Festival Review: Splendour In The Grass (Day Three) Ft. Ben Howard + Lily Allen + Phantogram - Sunday (27.07.14)

The final day of Splendour In The Grass 2014 saw some of the weekend's best performances, with each of the main stages capped of in very different ways. The Ampitheatre closed for 2014, sent off with a colourful performance from subversive pop star Lily Allen, and leaving us with the weekend's stand-out performances to reminisce on. Elsewhere the GW McLennan Tent was sent swaying to the warmth of Ben Howard (pictured), and the Mix-Up Stage saw it's first dose of slow-burning, artful electronica – as compared to the usual speaker-assaulting trend tracks – with Darkside, who brought a much more unexpected sound to the tent.

Thought, it wasn't all just headliners who made our last day what it was; spectacular sets from the likes of Kingswood, Mt Warning, Sam Smith, Phantogram and Chvrches. Herein lies the strength of Splendour, the festival doesn't just rest on their biggest draw cards and it's unparalleled range of activities, Splendour has established itself with such a high standard that it's pretty much guaranteed that every act you see will bring their A-game; knowing how big the festival is for Australia, how many people are dying to be there, and how these performances – particularly from the Australian acts – can begin, end, or define a career.

We had already witnessed massive sets from OutKast, Foals, Ball Park Music,O and Violent Soho; so Sunday began with a lot to live up to.

I kicked off my day by wandering up hill towards the Ampitheatre, ears perked by the surprising echo of “She's So High” by Tal Bachman. Thinking who would be so brave as to tackle a cover of this over-played and cheesy song, I was pleased to discover Brisbane band The Creases, who were tasked with opening the main stage, ending their set with the cover and completely owning it.

Mix-Up brought New York producer Chrome Sparks and had him play the early afternoon with complex productions, contending with the early arrivals over at the Red Bull Music Academy, which was opened by another one of Young Franco's popular three-hour sets before the stage was twisted up by the intriguing Retiree, who paired intriguing vocals, bouncy live electro, and a rhythm so involving that it was hard to peel myself away.

Kingswood dominated the Ampitheatre with soulful indie-rock, assisted by not one but two charming leads in vocalist Fergus Linacre and lead guitarist Alex Laska. Both musicians strutted around the stage, Fergus swaying around the stage while Alex had a bit of a more outward approach; the big-haired guitarist first jumped onto the speaker stack following a brilliant showcase of recent single “I Can Feel That You Don't Love Me”, adding a high-flying guitar solo at the end for which he jumped into the crowd and shredded his guitar while casually laying on a bed of hands. It was a reminder of the power of showmanship, with the crowd now completely immersed into set-closer “Ohio”. The look on Fergus' face at the end said it all; this was a huge moment for both the band and it's fans.

Late-addition Mt Warning gave a very solid show to the GW McLennan tent, building on their hype from earlier in the year at St. Jermone's Laneway Festival, and showing off some very polished, fine post-rock. Mickey Bee's vocals are powerful, the singer ripping through the air by howling over his wailing guitar in a consistent, excellent set to successfully prove that Mt Warning are fast becoming one of our finest relatively new bands and ensuring that more than a few copies of their debut album Midnight Set will be picked up in the days to come.

Over on the Mix-Up Stage Jungle proved hugely popular, with their R&B-tinged, 90's rhythms pounding over the wave of the festival's younger punters. Buraka Som Sistema played their second set of the weekend, this time bringing a bit of the Mix-Up to the Ampitheatre and serving as a nice interruption from the dominant presence of rock; watching a very reluctant crowd quickly loosen up as soon as their undeniable, incredibly fun blend of dancehall and electronica, giving us their all with the M.I.A-spice of “Sound of Kuduro” marking the moment when the crowd really got into it.

Back to the Mix-Up Stage for the hotly anticipated Sam Smith seemed to be a popular idea, the mega-popular UK crooner pulling everyone towards him as soon as his cover of Arctic Monkeys' “Do I Wanna Know” rang out over the field, and those who were left straggling behind started running when he began set-closer “Stay With Me”. The hit soundtracked sunset, proving the be one of the biggest moments of the festival, the kind you'd link arms with strangers over.

The main pathway between the 'Mix Up side' of the field, and the 'Ampitheatre side' was designer hangout Very Small Mall, which was – for only the second time all weekend – terribly congested. The bottleneck turned me right off trying to catch the beginning of Grouplove so I retreated to the reliable Red Bull Music Academy where I was absolutely stunned by Brisbane artist Jordan Rakei. Equal parts neo-soul and house producer, his velvety voice has the echo of influences from neo-soul greats like D' Angelo and nu-soul champions like Frank Ocean, while also bringing in that modern electro influence reminiscent of The XX. Jordan and a guitarist were the only two musicians on stage' the guitarist's scratchy riffs sailing over heady electro-R&B which filled the room but always managed to take a beat seat to Jordan's gorgeous vocal work. A nice cover of “I Found My Smile Again” and Frank Ocean's “Pilot Jones” cemented the aforementioned comparisons, Jordan stamping both songs with his own style and managing to fit them in seamlessly with his equally impressive original songs. I immediately ran up to the PR and asked if an interview was possible after his set, and it was, but unfortunately at a time when I wasn't available.

