It was somewhat fitting that The Smashing Pumpkins aka The Billy Corgan Experience were headlining Splendour 2012. Their clip for Bullet with Butterfly Wings summed up their whole weekend quite neatly; awesome music, mob mentality descending as all and sundry were swept up in a sea of animal onesies and finally mud, lots of mud. For Belongil Field is quite erroneously named; Belongil Swamp would have been far more accurate.
The morning started out promisingly enough; the flight arrived on time to Coolangatta and also meant no time needed to be spent on the actual Gold Coast which was fantastic for all involved. The Nissan Micra was picked up and it was every bit as masculine and huge as it sounds. What it lacked in these areas however it made up for with its versatility, serving as a kitchen, bedroom and living room over the next three days.
After negotiating the bus and security check gauntlet, it was finally time to see some music. First up was Pond, who are a spin-off from Tame Impala and you can kind of tell. Not that this is a bad thing, it just featured a bit more Johnny Rotten than what was played the next night.
“This bog is thick and easy to get lost in”- Tool Swamp Song
…and then the rains came. And how. If Belongil were a racecourse, its original condition would be described as “heavy”, then downgraded to “quagmire”. Shoes were swallowed, never to be seen again. Those wearing gumboots were feeling quite smug, those without were filled with fear and loathing. Then it hailed for good measure. This all played quite nicely into the hands of DZ Deathrays, whose crowd now consisted of dedicated fans and those desperate to escape the watery apocalypse. Now they had the entire festival parked at their metaphorical doorstep, given that a real doorstep would be really, really big and would also hinder the whole band – audience interaction type thing. Regardless, it was an opportunity that they grasped with both hands proving that comparisons with Death From Above 1979 are not as outlandish as they would first appear. A set full of equal parts energy and anarchy.
This was in stark contrast to Michael Kiwanuka, who would have to be the smoothest man in the world, or Byron Bay at the very least. He and his band produced a mixture of soul and jazz that was a throwback to another era and the crowd appreciated it greatly. I found that seeing someone so young being so talented rather annoying and stormed off in a huff of insecurity.
Next up was Spiderbait performing a greatest hits set. Apparently this all went down rather well from the reaction of the crowd by the time I arrived for Smells Like Teen Spirit towards the end of the set. This was due to a tactical dinner break, as the next six hours would be spent pressed against a fence whilst watching three of the biggest acts of the bill. The serrano jamõn and brie rolls did turn out to be the lunch and dinner of champions over the three days of the festival albeit a questionable one from a food hygiene perspective. In any case, a bit of food poisoning has never hurt anyone except for people who have gotten sick with it.
Having seen The Shins on the Monday previous, there were not likely to be many surprises which was fine as the set on Monday was brilliant despite being held in an abandoned warehouse in North Melbourne and not featuring Natalie Portman. On stage banter was once again minimal, which unless your name is Warren Ellis or Andy Falkous is not a huge loss. This just left more time to go through hit after hit after hit. The Shins are a finely tuned machine and James Mercer is the forlorn looking mechanic who keeps it running with a healthy dose of falsettos.
“And something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is”- Bob Dylan Ballad of a Thin Man
At The Drive-In are the antithesis of a finely tuned machine. Their last visit to Australia included storming off the stage at the Sydney Big Day Out and led to them disbanding several months later. Relationships over the following years were strained at best with members of the band being divided between two projects, The Mars Volta and Sparta. In terms of creative diversity, Sparta are closer to Wings whilst The Mars Volta are more like The Plastic Ono Band. At The Drive-In was also my introduction to decent music as previously I thought Blink-182 were the greatest band ever and that Limp Bizkit and nu-metal were the future of music. In hindsight, this sort of future would have one wishing for the rise of the machines and utter annihilation, as this fate no matter how grim would be infinitely less painful. Ten years on and At The Drive-In have changed. The onstage bedlam has been toned down by everyone except Cedric whose bizarre inter song non sequiturs left people wondering ¿que? The set covered most of Relationship of Command but also Metronome Arthritis which Cedric duly informed us had both a beginning and an end. Then came One Armed Scissor… marvellous.
The final act for the first night was Jack White who rivals Mike Patton and Josh Homme in the breadth of his collaborative work. Admittedly this sometimes produces questionable results a la Insane Clown Posse. Yes, Insane Clown Posse. Sadly they couldn’t be here tonight, probably a Juggalo baking competition, luau, crochet class or something of that nature. Anywho Jack bought out both his bands and split the set between them. Both seemed to be really good although my judgement may have been impaired by the 3am start.
“With the lights out, it’s less dangerous”- Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit
Actually its not. The problem with having the lights out is that you can’t see where you are going…
In one of the more curious timetabling arrangements, Wolf & Cub were the first bands to play on the Mix Up stage on the Saturday. For those who don’t know, Wolf & Cub specialise in a brand of atmospheric psychedelic rock that works really well at night, but necessarily quite so much for breakfast. Everything was thrown into the set and it was as good as it could have been, although the small size and diminished mental capacities of the crowd at this time of the day didn’t really help.
“Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends”- The Kinks Dedicated Follower of Fashion
If there was a parking lot for those who attended the set by The Cast of Cheers, it would have been filled with fixies. Fixies as far as the eye could see. It quickly became apparent that there was a dress code and this was buttoned up chambray, checked shirts and skinny jeans. Fringework was also plentiful. The music was okay I suppose, if not particularly memorable.
