11 things we learned from Golden Plains 2017

Over the weekend, Golden Plains returned to the Supernatural Amphitheatre for two days of music and revelry. DOUG WALLEN was there to catch all the action. 

#1 The Supe was a bright salad bowl of styles

Meredith and Golden Plains always mix genres like a beaker-juggling mad scientist, but this year felt especially diverse in The Supernatural Amphitheatre.

Besides the usual late-night domination of dance genres and a healthy portion of indie rock earlier on, there were vintage genre throwdowns from Benny & The Flybyniters, whose early rock ‘n’ roll evoked both Bill Haley & The Comets and the ’90s swing revival, and the disco-specialising Wax ‘o Paradiso.

Melbourne ensemble Jazz Party cast their stylistic net as wide as the entire festival had, though they lost points for what felt like product placement with their well-intended local-beer ode ‘Mountain Goat’. And Nicolas Jaar proved that his brooding electronics and incantatory vocals were more universally dark and cosmic than beholden to any would-be imperatives of dance music.

“Despite a strong international cast, Australian music was a powerhouse presence all weekend.”

#2 Covers are still a hearty staple

For all that free-wheeling variety, affectionate covers remained a common thread. The Damned dusted off their ’80s cover of Love’s mariachi-kissed ‘Alone Again Or’ and The Specials’ Lynval Golding sang a moving version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’, while Olympia tore into TV on the Radio’s motoring ‘Wolf Like Me’.

Ausmuteants broke out their grotty revision of Martha & The Muffins’ cult synth-pop nugget ‘Echo Beach’, and Neil Finn embraced the laidback vibes and jibes of The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’. And on a Sunday morning where most of us needed gentle treatment, Lisa Miller’s family band The Dusty Millers supplied both a faithful take on Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ and a transformative, nourishing version of the Beach Boys heartbreaker ‘In My Room’.

#3 Jack Nolan’s presence was felt all weekend

For more than a quarter century, the Nolans have graciously hosted Meredith – and for the last decade, Golden Plains too – on their family sheep farm. Last month, Jack Nolan died at age 77. A heartfelt family tribute opened this year’s Golden Plains, and punters were able to leave their condolences and thanks on a message wall – which filled up steadily and became quite an inspiring sight.

Credit: Katie Fairservice

#4 The locals ruled Saturday

Despite a strong international cast, Australian music was a powerhouse presence all weekend – right from Ausmuteants kicking things off with their impish synth- punk overdrive and a set-spanning Rancid joke. Cash Savage and her backing band The Last Drinks were a badass force of nature, prowling and surging through elemental Americana with more open space than ever. Savage proudly dedicated ‘I’m in Love’ to her wife, who’s still not legally recognised as her spouse in this country, and commanded a many-booted reception throughout a supremely confident set.

Local punk darlings of the moment, Camp Cope metabolised heart-on- sleeve anxieties into rousing liberation, as when Georgia Maq concludes “You don’t scare me anymore” after the raw soul-baring of ‘Trepidation’. It was catharsis as relatable as it was urgently tuneful. As for Total Giovanni, their percolating throwback dance-pop was daggy and proud, hinging on the walk-on- air smoothness of Vachel Spirason’s lead vocals.

#5 They ruled Sunday too

Intended as a message of empowerment to women of all age and races, the morning opened with an entrancing affirmation from bush-band singer Eleanor Dixon and modern ensemble Kardajala Kirridarra (translation: Sand Woman). They blended electronic beats, traditional indigenous languages and much more – including English rapping and sampled didgeridoo on one highlight. Experimental veteran Oren Ambarachi had to duck off stage mid-set for first a cable and then a working effects box, but luckily he had a killer drummer in Ballarat native Matt “Skitz” Sanders (of Damaged fame), who anchored and offset Ambarachi’s electronic and guitar manipulations. Together they wrangled a dense and intense marathon squall.

“Remi proved his usual coolly charismatic self, whether he was mining feel-good territory or going a bit harder with his band to finish the set.”

Olympia felt both forceful and ethereal, balancing rock-star presence with whiffs of the otherworldly. Her recorded songs can come off too packaged, but live she felt more human. As for Confidence Man, the mysterious Brisbane quartet got a robust crowd dancing in the afternoon sun with their cartoonish come-hither dance-pop.

Unassuming yet single-minded, Orb’s dank dirges were like blackened bubblegum, lodging a candy-coloured psych heart in heavy-duty riff hypnosis. And as the weekend’s only hip-hop act, Remi proved his usual coolly charismatic self, whether he was mining feel-good territory or going a bit harder with his band to finish the set.

