Splendour In The Grass 2009 – Part 1


Having arrived at our house for the weekend in New Brighton in the dark and just as a heavy rain storm passed overhead, Saturday starts with a quick walk around the locality to try and find if any mobile signal can be found so that photos and blogs can be uploaded.  As not even a hint of ‘3’ mobile signal can be found anywhere near the house, it’s time to get in the car and see where the nearest place with a signal is, which, as it turns out, is about a ten minute drive away in Ocean Shores on top of a big hill.  Friday’s blog is written and uploaded along with some photos from the front seat, although the time taken to upload a few small files indicates that this is not going to be a sensible option for sending photos over the weekend. 

Back to the house and it’s time to get ready for moving off to the festival site.  Making use of the outside toilet I have a bit of a shock on flushing when this little guy gets washed out from under the rim and has to hang on for dear life to avoid being flushed away…

Driving into Byron Bay is a surprisingly painless exercise; there’s no traffic hold ups either on the way or getting into the site and no queues to get the photo passes or get into the festival. In fact it all happens so quickly that there’s plenty of waiting until it’s time to collect the infamous fluoro vests that we need to get into the photo pit.


It’s also at this point that I find that I haven’t got any mobile reception for tweeting, instead having to make do with the time honoured tradition of paper and pen.


With three albums behind them, Manchester Orchestra have to drawn a bit of a short straw when it comes to their positioning on the bill, being the second band of the day after the North Coast NSW’s Glass Towers but before a whole host of possibly lesser, fairly new Australian bands with limited recording histories.  From a photographic point of view it’s a bit frustrating as there’s a lot of ‘sideways’ playing – the band members playing to each other on the stage as opposed to projecting out to the audience – and the lighting is kept to a minimum, meaning that there’s a lot of dark areas on the stage.  The songs seem to be really lengthy and with all the tempo and rhythm changes it’s hard to tell whether I’ve been photographing for three songs or fifteen by the time I leave the photo pit.  They drop ‘I’ve Got Friends‘, not surprisingly their best known song given the amount of Triple J play it’s been given, in the middle of their set causing a mass exodus from the tent afterwards.  This seems to be an ongoing theme over the weekend; play your most famous song and watch the assembled masses disappear after you’ve played it.  Given decreasing album sales, the increasing reliance on singles and Generations Y’s 2-second attention span, it sadly looks as if this will be an ever increasingly familiar sight at music festivals.  It feels like it’s going to become a real-time version of those 80s revival gigs; reel out a current band to play a couple of singles they’ve released in the last year – their big hit and the new song – and have them shuffle off stage to be replaced by another current one hit wonder.

Despite last night’s heavy showers and the ominous clouds over Byron earlier in the day, walking over to see Leader Cheetah in the GW McLennan tent it’s suddenly cleared up and has become really warm.  Arriving at the tent brings confirmation that as well as introducing a Big-Day-Out-type D structure in the Supertop, the organisers have also moved the entrance into every photo pit to the opposite side from where they were last year.  For the Supertop and Mix Up stages the entrances are now on the far side from each other, meaning a longer walk around until the evening, when we all get to be escorted into the Supertop pit via backstage.  However, as there’s no escort into the Mix Up tent, it means having to negotiate the crowds any time we want to photograph in the Mix Up tent.

Leader Cheetah have been one of those bands that I’ve been meaning to check out for ages but have managed to miss every time they’ve played Brisbane.  No review of them seems to be complete without a reference to Neil Young but listening to them it’s not as obvious as  it might seem.  There’s a definite late 60s/early 70s Laurel Canyon folk/rock tinge but it doesn’t leap out at you as being particularly Neil Young-ish more than anything else from that era (although re-listening on their MySpace site it is a bit more obvious, especially in a song like ‘Bloodlines‘).  It’s pretty good stuff and definitely something to check out again, ideally when I’m not seeing most bands for a handful of songs before rushing off to photograph at another stage.  The tent is surprisingly busy which is good to see at this early on in the day, especially when compared to last year’s emptiness at this stage for most of the day.    

Back at the Supertop and it’s a Dew Process shoe-in, consecutive-year return for Yves Klein Blue.  And what a difference a makeover has made to the band; you could now believe that they’re bona fide rock stars, they definitely look the part now and singer/guitarist Michael Tomlinson has an undeniable star quality about him.  It’s probably no coincidence that everyone I know who likes them happens to be female.  Musically it’s still fairly unspectacular – Libertines lite – and I still remain to be convinced by them despite having seen them a number of times over the last couple years.  For reasons known only to themselves they decide to cover ‘Born To Run‘ and it’s an ugly mess to say the least, with Tomlinson coming nowhere near to even doing a acceptable Springsteen impersonation, but luckily I’ve got other places to be so don’t hang around to hear it all the way to the end.

Having initially dismissed Bridezilla as a bit of a Sydney-media hyped band, I started to really warm to them first via last.fm and then by seeing them at ATP Mt Buller earlier in the year and so was looking forward to catching their full set at Splendour.  The three songs that we get in the photo pit rush by all too quickly so I don’t get any many shots as I would have wanted.  Unlike ATP, singer Holiday Sidewinder is guitar-less for these three songs and looks uncomfortable without it.  Sitting down to watch the rest of their set there is an onstage awkwardness about the band; it’s as if they’re trying too hard to be alluring and vampish.  Watching them you can understand why they’re the latest Australian band to be picked up by ATP, playing at the Flaming Lips curated event in New York in September.  However, listening to their whole set, there’s still a sense that they still need to develop further, with the songs following similar a template, meandering too much at times and maintaining a very even tempo across the set, even though there’s a maturity and obvious charm about their songs.  There is promise but they need to really start delivering now if they are to make the most of the opportunities being put their way.  

I photographed Dappled Cites back at the first Come Together at Luna Park in April 2005 before they truncated their name and dropped and the “Fly” bit; I was fed up with them after the first song, which involved a mostly floundering instrumental track with much posturing and peppered with the vocalists theatrically approaching their microphones to scream into them.  Fast forward almost 4 1/2 years and nothing much has changed.  Whilst fun to photograph, there’s a really irritating smugness about the band in a “look at us, aren’t we clever” way.  I’m all for arrogance and pretentiousness in music, a single flick through my record collection would show you that, but when you sound like you want to be The Killers it doesn’t wash.  I keep thinking that there’s a real 1980’s wrongness about them but can’t put my finger on exactly who they remind me of, the closest comparison I can come to would probably be something like bad Ultravox.  I think they play that awful song that they started with at Come Together all those years ago.  I don’t think it was this one, but was similar, and hopefully this clip might go some way to explaining why I find them so irritating.    

Five bands down and I’m just not feeling into it, not even in the slightest to be honest, but the weekend is still young and there’s still hope for better things.

More Splendour photos on Flickr.

Manchester Orchestra
Leader Cheetah
Yves Klein Blue
Dappled Cities

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