Friday, August 8, 2008

Splinter in the Arse 2008

For seasoned punters, Splendour in the Grass, a Byron Bay music festival considered by many to be the best in Australia, is synonymous with gumboots, and many of the shops in Byron Bay stock up in June in anticipation of a July windfall. There was no need this year though; since moving the festival into the first weekend of August last year, Splendour in the mud has become Splendour in the dust (there are those who are convinced that shifting the festival by a single week is responsible for the improvement). Don’t worry about the shopkeepers though, the gumboots still served for the nearly-washed-out writer’s festival the weekend before.

This was my first Byron Festival experience since the Byron Bay Arts and Music Festival in 1995. Memories are hazy, although I do remember The Dirty Three being absolutely brilliant. I also recall that the festival back then had a real ‘Byron’ feel to it, with all that implies, and I was looking forward to the chilled out crowd – as a contrast to all the 20 y.o. dickheads running around at the last two Homebake Festivals in Sydney I've been to. Unfortunately the dickheads have discovered Byron; lots of drugged up Brisbane boys with Rugby League brains and Rugby League manners, pushing everyone out of their way were a real downside to this event. Not enough, however, to spoil the enjoyment of the great music and venue !

We arrived at the venue just in time for the end of Operator Please. Not much to say about these guys; they’re not my cup of tea and I’m sure they don’t care. The kids certainly seemed to like them though, judging by all the high pitched screaming from the Supertop ! The Music, on the other hand, are very much my cup of tea live – and – it seems – everyone else’s. The big blue tent was packed to the rafters of heaving bodies swaying to the music (capitalised or otherwise) and they got the best fan reaction of the day. The only puzzle is why they were on so early. Musically, The Music's music can be a little repetitive (in the lounge room at least), with all the high pitched arm punching choruses, driving beats and angry guitars; but it's tailor made for a short set at a festival like this one, and they were for many the highlight of the day.

Gyroscope and The Fratellis came and went. I wasn't really familiar with either of these bands, and already their gigs are blurred in my mind, but I do remember enjoying both of them despite the lack of familiarity. Gyroscope in particular played with a real energy which suggests bigger things to come. I had heard great things about Band of Horses and had been meaning to give them a spin for a while. I wasn't disappointed - the show was great, both musically and as a spectacle; and even if the crowd reaction at the smaller 'GW McLennan Tent' wasn't as passionate as for The Music, this was my highlight of the day. These guys are a band I'll be keeping an eye on.

I'd also heard great things about The Polyphonic Spree and was looking forward to seeing their much praised live show. On paper it sounded great; multi-instrumental, with operatic influences, parallels to the Beach Boys and Flaming Lips, and (according to a recent interview) 'definitely not a gimmick'; it sounded right up my musical alley. The show itself was spectacular, from the build up behind the red curtain; the colourful stage props, through to the exciting light show. However (you saw it coming, didn't you) the music itself let me cold. Tuneful and happy, yet somewhat soulless; it reminded me more than anything else of a musical meeting a church choir - think Godspell - and I certainly won't be rushing out to buy the CDs.

Which brings us to Devo, the headline act for Day One if not the entire festival. It was a strange choice of headline act, and certainly the crowd was noticeably smaller and more subdued that for The Music and the other bands earlier in the afternoon. Although they'd resent being called a novelty act (and certainly their longevity belies that tag) it has been literally decades since Devo had done anything musically significant, and even an oldie and almost fan from the old days like myself was struggling to recall more than a handful of songs.

First things first - yes, they still wear the flower pots and boiler suits. While that's to be admired, there's no hiding age, and what was quirky on 20 year-olds looked - as much as I hate to say it - pretty ridiculous on a bunch of middle-aged guys.

Musically the gig was fine without being inspirational. Whip It was whipped out early and rushed through, and their version of Satisfaction, so inspirational in its time, seemed limp. Girl You Want and Beautiful World were better - and I'm definitely glad I saw them, yet somehow I expected more from Devo.

In good news just to hand, the Byron Bay Arts and Music Festival is being resurrected in the New Year after a 12 year absence. Stay tuned for part 2 of the Splendour in the Grass review ... and sorry about the crap title, if you've got this far.

No comments: