Splendour in the Grass 2006 – the verdict

Love Is A Many Splendour’d Thing
By Chesh Underlay

There is nothing to be jealous of when I say I flew Virgin Blue on the Friday night, for, sure as a sheepdog rounding to a whistle, the sheep had already flocked to the green, green hills of home.

But I’m no Tom Jones! And this wasn’t the real Wales, though that said, the whales were seen migrating off the coast when we found ourselves in northern New South Wales.

The town of Byron Bay was humming when we arrived late Friday night, and it was those lucky enough to be spending more than a weekend to breathe it all in, that real jealousy should be reserved for. The streets were teeming with the energies infused by the spirits of this significant part of aboriginal Australia. Mount Warning in the distance provided the constant karmic buzz across the land.

We rolled into the township on the Saturday morning, somehow finding ourselves in our very own chauffeured star-wagon replete with automatic sliding doors on each side of the tourer. Our French chauffeur stopped at the bottlo’ and we picked up a bottle of bubbly to start the weekend with a splash of life.

The environment centre around the corner chalked to us:

Love is a many splendour’d thing

and into the festival we rolled.

It was a breeze entering through the second festival entry with absolutely no queues to halt our progress. We set to obtaining our silver drink tickets, meeting the crew arriving from different parts of town, and venturing in to a packed Supertop for Youth Group. We, who have witnessed the last ten years of Youthgroup, beamed at the crowd response, stoked and amazed at the power of the number one song ‘Forever Young’ to take them from the outstanding small indie group performing in a small pub to now playing the packed out anthemic sing-along Supertop stage. ‘Shadowland’ cast across the crowd as their impressive repertoire shone in the early afternoon, clearly setting the tone in opening the Splendour weekend for many.

Fellow Youth Group fans, and debtors to the power of The O.C. soundtrack, Death Cab For Cutie, followed them onto the Supertop stage with a sparkling show that still rings bliss in my ears.

Mos Def was a bit like the Young Ones singing ‘Living Doll’ with Cliff Richards, with two bouncer size boofy DJs mixing poorly while Mr Def rapped a word or three at the end of each line.

My first foray into the G.W. McLennan stage was to witness the mellow acoustica of Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen. With Tex living up in the hinterland, this stage was going to be like seeing him on his own balcony, and on an ever threatening grey day, it felt like the perfect way to while away an hour.

Many of the finest Tex, Don and Charlie songs received a rapturous applause from an appreciative crowd, including ‘You’re 39, you’re beautiful and you’re mine’ to which Tex told us all to try and imagine being so old. But it didn’t feel too far away, as the music carried us right along in among their wonderful stories and melody.

When he sang:

Remember when we lived in a far northern town,
and you wore mosquito nets like wedding gowns, 

we were right there, wanting to be listening to this music on his balcony in a far northern town, promising to be there whenever it snowed. With Charlie by his side playing the slide guitar, accompanying rhythm and acoustic solos the tent and their sound was perfect, an immaculate crisp clarity. A rare event indeed for any festival!

It would turn out that this tent would provide many sonic highlights, a feast a festival can seldom dream of providing.  

TV on the Radio attacked the Supertop with a glistening guitar foundation but it was Mogwai in the GW McLennan that built a skyscraper into the interstellar universe and conversed with alien life forms in riot gear. It was an intense conversation on the sonic hemisphere, the vocoder getting a working through three of their songs, leaving one punter to exclaim: “That was the best show I have ever witnessed!”

To an old Mogwai fan like I, it was a show to which my vantage point was high, just behind the sound desk, and my eyes were wide-eyed in awe once more, and my ears in loving bliss at the volume cushioning down against my ear drums.

Augie March followed them onto the McLennan and seem cursed to put on a bad show if I am in the crowd. Guitar faults, breakdowns in communication, and technical difficulties a plenty plagued their set which featured two stunning songs and half an hour of wasted doodling.

Near the McLennan stage, the Moroccan Bar provided the perfect spot to re-mingle with the crew in between scatter smattering in different directions, as wants and tastes desired.

There is so much on offer at Splendour in the Grass that, upon any random conversation with any stranger among the crowd, new insights into the maddened heights of musical frenzy were always obtained.

