Features

Splendour 2010: Days Two-Three

ANDREW MCMILLEN* reports on the final two days of the Splendour In The Grass festival, which sees stellar sets from Cloud Control and The John Steel Singers and a disappointing finale from The Vines. Photos by *JUSTIN EDWARDS. Part one [here](/articles/4023978).

Day Two: Saturday, July 31

A 10am ?Women Of Letters? event proves surprisingly popular among the bleary-eyed and literary-minded. Hosted by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, the gathering features the likes of Paul Kelly, Clare Bowditch and Jake Stone (of bluejuice) orating letters to songs they wish they’d written. Later, Wil Anderson chairs a panel discussion on social media and privacy. All of the forum events are lively, inspiring and, at the very least, entertaining. Full marks to organisers for coordinating such cerebral activities among the frivolity.

?Auxiliary percussion is the new Auto-Tune,? a friend remarks during Jonathan Boulet?s 12pm set in the Amphitheatre. It’s a hell of an observation as pretty much every second band on the line-up seems unhappy with just one percussionist. However, it’s also the reason Boulet’s first song tanks. In general, the first half of the set is marred by a frustrating sense of complacency. Later, Boulet playfully chastises his drummer for mistakenly playing a drumbeat from his other band Parades in the middle of a track. His bandmate responds by lobbing an empty water bottle, which rebounds off Boulet’s skull with a satisfying clunk. Touche.

By this time we’ve nicked off down the hill, where Ernest Ellis is trying hard to make his 12.15pm McLennan Tent slot memorable. The songs from debut album [Hunting](/releases/2000676) are good enough, so why do I leave feeling so flat?

When I arrive, they’re plodding through ?When I Feel Like Jesus’ Son The World Will Feel Much Different?, which is the opposite of a festival-friendly song if ever I’ve heard one. The band invite handclaps during ?Heading For The Cold?, but few join in. ?Loveless? is the best song aired here by a long way, but the decision to end on an unreleased – possibly new – song seals a disappointing set.

None of these problems plague The John Steel Singers, whose 2.45pm set at the same location is a comparative victory. When unreleased songs are received as well as established singles – like ?Strawberry Wine?, ?Masochist? and ?Rainbow Kraut? – you’re surely doing something right. The Brisbane-based band – regularly a six-piece, but augmented today by Little Scout’s Mel Tickle on keys and back-up vocals – simply command the stage, resulting in one of the event’s standout performances.

Likewise, Philadelphia Grand Jury captivate a mid-afternoon Amphitheatre crowd – even though there’s nothing particularly special about their performance. MC Bad Genius plays up the crazy-eyed look, Berkfinger’s doing the prerecorded between-song banter thing, and drummer Calvin Welch is clearly enjoying his moment in the sun as a 54-year-old father of four. The crowd remains perpetually ape-shit all the way through to their cover of Jay-Z’s ?99 Problems?. Predictable, yeah, but as a live band, they’ve established themselves as a sure bet.

Saturday’s line-up contains some of the bigger Australian acts: Operator Please*, **bluejuice**, **Wolfmother** and **Art Vs Science**. I skip all of the above in favour of *Tame Impala and Paul Kelly. The former play the Amphitheatre just after sundown, a happy confluence that had the potential for a classic set. Instead, it’s merely good. If anything, Kevin Parker and his bandmates seem a little out of their depths. Parker and drummer Jay Watson acknowledge the crowd as the biggest they’ve played to, but they don’t so much rise to the occasion as falter. Songs like ?Lucidity?, ?Half Full Glass Of Wine? and ?Solitude Is Bliss? still hit the mark, but something’s missing. Maybe the band are intimidated? Maybe the crowd are simply biding their time ahead of Wolfmother’s set? But if the latter is the case, shouldn’t there be more of a fanbase overlap? Confounding.

Paul Kelly?s 8.30pm set packs out the McLennan Tent, and another few hundred sit on the adjacent hill taking it all in. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that his set is timed during a momentary lull in proceedings. At this time, Wolfmother are finishing up, and both Art Vs Science and Florence + The Machine are yet to start. It’s a perfect opportunity for Kelly to school everyone in the art of timeless Australian rock, and boy, does he ever. Flanked by a band of long-time collaborators such as bassist Bill McDonald and drummer Peter Luscombe, Kelly touches upon a dizzying collection of songs that hit the spot like nothing else we’ve heard today. Between classics like ?Dumb Things?, ?To Her Door? and ?Before Too Long?, Kelly calls upon Vika Bull to take lead vocals for ?Be Careful What You Pray For?, ?Everything’s Turning To White? and ?Sweet Guy?. Vocals are sung back from the crowd with passion and respect. To top a thrilling 60 minutes: ?How To Make Gravy?, also the title of the singer’s forthcoming memoir. All class, Mr Kelly.

