Splendour In The Grass 2009 – Part 2


Bluejuice are a band that’s yet to win me over, having seen them at last year’s Splendour and then a few months later supporting We Are Scientists at The Zoo.  As Stav from the band kindly commented on that post (and which shamefully I didn’t get around to replying to), they’re obviously not my thing.  And yet watching them this afternoon, even though I only see them for a few songs, I find myself warming to them more than before.  It’s a much slicker performance that the one at The Zoo and the sound is a lot less grating than it was that night.  Following Stav around the stage through my viewfinder, as he brandishes his mic stand I suddenly notice Jake out of the corner of my eye leaping theatrically off the fold-back speaker; I think I was the only photographer in the pit not primed and ready for it and that’ll teach me for not paying more attention.  It’s the main jump that he does in the first three songs as well.  He does a smaller jump in the second song but just from the stage and I’m the wrong side of him to really benefit from the second chance.  What the photo gains from the position of the bass player is lost to the height of the stage and the encroachment of the fold-back speakers into the frame.

Bizarrely, given the size and strength of their own back-catalogue and the limited festival time-slot in which to play, You Am I start their set with a cover of Regurgitator‘s ‘I Sucked A Lot of Cock‘.  However, after that it’s a real tour de force greatest hits set. 

The band sound pretty rough though, partly due to the sound in the Supertop and partly because despite having played so many of these songs for so long they sound a bit ragged and under-rehearsed.  They bring out Jack Ladder for ‘Heavy Heart‘, which is slowed down even more that the original and played  lounge-lizard style; again it’s a slightly baffling move, killing the momentum and the mood for a few minutes of self-indulgence, before a return to more up-tempo songs as they wind up their forty five minutes stage time.  When they hit their stride they can still give any band a run for their money but they continue to perplex, maybe needing the inconsistency and left-turns to keep things interesting for them.  They’re frustrating to photograph this afternoon, with Tim Roger’s hat brim keeping the light off his face, and Andy Kent and Davey Lane largely hidden in the shadows.  Luckily there’s always Rusty Hopkinson and even luckier he always makes for some really nice photos.

Birds of Tokyo are one of those awful rock bands that Australians just seem to not be able to get enough of.  They’re like those terrible non-descript soft rock bands that were popular in the UK in the late 1980s.  Some congratulations are in order though; given the amount of radio, tv and music magazine coverage they are a worthy addition to ‘The List‘. 

From a new addition to ‘The List’ to a founding member; fellow Perth band Little Birdy.  Katie Steele’s fashion stylings are the stuff of legends; from never-ending, multi-day photo shoots, as she chops and changes between outfits until happy, to the inside of her apartment, which allegedly hardly a square inch of carpet showing from under huge mountains of clothes and shoes piled throughout the place.  However, there are some people who should never wear leather trousers, probably most of the population to be honest, and Katie Steele is definitely one of them.  And especially not with open toe sandal-type heels.  Additionally, there must be something in the rest of the band’s contract which means that when they play live the only person who’s allowed to have any light on them is their lead singer. 

It’s 7:30pm and there’s finally a band that I really want to see.  The Special’s video for ‘Ghost Town‘ is one of my strongest childhood musical memories and it’s a complete thrill just to be having the chance to see them, let alone getting to photograph them.  Whilst band reformations are so often a huge disappointment, especially when it involves changes to the line-up, as tonight does with founder member and songwriter Jerry Dammers not wanted by the rest of the band, tonight there is no disappointment and it’s a seemingly rare occasion of a reformed band actually living up to their reputation.  It’s a truly exceptional display straight from the very first note and it’s startling watching a band whose members are all into their 50s put so much energy into their performance that it makes the rest of the bands who have played today pale into insignificance.  And then there’s the songs.  Even though they made heavy use of covers and reworkings of older ska songs, particularly on the first Specials album, it’s amazing looking at the quality of those first two records, ‘Specials‘ and ‘More Specials‘, which make up the bulk of tonight’s show; all killer, no filler. ‘Do The Dog‘, ‘A Message To You Rudy‘, ‘It’s Up To You‘, ‘Concrete Jungle‘, ‘Monkey Man‘, ‘Blank Expression‘, ‘Nite Klub‘ are amongst the songs played tonight and add on the non-album tracks of ‘Gangsters‘ and ‘Ghost Town’ and it’s a truly stunning hour of music. There’s always so much cynicism related to reformations, much of it well deserved, especially when the bands appear to just be going through the motions (yes Pixies, I’m looking at you), but if The Specials are going through the motions tonight I can’t even start to comprehend just how good they must have been 30 years ago.  Really special.     

Afterwards there’s a bit of an argument between most of the photographers and the promoter’s rep, with the photographers convinced they’ve been short-changed and only got to photograph two songs, leading to the rep apologising.  There’s no need though; we got our three songs fair and square, it’s just that they played the short version of ‘Too Much, Too Young‘ which barely makes it to two minutes.  In retrospect I wish I’d switched to a wider lens as there was just so much happening right in front of you that the 70-200 lens just wasn’t the right choice. The most disappointing thing was that the lighting was pretty poor and with Terry Hall sulking around in the dark with his back to the crowd for the most part I didn’t get a very good a set of photos to do justice to just how good they were tonight.

All the 2009 Splendour photos are on Flickr and the individual band sets are in the following links:

You Am I
Birds of Tokyo
Litte Birdy
The Specials

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