Splendour In The Grass Day One Review

Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Returning to Splendour In The Grass this year felt like returning to a second home after a prolonged absence.

Everything was just the way I remembered it, from the amazing shops, the delicious food, the art installations, the campsite, the chilled atmosphere, the cool people, The Mango Hut, and of course the music. Just walking around the venue brought back so many great memories from last year which, coupled with the knowledge that similarly great memories were about to be created, made me almost giddy with excitement at finally being back.

Music festivals don’t come much bigger or better than Splendour In The Grass. If the organisers went massive with last year’s lineup, then they went atomic this year, securing two of the biggest acts in the world, Kanye West and Coldplay, for Australian exclusive shows. But music is only one part of Splendour. While I’ll never be one of those people that go to music festivals to sit around and get wasted without actually seeing any music, it was very easy to kill time at Splendour without seeing a single live act.

There was just so much to do, from wander the enormous campsite meeting new people, to shopping at the wide variety of makeshit stores, to discovering awe-inspiring art installations scattered all around the festival ground. I went to Splendour In The Grass this year with five other people, and that’s pretty much exactly what we did for Thursday night, after securing a favourable campsite of course and staking our claim with a Celtic flag for no particular reason.

Splendour In The Grass really is a self-sustaining miniature city; a fucking awesome gated community that you never want to leave. And throughout the three days of the music festival, the only negative aspect was that we had to leave at the end.

So then, before jumping into the music I should point out that I’m not a big hip hop fan, so I’ll leave those portions of the review to Luke, who I flew up to the festival with. I’ll publish them separately once I’ve finished with my own review, so hopefully between the two of us we’ll have all your reviewing needs covered. Oh and I missed two early acts I was very keen on seeing, Marques Toliver and Jinja Safari, due to my desire to hear from the Julian Assange Forum, so if anyone saw them I’d be interested to know what they were like. I’ll also leave talking more about the venue and organisation and atmosphere and everything to the Day Two review, because it was a much quieter day in terms of music. Right then, let’s do this.

The first band we saw was Melbourne’s Rapskallion, on the night of Day 0, before the real music festival had even begun. They played a short warm-up style set at the tiny Temple Stage, and did a hell of a job of kicking off the festival.

Their website describes Rapskallion’s music as “carnivalesque raggle taggle cabaret”, and that seems fairly accurate, even if I’m not entirely sure what all the words mean. I had never heard of the band beforehand, but Luke insisted that we all should make the effort to see them, and I’m certainly glad that we did.

Rapskallion played infectious carnivaly folky gypsy…y music that saw a sizable crowd gather the moment that they started, with the seven band members and various other performers barely able to fit on the stage. They got hoedowns started with some of their more upbeat numbers, had burlesque dancers stand on milkcrates and perform in front of the crowd, threw playing cards into the audience, and brought out a scantily clad nun to read the bible. What’s not to like?

Plus having Johnny Depp play accordion was a nice touch.

In terms of smaller bands to warm up a cold pre-festival crowd, you’d be hard pressed to find a better act than Rapskallion. Their performance seemed utterly unique, and they really did have the crowd at their command throughout their set, with charming banter and the carefree gypsy vibe of their music. It felt like Splendour had begun a night early.

After a surprisingly decent night’s sleep, the first true act of Splendour In The Grass for me was Kimbra. Given the hype surrounding her contribution to Gotye’s ‘Hottest 100 guaranteed winner’ Somebody That I Used To Know, it was unsurprising that the New Zealand singer drew a pretty massive crowd to the G.W. McLennan tent, the smallest of the three main stages but also the coolest in my opinion.

It was my first time seeing her live, and Kimbra didn’t disappoint. She is a born frontwoman, commanding absolute and undivided attention with her hypnotic dancing and simply stunning voice that washed over Splendour In The Grass and invigorated tired bodies. Her vocal range is nothing short of exceptional, and she makes full use of it for her live show as well, blending elements of jazz into her music that allow her voice to really shine.

Performing for 45 minutes at a festival without having released an album cannot be an easy task, but Kimbra achieved it with ease, with virtually no filler material. Even the songs that the crowd had never heard before were greeted with a huge response, necessitated by the undeniable talent of the woman we were watching who is well on her way to conquering the Australian music scene.

The highlight of her set came with finishing number Cameo Lover, an insanely infectious song that had everyone dancing and singing, which for an artist performing at 1pm is no small achievement. The way the song grows for those upbeats choruses and then fades away again to the more subdued verses, only to build steadily again, is enchanting. Give it time, and Kimbra will be a headline Australian act for festivals such as Splendour, of that there seems little doubt.

