Splendour In The Grass @ Woodfordia (30/07/2010)

Lobbing into Splendour on Thursday to beat the crowds seemed like a brilliant idea. Fault in the plan? 10,000 other punters thought the same thing. A quick stop off at Woodford Woolworths revealed almost everything with a $1 or $2 bargain sticker, so we buy more unnecessary foodstuffs for our oversized esky and rejoin the slow crawl towards Woodfordia for its inaugural year of hosting Splendour In The Grass.

A small offering of bands and such are ringing across the festival site but we instead rest our crooked backs on rapidly deflating airmattresses at camp to hit day one in earnest with spirited strides.

Brisbane four-piece Violent Soho hit the Amphitheatre stage at lunchtime Friday and erupt into a furious set inspired by colder, wetter scenes far away. The raucous noise is straight from a nineties Seattle garage, and though it’s blaring at full pelt, intermittently it sounds like the restrictor plate is removed and the wince-inducing result is glorious, gritty grunge to swing your hair at. Slippery Tongue is reminiscent of Corgan’s Pumpkins at their rawest, but Jesus Stole My Girlfriend is the biggest crowd pleaser and a killer group fist pump. The brutal punishment of their finisher Scrape It is easily the highlight, where Luke Boerdam hurls his guitar to the side of the stage during the final moments of this uncompromising performance.

New Yorkers School Of Seven Bells fill the Mix Up tent with their patented swirling sound. The more indie/electronic, dance-oriented tracks from new album Disconnect From Desire dominate the set; the sound is a bit muddy at first but the Deheza sisters’ harmonies are ever-enchanting. From Alpinisms, Connjur is wondrous and the 11-minute closer Sempiternal/Amaranth whooshes and throbs in all its neo-shoegaze glory.

An air raid siren introduces the swelling crowd to the manic Melbourne indie-rock upstarts British India. This Dance Is Loaded, Vanilla and Tie Up My Hands have the area nearest the stage heaving with sweaty bodies. After stating that they’d finally worked up the courage to perform a cover, it’s a shame when just half a verse into the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right To Party, the sound almost completely drops out. Declan Melia and the band carry on apparently oblivious, so the crowd lends a hand on vocals. By the time the sound comes back, the return explodes like a deliberate ploy and the energy soars further still. As has become somewhat of a regular feature of British India’s festival sets, the lads offer a tongue in cheek dedication to Empire Of The Sun ’s frontman Luke Steel before exploding into the “This ain’t no fucking disco..” refrain of their final song Black And White Radio.

For a band that once sounded like they hailed from the Middle East, Brooklyn based world music turned electro-popsters Yeasayer have clearly been commandeering some stereos over the past 12 months. The set includes their new material mixed with a bit of old, and the band do an impressive job of quickly turning the vague looks that meet old material into rhythm-blessed bodies. The band’s chart toppers are the trump cards though with O.N.E and Ambling Alp getting even the most uninterested drinkers dancing.

Foals have grown up a lot during the last couple years – both as musicians and songwriters. Upon commencing an hour of euphoric, atmospheric indie-funk, the Oxford five-piece rev the packed-out Mix Up into action with Total Life Forever’s clipped guitar riff. Singer Yannis Phillippakis is in top vocal form, yelping away on breakthrough singles Cassius and Balloons and crooning on the shuffling Miami and Blue Blood while the band cook up an eminently danceable sonic stew. Arguably their finest moment to date, Spanish Sahara builds up from a haunting intro to a climactic finish, the crowd threatening to levitate at any time. First totally perfect afternoon set of Splendour 2010.

Little Red ’s sound is evolving and their mix of new material and old is a little hit and miss. The addition of a small brass section does add body to their sound, but in filling the gaps the tunes become a touch monotonous and lose the driving jolts that originally made us want to dance. Though some tunes are just impossible to ignore; Little Jackie Cooper and Coca Cola are two of these and initiate a whole bunch of mashed potato, jiving. The clear standout though is the infinitely more mature latest single Rock It, with the chorus receiving a thorough mass-massacre.

First band to take a stand before a darkened Splendour amphitheatre is the new-look US followers of nothing but rock, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The trio find their stride early with new skinswoman Leah Shapiro and play the dirtiest abrasive form of rock and roll – it’s uncaring, uncompromising and just screams attitude. Though there’s less leather than most would have expected, black is still the only colour for them. As dedicated purveyors of rock, this show is about as unadulterated as it gets, with American X and Weapon Of Choice really slaying the crowd. It’s cigarette smokin’, Harley ridin’ sex rock, with the odd dirty blues indiscretion for good measure and the no frills, no bullshit show is a cracker.

