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Splendour In The Grass Day Three Review

Day One | Day Two | Day Three

The final day of Splendour In The Grass is always bittersweet. But the Day Three timetable provided the prefect antidote to our premature feelings of loss, especially since it necessitated constantly moving between the three stages and deciding on a whole range of clashes. This was easily the busiest day of the festival for me, and even looking back now the amount of quality music I witnessed seems almost absurd.

I also can safely say that there was a not a single disappointing act of Day Three. Every artist that I saw performed a memorable and enjoyable set, even those I had seen live plenty of times before, and even those who I went into with low expectations. It was a day of talented local bands, huge international acts, and more than anything the Brits, who took over the main stage from 6pm until the end of the festival. And it’s hard to imagine a better final day for any music festival than this.

First up was one of the few Melbourne bands on the Splendour bill, Alpine. They had the difficult task of warming up the Amphitheater, especially considering that they play at times quite brooding music, but they did an admirable job, and the decent ground crowd in particular seemed to love every second of their set.

Their set was unmistakably spearheaded by closing song Villages, which has received a ton of online hype and radio love. Hearing the song live only further stressed that this was well deserved- it was a spellbinding song, causing even those relaxing on the hill to stop everything they were doing and gaze wistfully at the stage. All in all it was an impressive set from a band who look set to achieve very big things in the Australian music scene.

The use of pant-suits and face paint was also greatly appreciated.

Enticing us down from the hill and onto the barrier of the Amphitheater stage for the first time was one of my most anticipated acts of the festival, Grouplove. It was their first festival appearance in Australia, but the band showed no signed whatsoever of the fact that they were still a fairly new act- both the cohesion between band members and the music that they played were top notch.

Opening number Don’t Say Oh Well is probably my favourite Grouplove song, taken from their debut self-titled EP, and live it was insanely infectious, getting everybody in the ground area dancing and luring even more people down from the hill to the point where a very decent crowd indeed had assembled. The band’s debut album, ‘Never Trust A Happy Song’, is out in a month’s time, and they gave us a taste of what is to come with a few new songs, not the least of which was Love Will Save Your Soul, which looks to be a radio hit in the making.

Itchin’ On A Photograph, the first single from the aforementioned album, saw the crowd frantically clap in unison for the better part of five minutes, a very decent achievement indeed and one that only added to the fun of the song. The love between all the band members was obvious to see on stage, and it really did add a whole lot of charisma to their performance. Even though their music is perfectly capable of speaking for itself, the dynamics within Grouplove are what make their live show truly special.

“We’ve been thinking about this day for a long time,” said the band, “And we can’t believe that we’re finally here, playing Splendour In The Grass”. They seemed genuinely humbled by the response Australia has shown their music. New song Spun gave guitarist Andrew a chance to flex his lead singer muscles, at the same time as furiously strumming a ukulele. It was one of my favourite tracks of Grouplove’s set, and I cannot wait to hear it in studio form.

When it came time for Grouplove’s last song everyone knew exactly what was coming. Colours was nothing short of magical, getting everyone in the crowd singing, jumping, dancing and screaming in time, at the same time as the band let go of all remaining energy on the stage. It was a euphoric song, and one of those festival-defining moments for me personally. It was beautiful. “I am a man, man man man up up in the air”.

Lunch and drinks were in order before heading over to the G.W. McLennan tent to watch Liam Finn‘s set from the slope. I had seen the kiwi musician live a few times before, at both festivals and headline shows, however he really does seem like a changed performer since the release of his latest album ‘FOMO’.

For one thing, he played his Splendour set with a full band, which seemed to allow him much more freedom to exercise his frontman duties rather than be stuck behind a drumkit setting up loops constantly. Along the same vein he seems to have really embraced his role as a singer and guitarist- whereas beforehand his shows could sometimes descend into slightly self-indulgent drum solos, his Splendour set had a more traditional pop/rock music vibe going on.

In my opinion, all these changes were for the better. It was easily the best set that I have seen Liam Finn play, spearheaded by new song Cold Feet as well as older numbers such as Second Chance, which was as brilliant as always. While I can certainly understand if some people think Liam Finn with a band loses a bit of the uniqueness of Liam Finn with just EJ Barnes, I think the change really suits his music, and the one constant throughout both phases is Liam’s excellent songwriting abilities and stage charisma, and these alone ensure that every set he plays will be very memorable.

Honestly, I didn’t think Cloud Control‘s Amphitheater set would surprise or impress me. This was my eleventh time seeing the band live, and my seventh since the release of their universally acclaimed debut album ‘Bliss Release’, in which time they haven’t released any new material. I thought I was sick of them. But how wrong I was.