Though the McLennan Tent’s dual chokepoints were the source of some frustrations, the first real test for security occurs immediately after Paul Kelly. Florence + The Machine prove so popular that staff decide to shut the gate to the main stage. A somewhat terse stand-off unfolds between those jonesing for a Florence fix, a multitude of guards (who are continually tested by plucky fence-jumping punters) and a police force that seems strangely out-of-step with hired security.

The eventual solution is to reopen the gate a slither and allow the crowd to pass through slowly, yet the problem again rears its head on Sunday night just before Mumford & Sons. This time, at least, security are able to respond better. They give clear instructions to a more understanding audience. Here’s hoping they clear some of these thoroughfare and crowd flow problems next year. (The event isn’t scheduled to shift to its permanent new home until 2012.)

Day Three: Sunday, August 1

Despite forecasts proclaiming wet weather, the weekend is bathed in sunlight. Rain earlier in the week meant that Friday was a muddy affair, but by Sunday, dust clouds begin appearing as a result of the heavy human traffic. Regardless, it doesn’t obscure several notable art installations placed through the venue.

They include: two rotating spinal chords shimmering atop a giant metallic pelvis outside the Mix Up Tent; an enormous inflatable hand gesturing either peace or ?the forks? (depending on where you’re standing); and an inaccessible stairway to nowhere (dubbed ?Best Ride Ever?) looming over the McLennan tent. Between the stages, two artists spent the weekend inflating 10,000 balloons, before destroying them all on Sunday. (Yep, you can pretty much get a grant for anything.)

The most striking exhibit, however, only came out at night. On the walk to the lower Amphitheatre, two human faces were projected onto nearby trees. Periodically, the ghostly apparitions would blink and shudder, as if disturbed from their slumber by the neighbouring noise. Spooky.

Sunday morning saw a screening of snippets from the forthcoming [Tote documentary](http://natalievandendungen.com/the-tote-documentary/), followed by a Melbourne-centric panel discussion on the challenges to live music faced by differing states. Panelists included Dan Sultan, [SLAM rally](/articles/3882468) organisers Quincy McLean and Helen Marcou; Queensland music industry stalwart Craig Spann (AMIN, soundslikebrisbane); musician/lobbyist John Wardle; and Tote doco director Natalie van den Dungen. The inaugural Splendour debate, chaired by triple j’s Lindsay ?The Doctor? McDougall and centering on music piracy, was held around midday.


A visit to the McLennan Tent found Cloud Control playing to a large crowd. Today, they reaffirmed the belief that they’re good enough to become one of our best musical exports. London’s Infectious Records [certainly think so](/news/3999618), and based on the assured manner in which they attack today’s set, it’s difficult to disagree.

Around the turn of the century, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Vines were anointed by the mainstream music media as rock’n?roll saviours, or some such hyperbole. Ten years on, and the latter two are both appearing on the same festival line-up. The Strokes headlined the Amphitheatre on Saturday night and sounded as fresh as ever, proving that their brand of New York cool remains difficult to resist even nine years after the release of their debut Is This It.

This doesn’t hold true for The Vines, whose 6.15pm Sunday slot on the main stage sounds dated. For me, it’s enough to question just why I bought into them in the first place. At best, they offered a passable facsimile of an interesting band, and I wonder how many are actually here to see whether Craig Nicholls flips out on stage. No such flipping out takes place; just banal rock song after banal rock song, punctuated by swigs of Coca-Cola and cheerful thanks.

The Vines? shortcomings, however, don’t outweigh the dozens of excellent performances witnessed elsewhere. Splendour 2010 brought the swagger; it walked the walk, and the minor teething problems that cropped up were dealt with swiftly and professionally – except for Richard Ashcroft’s dummy spit, but that says more about the artist than the event itself. Unlike the problems that faced punters on entry, leaving the venue early on Monday morning proved painless. Welcome to Queensland, Splendour. Stay a while, won’t you?

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More photos [here](/galleries/4023938).