Arriving at the Showgrounds this afternoon for the Spin Off Festival, it was an odd feeling, considering that the only other time I’m here for a festival is for the Big Day Out and there is so much more going on. In any case, there were a decent amount of people already out at the venue early, lazing about on the lawns and chowing down on some lunch or doing a bit of shopping at the stalls set up outside the Jubilee Pavilion. Inside, the scene was reminiscent of a warehouse party; the main stage up one end and all the way down the other was the bar area and the Silent Disco.
A few hundred were gathered early enough to catch Adelaide’s Messrs doing their thing. I hadn’t seen these guys (formerly known to many as The Touch) in so long and I’d forgotten how fun they are as a live act. Though by the time I’d arrived they were already well into their set, what I did see, I enjoyed. Their new material is in the same vein of early Cut Copy and Miami Horror, catchy and incredibly dance-able. Josh Moore is ever-entertaining as a frontman, whilst the rest of the band matched his charisma with some engaging performances of their own. My housemate commented on the fact that they’re quite the good-looking bunch and I agree; another tick in the ‘pro’ column. Looks aside, Messrs are fun to listen to, and served as a great opener to kick the day off to.
The Rubens are a bunch of lads I’ve always managed to miss each time they’ve played here, so I was glad to finally get a shot here. Pulling quite a large crowd, the bluesy-rock outfit weren’t too bad. Frontman Sam Margin earned many screams from the ladies as their set went on, but once again, I don’t want to judge another band on their looks otherwise this review would be quite short. Let’s just say that these guys dressed very well and know how to play their instruments, okay? Good. While I enjoyed the delivery of The Rubens’ material (“Lay It Down” being the clear favourite), as a live band, I felt my attention being pulled elsewhere a lot of the time. They’re a tight group, musically, but I didn’t feel like I was being engaged with at all. For a band with so much hype and support behind them, I’ve got no doubt The Rubens will go far, but their live show needs to improve in some areas before I’d see them in a headlining capacity, for sure.
DZ Deathrays are another act I’ve not seen much of, but their reputation had preceded them greatly. While I wasn’t in the middle of their crowd, as the ‘thrash pop’ duo managed to reach all sections of the area, bouts of jumping and head-banging ensued for the much of their set. Shane Parsons is relentless on guitar and vocal duties and the crowd can’t get enough of him as he screeches and throws himself around onstage. Drummer Simon Ridley gives the set that no-strings feeling of rock as he pounded out beats which at some points were freakish to watch and believe were being created on that stage. “Dollar Chills” and “No Sleep” were particular highlights, but their whole set remained a highlight for me, as the day would continue. Yacht Club DJs were the next act I was able to catch a whole set of and as per usual, I found myself positioned next to the usual trashy girls who find it necessary to climb some lad’s shoulders and wave around stupidly on them until she’s inevitably (and deservedly) dropped. Gaz Harrison and Guy Chappell tore The Gov a new one the last time they were in town and today’s set was just as brutal. Mixing up samples traversing different genres, it was funny to be in an all-ages crowd for this one, watching the younger members of the crowd looking fascinated as the rest of us powered (possibly too much?) through Nirvana and Silverchair mash-ups. By the end of their set, mini-circle pits had been formed and my neck and back were in various states of pain, all signs of having a lot of fun. I know where I’ll be sending my next chiro bill.
At this point of the festival, we’re introduced to our first international act of the evening in New York’s Friends. This was an interesting set as I was quite looking forward to seeing them perform, but by the end I was left drastically underwhelmed. As a live band, Friends exude that typical NYC sense of cool; frontwoman Samantha Urbani sauntering around on stage, while the rest of the band play their respective instruments with an equal level of ‘I’m good at what I do, therefore I’m not giving a fuck’ swag about them. While they do their thing well and they sound great live, nothing about Friends’ set stuck out and made them an act I became excited about seeing. “Friend Crush” and “I’m His Girl” were the obvious standouts, but even then, it felt like each delivery was more about Urbani’s talent at making each note as sultry as the one before it. By the end, everything had begun to sound the same and while there was a good deal of interaction between the band and the first few rows of people in the crowd, I began to think that there was probably more hype than quality behind the band – disappointing, because I actually didn’t mind the material they’d released on record so far.