Hot Chip justify slogans on T-shirts sprouting love of nerds. These London kids look every part computer geek, hit the stage like they’re losing a World of Warcraft battle and rapid-fire the hits, opening with A Boy From School, One Life Stand and the groups breakthrough (and tonight’s lose-your-shit moment) Over And Over. From here on it’s pure giddiness and writhing bodies under pulsing lights. With the keyboardist unable to travel, his vocals are digitally produced and he performs literally larger than life, projected on to the giant screen. It’s near impossible to get within 5 meters of the perimeter of the Mix Up Tent but the turbulent sea of arms, legs, heads and beach balls beckons so convincingly.

Armed with just one album of cracking tunes and the humblest of demeanours, The Temper Trap take the stage. The Melbourne four piece are obviously emotionally moved by the sheer volume (audibly and quantatively) of support. Quality, passion, musicianship and professionalism ooze from each member and with the initiation of every song that isn’t the one you’d hoped, you begin to realise just what an incredible talent this band is. Mid-set, Mumford And Sons joins them onstage for an incredibly lifting reworking of Down River before the business end of the list. Dougy Mandagi ’s falsetto would make the Gibb brothers weep, his angelically high voice resonating throughout the packed amphitheatre. With debut singles as good as The Science Of Fear, Fader and Sweet Disposition , questions that years ago U2 and more recently Coldplay asked are now readily answered by The Temper Trap. 

“I think we’re going to play you some songs,” mutters a visibly-stoned Angus, and that pretty much sets the whole vibe for their Amphitheatre slot. Sounding pristine to the point of serenity on a CD, Angus & Julia Stone simply don’t translate live, not helped by lacking stage presence. You can almost feel for Julia as she warbles through Wasted, but ultimately you don’t. Big Jet Plane, And The Boys and their cover of Grease’s You’re The One That I Want still have the audience enthralled though.

This being their post-retirement announcement show, LCD Soundsystem are both life-affirming and bittersweet. The perennially-unshaved James Murphy ’s plain-shirted, shlubby presence doesn’t get in the way of him being a convincing frontman and the band fire on all cylinders on the storming Drunk Girls and Daft Punk Is Playing At My House. Perhaps the quintessential indie-dance act of the new millennium, Murphy and co inject massive doses of poignancy into All My Friends and I Can Change, bring the Mix Up down with their finest moment Tribulations and bow out with landmark ageing-hipster rant Losing My Edge. Here’s hoping we’ll see them like this again.

A subdued cool has settled over the crowd while Brooklyn’s whimsical wonderkids Grizzly Bear waltz us through their set. The GW McLennan Stage is a little off the already severely-beaten tracks and only true fans make the trip. The band plays it’s way through a gorgeously intricate offering of tunes from all three albums, paying particularly close attention to their latest and greatest achievement Vecatimest. Thoughtful applause is offered at the close of each track until that unmissable piano plonk-plonk-plonk intro of Two Weeks and it’s what most of the crowd has been waiting for. The folk-rockers don’t need any assistance with the harmonies, but they get it and suddenly the mass is alive and kicking. The set closes with a feeling of ‘swoon’ and ‘aaaw’ and a charmed GW McLennan stage shuts up shop for the night.

The sound issues are clearly taking their toll by the time Ben Harper brings the first day to a close after 20 minute delay. Harper’s performance is too drawn out at times, his slide guitar solo takes far too long to reach its peak and overall delivers a set hardly suited to closing the Amphitheatre after the day’s lineup. The orchestration of the tracks helps to build an intimate setting but at times the length of the songs make the performance a little stale. The closing number sees Jon Fariss join Harper onstage for a cover of INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart, adding spice to an otherwise forgettable set.

Scissor Sisters on the other hand seal Friday with a resounding smack. All the good old stuff – Laura, Tits On The Radio, Take Your Mama Out, I Don’t Feel Like Dancing – is on the money and the entertainment value is 100%. The buff, sweaty Jake Shears and Ana Matronic put out their best moves as well as disperse comments about “sexy boys in tight singlets”, read out from a pamphlet on speed use to uproarious laughter and announce Comfortably Numb as “a song by a bunch of old white dudes”. From the excellent new album Night Work, Fire With Fire, Skin Tight and Invisible Light glisten and sparkle like a giant glitter ball and on the closing Filthy/Gorgeous, Shears does the full monty while Matronic fellates her microphone. Splendour Friday = complete.

Reviewed by Jake Newell (yaki), Denis Semchenko (denistheman81), Crystle Fleper (misscrystle), Scott Thompson (scotty_thompson). Compiled by Crystle Fleper.

Check out the gallery of Splendour In The Grass day one by Kylie Keene (kyza) and Andrew Wade (FeedbackPhoto)