Splendour in the Grass 2014

 

Blue skies, green grass and not a drop of mud. 2014 was already shaping up as a very different incarnation of Splendour to the 2 years prior.

Day 1

After a brilliant Thursday night at the Northern in Byron Bay, it was a slower start to the first full day at the festival than previous years. Gone were the irritating ‘tap and go’ wrist bands of yesteryear, replaced by the more traditional fabric ones with no fancy check ins or evil data retention spying implications. The result? A smooth entry process and for those so inclined, less time spent in a line allowing sniffer dogs to do their thing.

Welcome back again (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Welcome back again (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

In the best news since Kanye West finished his set in 2011, the amazing Byron Bay Organic Doughnut stall was back. Again. That would see the daily decision of what to have for breakfast replaced by three simple words: dark chocolate donuts. Whilst they were as reliably delicious as last year, when it came to stages there were some serious changes afoot.

Gone was the Supertop – a staple of Splendours past at Belongil Fields – perhaps an acknowledgement that the festival had outgrown its tent-based centrepiece. In its place, harking back to its years at Woodford, was the beautiful Ampitheatre: a steep hill surrounding the main stage with brilliant views and sound from virtually any position. The compressed crowds of the smaller 2013 site at the same venue were gone and with the winter sun beating down having a bit of an old-person sit down was back in play.

View from the hill (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

View from the hill (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Catching the end of Airling in the shade of the main Amphitheatre tree was a nice if a tad low key way to start the festival. A Triple J Unearthed winner, perhaps the McLennan Stage would have been a better fit. British three piece Darlia picked up the pace, and the lads from Blackpool got the growing crowd jumping, with single Queen of Hearts the best received.

Darlia (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Darlia (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

In contrast the main stage, the GW McLennan tent hasn’t changed a lot in, well, years. Without the swamp like conditions of years gone past, a solid crowd had gathered to see Sydney’s DMA’s back up again after their previous night’s set at the Northern. Wearing their influences like a smock, but without the Mancunian accent, they do a great job. They’ve got all the schtick down… simian walk, parkas, baggys – The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Oasis would be proud or, perhaps in reality, a little pissed off. Still, they work.

The Amish Barn from 2013 was no longer a wooden frame! Now it was fully clad, surrounded by haybales, sulkies, a maypole and, of course, a bar. It looked about as permanent as a bar can be, so perhaps it’s not the temporary art installation it appeared last year, and may actually hang about for years to come. Seeing a bunch of Amish going off to the mix-up tent’s steady flow of bangerz is worth the price of admission. Though I don’t recall the Amish drinking quite so much historically…

Amish Barn 2013

Amish Barn 2014

With broad skies and the sun just starting to dip below the 45, we catch the end The Preatures set back at the Amphitheatre. Colourful and made for festivals, theirs is one of those sets that you tend to stay for but probably wouldn’t go and see in isolation. Still, it’s probably the biggest crowd the Amphitheatre has seen to date and it works.

Does it work as well as Ball Park Music though? Not even close. After their Splendour debut back in 2012, Sam Cromack and friends had made the short trek down from Brisbane and gave us one of the sets of the festival. Filling a 60 minute slot is so easy when you have this many great tunes, and there’s enough time for them to have a bit of a dance with album mascot Puddinghead, Bender the Mayor of Splendour, and to give us a stellar version of Bohemian Rhapsody. You don’t tackle that tune unless you’ve confidence to burn. Superb.

Ball Park Music (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Ball Park Music (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the rare walk to the Mix-Up Tent is interrupted by the allure of chocolate doughnuts once more. Yacht Club DJs though are giving the largely pranged out crowd some bizarre Fleetwood Mac remixes ahead of Kelis bringing all the boys to the yard with her milkshake. With a tight fitting purple number leaving little to the imagination, she errs on the side of soul diva prior to dipping into the radio friendly trio of Bounce, Forever Be and the aforementioned Milkshake. Solid set and all we’ve missed over at the Amphitheatre are Spiderbait (do they play every year?) and the too-mellow-for-the-evening London Grammar. Thankfully we’re back in time for Interpol who after the small venue brilliance of the night before find it hard to hit stride on the main stage. The crowd builds though and as they work their way through Hands Away, NYC and Narc things start to click. Pretty keen to see what Childish Gambino is up to back at the MixUp, we arrive in time to catch V.3005 and Earth, before a medley of stuff finishes a set we’d kinda like to have seen more of.

