials shame a pillar climber, who slinks down before Naïve wraps it up with arguably the biggest Splendour sing-along.

The Gossip's performance is the last of their “thousandth fucking show tour” and boy, can they party. The dancing throng is devoted to Beth Ditto as she bridges the gap between band and crowd within minutes. She smokes in the dance pit, pashes a random and quips at any chance. She's a barefoot knockout in a red dress, preaching “music becomes power” before delivering mammoth hits Standing In The Way Of Control and Heavy Cross to perfection.

Ambling toward the festival gates, many pose for final photo opps in front of the Splendour In The Grass arch. The event is welcome back in its original Byron Bay home although the new permanent site should be ready for 2013's Splendour bender. Until then, one mystery remains: how is it possible for mud to make its way inside your socks, jocks, stockings and gussets?