Arghhhhh….the Musical Festival. Day upon day, we stand in fields, lost amongst the hustle and bustle of pushy youth. Youth who don’t say “excuse me” or “sorry” as they step all over you in search for their friends, while you drink over-priced, mid-strength beer, deciding on your lunch and dinner based on the length of a queue (if you do eat) and dread the next time you need to use a Porta Loo. But, with all these life struggles there really is nothing in this world that beats the revelry and tremendous energy of such an event, and with this in mind, The Wandering Lamb commenced a musical journey, wandering the fields of Music at this year’s 15th Splendour in The Grass.
Much of the news surrounding Splendour on Saturday morning was the dreaded 3-4 hour wait times for buses that took ragged and worn revellers to their waiting beds. Fast forward to the end of the night, nothing could have dampened our spirits as we decided to turn our backs on the gridlock of people and cars to stagger aimlessly with hope along a pitch dark and foggy motorway. Our guardian angels chose to answer our prayers and delivered to us an express shuttle bus that was Byron Bay bound.
For all this glass half full banter, there is not one “winter” festival in the world that greets you with blue skies, 25 degree temperatures and a quick morning swim before indulging in some of the best bands in the world right now. This is what makes Splendour stand proudly as topping the list as one of the best festivals in the world.
Following a rather painless queue for our weekend wristbands, we invested in our silver coloured drink tickets before commencing our climb into a day of musical treats. First up on our busy schedule was Perth’s blissed out three-piece Methyl Ethyl who played through a perfect set in the undercover GW McLennan stage. It’s never an easy task to rev a crowd on day one at 1:35pm, but the trio drew in an impressive crowd of supporters, their biggest single ‘Twilight Driving’ gaining an enthusiastic sober applause and huge sing-a-long that almost felt to mark the start of the festival. Methyl Ethel literally breezed through their set with cool vibes, sewing together 70s rock and dreamy melodies. This is the sort of music that is better suited on a lazy Sunday afternoon comedown or early evening groove but cleverly placed to draw the crowd in earlier.
Nothing could have prepared us for UK’s much talked about Fat White Family and their live experience. Most likely due to the lack of research by the growing festival crowd, the band didn’t pull the biggest audience of the day, but for those of us who stood with eyes glued to the raucous 5 piece, we knew that this would be the most talked about set of the entire weekend, and not for musical reasons. Fat White Family are band who are restoring the urgency that comes with true post-punk music, the band are on another level, introverted in their style and completely self-indulgent as they played out a handful of songs from their latest album. In-between spitting on the stage, throwing their uneaten sandwiches into the crowd, it was the moment when the shirtless lead singer Lias Kaci Saoudi decided that it was time to get completely naked. His trousers found their way to his ankles and before too long we had Saoudi romping the stage like we were the ones who had the problem. For many it was too much as they smirked and shook their heads leaving the tent, while the rest of us grinned, encouraged and supported this awkward but somewhat brilliant act of defiance.
Climbing the steep hill up to the top of Amphitheatre, words could not describe the moment when we ascended to the top of the steep hill, greeted by one of the most beautiful open festival spaces we had ever seen. A growing number of revellers energised by the warm and blue skies, rushed over to see Sydney’s DMA, the crowd packed themselves to the front as the band swaggered on stage. The roar of the crowd clearly excited the band as they lifted their arms in thanks to the massive turn out. The band played through an expected strong set from their excellent debut album ’Hills End’ that sounded confident and brash, lead singer Johnny Took was every bit the front man, lapping up the huge crowd. When the band played their debut single “Delete” it was at the moment that festival officially began, the entire Amphitheatre sung along to each word in unison and harmony. It was one of many great festival moment.
The Kills also played the Amphitheatre and surprisingly the crowd thinned following the end of the DMA’s set, surprising considering the well received latest album ‘Ash & Ice’. Alison Mosshart is one striking lead, her poise is every bit rock n roll, her vocal, raw and punchy, watching Mosshart command attention with her coolness and bravado was another moment in itself. Guitarist Jamie Hince equally looks every bit rock n roll, playing carefully placed edgy chords that provided the framework for Mosshart’s cutting vocal play. The Kills don’t make out to create complicated music, they find one punchy chord progression and repeat and let the ooze of cool take centre stage, they are encapsulating to watch live and wedge another bit of much needed rock n roll to the festival circuit. It was just a shame that we didn’t hear their two latest singles, “Doing It To Death” and “Bitter Fruit”.