Fire Twirling (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Fire Twirling (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Outkast were the big name on this year’s bill. After reforming, and announcing they’re play a bucketload of festivals throughout 2014, it was Australia’s turn. Did they have the tunes to stretch to a 90 minute set? Were Big Boi and Andre 3000 even talking to each other? Enough people were interested but colour me as one of those who was just happy to hear Ms Jackson, Hey Ya, So Fresh and So Clean and Roses. Clearly not alone – there were plenty of poorly received deep cuts before they hit paydirt – it was a strange set that by virtue of the crowd alone was worthy of the opening night headline slot, but wouldn’t really feature in the best sets of Splendour. The mass exodus along the dusty paths once Hey Ya! had finished probably confirmed that many were interested, but not that interested.

 

Day 2

As with many Splendour Saturdays, it was a day of consolidation. Those who’d gone too hard too early were slow to emerge (meaning the doughnut queue was that bit shorter at midday), and whether by accident or design there’s a lineup more open to winging it on day two.

A bit of a highbrow start to the day, dropping in to the Splendour Forum to catch the just-trying-to-blend-in host of ABC’s Q&A hosting a panel on data retention. Not exactly an Andrew Bolt crowd to play to at Splendour it’s fair to say, but it helped exercise the braincells briefly.

Tony Jones hosting Q&A (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Tony Jones hosting Q&A (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Over at the Amphitheatre, Sticky Fingers are always good for a bit of a jump around, and after jumps had been had it was over to the Mix-Up tent to catch hype machine Sky Ferreira. Late to the stage and dressed head to toe in black leather, she looked every bit the eye catching attraction she promised to be but whether it was nerves, substances or just general lack of ability hers was a lacklustre first few songs which saw more than a few people leave to go somewhere else. Not a great booking.

Sticky Fingers (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Sticky Fingers (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Things we’re going to get a whole lot better over at the GW McLennan tent unfortunately. Singer/songwriter Gossling was on stage, and if you closed your eyes you’d swear you were listening to Elmo. Still, endurance in this early evening timeslot was the key, because after what Thursday night’s set from Future Islands had delivered, we wanted more. Samuel T. Herring brought his unique brand of pilates, acrobatics and banter to the stage and ensured that even those who’d stuck it out for Violent Soho  and 360 over at the Amphitheatre wouldn’t get some laid back respite. Seasons was an obvious highlight, but a Future Islands live set is about so much more than the music. Try taking your eyes off Herring if you find yourself at a Future Islands gig. I dare you.

Future Islands (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Future Islands (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

En route to the Amphitheatre, there were some very un-festival-like smells coming from the Kopperberg Cider area. In a good way. Swedish meatballs and mashed potato were on the menu, and with an almost exclusively donut driven diet to this point it was time for something made of food. Mash, gravy, cranberry sauce and (shock) beer provided the festival dinner of almost champions. Bidding the meatball creating lady a fond farewell, it was pretty clear it wouldn’t be our last meeting.

Foals (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Foals (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Even prior to the withdrawal of Saturday night’s headliners, a closing main stage of City & Colour and 2 Door Cinema Club didn’t really have Glastonbury shitting themselves. When the latter pulled out, Foals stepped into the vacancy, pushing Dallas Green’s City and Colour to the headline slot. Organisers messed this one up. Foals proceeded to give us one of the most intense sets of the festival, flipping the bird to their omission from the original lineup (they were reportedly keen to come, but were overlooked when the whips were cracking). Tearing through virtually all of Holy Fire at breakneck speed, this was a band who came, saw, and conquered. After that, Dallas Green was never going to be able to measure up, and calling it an early night seemed the only option, via a quick stop at the ever-pumping Teepee Life Village.

Teepee Life (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Teepee Life (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Day 3

With the early morning sun bearing down without a cloud in the sky, it seemed the beach was the only option. So away from the crowds, a short trip for breakfast to Lennox Head was the perfect start to a late July day. Obviously a tad cold for the locals though.

