Report: Golden Plains 2015 Day 1

Our report from the opening day of Golden Plains Number Nine, featuring a swell of local legends in the making. Words by MARCUS TEAGUE*, **DOUG WALLEN**, **LACHLAN KANONIUK** and **DARREN LEVIN**. Photos by *JESSE BOOHER.

Marcus Teague:* Towards the end of *Total Giovanni?s boot-soaked, career-highlight set on Sunday afternoon, frontman Vachel Spirason launched into an emphatic love letter. ?We’re usually in the crowd but this year we’re up here,? he said. ?We’ve been coming here for 10 years. This place isn’t a festival, it’s a ritual.? It’s not a new tale to tell from the stage, and the ritualistic motif isn’t exclusive to Golden Plains. But the autumnal ceremony (and Meredith by sisterly extension) does have a specific pulse that’s not always easy for acts to locate. Some are inclined to seek it out, some plow through the setlist and hope for the best. But as the weekend progressed, the nagging sense that local acts were most pre-dispositioned to nail what works here became unavoidable. That’s partly due to it being a single stop on a longer itinerary for touring internationals. But it seemed clearer than ever how important mutual respect is to a successful amphitheatre set.

From Total Giovanni’s cheese supreme, all-on-the-table disco rave-up, to Courtney Barnett and Something For Kate’s commanding after dark rock slots, to LA Pocock and Edd Fisher’s perfectly tailored ushering of the A.M – the music that worked best on stage was nearly always performed by the very people who have spent previous years standing on the hill facing it.

Also: wasn’t the weather just lovely?

Lachlan Kanoniuk:* Aunty likes to kick things off with tried and true, meat ‘n’ taters rock ‘n’ roll, and Golden Plains Number Nine is no exception. The double shot of longstanding underground royalty **The Meanies** and Brisbane hard rock acolytes *Hits provides hearty sustenance for those craving unabashed riff worship. Both acts in fine form, The Meanies proving match fit ahead of their final shows for an indeterminate while.

Darren Levin: Twerps are literally half the band they were when they made their Supernatural Amphitheatre debut back in 2012, with Alex Macfarlane and Gus Lord replacing founding members Patrick O’Neill and Rick Milovanovic on drums and bass, respectively. But true to the family vibe this band have cultivated since forming in a Melbourne sharehouse back in 2008, there are shout-outs to past members (O’Neill was front and centre for the band’s mid-afternoon slot) and a nod to their conception with an unexpected airing of ‘I Fought Fings’, the first song Marty Frawley ever wrote. The [sadly defunct](/news/4631383) Super Wild Horses are welcome additions, singing background vocals on ?Who Are You? and ?Bring Me Down?; the new material off [Range Anxiety](/releases/2001418) goes down a treat; while ?Dreamin? and ?He’s In Stock? cement themselves as modern Aussie classics, with Julia McFarlane’s guitar slicing through a somewhat muddy mix. It’s a beautiful melding of Twerps? history and past – and, with all respect to Meanies and Hits, the first truly danceable set of the day.

Doug Wallen:* Half a decade after Pavement brought their globe-trotting reunion to the Supernatural Amphitheatre, *Stephen Malkmus returns in solo mode with his inveterate Jicks. True to form, he shrugs off a set that feels effortless – but not always in the best way. It’s fun to watch him wrangle guitar solos without even looking at what he’s doing, holding the axe away from his chest like a crucifix wielded lazily, but the actual songs have trouble distinguishing themselves in the afternoon sun. The 2013 single ?Lariat? does wake things up with some Crooked Rain-y jangle, even if the lyrics? ?80s daydreaming edges into sentimentality. Closing with ?Jenny and the Ess-Dog?, from the earliest days of his post-Pavement songbook, Malkmus loses the guitar altogether and embraces a faux-melodramatic reading set to Mike Clark’s equally hammy turn on keyboards. Documenting a couple divided by the usual caprices of uni, it’s more fun (and funnier) than the whole rest of the set.

Sharon Van Etten is the day’s highlight for me, although it’s initially tough to find a spot in the crowd where people aren’t talking away like there’s nobody on stage. Van Etten has a winning streak of several acclaimed albums to her name, but it’s last year’s Are We There that won me over, and that record’s bruising depictions of love and abuse lose none of their flooring frankness live. Maybe if more people listened to the lyrics – like, for instance, ?Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you? on the absolute standout ?Your Love Is Killing Me? – they’d be less likely to chat over such catharsis. Whatever way, empowerment is the key here: Van Etten’s songs are hard-earned triumphs.

Having played Golden Plains just three years ago, First Aid Kit command the sunset slot with a lazy pleasantness that fits this year’s low-key vibe, but there’s not much urgency. The S’derberg sisters? voices waft far and wide, yet only really catch my wavering attention on perkier tunes like ?King of the World?. Maybe it’s just too soon – with only one LP since last time – to bring them back.