#6 The internationals were no slouches either

Margaret Glaspy sounded a bit like Laura Marling, but those folky airs parted whenever she broke into some surprisingly gnarled blues guitar. Solo and nonchalant, Kurt Vile held the crowd’s attention with only a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and some effects pedals, plus minimal drum machine for ‘Pretty Pimpin’. (And was that a bit of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ in there?)

Anthemic and atmospheric, The Damned were as reliable for gurgling solos as for Dave Vanian’s proto-Danzig howl. “We’re old farts but we can still kick ass,” they announced, and closed with ‘Smash It Up’. The following night, ska standard-bearers The Specials gave one of the weekend’s best sets, reminding us that at heart they’re a pop band. That revelation extended through stone-cold classics like opener ‘Ghost Town’, the singsong-y ‘Friday Night and Saturday Morning’ and the more ska-kicked ‘A Message to You Rudy’. Good vibes all over.

Credit: Katie Fairservice

#7 The weather cooperated – for the most part

Rain appeared on Saturday night, but didn’t properly coalesce until most people were either dancing or sleeping. (And even then, it didn’t add up to much.) Sunday saw a mix of mellow clouds and glaring sun, which made that night’s sunset into even more of an event: as revellers gathered to see it off, the sun would periodically vanish behind clouds, only to be saluted that much more loudly when it resumed its blissful descent in plain view.

#8 Repeat offenders can go both ways

If the best compliment from Aunty Meredith is bringing an act back, then The Peep Tempel, Cash Savage, Kurt Vile, and Total Giovanni all got glowing ticks of approval. But that can foster a nagging sense of déjà vu any year, and hearing Neil Finn lead communal sing-alongs of ‘Fall at Your Feet’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ registered as an eerie repeat of his 2010 Meredith set. But those other returning acts stood out very much from their previous times on that stage, proving how far they’d come in just a few years.

“Hearing Neil Finn lead communal sing-alongs of ‘Fall at Your Feet’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ registered as an eerie repeat of his 2010 Meredith set.”

#9 Nostalgia is just fine – in moderation

After three and a half decades of playing together, Teenage Fanclub are still putting out lovely albums. So while they did a dreamy assortment of oldies – ‘Star Sign’, ‘Sparky’s Dream’ and of course ‘The Concept’ – they also peppered in plenty of tunes from last year’s Here. Their 1997 album Songs From Northern Britain had a strong showing too, from the yearning majesty of ‘Ain’t That Enough’ and ‘I Don’t Want Control of You’ to ‘Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From’, complete with an adorably modest xylophone line.

Haloed in choirboy harmonies and honeyed distortion – and up to three guitars jangling at a time – the old and new material blended together as well as the three songwriters’ heavenly voices. Still, the evergreen early cut ‘Everything Flows’ was a perfect choice to close out the set, redoubling the beaming sense of wonderment from a thin-ish but intensely loving crowd of true believers.


Credit: Katie Fairservice

#10 The Peep Tempel have more songs than just ‘Carol’

And a few better ones too, although that Trevor-baiting anthem may always be their career-making calling card. But the Melbourne trio showed off the rest of their catalogue, from the seedy menace of ‘Big Fish’ and ‘Constable’ to the Kraut- driven pulse of ‘Plasticity’.

‘Rayguns’ didn’t hit quite as hard as it does on record, but punters were all too eager to help out with the last word of “And they’re all on ice.” “Let’s have a fuck ton of fun for the next 40 minutes,” instructed frontman Blake Scott near the start, and while “fun” isn’t the first word that comes to mind about The Peep Tempel’s hard-bitten character pieces, they reminded their fans that they’ve got more to look forward to than ‘Carol’.

#11 But there’s still only one Ian Svenonius

As frontman of The Nation of Ulysses and then The Make-Up – who in 1998 became the first international band ever to play Meredith – Ian Svenonius has always cut a unique figure in the world of punk and indie rock. But he went all out for his late-afternoon Sunday set fronting Chain & The Gang, manifesting like an unholy merger of Andy Warhol and James Brown. Backed by an ace trio who were every bit as stone-faced as he was madcap, Svenonius kept jumping the barrier to get amongst the crowd. He let out wild screams, nearly swallowed the mic and broke out other moves from his Make-Up days.

But this particular band doubles down on humour, and you might even think it was all a Portlandia sketch if songs like ‘Certain Kinds of Trash’ weren’t such slinky earworms of self-branded “minimum rock and roll.” His over-the- top, faux-spontaneous antics pulled in a huge crowd and even cracked up a couple of stoic security guards. To paraphrase Dave Graney, his shtick weighs a ton. But it also stole the whole weekend.

Header Photo: Katie Fairservice