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Luke’s Splendour Escapades

By Luke (Twitter)

After a surprisingly short hour and forty-five minute flight, then an hour or so bus trip which I spent sharing alcoholic beverages with some new friends whom I had just met, Lachy and I arrived at Woodfordia for Splendour In The Grass… and I was in the mood and raring to go for an epic weekend. 

This was the first SITG that I had the pleasure of attending, and after ruing the missed chance of going for last year’s stellar line up I intended to make the most of the incredible artists on offer this year.  After setting up camp it was time for Lachy to show me around the festival grounds so I could familiarise myself with the three main stages and the wonders on offer in the festival site. 

Arriving on the Thursday, a day before the festival actually began meant we had plenty of time to socialise with the other fellow campers who had also arrived.  It also gave me the chance to see the gypsy band Rapskallion whom I had seen late last year at another festival in Melbourne, and had fallen in love with.  They play a genre of music unmatched by any other band that I have ever seen, with driving piano-accordion and a thumping double bass, all layered up with violin, clarinet, saxophone and charismatic vocals.  Needless to say, I was more than a little bit excited to see these guys again -and they did not disappoint.

Now while Lachy and I have very similar tastes in music, our similarities end over hip-hop.  So this review is mainly on the hip-hop acts that I saw and James Blake as Lachy opted to see Warpaint.

After witnessing Kimbra’s fantastic set I left the G.W. McLennan tent and headed to the Mix Up tent to catch the last half of Melbourne hip-hop artist Phrase’s set.  I’m not a great fan of Phrase although his album ‘Clockwork’ which he released in early 2009 was very listenable.  I had seen him once before feature in a couple of songs at an M-Phazes gig at the Espy a couple of years back, but this was the first time seeing him play a full solo set.  I went in not expecting that much and walked away thinking even less. 

The set, or at least the latter thirty minutes that I saw, was comprised completely of songs off his upcoming album which made it difficult for the crowd to get involved barring the dedicated few on the barrier.  I was less than impressed by his decision to not play any of his well known songs from ‘Clockwork’ such as the title track Clockwork.  The one track that I heard him play from that album was Spaceship which he played at the very end of his set.  I was in the process of walking away from the tent when I heard it start up and went back just for that, figuring that I had wasted the past thirty minutes just standing around being bored waiting for the song so I might as well go and enjoy it.

After being disappointed by Phrase it was time for James Blake.  He was a big draw card for me personally, having loved his self-titled album and hearing Lachy rave about how fantastic he was at his sideshow in Melbourne.  My expectations were high and he well and truly surpassed them.  He was sublime; with mind-bending sub bass and divine- at times delicate- piano lines, all topped off with his incredible vocals.  He can do things with his voice I had never seen before, and probably won’t again.  Needless to say after the success of his debut album, the Mix Up tent was full and the crowd were simply in awe as this incredible musician entranced us with his unique brand of music.

His hour set was sprinkled with highlights as he played the more well known tracks from his album such as I Never Learnt To Share, which was simply amazing.  Watching him slowly layer “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me…” with a loop station, each time singing the line, adding a different note to the chord, created such a rich, full sound with just his voice and the gentle kick from the electric bass drum. To Care (Like You) was another highlight with the driving beat forcing the crowd to move as the sub bass shook us collectively. 

However the standout track by far was his exceptional cover of the Feist track Limit To Your Love.  From the moment he struck the first two distinctive piano chords it became immediately clear that the crowd were eagerly anticipating this track.  The incredible reception the track received took even James Blake himself by surprise as he let the first two chords linger with a surprised grin and exchanged a wide smile with his band before singing the first line with the crowd.

His set was simply awe inspiring, witnessing the way he translated his studio recorded music into a live set.  I would jump at the chance to see him again if (hopefully when) he returns to Australia.