Sonic Youth gave the older fans in the audience another taste to saviour, providing a highlight for many as they reached their peaks of enjoyment in the first day, while DJ Shadow waited until the second half of his set to really find his rhythm.

For 17,000 people leaving the festival at the one time in the middle of the night, a short wait of 45 minutes seemed bearable in the spitting rain, though moments of panic did ensue in the scramble to pack every last space in what appeared to be the last buses leaving the site, no matter where they were headed.

Sunday brought a blue sky morning, an ocean swim and walk along the beach to provide for the perfect push-button restart after a blueberry pancake breakfast and freshly squeezed blood orange and mandarin juice from our host’s organic farm up near Federal. Sometimes this town can be like a dream.

Before we ventured into the festival for Day 2, Olivier spied a cane toad, which I had the honour of clubbing. My first cane toad smashing, and didn’t it feel good! I ran around with the shovel raised above my head like, for once, I had a purpose in this life.

On entry into the festival it was the dried dark mud that was ugly on the eyes and we enterted into the Supertop for The Zutons who tried their best to infuse the energy, and succeeded with half the tent, but my eyes needed some restoration to cope with the sight of the site, so off to Morocco we ventured for another champagne revival of festival ideals. Splat scatter and away we go, unfortunately I couldn’t sing my favourite Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! songs after they pulled out last week, but I was probably glad they didn’t fill their early Sunday afternoon slot, for it would have been too early to really enjoy.

Carrying a backpack with raincoats and warm clothes is never an ideal way to boot-scoot, dance and groove, as there is always a bag in the way in a tightly packed tent. This is the real reason camping onsite is ideal, and checking the crew at Marshall C and it all seemed like a pretty good set-up for a weekend of revelry. These backpack restrictions are real weights on the shoulders of the pragmatic, though seeing others shivering at nights end, or covered in mud early in the day, you wonder how long they last and become thankful for the bag on the back. A double-dutch quandary.

Revived and ready, the secret band appeared, and the Supertop was overflowing, everyone seemed to know that The Vines would be coming on for re-entry into the world of rock. With dirty grunt and gusto, the excited crowd sang loud, and the rock’n’roll day was underway.

Snow Patrol put on a sterling show of pop rock before You Am I continued on their blistering Convicts tour with another wicked show. Tex Perkins joined them onstage which had the crowd worked up into a cyclone of excitement, as Tex, in all his Beastly form, patrolled the stage with murderous intent. Tim strapped on his acoustic to sing ‘Heavy Heart’ to his fellow band mates, the lyrical significance of nothing romantic ‘bout the hours I keep, an anthem to the rigours of rock on the road.

The Presets had the Mix-up tent in a stir, while Jose Gonzalez was pulling a huge crowd over into the McLennan stage, creating a bottleneck mayhem in the narrow pathway up the back of the festival grounds.

Decoder Ring came on to a thin crowd in the McLennan and announced they would perform the Somersault soundtrack, a special performance that had text messages flying out into the rest of the Splendour site. Soon the room was filling just as the atmosphere was building on stage, with three piece string section accompanying the usual performers and super eight audio visuals. The climbing ambient electronic soundscape was shimmering through a quiet and respectful crowd, and in appreciation the band raised another level to a peak finale that sent a shiver down the spine. A crowning glory to a stellar set!

It was time to consume the last of the silver tokens before the Scissor Sisters and Brian Wilson split the group one final time. A couple of bottles of wine and frantic conversations with people you wouldn’t see again until the next Splendour and then we shattered. Smash!

Into Brian Wilson I go, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry seeing Wilson on stage. I started up close and was in awe of the clarity of the sound. But then I started to wonder how that clarity was being achieved, and seeing the shell of Brian reading his monitor I wondered exactly what he was seeing on his screen. Some sort of  “when to mouth the words” karaoke! There was some good booty shaking, some real 1950s twisting, some surf beach pogo-ing, but somehow it all just seemed so wrong. Much to the annoyance of the people I was dancing with, I would stop mid-dance and stare at Brian.

On my way out, Skye stopped me and told me to appreciate the backing band, told me it was real if you looked past Brian, and it was a wonder of five part harmonies, and so for the moment I did, and once again I started to boogie. But then again, I would stop and wonder, and am still none too convinced. The voice of the idealised Beach Boys in their twenty-years of age young American five part harmony being performed by mature musicians was hard to fathom.

