Queens of the Stone Age throttle the Amphitheatre during Night Two of Splendour in the Grass

Day Two kicked into hyper-drive, starting off with an energetic bang! Opening in the Amphitheatre were NSW boys Hockey Dad, whilst Gretta Ray and Mallrat took to the Mix Up Stage and GW McLennan tent. Coming in like an energy drink, Confidence Man followed with an animated performance filled with little outfits, bubbly tunes and frantic dancing. “Boyfriend (Repeat)” saw the whole tent getting low to the ground and then bouncing back up in a frenzy ending in sweat and heavy breathing, but leaving us perfectly prepped for a massive day.

The Tiny Dancer Stage has emerged as one of four main stages at Splendour in the Grass. As the festival continues the tented area is beginning to take on some top quality line ups, which for Saturday kicked off with Airling at 3pm. Though Splendour, for the most part, is running like a well-oiled machine now, there are a few things that could do with some tweaking. This set was evidence for one of those – the fact that Tiny Dancer is right next to what is often the loudest space of the festival, The Mix-Up Stage. Though Airling was in top form, especially when performing R&B-inflected jams from her excellent new album “Hard to Sleep, Easy to Dream”, her set suffered from substantial bleed-through from Bag Raiders  – no matter where you stood under the tent. This was especially clear during Airling’s softer moment, the fantastic “A Day in the Park” – with surprise guest Tom Iansek (Big Scary) – which was unfortunately timed just as Bag Raiders ripped into the roaring “Shooting Stars”.

Over at the Amphitheatre, the energy continued to kick with the Dune Rats. If there is one band that knows how to get a party started its these guys. Riding in on mini bikes through thick smoke, the boys from Brisbane thrust into action shredding, ‘6 Pack,’ as inflatable beer cans bounced over the crowd. The band’s radiating high was mirrored by the audience, as a large mosh pit formed and people piled on top of each other for tracks like, “Superman”, “Red Light Green Light” and “Scott Green”.

Things got even sweatier when James Tidswell from Violent Soho joined the stage to play with the band, adding an extra flair. The surprise appearances continued as Hockey Dad and Skeggs jumped out for, “Dalai Lama, Big Banana, Marijuana” diving into the crowd in inflatable boats, whilst dressed as pirates. “Bullshit” marked the end of the set, and l (Giselle) walked away feeling buzzed and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

The afternoon saw the Aussies shine once again, with Bad//Dreems, Dope Lemon and Bernard Fanning taking stage.

Bernard Fanning’s solo material is great. He truly is one Australia’s greatest – and most passionate – songwriters. His material with Powderfinger though – that holds a special place in the hearts of just about every music-loving Australian both young and old. Though the iconic band have popped up as a unified whole at certain points over the past few years, it’s always a special moment when they (even if one is missing) get on stage together. No one was expecting it (well, unless you were paying attention to Fanning’s Facebook page) but after a solo performance of ‘Fingers’ jam “Sail the Wildest Stretch”, Bernard surprised the crowd with by bringing out Darren Middleton, Ian Haug and John Collins.

“It’s been 10 years since Powderfinger played at Splendour…let’s have an anniversary”. And with that sentence the area between the stage and the sound tent filled up faster than the sudden break into “(Baby I Got You) On My Mind”, galvanising the crowd into a scene of excited screams, heart-pounding mosh pits, and wild singalongs. The rapture only continued with “These Days” and – after Bernard was left solo again – “Wish You Well”.

A special mention must go to Bernard’s solo material. Though outshined by a Powderfinger reunion, Fanning proved that his consistency as a solo artist deserves just as much shine. The excellent, even if a bit didactic, “Belly of the Beast” was a particular highlight, as was “Which Way Home”, a song he always ends with a crunchy cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Iron Man”.

Over at the GW McLennan tent, Dope Lemon chilled things down with mellow tracks, “Coyote” and “Marinade”. The drifting guitars rifts worked perfectly in tent, echoing off the roof back into the crowd, but the big turnout of punters made for a tight squeeze. However, that didn’t stop everyone from flailing their arms to each song. ‘I’m losing my voice, but I’ll try my best,’ says Angus Stone, as he looks over the crowd. But not even a sore throat could stop his floating vocal cords, as he beautifully tied up the set with “Uptown Folks”.

Meanwhile Future Islands brought their incredibly distinctive style to the main stage, packing out the Ampitheatre as yet another band who now has a history with the festival (they played the GW McLennan tent two years ago as a relatively unknown but super hyped band, and they certainly made their mark) that absolutely knocked it out of the park this year, graduating to the main stage and completely justifying the move. Also, who can ever deny Samuel T Herring‘s stage presence, who at one moment could be ducking down into a bopping Russian dance and at others howling like he’s been possessed by the band’s atmospheric instrumentals.

Catfish and the Bottlemen followed, continuing to make the Amphitheatre shake. Lead singer Van McCann had a rock star swagger as he moved around stage, singing “Sound Check”, “Kathleen” and “7”.  Guitarist Johnny Bond took over for a killer guitar solo during “Anything”, whilst drummer Jon Barr stole the show for “Business”. The set finished up with a massive singalong, as everyone screamed along to “Cocoon” and “Tyrants”.

In the GW Tent, dreamy folk singer Ásgeir serenaded the crowd with soft melodies. One hand on the keys and the other on the guitar, the Icelandic local displayed his outstanding multi-tasking talents. “Higher”, “Ocean”, and “King and Cross” drifted like clouds, and “Going Home” had everyone emotionally swaying in the arms of their friends, leaving spirits high just in time for the nights headline acts.

Royal Blood may have been a bit louder, their edges a bit sharper, and even their audience significantly larger (whoever put Two Door Cinema Club as headliners of the Mix Up: thank you) but no one was going to outshine Queens of the Stone Age, that much was clear as the legendary band came out swinging, hitting with the raucous “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar…” and following that up smash “No One Knows”, stretched with enough fine detail to turn it into a rock opera. It set a standard of quality that never dipped with QOTSA, spanning 13 certified show-stoppers to further prove them as one of the best bands still beating.

Ever the debonair frontman, Josh Homme would use the little space between songs to throw quality banter out to the crowd, even taking the time to berate a heckler: “That guy stood up on that guy to give me the finger, but he gave me the wrong one. It’s past your bed time”. That little zinger preceded “a shit tonne of cowbell” with the smooth “Little Sister” sounding like it hasn’t aged a day. Even newbie “The Way You Used to Do” slotted in perfectly with the set, its textures re-shaped so it made sense following up the underrated “If I Had a Tail”.

Silky “Make It With Chu” gave way to the beastly “My God is the Sun” towards the end of the set, speaking to QOTSA’s versatility, one that’s far beyond many of their contemporaries. Though it was the final two tracks that really dug out the crowd’s energy; first “Go With the Flow” and then the epic “Song for the Dead”, the latter given a heady dose of showmanship with perfectly timed start-stop pizzazz and, most importantly, Jon Theodore‘s lightning strike of a drum solo. The performance of that pivotal song alone will go down as one of the truly great moments of this weekend.

QOTSA Set List

You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire
No One Knows
I Sat by the Ocean
Misfit Love
Sick, Sick, Sick
Feel Good Hit of the Summer
If I Had a Tail
The Way You Used to Do
Little Sister
Make It Wit Chu
My God is the Sun
Go With the Flow
A Song for the Dead

Words by Chris Singh and Giselle Bueti.

Photos by Andrew Wade.

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