As I entered the festival grounds for day two, rushing to see Lanie Lane (only to discover she had finished her set early), I noticed something: The dress code at this year’s Splendour in the Grass seemed to include furry animal hats. They were everywhere! Anywho, the silver lining in missing Lanie was that I got to see Ghoul, who gave one of the most impressive opening sets I've ever seen at a festival. Full of vibrant energy, the Sydney four piece got me revved up for the day ahead.
With three guitars, a bassist, a drummer and the lovely Imi Harper on keys, Guineafowl has become so much more than the solo project it started as for Mr. Sam Yeldham. Another band at Splendour to wave the flag for Sydney, they have become one of the tightest on the live circuit, producing some amazing songs in the process. I speak in particular of “Little Fingers”, which is my favourite Aussie track of the year so far, off the Hello Anxiety EP. Indeed, the EP got a lot of love in their set today, with “In Our Circles” and “Mother” proving particularly enjoyable and impressively arranged. They pulled out quite a few new tracks, too, all of which are sounding very promising indeed. Bring on the LP!
I caught a bit of Tim and Jean next, and managed to hear a delightful cover of “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac. Super rad. I tend to enjoy Tim and Jean, and today was no exception – though all too brief!
One of the buzz bands of the festival were Fitz and the Tantrums - though in filling the ‘blues and roots’ portion of the festival, they weren’t exactly for your casual Splendour in the Grass punter. But I truly enjoyed their performance. “Pickin’ up the Pieces”, off the album of the same name, was a highlight of the set. As was their inclusion of the flute… a must for any festival! Johnny Au said they reminded him of a 1980’s Billy Ocean. I’ll have to take him at his word for that one. Their cover of The Raconteurs’ “Steady as she Goes” was a highlight for many… an all around great set.
I had to leave Fitz early to get a spot for The Jezabels - though had little luck, as they proved one of the most popular acts of the festival, packing out their tent to unseen levels! And so they should! Playing some beautiful tracks off the new album, Hayley Mary fist pumped into the ground... into the sky... and into our hearts. Boy can she dance! “Dark Storm” ended a set which had the crowd cheering for more. The performance was a farewell for the band, who won’t be back in town until October, when they’ll be celebrating the release of their long awaited debut full length record! We can’t wait!
Back at the Mix Up tent, which was filling up nicely with Jezabels ex-pats, Cassian was ripping things up nicely ahead of Foster The People. The well hyped Los Angeles-based band opened with “Warrant”, which transitioned seamlessly into “Miss You”. While the stage featured impressive sound all weekend, it was particularly great for Foster, whose vocals were high and had their bass cranked up to 11. They’re a band who are impressive in their instrumental arrangements, while producing catchy-as-all-hell tracks. This is one band who know how to prove themselves live; though with tracks like “Houdini” you know that they don’t have to prove this to themselves. They simply know how to make some damn good music.
Moving back to the main stage, the crowd was going mental for Children Collide. I managed to make it for “My Eagle” and “Jellylegs”, and an impressive jam to finish the set out. An impressive performance for a band who have since headed out on the road for a national tour!
Speaking of fans, they were out in force for Bloc Party’s Kele - whose new bald hairdo (accompanied by a beard) was rather surprising, but he certainly did what he could to keep everyone happy. He ran through tracks of his solo album, and gave us five Bloc Party tracks to sweeten the deal. Though when he picked up the guitar for “Unholy Thoughts” and briefly teased with a Bloc Party riff, I think the collective thought was the same: Get on the guitar and start making some great indie rock again!!! Though, the xylophone is pretty cool as well I guess (it was whipped out for “Modern Love”). One moment of the set I quite enjoyed was when he had everyone yell “Fuck Yeah Triple J!” (who were streaming it live). Rad.
KELE SETLIST: Walk Tall, On The Lam, Everything You Wanted, Unholy Thoughts, Medley (Blue Light / The Prayer / One More Chance), Tenderoni, Rise, Ready To Go, This Modern Love, Flux
As night fell, Muscles could be seen with dancing koalas and a Hollywood-esque sign behind him. His lazy take on electronic music has never impressed me, though its popularity has always surprised me, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. But really what I find irritating is that singing over a DJ track is considered "live" in Muscles land. Get yourself a band and then we’ll talk…
As I arrived over at the McLennan stage, Seeker Lover Keeper had kicked things off with the song of the same name, and moved into “Rely on Me” – a song about friendship. Indeed, the themes that Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby aren’t exactly earth shattering: They sing about friendship, love, being a woman and all sorts of things that everyone can relate to. But that’s why it works so well. And as they switch between singing, playing guitar and keys (sometimes all at once, other times solo), they put some pretty damn lovely music behind it all.