Lennox Heads, NSW

Lennox Heads, NSW

So, the big hill alongside the Amphitheatre. Had Edmund Hillary been one for live music, he most definitely would have climbed it because it was there. In his absence it seemed the right thing to do and whilst it didn’t confirm a lot by the time the summit was reached, it did confirm that a diet of donuts, meatballs and beer is probably not the menu to dine on prior to ascending Everest. But hey, there was a bar at the top! It seemed a great place to take in New York upstarts Parquet Courts, and it was. In keeping with Splendour’s propensity for booking high energy lunchtime sets, these lads delivered on every level. There probably should have been jumping but perched at the top of the hill rolling down to the bottom was a very real possibility.

View from on High (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

View from on High (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

After being filmed by a freaky drone type thing it was back down to the Amphitheatre pit where the appropriately named Man Choir, clad in wife beaters, stubbies and thongs, were delivering a-capella versions of AC/DC and Rage Against the Machine. It worked, mostly. In any case, it was better than Gossling. The only Portuguese/African style act to have played Splendour were up next: Buraka Som Sistema were by far the most unique artist of the weekend but having seen some of their work at The Northern there was limited appeal beyond the first few songs. There was a touch of Young Ones era Amazulu about them at times which might have drawn a chuckle. From me.

Man Choir (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Man Choir (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Courtney Barnett has been a busy lass. With her laid back, quintessentially Australian delivery and never ending  touring her star is starting to shine bright. Splendour was ready to give her some more love over in the McLennan tent as she delivered a short set including David, No One Really Cares if you don’t go to the Party and History Eraser. It’s solid, but definitely seems over quickly. Ms Barnett probably wants to go an eat some Doughnuts or Swedish Meatballs.

Courtney Barnett (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Courtney Barnett (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Chvrches get the coveted sunset spot over at the Amphitheatre and deserve every bit of it. Commanding stage presence, great songs and perfect sound make this the set of the day, and it’s hard to see how the bigger names to follow on the stage will measure up. Lauren Mayberry’s beautiful Glaswegian delivery has us hanging on every word, and the set builds beautifully. Go and see them.

Making it to the Mclennan in time to see Swedish sisters First Aid Kit close out their set only made me wonder if they knew how to make meatballs and mash. What they could do though was hold a crowd’s attention, and with their folksy but familiar tunes they managed that in spades. Whilst missing Chvrches wasn’t ever a consideration, it would have been nice had these two acts not clashed.

The Sun Dips in the Afternoon (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

The Sun Dips in the Afternoon (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Late additions to the lineup, Hilltop Hoods had graced many a festival stage in this country over the years, and still they’re painful to listen to. Giant inflatables and fairly engaging stage manner aside, their songs just kind of suck. There’s no telling the kids at the front though as tunes like Nosebleed Section are shouted back at the duo in all their bogans-from-tha-ghetto-of-Brisbane glory. Not memorable, in fact not different in any way to the other times they’ve occupied an hour on a festival stage. The crowd only got bigger though as one of the most talked about acts from the 2011 version of Splendour, Foster The People took to the stage. Whilst a middle of the day set on a small stage undoubtedly worked for Mr Foster and friends back then, this was a flat set that held no connection with the crowd and at times drifted off into the frontman just pretending to be a rockstar. Even big hits like Helena Beat and Pumped Up Kicks couldn’t save this set from being largely forgettable.

An accusation that could never be levelled at Lilly Allen, is that she’s forgettable. With more high-vis wear than a building site and seemingly quite concerned about the visibility of her ‘camel toe’, she opens with a couple from her latest album Sheezus, before dipping back to her older offerings Smile and Everyone’s At It. The newer stuff isn’t working particularly well – title track Sheezus is just blech – but once she hits the heights of 22, Littlest Things and a half decent cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, things pick up. It’s with the triple header of Fuck You (where the crowd en masse flip the bird to the world), the brilliant The Fear and the predictable closer It’s Not Fair that this set ends, in a better state than it began but to close out another year of Australia’s best music festival.

Lionel Richie's Head (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

Lionel Richie’s Head (Splendour in the Grass 2014)

What the 2014 flavour lacked in real big name headliners, it made up for with some great depth and unexpected highlights. The site worked better in 2014 than in 2013 (though dry weather probably helped that), and as we said goodbye – not hello – to Lionel Richie’s Head for the last time, it was hard not to wonder what the man himself might have made of the whole 3 day North Byron experience…

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