With a spot on the barrier at the G.W. McLennan tent secure, I set about waiting for UK band Wild Beasts. Whilst I love their studio music, I went into this set without lofty expectations- to me their introspective, brooding, subtle  music isn’t really suited to music festivals, and I thought they may have had a difficult time constructing the atmosphere that they build so beautifully in their studio material in a live setting. How wrong I was however, because as it turns out Wild Beasts were one of my favourite acts of the Splendour, and my personal highlight of Day One.

The band walked onto stage looking as chilled and as hipster as ever (I particularly enjoyed the koala knitted jumper), and immediately broke into a set consisting primarily of material from their latest album, the magnificent ‘Smother’. Bed Of Nails was hypnotic, as was the slow burn of Lion’s Share. This was music to lose yourself in, music to make you completely forget your surroundings and just fall into the spell of the band and in particular the vocals of Hayden and Tom, which sounded like nothing else on this planet.

Wild Beasts’ music manages the impossible balance of being both arty and unpretentious; both accessible and incredibly nuanced. Their sound is one of layers, each of which constantly ebbs and fades away, thriving on atmosphere and tension more than euphoric choruses. Music doesn’t come much more special than this.

The Devil’s Crayon provided a welcome blast from the past, and it’s also one of the band’s more upbeat numbers that got the crowd moving around a bit. For the most part however, the only indicator that the Splendour audience was loving the band’s music was the rapturous applause in between songs- at all other times we were just under the spell of Wild Beasts, swaying slightly and never looking away from the stage. The band could not have been more gracious and likable either, saying “We were afraid that no-one would come, and it’s so amazing to see so many of you here. Thank you so much”.

Albatross received the biggest response from the crowd, but like all great shows this was a set about so much more than individual songs. Wild Beasts put on an enchanting, captivating, and mesmerising set that, far from being unsuited to a festival, was perfect for Splendour In The Grass. Add to this the fact that they were completely charming and gracious and you have a true highlight of the day and indeed the entire festival.

Next up was one of the nastier clashes of the day, Warpaint v James Blake v The Kills. I wasn’t really up to braving the undoubtedly massive Amphitheater crowd for the latter, and I had just been to James Blake’s sideshow, so it seemed like the best thing to do would be to stay on the barrier for Warpaint, whom I had made the mistake of not seeing earlier the year at Laneway. Never fear though, Luke opted for James Blake so there’s a writeup of that set on the way.

With punters fairly evenly dispersed across the three main stages it was unsurprising that the crowd under the G.W. McLennan tent wasn’t at its peak for the day, but it was still a loud roar that greeted the arrival of the girls from LA, along with a lot of (unfortunately very Australian festival-ish) wolf whistling and statements of the obvious (“You’re total babes!” etc.).

The band however seemed determined to let their music do the talking, which was just fine with the more diehard fans at the front of the crowd. While not exactly festival-stealing, Warpaint’s set was very very solid and thoroughly enjoyable. They risked falling into slightly self-indulgent jams at times, despite it being clear that the crowd wanted to hear more of the material off their debut album ‘The Fool’, but for the most part they struck the balance between jamming and playing tracks pretty nicely.

They did come over as a bit too-cool-to-care with their banter however, which was full of presumable injokes between the band and not a whole lot else. But once again their music was enjoyable enough so that this didn’t really matter, with bigger numbers such as Warpaint and in particular Undertow plunging the crowd back into a near-hypnotised state. 

Warpaint played a great set that may have disappointed people after a 100% faithful translation of their studio material or a reason to dance, but really neither of these perspectives should be held going into a Warpaint live set. The girls’ music spoke for itself, and it really was at times painfully beautiful and enchanting.

Oh, and they’re total babes.

I hesitated for about five seconds at the conclusion of Warpaint’s set, wondering whether I should wait it out on the barrier for Boy And Bear or descend to a more comfortable viewing position. As it turns out, those five seconds were enough hesitation to take the choice completely out of my hands, because in that time the tent was swamped with thousands of people clearly rather excited about seeing the Sydney band, and I couldn’t have escaped if I wanted to.

While I’d be lying if I said the wait was at all enjoyable, when Boy And Bear took to the stage it was all worthwhile. It was the best set I’ve seen from the boys, which is saying something given that it was somewhere around the ninth time. They owned Splendour In The Grass, and I pity any act that clashed with them, international or not. They opened with a medley of latest single Milk And Sticks and fan favourite Mexican Mavis, and from that point there was no looking back.