There were quite a few things about this set I didn’t see coming. Such as an interlude in the middle of Gold Canary featuring the theme music from ‘The Lion King’ accompanied by the iconic image from the film on the screens to either side of the stage that slowly morphed into bassist Jeremy’s face as he held his newborn baby aloft. Such as the release of twenty huge bouncing beach balls into the crowd (the band have clearly picked up a few tricks from their time with Arcade Fire).

Such as the gigantic hillmosh that developed halfway through their set, as hundreds of people stampeded up and down the Amphitheater slope, led by a man in golden underpants, kicking up a duststorm as they danced, sung, ran, and jumped. Or such as a cover of There She Goes, which was fantastic despite being preceded by the blatant lie of “We never usually do covers”.

To their credit, Cloud Control completely surprised me with this set, and I loved every minute of it, despite going in with the expectation that I would probably find it pretty mediocre, having seen the band live so many times before. The typical moments of a Cloud Control set were all there as well of course, such as the dancing to Buffalo Country and the moshing to There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight, as well as my favourite song of theirs, Death Cloud. But ultimately it was the unpredictable and at times unscripted moments that made Cloud Control’s set so enjoyable.

In hindsight I kind of wish I saw The Middle East’s set, given that it has now been revealed that it will most likely be their last. However my reasoning at the time seemed sound- I really don’t care for their latest album, and from what I had heard they were playing songs almost exclusively from it for their live shows. I would have loved to hear Blood one last time, but to be honest I’m not shattered that I missed them. It did mean that I had enough time to grab dinner before the ridiculous run of acts that would signal an end to the festival, beginning with Elbow.

And, as it turns out, this was my favourite set of the entire festival.

It was a tough choice whether to stay on the hill (albeit still very close to the stage) or make our way into the ground area, but ultimately we opted for the more relaxed former option. And I’m glad that we did, because it was the perfect vantage point to enjoy what was quite simply a masterful set. From the moment they walked onto stage Elbow just had this presence about them; this sense that we were about to witness something great. Their stage show may be almost entirely centered around frontman Guy, but when he is so charismatic and talented there is nothing at all wrong with that.

Opening track The Birds was beautiful, perfectly demonstrating everything that is great about the UK band. Their music may not be immediate or in your face or ultra catchy, but it is incredibly deep and nuanced and more powerful than pretty much anything else out there. I think Elbow are a good barometer in judging music taste: they are a true music fan’s band. Guy immediately set about getting the crowd involved in the band’s set, like the festival master that he is, getting those on the hill to scream hello to those in the ground area and vice versa. The majority of Elbow’s crowd was on the hill (although there was a very respectable contingent in the ground area), and Guy seemed determined to get us involved, which he achieved to great effect.

The Bones Of You and Mirrorball made for a bit of a blast from the past for me personally, given that I heard both tracks when I first saw Elbow live, at my first ever music festival. Guy’s buildup to Grounds For Divorce was masterful, as he got the entire crowd singing that hummed chorus at the top of our voice, spurring us on by saying things like “Not quite as good as France”. When the band finally did break into the song it was a stunning number, full of restrained power that only found release in the dominating instrumental parts of the song.

Elbow were just getting warmed up however, as Lippy Kids provided for one of the most iconic moments of Splendour In The Grass as Guy’s gentle whistling reverberated around the entire Amphitheater, which suddenly and inexplicably seemed dwarfed by the magnificence of what we were witnessing on the stage. How such a quiet and restrained song could hold the ten-thousand song crowd in such a rapture is a mystery to me, but I don’t think I heard a single word spoken by the crowd throughout its duration. “Build a rocket boys, build a rocket boys”.

And then it was time. For their final song Elbow played my favourite track of theirs, One Day Like This. And nothing else in the world mattered for those five minutes. There is no other way to describe the song other than pure magic. It is everything that music can and should be, capable of sparking such a range of emotions, from joy to hope to despair, with nothing more than a soft voice and gentle instrumentation. It was both powerful and unassuming, visceral and somehow restrained. It was the moment of the festival for me, sitting calmly on the hill and listening to one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard hold the entire festival in its spell, as the night sky darkened slightly and the only light came from the stage itself as Elbow both literally and figuratively lit up Splendour In The Grass.

It was one of the best festival sets I have ever seen. While so many Splendour bands were intent on creating a spectacle- not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with this- Elbow seemed determined to let their music speak for itself, and it spoke volumes. Guy was of course the perfect frontman as well, getting all areas of the crowd as involved as possible. I was slightly worried about how an Australian festival crowd would deal with music like this, but in the end everyone showed Elbow’s music the reverence that it deserved.

In short, Elbow’s set typified everything that can be so powerful and so beautiful about live music.

While the temptation to stay at the Amphitheater and see The Kaiser Chiefs live for the second time was pretty strong, ultimately I decided to make one last pilgrimage to the G.W. McLennan tent to see Noah And The Whale.

I only ended up catching half of their set, and only from a distance, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. I arrived in time to hear most of the ‘party songs’ from their latest album, which had the enormous crowd dancing and swaying under the massive tent. 5 Years Time was of course wonderful, but the highlight of their set was definitely their closing song, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., which had thousands of voices take over the lead vocals and create yet another lasting image of Splendour.

While I didn’t know much of their music, I was effectively threatened with death if I missed Pulp, so seeing as I was enjoying Splendour too much to have it come to a premature and unfortunate end I decided to head back onto the Amphitheater slope to catch the British institution in action.

I’m going to piss soooo many people off with this, but to be honest I found them slightly underwhelming. This was probably as a result of a few things though: not knowing much of their music, being given insanely high expectations by others, not being in the mosh, and being rather tired. I thought the set was pretty much carried by the charisma of Jarvis, and while there are certainly worse things to base a set on to me most of the actual songs Pulp played were just enjoyable without being anything special.

Common People was of course absolutely amazing though, and the band certainly made a wise choice closing with it, finishing their set on a real high that got even my tired adrenaline pumping. I may have been imagining this, but to me the band seemed slightly disconcerted by the fact that they weren’t headlining, and I certainly got the impression that they would have liked to play for another half hour or so, especially when Jarvis concluded the set by saying “What can I say, we have to go”. I thought Pulp were good despite not being amazing.

And then it was time for Coldplay. I went into their set thinking I’ll watch them because they’re one of the biggest bands in the world and because I really should watch them, and then afterwards I would say that they had been ‘good I suppose’ and not give their set a second thought. But, in what seems to be a trend for the festival, I was completely wrong. Coldplay killed it, blowing my expectations out of the water and playing a set worthy of headlining Splendour In The Grass.

As far as ways to walk onto stage, to the theme music of ‘Back To The Future’ has to be right up there with the coolest. And then when the band played Yellow so early in their set, as a bright yellow light bathed the crowd in gold, I was officially converted. The Scientist was equally wonderful, dedicated to Pulp in the hope that this wouldn’t be their last Australia show, because “A band like that is too good to break up”. For such a superstar, Chris Martin seemed very genuine and very kind, and his personality helped cover up for some of the weaker moments of Coldplay’s music.

Viva La Vida was superb, beginning with an instantly recognisable piano riff that dropped to the booming sound of strings and the chant of “Whoa-oh-oh-oh” in a moment that sent shivers down my spine. The end of the song saw the crowd take over lead vocals, and as hard as Chris Martin tried to regain control he couldn’t trump the sound emanating from the Amphitheater and eventually acquiesced, letting the crowd finish the song as he stood at the front of the stage, microphone held limply in one hand. For a second I almost believed that he was in awe of what he was witnessing.

Coldplay finished their main set with leading the crowd in a chorus of Happy Birthday for drummer Will, which I think we did a very admirable job at, leading into Life Is For Living.

If I’m being critical then I thought Coldplay’s main set had some periods of downtime which were pretty inexplicable for a band of their international standing and with their quality of backcatalogue, but really in the moment I was just too caught up in the splendour of the show to care. And I guess that in itself says all that needs to be said about Coldplay: love them or feel indifferent towards them, there’s a reason that they are so popular, and that is because they do what they do very, very well. Everything about their Splendour set was just spectacular.

But of course Coldplay returned for an encore, beginning with the one and only Clocks. While it was great, to me it was immediately surpassed by the song that followed it, Fix You, which was truly and completely beautiful. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you”. It even included a snippet of Rehab, done surprisingly tastefully. Let’s just pretend that Splendour In The Grass and Coldplay’s set ended with the beauty of Fix You, and not speak of the abomination of a song that followed it.

That last song aside, I had loved Coldplay’s set more than I thought was possible. Sure their music is inoffensive and safe and all that, but they have such a powerful and charismatic live show that it doesn’t really matter. They imbued their music with a purpose and meaning that it doesn’t really have in studio form, and it made all the difference in the world. 

Fuck it, I’m just going to say it: Coldplay were amazing.

And that, devastatingly, was the end of Splendour In The Grass.

It had been a sublime weekend; a pretty much perfect festival. My personal favourite sets, in order, were: Elbow, Wild Beasts, Grouplove, Guineafowl, and Modest Mouse. But there really were too many memorable moments to even begin to list them all here, some of which included music, some of which included just chilling around the festival and at the bar, and all of which included good friends. 

Was it the best weekend of my life? The only reason I even hesitate is that I had such an incredible time at Splendour last year. One thing is for sure though: Splendour has once again set the bar absurdly high for all music experiences. By now post-Splendour depression has come and gone, and I’ve mostly settled back into the swing of normal life, but every now and then I still get that sudden stab of yearning for the grandeur of the Amphitheater, the comfortable grass of the campsite, and the simple feeling of contentment that I felt throughout the entire weekend.

But I guess that’s just part of the beauty of the festival. It stays with you, Splendour.

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