Splendour In The Grass @ Belongil Fields
When you rock up to the first morning of a three-day festival, the last thing you want is to do is get pelted with pea-sized hailstones. But after that minor meterological fakeout, Byron Bay turned on an exquisite weekend to welcome Splendour In The Grass back to its spiritual home.
Post-hail on Friday, we joined the moist masses at Alison Wonderland and Yacht Club DJs to dance ourselves dry. Then it was back to Big Scary, invariably the best choice for your mid-afternoon sing-along at every festival ever. After a quick trek to Hippie Corner for scoping out Michael Kiwanuka at the McLennan Tent, locating the kofta balls tent and laughing uproariously at the shocked, whining owners of now-mud-enveloped Chucks and thongs (did you know you can get the weather forecast on the internet now, guys?) we set up at the main stage for huge night of standing in the one spot. Few people seemed to mind that the non-Black Betty portion of Spiderbait’s set felt flat and toothless; The Shins played with the energy and cohesion that had been sorely missing from their Sydney sideshow a few days earlier; At The Drive-In tore strips off everything with a set that was mesmerising even for a reporter with the sorest of feet and familiarity with exactly one song. Then once grumbling punters had made the hardest choice of the whole weekend – bail for Explosions In The Sky or stay put – Jack White reassured everyone in the Supertop they’d chosen well. His bands (male to start, ladies swapped in at halftime) beefed up the crackling sparseness of White Stripes classics like a frantic Hotel Yorba and Slowly Turning Into You, while White’s towering guitars made the not-quite-so-classic new material sound rather biblical.
Guitars were the real winners on Saturday; Last Dinosaurs and Bleeding Knees Club were an early highlight, the sonic equivalent of a Berocca Slurpee. Band of Skulls – on far too early at 5pm – had the crowd eating out of their hands tearing into enormous, languid riffs. Mudhoney visibly converted some of the young ‘uns crowding in for the next act, Lana Del Rey. This, incidentally, was the most genius scheduling decision of the weekend. (She looked pleased to be there and dressed like a flower-girl and we left after four songs, the end.) The night ended with the biggest and baddest crowds we saw all weekend as both Miike Snow and Bloc Party put on raging sets (BREAKING: bellowing "SO FUCKING USELESS" is still fun.)
With Beth Ditto, Jack White and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in the mix, the contest for Best Frontperson was tight, but Josh Tillman as Father John Misty took it out on Sunday with his Jagger-meets-Nilsson, crazy-preacher snake-hips antics. Lord knows how he stayed behind a Fleet Foxes drum kit for so long – he’s a born bandleader, and easily locked up our set of the festival (although the thousands more people who went to Yuksek instead all threatened to physically fight us on that).
Man, people really love The Kooks and Blue King Brown, huh?
Azealia Banks’ whelming 25-minute appearance was plagued by technical difficulties; she explained this repeatedly in a sugar-sweet Harlem accent whose tense undertones did not bode well for some sound tech somewhere. (“I guess that cunt gettin’ fired,” mused a friend.) But hey, that crowd was not there for the deep cuts, and 212 was as rowdy and sweaty and cunty as it needed to be for everyone to be happy.
Rumours had been flying all weekend as to whether The Smashing Pumpkins would be playing nothing but new stuff or a greatest hits set, but either way Corgan has not been all about crowd-pleasing in his last two trips out here. So these Gossip virgins skipped what was apparently a blissful trip down Nobody Understands My Special Pain Lane – well worth it to witness the glory that is Beth Ditto in full flight. The band is a brilliantly tight unit but Ditto’s combination of sweaty punk-soul diva belting and drawling, sweet-as-pie patter steals the show no matter what anyone does. Reports from the main tent were positive, but nothing beats a party where there’s room to dance
LOVED: The vibe. A few individuals aside, I have never ever wanted to punch so few people at a festival.
HATED: The thought that people had been able, nay, encouraged to pay $350 extra for a 'VIP experience' that bought you access to a cash bar and endless queues for one of just seven toilets.
DRANK: All of the Strongbow. All of it. And then one Black Ice on Sunday when the cider ran out. Ugh.
BY CAITLIN WELSH AND HUGH ROBERTSON