Report: Splendour 2011 Day 3
A fatigued ANDREW MCMILLEN powers through the final day of Splendour In The Grass 2011, taking in performances by Pulp, The Panics, Coldplay, The Vines and the last ever show by Townsville’s The Middle East. Photos by JUSTIN EDWARDS.
By now, fatigue has set in. I've spent Splendour sober - I'm in the midst of a three-month break from drinking - and I'm still ruined from the walking, the dust, and the volume of food and soft drink consumed thus far. Time for one last push. At the Amphitheatre, Melbourne’s Alpine are winning fans under a cloudy 11am sky that threatens to break. They tell us that it's their first festival, yet the six-piece handle their set like true pros. "I can't stop smiling, even though some of the songs are sad!" one of the singers enthuses between tracks. They end on 'Villages', a fantastic indie pop song that hints at their potential for greatness. The prospect of relocating to another stage is too much to handle, so I sit in the shade and wait for Grouplove, a band about whom I'm blissfully ignorant.
As it turns out, they play a set consisting entirely of Arcade Fire covers. I kid. these guys are from Los Angeles, not Quebec, so there's at least one point of difference. Their showing at midday is powerful and evocative. It's all blustery, feel-good indie rock, which fits the zeitgeist like a glove. They pull a big crowd. It feels as though a lot of those here are discovering a new favourite band. They thank Splendour co-founder Paul Piticco for inviting them here, and dedicate 'Naked Kids' to him. They're a very easy band to like.
On the same stage at 1.10pm - like I said, fatigue has set in – Hungry Kids Of Hungary prove their sound works well in an arena context. With no one else really playing at the time, they're handed the perfect opportunity to impress a good chunk of Splendour-goers. They don't miss the mark. They play most of debut album Escapades and kick beachballs into the crowd (as you do). With a new record reportedly underway, they're well on track to continue ascending the Australian pop ladder.
Under the McLennan tent, Leader Cheetah sound great but are otherwise dull. They show strong songwriting, but give us nothing else to latch onto. We might as well be listening to the album. I arrive in time for 'Bloodlines' and a wave of material from the newly-released Lotus Skies. I stand at the back of the tent and look out across the pond of filthy water upon which the nearby “pontoon bar” is housed. There's a momentary break in the timetable, so I scamper for an early afternoon shower and return to catch the final 30 seconds of Liam Finn's set - which is a shame, as it looked like a good time. A decade into their career, The Herd are a classic festival draw by now. They play a set of crowd-pleasers intermixed with material from forthcoming fifth album Future Shade, which are well received. I prefer them over most Australian hip-hop acts because they treat melody with as much respect as their rhymes. Watching thousands of people sing along to their hooks, it's easy to see why they've established themselves near the peak of the genre. While they mightn't have the hardcore fanbase of acts like Hilltop Hoods or Bliss N Eso, they've certainly carved out their own niche.
What I wrote about The Vines last year still rings true: "At best, they offer a passable facsimile of an interesting band." It's 4.45pm when they take the Amphitheatre stage, and the bowl is nearly full. They played almost the exact same timeslot in 2010. All that's changed this time around is that they have a new album to flog. There's no innovation, just regurgitation. The songs are visceral, immediate and catchy. That's the entirety of their appeal. To their credit, they do 'Outtathaway' and 'Ride' well. Playing these songs must be as simple as breathing for Craig Nicholls and co. I see as much of their set as possible, and actually come out feeling better about them than I did last year.
Sadly, it's not until afterwards that I realise I saw most of what we now know to be The Middle East's last ever performance. Walking toward the McLennan tent while they play a blazing rock number - one of the latter tracks from their debut album, I think - I note that singer/guitarist Rohin Jones is thrashing his head around like he's in a metal band. Curious. I've seen them play six or seven times and he's only ever been subdued. Both Jones and fellow songwriter Jordan Ireland mumble something about "last show" at various points during the set. They do 'Jesus Came To My Birthday Party' without much fanfare. Ireland leads a beautiful take on 'The Darkest Side', and then 'Better Times Are On Their Way', an unreleased spoken-word song about a Vietnam veteran returning home. Jones pulls off a great dirty-blues guitar solo during a cover of Bob Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released', which is dedicated to Cadel Evans, "a great Australian man".
