Golden Plains 2012 Day 2: Out Of Place, Out Of Time
MAX EASTON wraps up the last night of the Golden Plains festival in Meredith, Victoria, which saw a mixed bag of performances by the likes of Harmony, Lost Animal, Charles Bradley, Black Lips, Roots Manuva, CHIC and Roky Erickson. Photos by MICHAEL BAINBRIDGE. Day one review here.
Out Of Place
The challenge of timetabling the 10am morning after slot isn’t one easily met - often haphazardly palmed off to the smallest name on the bill - but for Golden Plains Sixxx, the selection of Melbourne’s Harmony proved to be a masterstroke. The accumulated hangovers of the 1000 early risers were treated to Harmony’s heartbroken lethargy jarred by jolts of brash noise – all made cathartic by three operatic backing singers. Impassioned and genuinely moving, guitarist Tom Lyngcoln slowed hardcore riffing to a crawl, rising from these stark moments into his own guttural scream. It was an incredible soundtrack to the rising heat, somehow appropriate as a festival alarm clock.
Overheard: “I like them up until that guy opens his mouth.”
Matching tracked beats to his sleazy pseudo-rap vocal, Melbourne’s Jarrod Quarrel (as Lost Animal) crafted one of the most unique albums of 2011 in Ex Tropical. Adding Kirin J Callinan’s cavernous guitar tones to the live show (tones so distinctive that you could pick them floating over the Amphitheatre from 500 metres away) his dark, almost perverted set seemed at odds with the sun-drenched open-air stage. Regardless, there’s a certain eeriness to his music; sunny tropicalia backing tracks clashing with his depressed poetics, all murmured with half-spat conviction. It could have been a overwhelming set at 4am – crushing and strange – but it was probably the safest bet in that timeslot.
By the time Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham) arrived in the late afternoon, the day of booze-induced stagger seemed to be a minor influence at the back of the Amphitheatre. Sobering up the festival’s rising anticipation for the night ahead, Oldham deadpanned through his discography to a somewhat mixed reception; the Cairo Gang a brilliant backing to a set placed a little astray between the punk comeback of the Celibate Rifles and the all-in assault of Roky Erickson. Oldham’s appearance always seemed to be placed as a foil to Saturday’s set by Bon Iver, but as passionate as his songs are on record, it just didn’t translate to Golden Plains; his emotional absence in the middle of the day arguably coming across as spiritless rather than tragic.
Endless Boogie somehow managed to polarise as well. They created an exodus from the back of the amphitheatre and received a front row boot nomination. How that happened is another question, a grating continuous jam that seemed to fall mostly on deaf ears.
For Sweden’s Soderberg sisters (playing as First Aid Kit) sincerity didn’t seem to be a problem. Awash with grins and mock rock outs among their twee-folk forays, it was only a lack of their own musical identity that was the blight on an otherwise gorgeous set. They may have shaken their label as flash-in-the-pan YouTube sensations with this year’s lauded second LP, The Lion’s Roar, but there’s nothing identifiably Swedish about either of them. Namechecking Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, June Carter and Johnny Cash on ‘Emmylou’, they played through a set inspired alternately by old-school Americana and modern alt-folk. Even the between song banter was painted with Americanisms and accents, but it was hard not to be charmed by the two, as painfully cute as they may have been.
The Golden Boot
As finicky as some people are about “The Boot’s” place and the rules dictating its rising, by now it’s time to concede (and come to grips with) the fact that the boot is an evolving tradition. It’s no longer a once-off award, but a sign of respect. In saying that, the boot continues to be driven more by levels of drug and alcohol consumption than a true reflection of the on-stage performance; rising into the afternoon and dying off as it all becomes a bit too much. That’s the beauty of an organically created rating system though, and, well, that’s also the beauty of drugs and alcohol.
Out Of Time
It’s becoming a staple of all Australian festival line-ups to include a nostalgia act or two, but Golden Plains took the cake with no less than seven acts taken or inspired by the backlogs of musical history, none coming from further back than Texan psych-king Roky Erickson.