Brisbane’s Last Dinosaurs were up next and they were refreshing with their fast-paced and energetic set of riff-driven pop. It’s been a year or so since I’ve seen the lads perform and although I wasn’t in amongst the majority of the crowd for their set, I could easily tell how far they’ve come and developed. “Andy”, “Zoom” and a great cover of Spiller’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” earned the band some great screams and whoops reverberating all the way back to the Silent Disco area. It’s hard to explain, but there was this great sense of community in the pavilion by this point in the night; bands were mixing it up with the punters at Silent Disco and just hanging out, and there weren’t many issues I could see, that you’d usually come across at festivals. This would continue into the next set of the night, courtesy of the UK’s Band of Skulls. You may know them from their last Triple J-flogged record Sweet Sour, or from the use of their song “I Know What I Am” in various car commercials. Either way, this trio were amazing to watch. Kicking off with “Sweet Sour” and continuing through with set of some great rock tunes, Band Of Skulls put on the sort of live show you’d half expect Jack White to make an appearance at. “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”, “Light of the Morning” and “Bruises” were great to finally see live and while the band seemed like they were onstage purely to play, as opposed to play and interact with their audience, it didn’t matter because they delivered each song with such clarity and passion. Splendour-goers, definitely have this band on your list.
The culmination of this set sent a silent call-to-arms through the pavilion, with people merging towards the main stage for possibly the most anticipated performance of the night by Lana Del Rey. Now, I’ve made it no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Ms Del Rey, but considering I was here, at her first Australian performance, I was willing to be swayed. Her band took to the stage first, her string section tuning up and sending the crowd into frenzy. It wasn’t long before the lights went down and the chants for Lana began. Eventually, the songstress emerged to a ridiculous reception like a little girl scared of everyone around her; the girl actually looked petrified, a fair call I suppose, considering Del Rey’s live shows have divided public opinion for ages now.
Dressed as if she’d just stepped out of a high-fashion vintage magazine shoot, Del Rey eased into the opening notes of “Blue Jeans” to open her set. Making sure the front row knew they were acknowledged by her presence, Del Ray crooned and offered her hands out to her adoring subjects, hitting some impressive high notes during the performance. As a live vocalist, Lana Del Rey packs some strength, but I still for the life of me can’t stand the smoky drone she drives each delivery with. It didn’t help that I don’t know her lyrics well enough to understand what she was singing onstage; to me it sounded like she spent a lot of time concentrating on hitting high notes and achieving perfect harmonies, but had the microphone too close to her mouth for everything else. The main thing I took away from my time with Lana Del Rey, was the fact that the woman knows how to work a crowd; for all the interviews and reviews I’ve read where she comes across as timid and overwhelmed by every crowd, watching Del Rey tonight was like watching an artist who knows exactly what she has and exactly how to use it. She’s coy enough, but executed her stage movements with the right amount of slinkiness that made the crowd putty in her delicately manicured hands. She seemed to be really enjoying herself, considering this was her first Australian gig; but ultimately, my opinion of her still hasn’t changed.
To say that there were only some things riding on the success of the inaugural Spin Off Festival in Adelaide would have been an understatement. Considering this festival was put on in place of any other Splendour in the Grass sideshow, if it failed to draw the numbers, then our chances of scoring any future Splendour sideshows would be fucked, to put it frankly. I’m yet to find out what the outcome of the day’s numbers, but I do think that it deserves to be part of our live music calendar – it’s a festival that has the potential to grow into something even more awesome that it was this year, so fingers crossed!