Ireland looks back at the band to confirm he's ready. Then he begins picking out the opening notes of 'Blood'. The full tent - and the occasion, I suppose - brings out the best in them: this is a superlative version of a fine Australian song. Much has been made of its joyous outro, but for me, its impact has always been in Ireland's emotionally devastating lyrics: “And the cancer spread into her body and her blood/And there's nothing you can do about it now." Such a brutal, finite line. I love that the song evokes such passion and joy despite the fact that its narrative concerns human mortality. I write in my notebook that it's about as good a festival set as the band seem capable of. They are - and will remain - a good band with a handful of great songs. Vale.
The award for Best Crowd Participation this year goes to Elbow, who turn in one of the festival's best sets. Led by a true British gentleman in Guy Garvey - seriously, I could listen to him speak forever - the band could easily satisfy a headline slot, perhaps more so than Jane's Addiction. When Garvey spends a couple of minutes comparing the crowd's singing abilities against the French and the Danes, he has us all laughing and, naturally, liking the band more. Instrumentally and melodically brilliant, Elbow bring a touch of class to the hill that was sorely missing as soon as The Vines showed their faces. Their set is the first of four British acts to close the main arena.
From 7.15pm, the Mix Up stage is bouncing to the tune of Friendly Fires, a three-piece dance act who're tonight assisted by a brass section. Though they favour nonsensical choruses - what the hell does 'Hawaiian Air' mean, anyway? - singer Ed Macfarlane manages to sum up this weekend succinctly toward the end of the set. "It's been really memorable," he says. Too right, Ed.
We're into the final three acts. The first one is an easy listen: The Panics. Their fourth album, Rain On The Humming Wire, was released yesterday, but unlike the Mars Volta yesterday, they get away with playing a lot of new material, as well as a handful from 2007's Cruel Guards and 2005’s Sleeps Like A Curse. The McLennan tent isn't quite full, but the Perth quintet are making the album purchase a very easy sell. These songs are glorious. Songwriter Jae Laffer may well have outdone himself. Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that more people knew about this band. It still feels like they're a well-kept secret, for the most part. Monster-hit 'Don't Fight It' aside, of course.
There's a big crowd wigging out to Cut Copy's 'Lights And Music' as I head toward the Amphitheatre for the final stand - or final sit, more accurately. Again the lower road is closed. One more ascent of that bloody hill. It's very full here already, despite the Cutters' pulling power. Pulp are playing far below my perch on a grassy outcrop near the top entrance. Their songs fill the arena well. Jarvis Cocker takes off his coat to dance during 'Disco 2000' and 'Sorted For Es & Wizz'. Toward the end of their 60 minutes, the smell of shit wafts across the bowl as two “poo crews” on either side of stage simultaneously empty portaloos, causing Cocker to sarcastically comment on their brilliant timing. They play an excellent version of 'Sunrise', a track I love because it veers off toward prog-rock territory, which is very un-Pulp-like. Cocker says he's not sure if they'll ever play in Australia again, but if they don't, 'Common People' will be a great track to end on. He's right.
And so we've committed to staying the distance for Coldplay, the final headliner of the final night. They do exactly what you'd expect Coldplay to do. It's a technically brilliant show. They play everything you'd expect, minus 'Speed Of Sound', perhaps. Chris Martin - like Cocker - is an immensely likeable character. He has that ability to appear a little daft while being simultaneously self-aware of how he appears. He dedicates 'The Scientist' to Cocker, saying he hopes that this wasn't Pulp’s last Australian tour and that "bands like that should never break up". There are fireworks when they take to stage, of course, and when they end. Splendour headliner de rigueur by now, innit? (Jane's Addiction must have missed the memo.)
They play beyond their supposed midnight curfew and the crowd love every minute. They play 'Clocks' - otherwise known as “the Coldplay song that everyone likes” - during the encore.
Leaving the site at around 8.30am on Monday, we experience a 15-minute wait to trickle back out onto the highway and reflect on Splendour 2011. My theory is that “good times” are the currency at music festivals. Those on stage constantly ask if you're having a good time. People you meet ask if you're having a good time. The answer this weekend has consistently been “yes”. This, perhaps, is why Splendour has a future.