For the majority of the set they welcomed a backing bassist and drummer, and word is that the show at Splendour was a lot louder and more energetic than some of their sideshows – appropriated well for the setting no doubt! “Rest Your Head On My Shoulders” was a quieter number, however – and quite beautiful. “Travelling” meanwhile – the subject of which is inherent in the title – got a wonderful response from the crowd. Together, Sarah, Sally and Holly have managed to connect with their audience, and with each other, in a way that is truly impressive. They’re a fine representation of Australian talent, and I’m very much enjoying their embrace.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, backed by a four piece band, followed on the same stage, and found themselves playing the games of trial and error through their set. As Architecture in Helsinki were blaring from the Mix Up Stage nearby, there was little the closed tent could do to avoid the noise blaring in. It took a couple of attempts for an acoustic number to make it through. Meanwhile, Isobel and Mark had a bit of a stuff up during “The Raven”, pronouncing to the crowd “we’re jetlagged… it happens!”
This raw honesty, combined with the beauty of voice and lyric, made for a hypnotizing and engrossing set. While Isobel and Mark were focusing on their vocals for the majority of the set, Isobel managed to make occasional visits to the cello, maracas and assorted percussion treats. “Back Burner” was my favourite moment of the set, seeing Lanegan using his voice to its full rustic potential: “Put it on a back burner momma / I ain't gonna let you down / Put it on a back burner momma / Promise you I'll stick around” Love it!
Over on the main stage, The Mars Volta were getting it done with a wholly impressive set. Playing with newer tracks such as “Dyslexicon”, the portion of the set I saw showcased the band with a lot more straight forward vocals than I’d seen in the past. Having become used to 20 minute jams from the band (which may or may not have happened towards the end of the set), it was refreshing to feel like I was experiencing something new from the iconic instrumentalists. It was full of all the same vigour and energy that we’ve come to know and love… but there was definitely something more that they exhibited tonight that made it that extra bit special.
Doing much of the same, however, were iconic UK group Gomez. No strangers to our shores, they opened up with “Bring It On”, before launching into a menagerie of their catalogue: “Get Myself Arrested”, “Hangover Girl”, “Here Comes The Breeze”, “Airstream Driver”, “How We Operate” and more. It was nothing new from the band (bar the songs from the new album), who have been relying on the same shtick for a good decade – but the same could be said for most bands of that calibre. You go to a Gomez show to see a Gomez show, much like you would a U2, Foo Fighters or a Rolling Stones gig. At the end of the day, they know how to work a crowd, and they certainly did so tonight. I’m just at that point I’ve probably seen them too many times!
Much less ‘by the books’ are Thievery Corporation, whose addition to this festival, as it was for Good Vibes the last time they came to town, came as a bit of a surprise. With rotating singers (both male and female) throughout the set, as well as a massive section of musicians, this should have been something truly amazing. But unfortunately it just didn’t seem to connect – at least with yours truly - and I made a move pretty quickly. That's not to say it didn't sound impressively wonderful, however. Such ridiculously talented musicians on thst stage...
I rushed back to the McLennan stage to grab a spot for another surprise entrant, Regina Spektor, in her only appearance anywhere in the world in 2011. It had been a while since she’d performed, which was a bit of a disadvantage to someone who hadn’t seen her before (such as myself). We definitely didn’t get the full Regina treatment. But what we did get was something raw, something unique, something entirely memorable. She told us how she’d spent all afternoon relearning “Consequence Of Sounds” – she forgot the lyrics at one point during “On The Radio” and had the audience take over. A little awkward, but it made for a pretty special moment.
She sat primarily at the Grand Piano for the show, opening with “Folding Chair”, though she made brief visits to the keyboard, and briefly donned a blue guitar, which first made an appearance for “That Time”. Elsewhere on the setlist were “Blue Lips” , "The Sword and the Pen", "Better", "Bobbing For Apples", "Dance Anthem of the 80s", "Après Moi", "Us", "Fidelity" and crowd favourite "Samson".
An unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience. But I definitely need to see her in a theatre setting. She’s not exactly what you’d call a ‘let’s be interrupted by PNAU and a bunch of drunk dudes’ festival act.
The second night at Splendour ended with a superb set from a band who famously cancelled their 2009 appearance… so this was no doubt making up for lost time. And Jane's Addiction didn’t disappoint – bringing with them an impressive set list, a surprising amount of enthusiam from the extended band members (Perry Ferrell was even more upbeat than usual) and a fair amount of bondage.
“Been Caught Stealing” was the easy highlight of the set, getting a great sing along from the crowd, and some particularly grand banter from Ferrell. Though, the banter of the night goes to the following quote from the man himself: “Have a tent fuck on me tonight!” No one can say he isn’t a generous man… a consummate performer to boot!
JANE'S ADDICTION SETLIST
Ain't No Right
Ted, Just Admit It...
Been Caught Stealing
End to the Lies
Up the Beach
Encore: Jane Says
Guineafowl, Muscles and Mars Volta photos by Larry Heath. Additional photos above were provided by Splendour in the Grass and used with permission. Click HERE to view the full gallery & credits.