The Mariachi-style bongo and bass outfit Tijuana Cartel were next and they were pretty damn good. Plenty of saxo-mo-phone action that had the rapidly building crowd asking for more. I personally did not think the addition of an MC was necessary, but judging by crowd reactions I was clearly in the minority. Those bits were way too close to Ozhop there, but thankfully it was only in short bursts.
The Forum then provided an insight into the mind of Billy Corgan. Hmm…
“How we like to sing along although the words are wrong”- Blur The Universal
The Beautiful Girls then performed the first set of their farewell tour to a packed GW McLennan Tent. The danger of Beautiful Girls gigs is that they can be populated by those sporting a proliferation of Southern Cross tattoos (the Australian swastika) and all matter of other paraphernalia commonly associated with The Shire. The litmus test to this is the reaction to Under a Southern Sky. As none of “them foreign types” were bashed immediately following this song, it can only be viewed as a success and confirmation that this was going to be a good night.
Blessed with a fairly extensive back catalogue, The Beautiful Girls (now with extra horns) had the crowd singing along with every word. Periscopes with its Madonna Like a Prayer intro was left almost entirely to the crowd to perform and it was not nearly as that awful as it sounds. Still no …and We’ll Dance on the Ashes of What’s Left though. I am sure the seventh time of seeing them will be a charm.
“I can’t reach you, I’ve strained my eyes, I can’t reach you, I’ve split my sides”- The Who I Can’t Reach You
The next three sets were hampered by an acute case of being old. Ladyhawke, Tame Impala and Miike Snow were all observed from the depths of the Supertop tent. This was great and all as there was plenty of room to do crazy stuff like breathe, but the sound quality was a bit meh. This is fair enough seeing that the tent was about 200m long. The one saving grace however was the distinct lack of animal onesies in this part of the tent.
The final act of the evening was The Dirty Three. Hipsters were conspicuous by the absence. Upon reflection, pretty much everyone was conspicuous by their absence. It turns out that Bloc Party and Hilltop Hoods were bigger drawcards. I only hope for those who attended these sets that both were amazing as The Dirty Three were phenomenal. Warren Ellis was in fine vocal form with tales relating to renowned humanitarian Gina Rhinehart, Bono and being attacked on Byron Beach by an ice addict who called him “Lord” and grabbed his jacket. And then there was the music. This was classic Dirty Three which is essentially a synonym for awesome. Violin, guitar, keys and drums combined to produce stunning soundscapes that inevitably conclude in a cacophony of noise. That closed out the second day and gave the third day a pretty big mountain to climb to at least match it.
That being said, Husky certainly started the third day on the right foot. Again much like Wolf & Cub they are probably another band who are more suited to a smaller venue but they adapted perfectly to the conditions.
The Australian Fleet Foxes experience was followed by Father John Misty which is the stage name of Josh Tillman who was the ex-drummer from the actual Fleet Foxes. In his set, Father John succeeded in making country music not seem rubbish which is an extraordinary achievement. As a soundtrack, it would best be suited to a period of your life when it all goes a bit pear shaped.
“I woke up with the power out not really something to shout about” – Arcade Fire Neighbourhood #3
No, it really wasn’t anything to shout about but it happened anyway. Metric’s set was going along quite swimmingly until the power cut out midway through. This was problematic as much of the ability of music to entertain resides in its ability to be heard. Tricky…
“I’m bored”- Iggy Pop I’m Bored
Here We Go Magic suddenly found themselves faced with a challenger in the muzak stakes. Step forth Angus Stone. Admittedly I am not much of a writer, but describing something so nondescript is far beyond my limited skills and probably would challenge even the greatest. The best that I can come up with is to say that it was the most beige set of Splendour.
This necessitated a visit back to the Supertop where I caught five minutes of Wolfmother. This was somewhere between four and six minutes longer than the optimal length of time to listen to Wolfmother. Surprisingly this was not the primary reason for the visit; that was to see The Kooks. Unfortunately the run was left a bit late and the set was observed from a fair distance away; one closer to the moon than to the stage. That being said, it was okay if not a bit samey-samey.
Playing Bod Dylan covers could have gone badly, badly wrong. However with some of Australia’s best musicians performing, it did not. The main difference between this and a Dylan set was that the songs were performed by people who could sing. A great selection of Dylan songs were chosen including Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, It Ain’t Me Babe, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Positively 4th Street, Everybody Must Get Stoned and all 435 verses of Like a Rolling Stone. Kevin Mitchell’s voice is remarkably close to that of Senõr Dylan except that he has the added advantage of being able to not sound like Bob Dylan when he wants. Patience Hodgson was Patience Hodgson and threw in some much needed crowd surfing which was clearly lacking until that point apparently. The whole set was one of the highlights of the entire festival and bought down the curtain on the GW McLennan tent for another year.
Waiting for some action she said “Why won’t you come over here?” – The Strokes Juicebox
Then it was time to watch The Gossip or as it is alternatively known, “Attack of the 40ft Beth Ditto’s.” It is somewhat of an understatement to claim that Beth Ditto has a bit of a stage presence. When that presence is blown up on two massive video screens with a killer light show, the crowd that had gathered were in for a treat. Everything about this set was great and the closers of Standing in the Way of Control and Heavy Cross more than justified bailing on seeing The Smashing Pumpkins. Still managed to catch Space Oddity and Z.Y.U which wasn’t too shabby and didn’t destroy the legacy. Winner all round.
It was all over now bar the camping in the Micra for four hours…
The rantings of a grumpy old man have been brought to you by Your Gig Radar Aymeric de Rosbo