After spending the rest of the afternoon back with Lachy we separated again after Modest Mouse as I wanted to hold down a good spot in the mosh for Kanye later that evening.  It meant I had to endure a set from The Hives, who to be completely honest don’t make my kind of music. But I have to say they are very good, very accomplished performers.  Front man Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist had the crowd in the palm of his hands, at one point getting the whole of the mosh to sit down, despite the distinct lack of space towards the front where I was.  I ended up sitting on some dude’s lap until Howlin’ Pelle finally started the next song causing everyone to jump up again. 

Despite not knowing any songs by The Hives but Tick Tick Boom which they closed with, I did enjoy their set.  In particular Pelle’s between-song-banter which is unrivalled in both pretentiousness and humour.  However I was more than happy when they finally left because it meant it was time for my main event. Yeezy was about to take the stage.

Before I continue I have to set something straight.  I am a Kanye West fan.  I love his music and had been eagerly anticipating his SITG set, and while he was easily the most divisive artist on the bill, I loved his set.

I had managed to get four rows from the barrier a little to the right of the packed out Amphitheatre stage, while the stage crew covered the stage floor with white plastic in preparation for Kanye and his troupe of dancers.  I was dehydrated having been in the mosh for the past four hours and only getting mouthfuls of water from the tiny cups that the security guards on the barrier were handing out, and I was more excited than I had been for a long time.  The excitement was only added to by the rumour that had spread like wildfire that Jay-Z had arrived in Brisbane and was heading this way to support Kanye.

As the stage went dark and ‘Act 1’ was beamed onto the back wall, it begun.  With the thundering chords from the track Dark Fantasy, the opening track from his latest album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and the chorus of “can we get much higher” sung by the crowd in unison with the pre-recorded vocals.  As I searched the stage for Kanye I eventually found him, on a raised platform behind me in the middle of the crowd; he probably couldn’t get much higher unless he was standing on the roof of the Amphitheatre stage itself.

Kanye put on more than a show, he put on a full blown production.  From fireworks to great big smoke machines across the front and back of the stage, he had it all.  He played for an hour and a half straight and his epic set was divided into three ‘acts’ comprising of tracks off all his five albums.  ‘Act 1’ was very upbeat playing songs such as Flashing Lights, Power and Diamonds From Sierra Leone.  When the beat from Monster dropped the anticipation for Jay-Z was heightened (as he features on this track on Kanye’s latest album) and was just as quickly dispelled as the song ended without a cameo from Jay-Z.  But this slight disappointment didn’t affect the enthusiasm of the crowd as Kanye continued to play hit after hit.

With ‘Act 2’ the tempo was brought down slightly as he opened it with two of the better tracks off his album ‘808s & Heartbreaks’ in Heartless and Love Lockdown.  The bass from the speakers in Love Lockdown was mind blowing.  I physically could not hear out of my right ear (which was facing the speakers for the entire set) for the entirety of Saturday and half of Sunday.  ‘Act 2’ was brought to an end with a medley of verses from some of his older tracks such as Through The Wire and All Falls Down, before going on to play full versions of some of his more mainstream hits like Touch The Sky and Gold Digger.  These tracks in particular were met with much appreciation by the monstrous crowd as we yelled the verses together with Kanye. 

To the booming sound of the unmistakable Chariots Of Fire, ‘Act 3’ began.  The entire stage – including Kanye and his dancers – was covered by a massive white sheet, while he performed a costume change into his distinctive red jeans and red leather jacket; that since his set at Coachella have become synonymous with his epic hit Runaway.  When the sheet was finally lifted Kanye came to the front of the stage where an MPC was waiting for him and he began my most anticipated song – Runaway.  It was truly incredible despite missing the stunning verse on the album by Pusha T.  Nevertheless the crowd were jumping and yelling every word to the song putting particular emphasis on having “a toast to the douche bags”.

Following Runaway was Lost In The World which features the divine voice of Justin Vernon, and although he wasn’t actually on stage that night, his voice echoed through the Amphitheatre in the form of a recording.  I love the track and thought it was a fantastic way to finish his latest album, and it was fantastic live despite the lack of live Justin Vernon vocals.