It was Byron and it was the sound of surfing so maybe it fit in, but I will block out that gig and remember Decoder Ring, Youthgroup, Tex and Charlie, You Am I and Mogwai for the stunning shows they performed.

An unbelievable weekend, once again Splendour has done it again.

On the way out of town on the 7am shuttle to the Gold Coast, the bus picked up the stupid returning to Sydney for a Monday morning of work. In town, with a half-full bus, a dude in a hospital towel crosses the road, stops the bus and jumps in, much to the bus driver’s annoyance. He has lost the plot, has only a towel to his name and is maddened about someone ripping him off on the weekend. The bus driver respectfully doesn’t lay a hand on this dude as anger fumes in his mental state, and we, the weary, wonder what we can do. The bus driver threatens taking the bus to the cop-shop. The dude says he will need to get statements off everyone in the bus if we do go to the cop-shop, says they have already ripped him off on the weekend. Looks like we ain’t quite leaving town as planned. The dude turns on and into a nice phase and praises how calm and cool we are, and he eventually jumps off when we pick up another load of Splendour-ites. A bizarre, only-in-Byron moment, to cap the weekend in its madness.

Love really is a many Splendour’d thing!

Carlos’s Big Weekend at Splendour

Day 1

So another year has passed and the masses once again descend upon the fields of Byron Bay for the misleadingly titled Splendour in the Grass festival. Apart from the now expected lack of grass, this year saw another flaw in the branding: a distinct lack of splendour in the line-up – well, at least that was my first impression. Thankfully a quick glance at the timetable allayed my fears as I realised there was nary a break in my schedule and actually a few clashes to contend with.

Standing at the pearly gates the anticipation was immense. The smart were decked in emergency ponchos and gum boots, prepared should the heavens open up. After only a brief wait we went two-by-two to the salvation that was the Supertop. Then like some sort of epiphany Swedish progsters Dungen (yes, I know, that’s “Doon-yen”) were upon us. Vintage ‘70s progressive rock meets ‘60s folk and the welcome appearance of a flute gave the punters plenty to shout about – even if the language barrier only allowed for calls of “festival” and the like. In any case Gustav Ejstes and the long-haired boys provided great entertainment for a receptive audience.

Not quite fancying a showdown of OC proportions (Youth Group were next up, followed by Death Cab for Cutie) I decided to go a wandering. It was apt, then, that I arrived at the GW McLennan Theatre in time for Australian troubadour Kevin Mitchell aka Bob Evans. Our man put in a touching performance highlighted by simple yet stately odes to travelling, love and love-lost and was joined onstage by Josh Pyke.

All of a sudden it was time for some travelling of my own – back to centre-stage for the Grates. Here, Splendour in the Grass truly erupted into party mode with balloons and bright colours and, most importantly, the music to match. Whilst musically a little too saccharine sweet for my taste, front-woman Patience provided a lovely counterbalance of eye-candy and crude swearing. Tunes like “Trampoline” and “19-20-20” put smiles on all-round. And with such a large audience (especially compared to last year) that’s a lot of smiles.

For me, the Grates proved to be the sugar-hit before the succulent and all-the-more satisfying main course of TV on the Radio. The New Yorkers pulled out all stops – including cameos from Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – in ensuring the festival wasn’t without its innovators. A rip-roaring version of the recent “Wolf Like Me” single gave way to an electrifying “Staring at the Sun”; all the while Tunde Adibempe wailed and gesticulated in a frighteningly cool manner. Needless to say, the band’s sound captivated and challenged all those present.

It would be hard to find an act that could rise to the great heights of TVOTR but as it was we didn’t have to wait long. Scotland’s favourite post-rockers Mogwai gave punters plenty of reason to side-step the puddles with a ferocious set. While the grass had become mud and the pathways slippery, Mogwai soft/loud dynamic provided a sort of sure-footed shrubbery. Moments of gentle reflection were interspersed with lovely noise and you could forget where you were.

Not that you’d want to, of course, for those ageless masters Sonic Youth were up next to put a cap on the night. Playing songs taken predominantly from the new Rather Ripped album Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo showed the youngsters a thing or two about stage performance. When they played “100%”, eyes instantly closed and serious faces were pulled, for this was a classic and after all, a lot of drugs are taken at music festivals (yes, it is a sad fact).

