Golden Plains 2013, Day 1: Dinosaur Jr, Cat Power, NO ZU
DOUG WALLEN*, **DARREN LEVIN** and **LAWSON FLETCHER** report on Day 1 of the hottest Golden Plains on record, taking in performances by a Cretan lyra player, a Swedish troubadour, proto grunge icons and Australia’s rising EDM star. Photos by *JESSE BOOHER.
Darren: There are 90 days between Meredith and Golden Plains, and 270 between Golden Plains and Meredith. That’s significant for a couple reasons. First, it makes Golden Plains feel like d’j? vu (to the people who went to Meredith, at least). Second, and perhaps this has something to do with the first point, people seem to prepare less for this festival. Sure, there are couches and insane camping set-ups, glitter galore and coordinated onesies, but everything just seems a little less elaborate and a bit more relaxed. If Meredith is the primer for the festive season, Golden Plains feels like its hangover; a two-day event that languorously drifts by in the arvo, before turning into a different festival altogether after midnight (see below). And that’s perfectly OK, especially when Victoria is in the midst of a heatwave that made this the hottest Golden Plains on record.
It’s appropriate that Melbourne’s Money For Rope have a song called ?Been In The Wars?. Deputising for SixFtHick, who had to pull out due to illness, they had some injuries of their own to contend with. Less than a year after bass player Michael Cini broke his arm playing in the [Community Cup](/galleries/4487104), singer/guitarist Jules McKenzie is forced to roll around stage in a wheelchair after hurting his ankle in a road accident a few weeks back. It certainly doesn’t affect his performance, which is as committed as ever, but there’s nothing here to elevate this above the kind of generic blues-garage that’s in abundance right now. Having two drummers doesn’t count, especially when they’re doing the EXACT SAME THING. One even shows how superfluous he is by stretching in the middle of a song. Money For Rope have the swagger, the voice and the chutzpah; what they’re lacking is songs. They waver between Black Keys-ish stompers and Doors-y jams, but very little cuts through.
?I can’t hear anything but a wafty sound,? Opossom?s Kody Nielson tells the noticeably thinned crowd. ?Wafty? is a pretty good way to describe last year’s underrated Electric Hawaii, which played out like a psychedelic dream, but they’re a much more robust proposition live, with Nielson on keys, sampler and vocals, backed by a shit-hot (session?) rhythm section. Against a backdrop of trees, they push the swingin? ?Watchful Eye? out into an extended noise jam that almost creates its own genre: Power lounge. Meanwhile, a guy in a My Disco t-shirt creates his own private disco.
Psarandonis is not the Dirty Three unplugged – even though Jim White is sitting in on drums like he did at ATP Buller and Cretan’s ?most idiosyncratic lyra player? kinda looks like Warren Ellis? dad. Like Ellis, Psarandonis is a captivating showman, leading White and his son Giorgos (on lute) through an energetic set of folk music straight from the mountains of Crete. He shushes the crowd, sings in a traditional dialect that sounds a bit like coughing phlegm (sorry to be unPC), and at one point puts the lyra behind his head like a Greek Hendrix. I’m loathe to get all Greil Marcus here, but I’m certainly hearing parallels to bluegrass. But I guess it’s all mountain music – whether you’re from Appalachia or Crete.
Lawson: Wild Nothing comes at just the right time; their sweet dream pop is a great ice breaker to properly kick off the afternoon. Jack Tatum’s band competently flesh out the bedroom excursions of last year’s Nocturne in an airtight, uplifting set. It doesn’t hurt that they all look like they just walked out of an American Apparel catalogue – good looking boys; good looking songs.
Doug: Melbourne’s NO ZU have made [so many](/news/4472072) [mixtapes](/news/4558393) by now, it’s no surprise they’ve become a living mixtape. Songwriting is not the focus here; the focus is a pan-genre grab bag that’s ever in motion and flux. Compared to their set at the first [Sugar Mountain](/articles/4247864), they’re much more human and less cerebral, with accessible Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club moments balancing out the more arcane facets. They’re a thinking person’s party band, claiming an unlikely victory over the daytime audience that recalls El Guincho’s Meredith set in 2010. (That is, it’s a good chance a lot of the people dancing have never heard this band before.) NO ZU overuse some of their tricks (mainly the multiple percussionists), but everyone in the band is having so much obvious fun – and embracing the heat rather than shrinking from it – that it overflows out across the crowd.
?I’m gonna sit down for one song or I’m gonna die,? announces Kristian Matsson, aka Tallest Man on Earth. Seeing just how much he throws himself into his folk songs, he can be forgiven the respite. On the other hand, that bodily commitment is about all that distinguishes him from your average singer-songwriter, at least to newcomers. The way his threadbare acoustic songs are mussed by gruff vocal cracks gives him a Glen Hansard quality, but the angsty poetry threatens to overtake the lyrics of the older song ?Where Do My Bluebird Fly?. He dedicates ?Criminals? to Cat Power, who’s on immediately after him, and gets the boot for his troubles.