Erickson has led a life usually reserved for fiction; losing decades to mental care in a prison for the criminally insane. It was an ill-advised insanity plea made to escape a drug possession charge that landed him there in the late ’60s, with his comeback only now resulting in his first ever foray to Australia. Despite appearing visibly lost and confused throughout the set (“Which one am I playing again? Okay!”) his voice had lost none of its bite after 30 years away from a microphone. As historically important as Erickson is though (and as heartwarming as it was to see his smile and patches of enthusiasm), it’s hard not to acknowledge the flaws of his live show. Backed (and essentially led) by 20-something session musicians, it felt more like he was wheeled out by his grandchildren than leading a comeback tour.
Indeed, as he was prompted sometimes cluelessly through his set-list of greatest hits (for the most part ignoring 2010’s comeback record True Love Cast Out All Evil) it seemed more like an exploitation of his name than a genuine attempt at returning him to the world.
Overheard: “I don’t even know who any of these old cunts are anymore.”
Eighties Sydney punks Celibate Rifles however, were all too aware of their place in the world, firming as one of the festival’s most successful dips into the past. Their appearance was chaotic; reviving the crowd-clearing effect of Endless Boogie with a set of Aussie garage classics, including the blistering song that broke them, ‘Johnny’.
Urge Overkill should’ve stayed in 1993 - their revival tour more indebted to others than any of their own merits. Even their blurb focuses more on the fact that they once supported Pearl Jam and Nirvana, while their set only ever reached a high when playing their cover of Neil Diamond’s ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’. For the rest, it was a by-the-numbers ’90s nostalgia slot with most of the crowd appearing about as uninterested as the band themselves.
Into the Groove
It took a while for Golden Plains to warm to Roots Manuva, his nigh on ludicrous introduction and stock-standard hip-hop banter initially being little more than an eye-rolling sideshow for the Amphitheatre’s extremities. As the set went on though, they became the first act to physically charge the festival’s crowd for the night ahead. Indeed, if it weren’t for the soul-laden Charles Bradley or disco pioneer Nile Rodgers (possessing two sounds that informed the evolution of the musical stream that became what Roots Manuva delivered,) he could have had one of the best receptions of the night; receiving a surprising sea of Dunlop Volleys, Vans and gumboots by set’s end.
Overheard: “He’s kind of like Flava Flav … if Flava Flav had no clock or personality.”
Sixty-three year old Charles Bradley may have only released his first record in 2011, but his collation and appropriation of old-school funk and soul influences was the night’s true triumph. Turning his former career as a James Brown impersonator into an incredible hour of grooves, he even managed to make a cover of Neil Young’s middling folk hit ‘Heart of Gold’ one of the night’s most enthused moments. His subsequent backstage reaction to the set may well be one of the most heartwarming posthumous Golden Plains moments to date; the spoken proof of all the heart and soul he poured into the Golden Plains crowd.
Say what you will about disco’s historic role in zapping the heart out of the ’70s funk presented by Charles Bradley, but the appearance of CHIC (featuring legendary songwriter Nile Rodgers) was by far the set of the festival. Of course, by the end of the set, the substance tipping point murdered all chance of overhead shoe raising, but it was the 4000 person dance-along to ‘Le Freak’ that became possibly the most colossal moment of the festival, resulting in a mass strip-off to the left of the amphitheatre and rapturous applause.
The day’s major fault proved to be its timetabling; raising the question of why Aunty Meredith chooses to haphazardly place bands throughout the line-up when it’s potentially the greatest Australian festival environment to deliver themed time slots. The groove-trifecta of Roots Manuva, Charles Bradley and CHIC could have been an unparalleled party to end the night, broken in three instead by the dull return of Urge Overkill and the psych adventure of The Black Lips, who despite crafting a set of polished psych-garage gems, were received ambivalently. There’s a case to be argued for sticking to an alternating diversity of acts (which has been the theme for the Mere-plains’ festivals for some time,) but it continues to be a missed opportunity for a curatorial spin.
Overheard: “I just wanna hear ‘Family Tree’ and go to bed.”
Into the Night
This year, as always, the Supernatural Amphitheatre eventually devolved into an open-air club. By the AM, it’s not even close to being about the music anymore, the DJs featured on the timetable merging into the interstitial soundtrack and back into the obligatory early morning dance band. The result is either a front row of irono-ravers…
…or a back row of slurred discussions marked by shrill screaming, photobombing, bizarre dance troupes and bromancing love-ins.
GALLERY: Photos – Day One