Chvrches played a set perfectly suited for an outdoor atmosphere as a big as the Ampitheatre, their pounding bass-pop weaved over Lauren Mayberry acting genuinely bemused (and adorable) on stage. Album cuts like “Gun” and “Tether” made the trio's approach quite clear, translations that stay as close to the recorded versions as they can, just with added layers of bass to really swirl all around the open-air.

Phantogram proved to be the best act I would see at the Mix-Up Stage all day, edging out tough competition like Sam Smith with their ridiculously complex take on electro-rock. Officially a duo, the pair of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter had two other musicians on stage, working with their heads down in the back while the U.S twosome tried their hand at riling the crowd up.

Strangely, it took a while for the younger crowd to sink into Phantogram, but once they did, tracks like “Fall In Love”, “Blackout Days” and “When I'm Small” were met with hysteria, hands, and a whole lot of love. Two songs into the set someone threw a slurpee at Sarah, five songs in and Phantogram had the crowd by the balls. Sarah's soft-spoken, awkward crowd interactions were charming while Josh switched between the many instruments on stage with dizzying speed, showing that this band are working that much harder than many others who took the stage on the weekend; carefully working to give us one of the weekend's very best performances and bringing in everything from shoegaze-esque guitar riffs, electro pop, and hip hop to put themselves in a league of their own.

Nina Las Vegas delivered a short 45 minute set, mainly working us back into the bass-heavy vibe of the Mix-Up Stage with tracks from the likes of B.o.B and Young Thug. Things picked up when she brought out Tkay Maidza to boost an Iggy Azalea remix with frantic electro-rap, but sadly her other guest - Sable - failed at making the chipmunk effect an interesting layer upon stock-standard electro. The real lowlight of this set, which is in no way Nina's fault, is that two kids in the crowd thought it was a good idea to light up some flares and wave them around while upon a mate's shoulders. This is becoming a trend amongst the younger punters at festivals, with the same thing happening far up the back during OutKast on Friday. Something needs to be done about it.

Danny Brown was as likeable as ever, strutting around stage and never stopping to look at all the chaos he was causing, rapping tracks like “Smokin & Drinkin”, “Headstand”, “Dip”, and “Break It (Go)” over an aural assault of non-stop bass, only standing still for a second to pose with his tongue far out into the air while the stench of adrenaline-induced sweat spread through the crowd. That much sheer carnage needed something to balance it out, so with a sore back I headed off to the GW McLennan tent for Ben Howard.

Howard is a class act, breaking far out of any pinpointed style and warming fans up with beautiful vocals, beautiful lyrics, and smooth, easy-listening mid-tempo rock. The soothing stage-closer was followed by the main stages closing one by one, with the Mix-Up Stage up next, allowing Darkside to give us a nice break from all the hectic bass and bring the pace down to progressive house, scratchy guitar work, and productions which saw punters calm down from all the jumping around, settling into nice soft sways and rhythmic two-stepping instead.

Lily Allen was where the rest of the festival was, everyone standing on the hills and in front of the main stage to raise their middle finger - at her request - for her closing trio of hits. The colourful stage matched Lily's tongue-in-cheek, sassy crowd banter – which included mocking the police – animating the string of “Fuck You”, “The Fear”, and “Not Fair” and placing Lily as one of the more exciting big-name pop stars in the industry. Still, this was a stage which just heard the frantic “B.O.B” and the lush “Coming Home” over the weekend; Lily's pop tunes paled in comparison despite her best efforts and the crowds obvious adoration for the cheeky singer-songwriter.

The real highlight for late night revelry became a pretty exclusive and ridiculously sought-after gig; Nicolas Jaar performed a solo two-hour DJ set to close the Red Bull Music Academy and broke Splendour In The Grass in the process. Security had to gate off the Very Small Mall, leaving thousands of punters confused and dejected as we were told that RBMA was at capacity and that they demand was getting ridiculous. When I got there I could see why they had to shut out half the field; there was a massive crowd outside RBMA waiting to get in, but most seemed content where they were since Jaar's deep house and soul fusion productions rang out far beyond the pop-up bar. Though, nothing compared to being inside; watching the masterful Nicolas Jaar soundtracking our late-night dances with bass so deep it literally grabbed everyone from the inside and turned even the most staunch arm-crosser into an insular storm of flailing limbs. For those who love their house spliced with soul and funk, it was the perfect way to farewell the weekend.

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