After an unfortunately brief trip to the Mix Up Tent for DJ Shadow – whose new material impressed despite some reported power failures – Day 1 was at a close. As the night slipped away into a sea of hyperboles (“Death Cab were SO good”) and missed opportunities (“Did you see Augie March lose it?”) thoughts turned to the next day – and sleep wasn’t an issue.

Day 2

For me the second day could only really be a let-down; what with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s cancellation and the marvellous TV on the Radio, Mogwai and Sonic Youth trifecta of the night before. But still there was much to look forward to.

Unfortunately extended dreams of a TV on the Radio reappearance kept me from catching The Zutons. But who could that surprise act be? I arrive to strands of “Ms. Jackson” floating through the air. Could it be? Outkast? No it’s the long-awaited return of The Vines. Although I’m not quite sure how much of a surprise the re-emergence of Craig Nicholls and co. is, the sound of consistently large applause certainly is. From all accounts, the band put together strong set. I arrive to the smashing of instruments and that’s good enough for me.

A band unlikely to even break a guitar string were up next: Snow Patrol. Whilst not a huge fan of the band’s recent forays into Coldplay-lite I was pleasantly surprised by the highly sing-a-long nature of the group’s work – always good at a festival. From “Spitting Games” to “Run” the group appealed to the emotionally vulnerable and those attracted by Gary Lightbody’s charming persona.

At this point I, myself, became emotionally vulnerable having to pick between the electro-sleaze of the Presets and the smooth-talking of Jose Gonzalez. In a show of geographical logistics I chose the latter and wasn’t disappointed. Ever so gently Gonzalez reduced the audience to silence as he plaintively carved masterpieces out of simple guitar and voice. The one-two hit of “Crosses” and his cover of “Heartbeats” kept all present aghast. Although requiring a certain level of patience, Gonzalez – for the most part solo – effortlessly impressed.

Not so the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who in the Supertop appeared a little too eager to impress. I know that is Karen O’s schtick, and maybe it was just my lofty expectations, but to me the group’s playing seemed a bit forced. The most intriguing aspect of the show was Ms. O’s wonderful/atrocious sense of fashion, however, that said, “Maps” was as poignant a moment as you would find at the festival.

Surpassing my expectations were the crazy kids collectively known as Gerling. Always a wonderful festival act due to their ability to both rock and roll (in the dance sense, of course), Gerling brought out all the old and new favourites as they kept the Mix Up Tent pumping for the Scissor Sisters. Their set was highlighted by an extended climax of “Ghost Patrol”.

And so the curtain went up; while we waited with baited breath for a sign of the anticipated glitz and glamour, some danced hysterically to the Bang Gang DJs, while others sniggered accusingly. I’ll leave my position to your imagination. With a bang the Scissor Sisters took to the stage, opening with “Take Your Mama” and a whole lot of camp posturing. In between some “had to be there” hilarious rants from Ana Matronix, Jake Shears and the crew found time to play all the hits from their debut album plus give a preview of what is to come from the forthcoming follow-up. While you couldn’t exactly call them cutting edge, the Scissor Sisters brought down the curtain on Splendour ‘06 in style, though admittedly in a style not to everyone’s liking.

Not quite. While I’m not qualified to comment on Brian Wilson’s overall performance the echoes of “Good Vibrations” around the fields were like, well, good vibrations. A fitting close to what was an extremely well run and behaved festival.

Mel’s Great Splendour Bender

What a massive mission this festival was. First of all, a colossal line-up was announced including Brian Wilson, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Scissor Sisters, Wolfmother, DJ Shadow and Sonic Youth. Second, there was a mad scramble for tickets, 2 800 000 hits on the website in one day. All the scalpers were thwarted and 17 500 tickets were snapped up within a day. Next; the travelling plans. Only 9 000 people are lucky enough to live in the costal town of Byron Bay, and I personally drove for 10 hours to get to the festival. Within an hour of arriving my jeans were covered in mud and I was a few hundred dollars down at the merch stand. Why do we do it? Was it worth it? My oath it was, and here are the reasons why.

