Golden Plains at Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre
Despite rising well before sunrise and sporting a shiny staff pass on the dash of the ute, it was a case of another year, another failed attempt at snaring a spot in the elusive Bush Camp. Though we enjoyed a non-existent wait in the usually arduous car queue, yet again we found ourselves unfurling the tent and propping the deck chairs up in the Ringwood area of the relatively unsheltered Top Camp. But it all didn't seem to matter once the first tinnie was plucked from the chilly-bin under a flawless blue sky.
After Meredith co-founder Chris Nolan declared Golden Plains Number 5 open with a long blink of approval, Sonny & The Sunsets provided a perfectly breezy start to proceedings with their sweetly soothing garage-pop ditties. The affable group rolled through a set of effortlessly cool jangle-pop numbers, consisting mostly of material from the yet-to-be-released sophomore record Hit After Hit. A few cuts from their debut received the warmest response, with a delightfully unhinged Too Young To Burn benefiting from the addition of fleshed out drums.
The day then jarringly kicked up a few gears as venerable Tote-frequenters Cosmic Psychos took to the stage. "We used to be a bunch of young grumpy cunts. Now we're just a bunch of old grumpy cunts," they declared to the growing throng of punters as they tore into their distinct brand of classic-punk riffs. Their set also marked the first instance of a running motif for the weekend - two shoulder-perched, earmuff-clad, young'ns dictating dance moves from the front of stage. Shortly after they began waving their hats in appreciation, it seemed like a thousand more joined in for a glorious display of headwear twirling.
Not long after the Psycho's set concluded, I trekked uphill to grab a few bags of ice. On the way I found myself avoiding crossing paths with the group's tattooed and extremely ripped frontman as he approached from the opposite direction. Seriously, the dude is one mean looking motherfucker.
Fostering the community spirit and the exemplifying the great care taken to preserve the grounds' natural beauty, time was set aside a few times a day for an emu-bob rubbish pick-up. After a democratic vote, the housekeeping soundtrack was chosen to be DMX's pumping anthem Party Up. It's one of the many brilliant touches which set the festival apart from the saturated summer calendar.
The first true highlight, and first of many raised boots, for the weekend came during folk-country darling Justin Townes Earle's rambunctious delivery of heartfelt tracks. Leaning more towards folk rather than aligning with his country lineage (father Steve) or middle-namesake (revered songwriter Townes Van Zandt), he was joined onstage by only an additional fiddle player. After a more than satisfying display, Justin returned sans shirt (which caused my girlfriend, and many other members of the fairer sex, to audibly swoon) to pull out a blissfully affirming cover of The Replacements' post-punk classic Can't Hardly Wait. Not only was it a perfect end to a near-perfect set, it crafted a fine segue into fellow post-punk icons The Clean.
Being the foremost outfit to ever grace the Flying Nun stable, as well as failing to grace Australian shores for over two decades, expectations were set pretty high for the legendary kiwis. The pressure didn't seem to have any effect on the group's purportedly lackadaisical approach, which was displayed as a delightfully loose rendition of Anything Could Happen was thrown in early on in the set. Rather than close with their breakthrough 1981 single Tally Ho, the set dissolved into a messy jam consisting of little more than guitar noise. Maybe it was a protest instigated by lead singer David Kilgour's reported frustration with his guitar sound? Who knows, but their display seemed to disappoint their fervent backers, while failing to impress those led to believe in their reported greatness. Regardless of the preceding hype and expectations, it was a serviceable set of guitar-pop for their respective slot on the afternoon schedule.
It wouldn't be a festival at Meredith without a chamber-pop artist expressing their constant disappointment with the sound quality at the Amphitheatre. While not quite voicing her qualms as emphatically as Owen Pallett (then going under the Final Fantasy moniker) did back in 2008, Joanna Newsom still made it clear the PA was falling short of her expectations. Her complaints were more than warranted, with the crowd having to remain dead silent to even hear the graceful tones produced by the sizable harp sitting centre stage. Not long into the set, the music was barely audible over the growing hum of the audience. "I don't know if you can hear me out there, but I can't hear me up here," she declared before finishing on a high note with the rollicking Good Intentions Paving Co.
The line of discussion I had with a friend during Brazilian luminaries Os Mutantes freak out show went something like this: "This is like The Shins, but better!" on to "This is like Zeppelin, but better!" and finally "This is like The Beatles, but way better!" It was a most awesome display of musicianship by the predominantly young band - with frontman Sergio Dias being the group's only remaining member from their 1968 inception. It seemed as if all 10,000 in attendance were dancing their arse off by the time Bat Macumba kicked in.