Even the band seemed slightly taken aback by the absurdly large crowd that had assembled to see them, constantly stating their gratitude and being all charming and that. They weren’t dwarfed by the scale of Splendour however, playing a set that perfeclty balanced older well-known numbers with unreleased (at the time) material from their debut album ‘Moonfire’, which was just released today.

Blood To Gold got everyone singing along and dancing in the admittedly rather confined space that we had available to us, and that emblematic beginning to Rabbit Song pretty much blew the roof off the G.W. McLennan tent, becoming Splendour’s first real anthem. The band closed their hour-long set with Feeding Line, which seemed like it came about far too soon. Boy And Bear are the biggest band of their kind in Australia, and it’s for a very good reason: Australian folk music doesn’t come much more convincing or likable than this.

They departed the stage, but left everyone in the audience with fond memories, not the least of which was screaming “I got my whole damn life” at the tops of our lungs, jumping with arms outstretched towards the tent roof as hundreds of pamphlets for The Wombats’ latest album fluttered inexplicably above us in the breeze, glowing slightly in the bright moonlight.

After a welcome campsite chill and a very nice dinner it was time to brave the staggeringly massive Amphitheater stage for Modest Mouse, a cherished band of mine for countless years who I had never seen live before. To say I was excited would be an understatement, but unfortunately it seemed that most of the crowd in the ground area of the stage were there for one thing and one thing only, and that was securing a good spot for Kanye West.

It was disappointing to see the slightly underwhelming response from the crowd when Modest Mouse walked onto the stage, and it was immediately obvious that my mates and I would have to make our own fun for this set, regardless of those around us standing resolutely with arms folded, determined not to have fun. Opening with Dance Hall was certainly a good way to start, as the words “I’m gonna dance all dance hall every day” certainly summarised our own approach to the set.

Dashboard made a welcome early-set appearance, and it was resplendent, transcending the seeming indifference of large portions of the crowd to create an amazing singalong for the diehard fans in the crowd, who seemed to gravitate towards one another throughout the set, creating pockets of energy. “Oh we talked about nothing, which was more than I wanted to know-oh-oh-oh-oh, now here we go”.

I was thrilled to hear Bukowski, an intelligent and infectious jam, make an appearance, as the band swapped instruments and style with ease. Modest Mouse are true masters; tried and tested geniuses whose live show is pretty close to flawless when they’re on their game. And they were on their game at Splendour, playing a marvelous set crammed full of huge hits and great tracks and minimal banter, which given the situation was a wise choice.

And then it was time. The moment those bongos signaled the start of Float On, one of my favourite songs of all time, myself and the two mates I had somehow ended up with in the packed crowd went absolutely mental. It was a three man mosh pit of epic proportions as we jumped up and down as high as we could, literally screaming every word of the iconic track, absolutely oblivious of everything else around us. Nothing else seems to matter awfully much when you’re listening to Float On

It was a euphoric, magical moment, well and truly one of the most memorable songs of the festival for me.

Modest Mouse departed the stage to large applause, thankfully having won over at least some of the initially indifferent ground crowd. Don’t listen to people who say that the band were disappointing, as many people inevitably did after the set. The band were stellar, it was a large part of the crowd that was lame. If you went into the set determined not to have a good time then it’s no wonder you didn’t enjoy the band- everyone who went in as either a huge fan or at least with an open mind would have had a ball. 

Although the lack of Horn Intro, in all its ten second glory, was mighty disappointing.

Whilst most of my festival pals stuck around for The Hives, I headed back to my preferred haunt of the G.W. McLennan tent to catch the second half of Gotye‘s set. The tent was predictably packed, with the crowd spilling out over all sides of the tent  and even hill vantage points at a premium.

Luckily I managed to find a nice spot on the hill (the above image is actually from the Amphitheater though for no particular reason) overlooking the madness, just in time for Gotye to announce that a special guest would be joining him on stage. The crowd went ballistic, safe in the knowledge of exactly what was coming. And sure enough Kimbra joined Gotye on stage for his latest single Somebody That I Used To Know, and one of those Splendour moments of legend was born.

To call the song fantastic live would be a gross understatement. It’s well on its way to earning Gotye a massive international following, and it’s for a very good reason. Its powerful choruses are just something else, and Kimbra’s vocals in particular were sublime. A Splendour anthem? You bet, from my vantage point I could hear the crowd singing loudly in all its glory, and, with the beautiful backdrop of the Woodfordian night, it made for a rather iconic moment.

