Splendour in the Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

After a 2 years absence, Byron Bay’s own prodigal son – Splendour in the Grass – returned to where it all began. It’s grown up a bit, and although unable to cater to the 30,000 strong crowds of Woodford, 17,000 folk were seemingly happy to swap dust for mud and return to what I’m sure every other review will refer to as its ‘spiritual home’.

No camera gear travelled with me, so just a few snaps and some words.

The 2012 incarnation of Splendour was, on paper, a consistent lineup rather than having the mega acts of 2012 (Kanye WestColdplayPulpKaiser Chiefs et al). Upon first glance at the timetable, there were clashes throughout which actually wasn’t an irritation, it simply proved how deep the lineup runs. When the inevitable best-laid-plans fall apart, there’s little to grumble about: just go somewhere else.

Day 1: A Pond and some mud, Deathrays, Cowgirls, stylish Whigs and Jack

As the crowds rolled in on Friday morning, it was immediately evident which punters had been before, and which were breaking their Splendour duck. Short shorts, singlets and thongs were strongly represented, as were the obligatory animal costumes, super heroes, and solid shoe wearing, jumpers tied around waists sensible folk who knew what a bit of rain and sunset could bring.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

The first couple of hours in the Supertop main stage would be a defining moment for the festival. WA psychedelic rock lineup Pond (aka parts of Tame Impala’s side project) delivered their usual brand of madness, their tight but unstructured playing complemented by their androgynous Johnny Rotten lookalike frontman Nick Allbrook’s tales of cough syrup consumption.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

DZ Deathrays @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

With the stage cleared, the thrashy punk antics of the DZ Deathrays boys took over.The Brisbane 2 piece tore up the place, and their set was made even more memorable when the hail came during Cops Capacity. Whilst their on stage equipment was getting soaked thanks to a roof leak directly above the amps, it was nothing compared to what was happening outside. Rapidly, Belongil Fields were becoming a Korean mud festival and suddenly the short shorts, tank tops and thongs were going to be shelved for day 2. For the punters who took up the offer of shelter from the Supertop, they were treated to one of the great sets of Splendour 2012.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Gumboot Junction @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Emerging just after 3 from the main tent, the greatest queues were not for the toilets, nor for the food vans. They were for Gumboot Junction, a business that as of the end of the festival has more funds in reserve than the entire African continent. At $79 for a pair of wellies, it’s no mystery as to how that came to be…

Thankfully, the solid hiking boots on my feet were doing the job brilliantly and it was over to the GW McLennan tent to check out another Brisbane product, Emma Louise. It’s at that city of origin that any similarities to DZ Deathrays end. In a beautiful contrast to the madness of the past hour, the gingham-frocked singer songwriter delivers a melodic set  to an appreciative crowd.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Spiderbait @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Refuelled with food and water, it’s back to the Supertop to relive the heady high school and uni era sounds of Spiderbait. Reformed for Splendour, current Byron local KramJan and Damian show why they were and still seem to be Triple J’s darlings. It’s a greatest hits set, no doubt, with classics like Old Man SamCalypso and Buy Me a Pony (which sees Janet take to the drums and Kram out front) getting a ripping reception. One of the stranger moments follows, with Kram delivering a stripped back cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit himself. With guitar ability that is best described as ‘beginner’, it’s the crowd that get him through this tune. The set is broadcast live on Triple J and whilst the energy of the mid 90s isn’t quite there anymore, it’s a solid offering well received.

Unfortunately, the exit strategy for the Supertop was probably about as well planned by festival organisers as the previously mentioned Nirvana cover. A 20+ minute stand still of punters trying to exit the tent through the mud was met with frustration, fence climbing and general unpleasantness. The following day would see some changes to the barrier configuration.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Lanie Lane @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

With the sun now below the horizon, it was back to the McLennan tent to meet up with everyone’s favourite cowgirl Lanie Lane. With a charming stage presence, great voice, and backed by an incredible band, Lanie submitted her entry for Queen of Splendour. Amongst her own songs were two covers. The Black Keys Gold on the Ceiling hit the mark in a fantastic interpretation. Nick Cave’s Henry Lee however, where Ms Lane is joined by Spiderbait’s Kram for the duet, wasn’t quite there. It’s a great song, but tonight it didn’t capture the imagination of the three quarters full GW McLennan Tent.