After working the crowd into a frenzy with Lost In The World Kanye brought the crowd back down on a bit of a sombre note as he played Hey Mama and dedicated the entire set to his recently deceased mother.  Upon finishing his dedication he proceeded to get everyone who was involved in the epic production, from his DJ’s through to the twenty or so dancers, up on stage to take a bow similar to what you would expect to see after going to a theatre to see a play.  I suppose it was fitting that he headlined the Amphitheatre on the Friday night, and I left feeling ecstatic after witnessing what was the highlight of my SITG, and knocking a massive artist off my bucket list of ‘to-see-artists’.

I’ll now skip ahead to Sunday as Lachy has covered Saturday in his review.

I was just getting my hearing back from being deafened on Friday night at Kanye and after an easy morning of seeing Grouplove who were a lot of fun live then seeing Liam Finn from the hill overlooking the G.W. McLennan tent I went to get my Aussie hip-hop fix in the form of Sydney hip-hop outfit The Herd followed by the pale rider from Perth, Drapht.

I was on the barrier of a full Mix Up tent for The Herd who are one of my favourite Aussie hip-hop outfits for their hard hitting political rap, and having seen them a couple of times now I knew what to expect from their set.  Which is usually a political hate session voiced through the joint yelling of Urthboy and Ozi Batla’s verses.  In saying that, every time I see them I am excited because they put on a great show with live piano-accordion and thumping basslines. 

Right from the get go they opened with one of their more political tracks 2020, from their album ‘Summerland’.  Their set comprised of tracks from their past three albums dotted with a few new tracks off their upcoming album ‘Future Shade’.  The cover of Redgum’s I Was Only 19 was a crowd favourite along with their latest single Sum Of It All which makes great use of Jane Tyrrell’s incredible voice.  When the hook comes up, or any part of any song which features Jane, the male contingency of the crowd goes nuts.  Which is completely understandable considering she’s an absolute babe with an amazing voice. 

The Herd have a great stage presence and it is easy to see they both enjoy their music and stand by the messages their music sends, which was epitomised when Ozi Batla introduced their final song 77% by saying “I can’t believe we still have to play this”.  77%  is a track about how racist the Australian population is, and despite being released in 2003 the message still rings true and the crowd were fully supportive yelling out the hook of “wake up, this country needs a fuckin’ shake up”.

Drapht was next up and he played a highly energized set to a packed out Mix Up tent.  The set began with a track off his latest album ‘The Life Of Riley’ Sing It which really got the crowd jumping.  He played a great set with the right balance of older songs to his more recent and more well known material.

After playing the opening track he announced to the crowd that he was playing this set completely sober as he was doing ‘dry July’ and raising money for a friend who was battling cancer.  His soberness probably contributed to him forgetting the opening line of the second verse of Falling, but you have to give the man respect for going dry for a good cause.

Jimmy Recard made a relatively early appearance in the set and is clearly still the crowd favourite despite the fact that it seems like Drapht is trying very hard to move past the massive mainstream success the track garnered.  His efforts to move on are none more evident than the fact he released a track on his latest album ‘The Life Of Riley’ titled R.I.P. J.R. which he performed directly after Jimmy Recard, complete with a recorded eulogy for “the king of the bar” Jimmy Recard.  The highlight of the set for me was when Drapht called Urthboy (The Herd) back on stage and then to the surprise of the crowd also called on Melbourne emcee Mantra to come on stage to perform a track they both feature on from his latest album We Own The Night.  For me to see these three artists, one from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, on stage at the same time was unforgettable.

Splendour In The Grass was easily the best festival I have ever been to.  The food was reasonably affordable and quite nice, drinks were a bit over priced but that is standard for all festivals.  The key factor that will get me back in 2012, apart from hopefully another stellar line up will be the general atmosphere around the campsite.  Everyone seemed so friendly and everyone was there simply to have a good time. I cannot wait to return in 2012.

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