While some of the crowd left following the song, no doubt to secure good spots for Kanye West, Gotye ensured that those remaining did not waste their time by following Somebody That I Used To Know with Heart’s A Mess. While it’s a pretty beautiful song, I’ve never found it that impressive live, and from my removed location I was treated to a rather horrid mashup of Heart’s A Mess and a Bluejuice song emanating from the Mix Up stage. I can imagine that from within the G.W. McLennan stage the song would have been great though.

Gotye finished his set with Learnalilgivinanlovin’ which saw everybody, even those on the hill, get their dance on and have a great time. Gotye is nothing short of an extraordinary musician, and he really does seem to be in the form of his life. This is a set that will go down in Splendour folklore (I believe it was the first time Somebody That I Used To Know was performed live?).

While most people departed to the Amphitheater, those who remained at the smaller tent stage were treated to a great performance by Scotland’s Mogwai. While I know virtually none of their music, the post-rockers put on a hell of a show driven by energy and ambience. It was the perfect time for them to be playing as well, with casual festival fans who would no doubt be put off by their at times inaccessible music all away preparing for Kanye West, leaving them to play only to true fans of their music.

Their set consisted mostly of lengthy guitar-driven instrumental section with some heavy bass and drums. After a welcome reunion with a few mates I really enjoyed just chilling on the hill as the guys did their thing in front of a very respectable crowd indeed. I wouldn’t call them amazing, but then they don’t exactly play my type of music anyway, so the fact that I enjoyed them at all speaks volumes about just how good they were.

“I hear Kanye West is going to come onto stage in a coffin,” said one of the bandmembers, “Well we’re going to fucking leave the stage in coffins”. And that impeccably delivered line to me summarised everything that was so different about Mogwai compared to Kanye- while the latter was all about the spectacle, Mogwai were simply doing their thing on stage, putting absolutely everything they had into their music and intending to leave every ounce of energy behind when they departed. 

And that’s exactly what they did.

I thought Kanye West was shit, when I eventually did make it over to the Amphitheater more out of perceived necessity than anything else.

He was as divisive as ever: while the ground crowd clearly loved his set, as we were walking towards the Amphitheater halfway through Kanye’s set we noticed that a large amount of people were already leaving, with one punter cautioning us: “Don’t do it”. And I kind of wish I had listened.

If I’m being completely objective then I think Kanye really suffered from the lack of Justin Vernon as well as guest rappers, and his use of auto-tune was nothing short of criminal, but truthfully he just doesn’t play my type of music, and I was never going to enjoy his set. Don’t hate me, just wait until Luke’s review because he had a rather different opinion to mine. 

I did find it hilarious that, at the end of Kanye’s set and while the crowd was still cheering for an encore, those on the hill could clearly see his car departing the festival instantly.

I will admit though that while I thought Kanye was horrible, a small part of me was kind of glad I witnessed his set, and I guess that really says something.

So that was it for Day One of Splendour In The Grass. The festival had been just as amazing as I remembered, in just as many ways as I remembered. It had been a virtually faultless day, with every act that I saw living up to expectations and then some. My personal highlights had been Wild Beasts and Modest Mouse, who both performed two of the best festival sets I have ever seen, but really there were so many strong acts on throughout the day that someone could have easily chosen a completely different timetable to what I did and still had an amazing time.

I went to sleep on Friday night completely content with the world, slightly bemused at the sheer number of phenomenal sets I had seen throughout the day and safe in the knowledge that there was much, much more still to come.

7 Responses to “Splendour In The Grass Day One Review”

  1. disappointed i didn’t get to catch up with you! especially considering how many similar bands we saw – including Rapskallion on the thursday night!

    • Haha yeah that is really stupid actually- there were heaps of people I was meaning to catch up with but my phone reception was really patchy so doing so over Twitter would have been a pain.

  2. Excellent review of day one – felt like I was there. Great to hear Kimbra’s show is worth watching as I’m planning on going her headline show in Sydney. Also not surprised by the reaction to Kanye – it’s pretty much a ‘spectacle show’ at the best of times I imagine.

  3. I saw Wild Beasts in New York last year and they were mighty impressive.

  4. Great review, mate. A very similar day to mine, that day! I didn’t get the whole Kayne madness either….ha!


  1. Kimbra: Splendour in the Grass review – 09.08.2011 « The WMA hub. - August 10, 2011

    […] read more reviews from the weekend, click here. LikeBe the first to like this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: