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:: Spotlight :: Review - Splendour In The Grass 2010

By: Mark Rasmussen

Day 1
This year Splendour in the Grass was held in the wonderful surrounds of Woodford, Queensland. Located at the site for the annual Woodford folk festival and set in the valley of the Glasshouse mountains, it made for a spectacular setting. So Friday evening rolls around and as we park up the car, little do we realise we have to trek almost the entire length of the state of Queensland just to get into the grounds. Upon entry we receive no timetable, no map, no booklet, no information - no nothing.

But we’re finally in and the first band we hear are Hot Chip at the Mix up stage, who put in a fabulous performance. Although we only caught a few songs, they played to their strengths with strong beats, good vocals and high energy. The crowd were cutting sick on the dancefloor. I wished we weren’t delayed in arriving and could have seen the whole set.

We then went bushbashing, and found our way into the amphitheatre, despite no visible signs for venues or tents pointing us in the right direction. Once there, however, we were overwhelmed by the huge crowd listening to the delicate sounds of Angus & Julia Stone under a full moon. As expected, they were a big crowd pleaser and for an outdoor space the acoustics were surprisingly good.

Unfortunately, the main problem with the amphitheatre were the bottlenecks, small pathways, loose rocks, not stones but rocks on the path which detracted from the overall experience of listening to some of the bands who played there. In parts, the bottle neck was so bad, with no movement either way and by default we were forced to sit it out and watch The Temper Trap play, missing out on the exceptional LCD Soundsystem as a result. As expected they were popular with most but for me they were very predictable, boring and unentertaining.

We were then faced with the inevitable clash between bands: Ben Harper, Scissor Sisters and Grizzly Bear all playing at about the same time. Our reasoning was as follows, we’d already seen Grizzly Bear’s sideshow down in Sydney and were not overly impressed, so they were ruled out. Although we were tempted by the Scissor Sisters for the kitsch, quirky value we opted instead for the sublime talent of Mr Ben Harper. What an accomplished musician he is; with just the right balance between song and banter, lyrics and beats and sheer superb musicianship. Such a profilic singer songwriter that he is, he had a huge range of songs to choose from and he played several of my favourite songs like: ‘Amen, Omen’, ’Waiting For You’ and ‘Diamonds on the Inside’. A great way to finish up the first day.

Day 2
The second day began earlier than the first, as we arrived without delays and discovered a newly installed shuttle service from the car park to the front entrance. We swiftly made our way to the Temple Stage catching the poi and staff workshop, which was interesting to watch and participate in. From there we made our way over to the GW McLennan tent, which was my favourite venue of the whole festival, and caught The John Steel Singers, a rocking, rollicking band who produced one of the most dynamic sets of the festival. Thoroughly enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm sweep throughout the entire tent.

From there we took a curious stroll around the many market stalls littering the grounds and were impressed with the wares upon display. The Queensland sunshine was out in full force, with the temperature hititng the mid 20s. Totally an unwinterlike experience. After grabbing a bite to eat at the many great food stands, we returned once more to the GW McLennan stage for The Magic Numbers. Thoroughly impressed and gobsmacked by this two brothers two sisters combo who, for me, were the best act of the entire festival. Their fiery brand of rock really shook the crowd into a frenzy and blew me away with their energetic set.

We felt like we were on a roll after two brilliant bands back to back, and decided to stick it out at the tent to watch Laura Marling. Her folky, acoustic performance was all a bit of a yawn and I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. As the sun set behind the mountains, we headed towards the Chai tent for some much needed respite. We lay down on some of the many cushions, drinking our warm mug of chai listening to the Nomadic Voices, an Israeli duo singing traditional Hebrew songs.

Feeling refreshed and rested, we ditched the overhyped Florence and The Machine for the much more lively Art vs Science at the Mix up tent. While not quite up to the standards of the similar sounding The Presets, they still provided a great dirty electro sound full of energy and enthusiasm, causing many people, myself included, to dance out.