The tent all but cleared ahead of the Australian debut of seminal 90s lineup The Afghan Whigs. Predictably, many had opted to get a decent spot for At The Drive In over in the Supertop, but as Greg Dulli takes to the mic, the half full tent are treated to an amazing set. I’m Her Slave is a standout, and there’s covers, Madonna lyrics, and a constant sound wall that makes this a special penultimate set on Day 1 at the McLennan stage.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Jack White @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Catching the last few songs of At The Drive In’s set is a worthy effort. Whilst the songs themselves have never done a lot for me, there’s an incredible energy on stage and as we make our passage towards the front, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala has left the Supertop crowd in a sweaty frenzy ahead of night 1’s headliner Jack White.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Jack White @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Suited roadies, decked out in ties and hats, commence the arduous setup for Mr White. There’s white drapes at the rear of the stage, towering white lights either side of the stage, and instruments dressed exclusively in white and powder blue. White’s all male band The Buzzards take to the stage, and are joined by the man himself as they rip into Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. The lighting is uniformly blue, and White cuts a charismatic figure, bounding around the stage, hair flapping as he fights with his guitar. Blunderbuss opening track Missing Pieces is given a great reception by the bursting at the seams Supertop, before White Stripes number Cannon and Blunderbuss’s centrepiece Weep Themselves to Sleep keep the set bounding along.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Jack White @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

As all band members leave the stage, White is joined by all girl band The Peacocks, perfectly dressed and suitably easy on the eye. What follows is one of the set’s clear highlights, the incredible duet Love Interruption from  Blunderbuss. White is hitting his straps and has the crowd – some of whom may have had mixed expectations after hearing about his less well received midweek Melbourne solo show – eating out of the palm of his hand. As he motors through the set, we’re treated to White Stripes tunes (Hotel YorbaI’m Slowly Turning into You), a Raconteurs offering (Top Yourself), and two of his current solo tunes (Take Me With you When You Go and an incredibly raw and brilliant Sixteen Saltines).

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Jack White @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

The closing track of the night though, whilst being no surprise, thrills the crowd. From the second the opening riff of Seven Nation Army emanates from White’s amp, the crowd lose their collective shit. Day one at Splendour. It’s great to be back, and Jack White has provided the perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 2: Beacons, Dinosaurs, some flexing of Muscles and a Rey of light

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Byron Bay

Being back in Byron, you’d be mad not to fill the morning with a trip to the stunning coastline, Australia’s most easterly point. Cape Byron, with its temperate rainforest and striking lighthouse, bathed in sunshine on this Saturday morning, are in great contrast to the mud of Belongil Fields. But this isn’t Getaway.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

The general population of Splendour had traded yesterday’s thongs and shorts for jeans and gumboots, and on paper today had fewer non-negotiables than Friday. Brisbane lads Last Dinosaurs were effectively the first band ‘announced’ on the 2012 Splendour lineup, by virtue of having their tune Zoom used as the soundtrack to the early teaser video, and it was these lads who kicked off day two for us. Growing in stature each time they play live, they played to an audience that had dried out from the previous night and got involved in huge tracks like Andy and Honolulu.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Jinja Safari @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

With my colouring it would be rude not to pay a visit to the McLennan Tent to check out Jinja Safari. The African influenced Sydneysiders have mixed tribal drumming with jangly guitars and rolled it all up in to a high energy package just made for festivals. There’s amp stack climbing, keytars, stage banter, confetti cannons and fun. The band even brought along their own version of Bez – Tony Franklin – to ‘play’ the tambourine and generally arse about on stage. Even with a strong crowd at nearby Shihad, Jinja Safari provide one of the day’s highlights.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Muscles @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Switching into warmer night gear, it’s time to reacquaint oneself with an old friend. Last year in Woodford the super confident Muscles had one of the most bizarrely entertaining sets and one of the largest budgets for stage setup at the festival.

Once again, we speculate about how this came to be. Is he the heir to millions? Does he have a great aunt who gives him money for whatever he wants? Is he financed by mob money? Whatever it is, this year he returns to play some new tunes from his album Manhood, as well as the staples of his live set of the past few years – Ice CreamKoalasHey Muscles and so forth. Without the element of stupid fun – which the new songs don’t possess – Muscles lack of real songwriting talent is laid bare and whilst the set is amusing (I mean a black and white spotted morph suit?) we again scratch our head as to how this guy gets such a plum spot in the lineup.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Organic Chocolate Donuts @ Splendour In The Grass 2012

Ah yes. Lana Del Rey. After playing a hugely disappointing 45 minute set in Melbourne for the princely sum of $75 a ticket (you could almost buy some gumboots for that) less than a week earlier, Lizzie Grant was back to show people exactly why she is famous. And plenty of people crammed into the GW McLennan tent to take her up on the offer.

Dressed in a bridal gown, she again climbed down to crowd level during sultry opener Blue Jeans. Sultry in fact is a word that would describe the whole set. Whilst del Rey is limited in her vocal range and style, she has found what works and sticks steadfastly to it. A perplexing cover of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box is given the del Rey treatment, layered with strings and slowed down to about 3 bpm. It doesn’t really work but the crowd seem to enjoy the singalong anyway. In all a far more appreciated set than, strangely, her own shows. Day 2 Queen of Splendour title is secure.