On the other end of the musical spectrum, was Brisbane’s sweetheart, Emma Louise, who politely and delicately serenaded a packed out tent, most of the punters there to hear her hugely popular track, ‘Jungle’. Louise, dressed in crisp white floated across the stage her voice strong yet gentle, it was clear to note why she was nominated as Best Female Vocalists at the ARIA’s in 2013. Playing through a selection of her two albums, it was of course “Jungle” that peaked the entire audience who danced and sang their way through the song, no doubt converting a few fans who just thought Louise had one trick in the band, she was mesmerising to watch and the perfect feel good set.
With 6 hours complete at Day One of Splendour, a quick replenishment of refreshments, it was back to the GM McLennan to watch the much loved Peter, Bjorn & John, most popular for their massive hit “Young Folk”, the band have written countless infectious hits flooded with catchy melodies, especially with their latest album ‘Breakin Point’ their most “pop” album in comparison to their heavier, lo-fi albums of the past, in particular their debut, Writers Block. So while the sun set and the weather remained wintery warm, the band smashed out a set drawn heavily from their latest album, probably a good idea given the party vibe building helped from substance abused souls. “Young Folk” was a clear winner for the audience despite it sounding weak and a little empty. It was however, the power and brashness of ‘Objections Of My Affection” that brought the smiles to the faces of the more die-hard fans, a perfect shift in tone and emotion that may have surprised many of the not so familiar listeners. A fun, charming and powerful set.
While the mood and energy continued to grow in lead up to the headline slots, it took the smooth and soulful vocal of Leon Bridges¸ to shift the energy of the GM McLennan tent and create instant warmth and heart-felt celebration. We only managed to catch a few of his opening tracks, but for those diverse fans that packed the tent, it may well have been a highlight of their night. Once the band engaged the excited crowd, Bridges entry was greeted with complete joy, his moves instantly contagious, his smile enough to bring the sun back and a voice as soulful and uplifting as expected.
Making the decision to leave the Leon Bridges party was considered fair enough at the time, The Avalanches were to make their only Australian live appearance following the release of their much hyped 2nd album. The excitement and the expectation was clearly felt amongst the now completely filled Amphitheatre, that, at night was a visual spectacle in itself. The spectacle however felt to stop their as the band played a very disjointed set that didn’t flow, with pauses in between the songs a little too long to allow the audience to find their rhythm. When the band did play, the songs were played out well, vocally strong, the DJ’s mixed like masters of their craft, leading up to proving their wares “Since I Left You’, that sounded just as fresh as it did since its release over 15 years ago. A disappoint set and made us think what all the hype has been about.
Having seen Band of Horses before we did kick ourselves for missing them to be part of The Avalanches experience, but you can’t win them all, up to that point it was a cracking day. Come 1030pm, Splendour was in celebration mode, slightly weary but full of love from a day of fantastic Music, it was The Strokes that would peak festivities for the day and with a capacity amphitheatre that felt like a tribal gathering, the band were fashionably late to stroll on stage, regardless the crowd broke out to cheer and screams of excitement. The visuals for the set were striking, almost overwhelming the performance in some moments of their set tonight. The clear winners were the bands singles particular from their debut “Is This It”. Julian Casablanca is the perfect front man and with age he has aced all the traits of what makes a front man great, he looked great, sounded great and entertained the audience just enough with banter to make that all necessary connection. The disappointment of the set was the expectancy of an hour and half set, we were treated to a condensed set and within what felt like moments, the band thanked the crowd and made a quick exit, we did the same.
Climbing to the top of the Amphitheatre to then unrealised 3 hour bus line queues, the band greeted the crowd with an Encore of ‘Last Night’, and gazing across the sea of people with the stage lights flashing to the beat of their best song, it was at this moment that it all hit. This was a truly amazing day, a day filled with diverse music, a respectful festival crowd and a moment of embracing all those annoying moments that make up a musical festival.