Is Chan Marshall a blues singer? Even setting aside her much-imitated drawl, Cat Power songs often have a harrowing streak of confession and (maybe) redemption to them. Her tools have changed over the years – from troubled, erratic folkie right through to wounded, homespun pop star on last year’s Sun* – but these still feel like the blues. Here, Marshall and band lean more on extroverted rock than on inward resignation, with the newest songs just as unabashedly melodic (despite lyrics about alcoholism and other very personal tribulations) as on the record. The *Moon Pix*-era classic ?Metal Heart? – recorded in Melbourne a decade and a half ago – is made big, rock-y and cathartic. It’s rapturously received. Not every song sees its magic translate to this setting as well as that one, but a highlight is the appropriately moody, Spanish-language ?Angelitos Negros? (once sung by Roberta Flack) from *Jukebox.
Dinosaur Jr. should be amazing. The signature mountain range of Marshall amps is there, and the set mixes songs from the post-reunion albums with an insane roll call of earlier glories: ?The Wagon? and the set-opening ?Thumb? from Green Mind*, ?Freak Scene?, ?Raisans? [sic], ?Feel the Pain? and a faithfully caved-in take on their cover of The Cure’s ?Just Like Heaven?. There’s even a song from Barlow and J Mascis’s pre-Dinosaur band, Deep Wound, and one from the first, self-titled Dinosaur album (before the ?Jr.?). But something’s not quite right. At first it’s hard to get over how similar the songs sound – even though we all knew that already, and even though songs like ?Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know? from last year’s *I Bet on Sky tweak the formula slightly with a backdrop of synth.
The three men are up there doing exactly what they do – Mascis with his sleepwalking guitar heroics, Barlow with his deranged bludgeoning of the bass and Murph with his stoic, workmanlike drumming – and yet the 80-minute set feels naggingly by-the-numbers, mostly from Mascis. Barlow does his best to shout and bash about and have fun with it all (especially on his own songs, like ?Rude?), but Mascis remains as unmoved as ever. Even once we’ve heard the trio dip into the more psych- and hardcore-damaged sides of their long-established sound, they still feel like some staple comfort food: shrugging off any further ambition, safe in the knowledge that what they do has always been enough.
Lawson: Meredith turns into a different place after midnight – the sun is down, the stars are shining, the guitars are put away, other substances are brought out. Following the mass exodus of a sizeable chunk of the crowd after the big name acts, you sense a subtle shift in the atmosphere. It’s not just that the trippers are now out in force, everything just seems a little more playful, weird and even oneiric. Expectations switch from ?Will they be any good?? to ?What’s the vibe going to be like?? and for the most part this year, the ambience of Golden Plains After Dark was great.
Silhouetted by Ansett Airlines advertisements and video-era Australian tourism footage (for once the laughably retro visuals at Meredith were apt), Client Liaison?s stage set up is a farcical abstraction of the successful office environment, complete with fern, a fax machine, corporate branding and water cooler (natch). The duo are an approximation of what Australia thought was a highly cosmopolitan image that it tried to sell to the world in the ?80s, linking failed diplomatic excursions and cultural cringe to the synth-laden sounds of Icehouse, INXS and major label-period Midnight Oil.
Their set is as brilliant as it is hysterical. Dressed in double breasted blue suit and white (possibly beige) slacks and replete with stunning black locks, frontman Monte Morgan and instrumentalist Harvey Miller deliver highlights ?Hotel Stay? and ?End of the Earth? with absolute commitment and not a hint of sarcasm. Despite having their tongues planted firmly in their cheek – dedicating the final number to Christopher Skase – the pair are clearly talented musicians making incredibly catchy songs, which have everyone dancing along deliriously.
Purity Ring up the ante with their set design. With sonically synced lanterns dotting the smoky stage, Megan James and Corin Roddick emerge draped in gothic black, a mise-en-sc’ne which immediately recontextualises their music from ?ethereal vocals over Soulja Boy-influenced beats? to full on neo-gothic electronica. It looked great, but unfortunately the performance itself struggles to connect – James? vocals getting lost in the muddy mix didn’t help, but it primarily comes down to the preoccupied, almost clinical delivery. The duo doesn’t seem willing to play, and if your set consists solely of triggered samples and singing, it would help to not follow your recordings to the letter. It results in a smart, but ultimately detached set.
Flume is a classic case of an act you occasionally see at Meredith where what they are when they were booked and what they are when they actually play is quite different. Following the incredible hype piled on the young Harley Streten and his embrace in the national festival circuit – not to mention a platinum-selling album – his set tonight had the potential to either seize on this newfound attention or fizzle out. It washes up somewhere in the middle, with a slightly plodding tempo and ill-advised neo-soul and dubstep-lite cuts partially misjudging the tenor of the 2am slot, although dropping his own material went down well.
TOMORROW, DAY 2: Redd Kross, Toro Y Moi, The Mark Of Cain, George Clinton, Dick Diver, and more.