Review: Splendour In The Grass 2009 – Day 2

By: Elize Strydom

Day two! I arrive at the site to find it virtually deserted. I’m here early for good reason. I’ve been hanging out to catch Townsville collective The Middle East and they’re first up on the GW McLennan stage.

Their tunes The Darkest Side and Blood have been getting considerable airplay on triple j and a friend of the band handed me a copy of their record but I’ve been told they MUST be seen live. Five guys and one girl walk on stage and take their places behind various instruments but they won’t be there long. Throughout the set each member will put down his guitar and take up a trumpet, stop tinkling the ivories in favour of the flute, or accordion, or tambourine and on it goes. Rohin Jones takes the role as front man for much of the set. He’s smiley and gracious and thanks the audience for waking up. One minute the sound is gentle, spacious and delicate the next it’s raucous, crashing and emotive. Bree’s sweet vocals weave in and out of the softer tunes and I’m reminded of Bright Eyes during their more country rock moments. As I watch them I picture myself writing this review and just know I won’t do the Middle East justice. I haven’t. See them for yourself, post haste!

Jack Ladder frontman Tim Rogers (not THAT Tim Rogers) swaggers. There’s no other way to describe it. He arrives on stage, red wine in hand, aviator sunnies perched on the bridge of his nose. He’s Elvis mixed with Tom Waits blended with Nick Cave (whoops, I read he hates that comparison). He needs to be seen to be believed. He’s ten foot tall with a rich baritone, enough to suck anyone in. Is it blues? 80s synth pop with lotsa drum reverb? The band plays tunes from their 2008 release such as Love Is Gone, The Barber’s Son and Best Kept Secret. Rogers and his band are enigmatic characters and they put on a damn good show.

To be honest I only hear snippets of British band White Lies and (fans are gonna hate me) the best way that I can think of to describe their sound is the darker side of the Killers. How come these guys have slipped under my radar? Must do better!

The reason I only catch just a snippet of White Lies is because I want to get a prime position in the Mix Up tent for Friendly Fires. It’s my first foray into the tent and it’s a non-stop dance par-tay. Friendly Fires are everything I expect and more. Sooo much shimmying and hip shaking – this is indie-disco euphoria. Drummer Jack Savidge is the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen and the percussion section goes off. I don’t realise how many of their songs I’m familiar with, damn, talk about hit-makers! Kiss of Life, White Diamonds, Paris and In the Hospital. There are a few false starts before they bust out with Jump in the Pool and the already kuh-razy crowd takes it up a notch, or 11. This band is frantic, tight and impossible to resist.

Psychedelic rockers Doves should not be underestimated. They put on a mighty fine show. And I thought I was the only person who was into ‘em. Uh, no. Throughout the set they’re 100 percent and passionate and give, give, giving. Delving into the far reaches of the back catalogue they pull out tunes like the Cedar Room (it was A-MAZING) and There Goes the Fear as well as more recent numbers like the epic sonic assault Snowden as well as Black and White Town and current single Kingdom of Rust. There’s an extended percussion jam at the end of There Goes the Fear which leaves the audience begging for more.

I had a really good spot for Doves but now desperately need some food and a red wine. I take a break before attempting to face the fury of MGMT’s fans. When they played in Oz last year their shows were the hottest ticket in town so I’m expecting big things from the Brooklyn boys. Along with everyone else. The tent is heaving. But I’m determined and snake my way through the masses and end up pressed into the sweaty bare back of some drunk dude. Not an ideal vantage point but it’s the best I’m gonna do! While MGMT is officially just Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden, the band has filled out tonight to include three other musos. Time to Pretend, the Youth, Kids and Electric Feel – all the hits are there and don’t disappoint – but I’m just standing there not feeling much of anything. They sound great, look great but it just isn’t doing anything for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m distracted by the over-zealous security guards nearby and the agro in the desperate-to-get-to-the-front crowd around me? As soon as they finish the crowd thins out with many people keen to catch the Hilltop Hoods. I’m keen too…it’s such a hard choice but I stay put in the Supertop and prepare for the Flaming Lips.

Not that you can really prepare. I’d heard their live shows were entertaining. That is not the right word. Let me explain and see what you can come up with. Okay, so I’m not quite sure how to explain what I’m seeing without giving the wrong idea. I’ll give it a go. On the screen at the back of the stage there’s footage of a naked young woman sashaying around, doing a little dance. She’s animated but the original image isn’t. Then she lies down and there’s a psychedelic throbbing hole between her legs which suddenly opens revealing members of the band. To top it all off frontman Wayne Coyne emerges inside a giant plastic bubble and rolls out over the crowd amidst an explosion of confetti and oversized yellow and white balloons. It’s a sensory overload. Back on stage two groups of guys and gals dressed up as various animals take their place and start dancing. It’s hard to actually concentrate on what’s being played there’s so much going on and sometimes it all blends into a lovely, euphoric mash up of sound. That said, everyone is looking front and centre when Coyne introduces The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power). It’s a surreal experience and I start to feel quite overwhelmed and a desperate need for personal space overtakes me. I fight my way to the edge of the tent and find a patch of air for myself and enjoy the final, spectacular strains of the set from there. Coyne dedicates a song to MGMT then humors the crowd with a fake encore. The Lips leave us with Do You Realize?? They also leave us speechless.