From there we hurried to see the brilliant and dependable Band of Horses, who were as reliable as they were good. Playing a good mix of songs from across their three albums, with staples such as ‘Funeral’, ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, ‘Ode to LRC’ and new fave ‘Factory’. Left there well satisfied and content and made our way through the already large crowd in place for The Strokes, who ripped out a great set and had many people up on their feet dancing and singing along as they did. Again, another good way to round out the second day of the festival.

Day 3
The final day of what had been a good festival began with the entrancing sounds of FanFarlo, who we were to later learn were the support act for Mumford & Sons’ sideshow back in Sydney. We could see why with beautiful string sounds of the cello, fiddle and other such wondrous instruments being played to an inch of their life. We stayed at the tent for Whitley, who churned out some solid numbers and kept the crowd happy with some memorable tunes.

Next on the agenda at the same tent - the GW McLennan tent really was the mecca for fine acts - was the much hyped act Broken Social Scene, who it has got to be said were disappointing, despite putting their best efforts into it. I just couldn’t relate or enjoy their set so moved onto Jonsi at the Mix up tent. Their performance was very reminiscent of his other more well known act, Sigur Ros. They were surprisingly good and enjoyable and had we known Broken Social Scene were going to be so ordinary, we would have swung by sooner. But as it was, we liked what we heard and saw.

We wanted to be at the amphitheatre with ample time before Mumford & Sons took centre stage and so we watched the Passion Pit go through their paces. Laughable at best were my thoughts. Hugely overrated and pedestrian this band offered nothing new, fresh or exciting, instead the mundane and predictable. A big yawn of a set.

Thank God for Mumford & Sons, who played to the biggest crowd of the entire festival, with barely a patch of grass to spare on the overcrowded hill. The entire hillside was transformed into a formidable hoedown as the boys played hit song after hit song from their highly acclaimed album. They proved the sense of the occasion and the size of the venue wasn’t beyond them, as they banged out an amazing set with passion and an immense wall of sound, which in itself was remarkable considering their use of instruments like the banjo and acoustic guitar. While humble in their appreciation at the large crowd in front of them, it’s clear they are set for super stardom.

Sadly they had to finish at some point and in their place came the Pixies, who despite the large crowd hugely disappointed almost everyone. Many leaving well before the mid point of their set. I think it is fair to say, despite their aura and accomplishments over the years, this is one band who should just be put out to pasture. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough and caught some of the Empire of The Sun, who were neither good or bad but somewhere in between. As the last night was the coldest of the three, I like many others hugged one of the fires nearby and chatted instead to the people around me.

It was during this time I found out about Richard Ashcroft, who despite all media reports, did not lose his voice or any of the other media spin put on it, but who was either drunk or coked out to his eyeballs, and who tried to start a fight with one of the photographers nearby before slamming his microphone down on the ground, throwing the mike stand into the drum set and storming offset like a petulant twat! His final words as he left the stage, booed by the small crowd in attendance, “F..k this, I’m going to see the Pixies.” Well Dickie ol’ boy, hate to disappoint you but they were terrible.

What a bad note to finish up on for what had been for the most part, a solid festival. It certainly had some high points - The Magic Numbers, The John Steel Singers, Mumford & Sons and The Strokes - but with a lot of teething problems, especially early on the Friday night and, while organisers might have pocketed a fair chunk of the exorbitant ticket prices ($465), many punters would have been left scratching their heads wondering what they really got for that extra money.

Double the festival size does not mean double the fun or even double the value. I heard many people throughout the course of the festival complain about many things, with some declaring “they won’t be back!” While my mind is convinced the size of the event is too big, the surrounds and natural setting was a definite winner.

So while the festival may have scored mixed results, with such a great line-up and the beautiful Queensland weather all kicking in as if on cue, and despite the expensive tickets, it was still nonetheless an enjoyable festival. I think the organisers will learn many things from this weekend, not all of it good, but credit still must go to them for providing an opportunity to shake off the winter blues and just let loose.

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Here are some pictures from the festival

Festival entrance gate
Fish cafe
John Steel Singers
John Steel Singers
John Steel Singers
The Magic Numbers
The Magic Numbers
The Magic Numbers
The Strokes
The Strokes
Band Of Horses
Band Of Horses
Band Of Horses