Getting across to the Supertop again, Swedish stars Miike Snow are finishing up their set, and seem impressed by one fella’s efforts to scale one of the internal tent poles. A fair effort and from the handful of songs it’s possible to catch, a great sound from a band who are responsible for one of 2012’s great albums.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Not having much time for Bloc Party, it’s back to the McLennan to catch up with Warren Ellis’s 3 piece The Dirty Three, carving his violin as Mick Turner on guitar and Jim White on drums provide the backbone. Really though, the set is built around Ellis’s banter… tales of writing songs about an email outbox full of letters to dead people, tying up your pyjama legs and filling them with cheese, and feeding ketamine to animals are all in a day’s work. The sound chops between melodic lines and all out cacaphonic assault. It’s the latter that sees us pull stumps on a more low key but still hugely enjoyable day 2.

 

Day 3: Hits from Missy, Kookiness, Fun. in the Ball Park as Pumpkins are smashed. 

And so we hit Sunday. No day of rest here though, it was time to load up on gifts for the kiddies, bratwurst and organic chocolate donuts. It was also time to start the day with the no-nonsense rock of The Rubens, three brothers and their mate from NSW. Fresh from a strong run of shows in Melbourne they deliver a solid set to start the day, and they’ve plenty of friends in the half full McLennan tent.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

The Rubens @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

The unique high range vocals of Electric Guest’s Asa Taccone spill out of the Mix Up tent as we spill in. Only catching the last couple of songs it’s a shame to have missed the lot as there’s a stage energy present that is often hard to come by in the early afternoon. Thankfully the afternoon has some more of that in store.

After an enjoyable but uninspiring few songs from Django Django - 4 Scottish lads in matching shirts – the executive decision was made to go and catch the madness of Ballpark Music once again.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Ballpark Music @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

Having seen them earlier in the year at the Groovin The Moo Festival, it was easy to expect a visually exciting and ball burstingly energetic set. Which, as it turns out, was precisely what was delivered. Frontman Sam Cromack proudly tells the crowd what an honour it is to play at a festival in front of his 52 year old dad – himself a veteran of 7 Splendours – and the set never dips below frantic. Jennifer Boyce on bass prowls her corner, and guitarist Dean Hanson has lost nothing after shaving off his longer locks. Clubhouse leader for the day’s highlight.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

FUN. @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

From the minute Nate Reuss bounds onto the stage to the powerful brass lines of One Foot, the New Yorkers going by the name Fun. live up to their name.

With a mainstream US number 1 to their name, winning over the Splendour crowd may have been – some may have thought – a challenge. Armed with a constant energy, commanding stage presence, and a bunch of hooks that I’m still being ear-wormed by as I write this, Fun. took their set beyond “hey didn’t they have a song in Glee?”. That song – We Are Young  - provided a mass singalong, and live it’s at least 1,352 times better than its recorded cousin. A surprising set, and one that in the days that follow remains one of the most memorable of the weekend.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Missy Higgins @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

As darkness falls and jumpers go on, the close proximity to the McLennan tent sees us watching Missy Higgins deliver a mix of old and new. Without much in the way of expectations, what follows is not just a highlight of Day 3, but one of the highlights of the festival, and secures the Queen of Splendour title with ease. Transfixing, and with a unique ability to deliver a lyric that is simple, yet never lightweight, Higgins moves from guitar to piano and back, delivering tales of falling back in love with music. It had been 5 years between her previous and current album, and an ability to hold the crowd in the palm of her hand make this set one to remember.

That is what Splendour can do… take an artist you would have little more than a passing interest in, place them in front of you, and win you over completely. Missy Higgins tonight exemplifies that as well as any other act has to this point.

With the Supertop bursting out into the mud, The Kooks wow the crowd and ramp up the energy ahead of the festival closer. The set is stopped at one point however, with one mountaineering punter making it 30 metres up a tent support. Security pull the plug until he’s down, and the Kooks round out their set with 2006’s single Naïve.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Smashing Pumpkins @ Splendour In The Grass 2012 

And so it’s left to the Smashing Pumpkins – or rather Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins Experience – to close out Splendour. Sporting a decent sized paunch and an ill formed goatee, Corgan  stunned the tent by starting early, and kicks off with a cover of KISS’s Black Diamond. Not sure many saw that coming. Bullet with Butterfly Wings was an early presence in the set, but it was, for me at least, never really a set that hit any great highs. The new tracks from Oceania didn’t really capture the crowd, and whilst the back to back of Tonight Tonight and Ava Adore were welcomed, as the set drew to a close it was decided we needed to soak up the Splendour site one last time. As headliners go, Jack White wins by the length of the straight.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Smashing Pumpkins @ Splendour In The Grass 2012

As muddied boots milled around the Pyramid stage to hear the Tibetan Throat Singers one more time, 17,000 tired but happy people had all taken more away from Australia’s best music festival than simply what was stuck to their shoes.

Splendour In The Grass 2012

Splendour In The Grass 2012 (Belongil Fields, Byron Bay 27th – 29th July 2012)

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