Sunday, January 3, 2010


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sun and fun!
Splendour proved to be a microcosm of it's nearest town, Byron Bay. Plenty of tents and music options for the spiritually aware, and an all-pervading feeling that it's all going to be OK. And it is. Barely anyone puts in a poor show and even if they do, the crowd will sweetly forgive.


Following Delta Spirit, the GW McLennan Tent becomes a love-in for the brightly-shining charisma of the knobbly-kneed and mouth-agape Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion and his splendid backing band. Hynes' cascading guitar solos and smart songwriting turns of Tell Me What It's Worth and No Surprises are only outdone by his Aussie-flag-in-mouth take on the Star Wars Theme and a version of Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk that classifies as haunting, even at 3PM on a sunny day.

Meanwhile Bliss and Eso are busy turning the Mix Tent into a dutch oven. The joint is heaving with happy punters and a pall of smoke gathers during their set. Their unshowy visuals and absence of dynamics force the focus back on their inspired rhyming again and again; it's phat. 'Listen to Triple J' they shout. It seems we do.

Starting with a storming Mistress Mabel The Fratellis' set then takes a downturn. Their newer, less-immediate songs are largely lost on a crowd clearly there for the incredibly immediate Chelsea Dagger (or the following Cold War Kids) which does the job nicely. Melodic lout-rock chants may work better on English football terraces, but the choppy feelgood vibe still shines, if weakly.

Disappointment of the festival is Tricky. An artist all about atmosphere, stratospheres of dry ice and moody lighting can't hide the feeling that the music (and most notably his voice) sounds forced. Black Steel should shimmer violently but comes across as mid-90s digitised metal with breakbeats (which it was...time has not been kind) and leaves most punters unmoved, bar those who do leave and move to Devo.


Make up, hair and clothes are still fresh on the girls who line the barrier for Yves Klein Blue, though the band has a lot more going for them than the boundless showmanship of singer Michael Tomkinson something the girls celebrate vocally. One of the weekend's revelations, YKB use the stage for all it's worth, shifting between Suede-rock and a furious indie buzz.They pull punters and keep them, right until Tomkinson is dragged bodily offstage after a theatrical collapse. Great fun.

The Supertop crowd crush reaches maximum intensity seconds into Let's Dance To Joy Division and Leaving For New York midway through The Wombats' set. Though it's unlikely the band have the songs to forge a several-year career, they have energy to burn and excel at sending the crowd bananas, even if the misogyny wears thin before their sweaty set ends.

Few images will burn brighter in the mind than that of Patience Hodgson of The Grates bursting onto stage as Batgirl, Batman theme blazing overhead. Kicking into a blinder of a set that balances the exuberant new album with crowd-rousing faves, the size of the stage makes the other members seem like a backing band as she twists, kicks and jumps with glee, rending the show a highlight, even before the confetti cannons detonate during 19 20 20 etching joy into the upturned faces.

Even playing below par, a band like Sigur Ros are operating on such a different musical, theatrical and creative level that they still impress mightily, despite their unfortunate scheduling between The Vines and Wolfmother. Several miscues and mistakes may prove they're human but bring the usual cloud-configuring orchestrations back to earth. Still, the band's militaristic-Tim Burton getup is glorious to behold, and many songs off the new album shine magnificently while the tracks from Takk and Jonsi's bow-breaking guitar playing burns more furiously than ever.


Band Of Horses were also a highlight, they seem to craft moody Neil Young-style paeans from the very air, and the reception they got was incredibly vocal and passionate, almost more befitting an emo band.

British India, though full of energy and in possession of one of the more charismatic frontmen working the country at the moment were a little predictable and relied a lot on boring bar chord riffs and flustered hands running up and down the guitar neck in lieu of ideas. That said it was good to see the crowd loving them so much.

Devo were a clear highlight of the weekend and they still know how to put on a show. With a great selection of songs - Peek-A-Boo, Uncontrollable Urge, Mongoloid, Gates of Steel, their dynamite cover of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and the set-closing Beautiful World as sung by Booji Boy, there was little you could fault. incredibly tight players, the sort of connection only musicians who've been playing together as long as they have and a real sense of showmanship ensured that no one left disappointed and many left to hunt down their old records.

Vampire Weekend showed that they can play as tight as they can on record, and that's pretty much all they did. 'This is out first time to Australia.' says keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij . We know. 'We're really glad to be here.' Really?
Though they seem a little surprised at the reception they get, little emotion is spared and though the songs are well-written, there are no real surprises and it's a merely perfunctory show.

Still, Splendour in My Arse (as the locals call it) was a blast, in it's last year at Belongil Fields (next year sees the site move northward 20kms to a slightly larger place that will hold 20 000 punters) it really did bring out the best in the region and the punters seemed surprisingly respectful of the community and site. The 5-empty-beer-cans-earns-you-one-free-beer system kept the place tidy and people happy and all in all, it deserves the reputation of one of the country's best music festivals. I know I'll be back.

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