Splendour Day One: Jack White, At The Drive-In and more

With Splendour in the Grass back in its spiritual homeland of Byron Bay, the first day of action should have been a day of beachside festivities as the punters made the short trip up the road from the shoreline to the festival stages. No one really expected to be spending the day surfing through mud and being assaulted by hail; but then who really cares about a torrential deluge on a day when you get a dueling set from Jack White and the return of At The Drive-In?

Photos by Leah Robertson and Elleni Toumpas.

Words by Darren Levin, Sarah Smith and Tom Mann.

Kingswood, The Super Top

The Moment: Triple J presenter Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall emerging from backstage in short-shorts and a tie-dye t-shirt to trade solos with guitarist Alex Laska on QOTSA-ish single Yeah Go Die. It prompted singer Fergus Linacre to declare, “Who loves guitars?” Everyone does Fergus. Everyone does.

Crowd: Buoyed by a Triple J endorsement – they won the “Unearthed” competition to play Splendour this year – Kingswood had a decent crowd for such an early start. The band’s heavy, proto-grunge riffage won over some newcomers, too.

The Banter: A joke about Simba (“they walked out to the Lion King soundtrack) went down like a warm Vodka Mule. Leave the stand-up comedy to professionals like Phil Jamieson, guys.

The Vibe: Midday drunk.

Chet Faker, GW McLennan

The Moment: Getting lost through the “Tipi Forest” only to arrive for a closing cover of Blackstreet’s No Diggity, which Faker (aka Melbourne singer/producer Nick Murphy) and his band morphed into a lounge-y jam.

Crowd: The McLennan was suitably packed for Murphy, who’s had a breakout year, signing to US label Downtown Records (Santigold, Spank Rock) and releasing an acclaimed EP, Thinking In Textures. But the natter from the crowd was distracting, especially when the band brought things down to a slow chill.

The Vibe: Chatty

Pond, The Super Top

The Moment: Peroxided singer Nick Allbrook – an impish John Rotten clone – bounced around the stage during glammy single Fantastic Explosions In Time, which drew the biggest response from the crowd. “Thanks for giving us so much love motherfuckers,” he beamed. The band unearthed a swampy new song, which saw Allbrook form a tri-guitar attack with Jay Watson and Joseph Ryan.

The Banter: Allbrook bestowing the virtues of cough syrup before swigging from a non-descript bottle. Has he been reading Lester Bangs?

The Crowd: Captivated and particularly loud for Fantastic Explosions In Time and the Bowie-esque strut of You Broke My Cool.

The Vibe: Syrupy

DZ Deathrays, The Super Top

The Moment: An unexpected torrential downpour (hail included) saw people scurry for shelter in the Supertop, where thrashy Bundaberg two-piece DZ Deathrays were playing like a band four times their size. The diversity of debut album Bloodstreams wasn’t conveyed that well live, but ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Cops Capacity’ were particularly punishing. At one point, singer Shane Parsons put his guitar on loop and walked out into the crowd. A career-defining set.

The Crowd: A torrent of water streaming down from the roof of the Super Top created an instant “Instagram moment” for a small group of fans. Punters who had wandered in seeking shelter were converted by the end.

The Vibe: Soaked, but in good spirits.

Big Scary, The Super Top

The Moment: The reaction for more sombre numbers off debut album Vacation compared to more upbeat, triple j-flogged singles Mixtape and Gladiator (their closing song) really illustrated the disparity between the band’s best and worst material; a gap they’ll need to address on their next album. Speaking of, they unveiled an underwhelming new song, which sounded like a detuned offcut from Jeff Buckley’s posthumous My Sweetheart The Drunk.

The Banter: There were shout-outs to most of the Australian acts on the bill including DZ Deathrays, Pond and Kingswood, as well as their “fellow campers” (they’re going bush this year). The on-stage break-up of The Middle East at Splendour last year was acknowledged by singer Tom Iansek, prompting drummer Jo Syme to ask, “Are we breaking up as well?”

The Crowd: Described by Iansek as the biggest they’ve played to; they were probably the most talkative they’ve played to, as well. A band better-suited to a smaller room.

The Vibe: Subdued.

Spiderbait, The Super Top

The Moment: “For just one night we want to be the best band in Australia”: with Kram acting the ringleader and whipping up the punters with classics renditions from the band banter rulebook this was the set that brought the crowd together for the sort of experience you can only get at a festival. Bogans and hipsters unite.

The Crowd: Once Janet English had been reluctantly coaxed behind the drum kit the band didn’t need to offer much more to get the entire crowd to sing along with Buy Me A Pony. Why do more when the crowd will happily do it for you?

The Banter: “This came out twenty years ago when we were just starting… forgive me if mess this up”. Kram preemptively apologising for a cover of Smells Like Teen Sprit that had the performers on the buskers stage cringing.

The vibe: Nostalgic.

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