Neneh Cherry proves hit-and-miss, but the hits keep me planted to my spot and the misses are forgiven easily enough in light of her tough, no-bullshit presence. Backed by regular collaborators RocketNumberNine+, Cherry defies genre trappings as easily as you’d expect from someone who’s both made an album with Four Tet (last year’s entrancing Blank Project) and given the world ?Buffalo Stance?. If clich’d lyrics like ?It ain’t over till the fat lady sings? come across as weak links, her revolution-minded banter helps tip the balance back in her favour. It’s like a head-nodding trip-hop set brandishing unexpected teeth.

Radio Birdman are pretty well on fire, with Rob Younger throwing himself bodily and vocally into the role of lead singer. His hand and arm flourishes, of the Iggy and Mick variety, feel like second-nature. It’s dark, the crowd is exuberantly beery, and newer recruits Dave Kettley (Younger’s guitarist in The New Christs) and drummer Nik Rieth (The Celibate Rifles) help motor the machine forward without many pauses to reflect. With Deniz Tek, Pip Hoyle and Jim Dickson back in the fold alongside Younger, it’s the well-established, far-travelled legacy of Radio Birdman restored to the stubbornly propulsive tightness of its origins.

MT:* Having drip-fed a couple of singles ahead of her much-heralded new album, plus the fact a local-done-good story was about to play out in the plum evening slot, anticipation was high for *Courtney Barnett. Opening with a solo ?Depreston? is a bold move, but Barnett’s likeable personality is so close to the surface, her voice so recognisable and conversational, that even in this setting she scanned as the friend talking over your shoulder. The band are on fire; Barnett’s voice breaks into an actual roar on the fabulously wigged-out ?Pedestrian At Best?. She closes with ?Avant Gardener? to cathartic scenes. There are strobes. She’ll disappear around the world pretty soon. There’s nothing left to love more.

DW: If anyone can take a victory lap before their debut album even comes out, it’s Courtney. With a couple weeks still to go before the release of her [first proper LP](/news/4683860), Barnett sits so firmly in the world’s favour already that she could have easily phoned this one in. But she doesn’t, and the album’s ramble-happy tales of “Depreston” and Fitzroy Pool have already attained nearly as high ranking as her breakthrough ?Avant Gardener?. On stage she’s as casual as ever, even amid swimming-themed dancers while bidding farewell to regular guitarist Dan Luscombe (The Drones) – Barnett and band are touring overseas without him in the months to come.

The best moment may be the noise-caked single ?Pedestrian at Best?, with her exaggerated drawing out of the word ?funny? and the tall-poppy counter-strike ?Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.? But really, no matter how big Courtney gets this year, she still feels like one of us. And that’s the aw-shucks vibe that this rocking, mouthy, deal-sealing performance hammers home.

LK:* There’s an alternate universe out there where *Black Vanilla are stadium-commanding pop superstars. Led by vocalists Marcus Whale and Lavurn Lee (known for Collarbones/Scissor Lock and Guerre/Cassius Select respectively), with Jarred Beeler (Marseilles) behind the desk, the Sydney trio revel in the spotlight, their productions playful and deep. The pop showmanship might be funny if it wasn’t so damn good.

DW:* It’s fair to say that **DJ Shadow** and Jurassic 5?s *Cut Chemist do exactly as advertised, turning the legendary vinyl collection of South Bronx icon Afrika Bambaataa into a living lesson in the birth of hip-hop. But while everything is well done (especially the visuals, furiously documenting the far-flung sounds we’re hearing) and Bambaataa’s own Kraftwerk-influenced innovation can’t be denied, this kind of history lesson (cue the James Brown) isn’t nearly as rewarding as a proper set of DJ Shadow material would have been. It’s definitely a thrill to see these two in action, wielding this wax with both fan-boy reverence and masterly finesse, but that isn’t enough to hold my attention throughout.

MT:* Frankston dudes *Sleep D are set the lofty task of following DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, but with the elder duo’s show more of a world class guided tour through the beat museum than a free-flowing expression set, Sleep D have a blank canvas. I only catch a portion of their set before stepping through the wormhole while sourcing pink drinks, but it’s enough to approve the returning of a looser, fun vibe after the serious business of Shadow and Chemist.

Which in turn set up Luke ?LA? Pocock just fine thanks. The much-loved, outgoing Triple R presenter and local party starter turns in the best late-night experience of the weekend for mine. A slowly blossoming tech-groove excursion that builds incrementally – expertly – towards a second hour peak that involves frenzied washes of percussive noise, before spooling out into something more sensual on the way home. With a couple of backup dancers wandering on stage every so often to mince in front of the decks – their dresses emblazoned with ?YEAH BOY? and ?YEAH DOG? slogans – the white-shirted Pocock is refreshingly head down for the majority of the set, allowing just a nod here and there while rifling through his crate. At 5am, someone needs to be in control, and the sizeable pre-dawn crowd suggests Pocock was the perfect chaperone.