Secret Band – The Vines
The ????? on the timetable caused a lot of speculation. People were thinking The Eels, The Arctic Monkeys or The Strokes, but the crowd packed under the Big Top let out a massive roar when Craig Nicholls, Hamish Rosser and Ryan Griffith took to the stage.

The Vines are back. They’ve returned from their catatonic state to play their new tunes better than they ever have before. Craig hit every note in the songs and only returned to his destructive behaviour at the end of the set when he followed his guitar into the drumkit.

Vision Valley tunes such as ‘Don’t Listen to the Radio’ and ‘Gross Out’ blended seamlessly with earlier material. ‘Fuck the World’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Get Free’ rocked the tent. The boy’s ballad version of Outkast’s ‘Miss Jackson’ united the punters and Craig let us carry the tune.

Everyone there was aware of The Vines violent and chaotic past, and there was some voyeuristic interest in whether Craig would make it through the set. He sang songs note for note, screaming where it was called for and crooning where appropriate. By the end we were all getting a little crazy and everyone cheered in the face of authority when Craig chucked his guitar into the drum kit. He then took a run up and leaped into it, and everyone raised their hands and screamed in appreciation. Yeah, its destructive behaviour, but it’s rawwwk and it’s why we were there.

The Scissor Sisters
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Scissor Sisters want you to go fucking mental’.

It was a long festival, and there was a lot of hype, but everyone in the Mix Up Tent was genuinely excited to see the headliners. They roared out on stage with ‘Take Your Momma Out’, Jake Shears camped it up in a bare chest red leather number. They played a lot of unknown tunes, presumably off their next album. Ana Matronic teased the crowd, she encouraged us to dance along to the new songs as well as the old, but the new stuff didn’t immediately grab attention the way their old material does.

They did a full set packed with awesome moments, but the pinnacle of their performance was ‘Filthy Gorgeous’ during the encore. Everyone lost their minds, and just screamed along to the ‘Oooh you’re NASTY!’ while getting their groove on. 

Death Cab for Cutie
This band is known for writing overly emotional, sentiment driven tunes, but their full lush sound filled the Big Top, no problem. They set was all killer no filler, kicking off with the ‘New Year’ from Transatlantacism. ‘Soul Meets Body’ was very moving, with the uplifting, catchy lyrics uniting the crowd. Ben took to the drums for a few ‘We Looked Like Giants’ and banged away with a grin on his face. They boys steered away from their quieter songs, such as ‘I will follow you into the dark’ and finished with a roaring version of ‘The Sound of Settling’.

Orthodox Jewish reggae rock. I’m not sure how many punters identified with this sub genre, if any, but there was barely room to move in the Mix Up Tent. Matisyahu is always photographed in full Orthodox garb, but onstage he just wore a white collared shirt with checked comfy fit trousers and a phunky cap. Wow, he can rap. Everyone was blown away with the speed and accuracy of his rhymes and the way he partied on stage.

Most of us were conscripted to his cause. He closed with the pro God tune ‘King without a Crown’ and all the heathens pilling off their head sang along to the line ‘I give myself to you from the essence of my being’.

Sydney’s Purple Sneakers indie night won the contract to theme the Splendid Bar, and it was interesting to see the pretension and cliques of Sydney recreated in this peaceful rural setting. Newcastle DJ Kato spun the indie tunes all the kids in cons wanted to hear mixed with a touch of irony. Highlights were The Preset’s ‘Are You the One’, and Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All Night Long’.
Party people of the world unite. The hard partying Aussie dance/rockoutfit Gerling are Splendour veterans and were given a late night spot for once. They played all the major dance anthems: ‘Get Activated’, ‘Turning the Screws’ and ‘Gator’. The boys sculled goon on stage and their guitar tech ran around in an Alf costume.  To close they announced they were performing a song ‘They’ve never done at a festival before’, but ripped into an extended version of ‘Ghost Patrol’ from their first album.

Jose Gonzales
The G.W McGlennan Theatre was packed to the rafters.  Jose intoxicated the crowd with the heartfelt and gutting lyrics and intricate guitar work. All the couples in the crowd swooned for Jose’s version of the Knife tune, ‘Heartbeats’ and he closed with his starkly beautiful version of ‘Teardrops’, originally by Massive Attack.