Though their place on the line-up may have initially raised a few eyebrows, Airbourne executed upon the crowd a flawless display of phallic bludgeoning that would put Alex DeLarge's antics to shame. Whether or not you're a fan of the four feral Warrnamboolians' shamelessly derivative hard-rock 'n' farkin' roll style, it's impossible to deny the sheer energy emanating out the huge walls of Marshall stacks, or more importantly, out of front man Joel O'Keefe's permanently wailing lungs. Having the band play at midnight on day one proved to be an iffy choice on paper, but in reality it was probably the most inspired selection on the weekend's timesheet. Fuckin' awesome.
The 2008 incarnation of Golden Plains featured probably one of the loudest sets the Amphitheatre has ever witnessed, with the since-departed Jay Reatard kicking out an explosive string of raw punk jams (the set has since been immortalised in vinyl). If memory serves correctly, the early afternoon performance cleared most of the proximity to the PAs due to the overwhelming volume levels. Steve Pope, Reatard's then-bassist, now finds himself plucking strings for weed enthusiast Wavves - who are blessed with an early-morning timeslot far more suited to high-decibel thrashing. It's just a shame this wasn't the case, with the sound levels sitting at a frustratingly safe volume. Regardless, it was still a satisfying run of garage-punk slacker anthems - opener So Bored captured the antithesis of the crowd's sentiment as they sung along with joy to the droning chorus. Post Acid was a far more apt description of the high percentage of LSD-addled minds populating the grounds at that point in the evening.
Ghosts, zombies, mummies and werewolves may not have seemed like the best medicine for the many scattered minds heading down to join the endless coffee queues, but that's exactly what hearty-folksters Graveyard Train and their loyal following delivered to Sunday's early birds. I can't think of any other band that could pull off focussing their subject matter on classic B-grade horror, as well as a percussionist utilising a mallet and chain. Anyone experiencing a rough comedown may have had an intense, but eventually life-affirming lecture during the band's closing banter. "It's going to be a complete, fucking, DISASTER," punctuated a barrage of diatribe confronting everybody's mortality. Finally the payoff came with "Let's make the most of it!" to a resounding cheer.
Of course it rained. Just as Canadian jam-band The Besnard Lakes began to rock out majorly, the threatening drizzle started to fall a bit heavier. Thankfully, it was pretty manageable. "Holy shit, that's the dude singing!" was overheard in the crowd as lead singer Jace Lasek hit a glass-shattering falsetto. Bearing a similar vein to American festival favourites My Morning Jacket and Phish, their style was most definitely a highpoint of the weekend for many punters. Boots were raised. Again.
British shit heads Pulled Apart By Horses proved to be the defibrillator that Sunday desperately needed. The hardcore-tinged rockers set the tone for the next half-hour at mic check - the standard "Check 1-2" was replaced with an emphatic "CHOP YA KNOB OFF," startling many of the uninitiated punters basking in the afternoon sun. After chugging a few too many beers three songs into their set, the lead singer hopped down to the crowd barrier. I practically held his hair back while he projectile vomited for a good half-minute while his band continued to rock out onstage. Nasty. After championing the non-commercial characteristics of the festival and the compost dunnies, he quipped "We really got the shit end of the stick with our slot, you all smell like a pack of rapists." Closing with an epic crowd surf over a sea of raised boots, he landed in a deck chair perched next to the sound tent. While being doused in foaming tins of Melbourne, he muttered an existential "Where am I?" I made tracks before he enacted another bout of power-spewing.
If any environment would suit the summery vibes of Best Coast, it would be the Supernatural Amphitheatre. Unfortunately, it was more of a mess of noisy guitar and droning vocals. Sounding a lot like a sedate version of her significant other's work (Wavves), the only noteworthy aspect of the slot was when a lil' lady was bought out from side of stage to perform backing vox and tambourine duties. Awww.
Aussie icon Robert Forster looked quite the dapper gentleman as he gently rocked through a handful of Go Betweens classics. Despite not featuring enough hits to rank alongside Neil Finn's awe-inspiring performance at the Meredith previous, it was a classy and overall pleasant soundtrack to Sunday's dusk.
One of the biggest surprise hits of the weekend was undoubtedly Irish rockabilly songstress Imelda May. The pint-sized kidlets who first popped up for Cosmic Psychos were once again propped up to dictate hand signals to a much more sizable crowd, with the helicopter finger twirl proving the most popular move. Imelda fed off the crowd's exponential energy, with call and response tactics relaying energy back and forth like a large hadron collider. Good clean rock 'n' roll fun. Closing with a super-sexy version of R 'n' B standard Tainted Love, it didn't take much for everybody to follow the lead of the kids raising the double-boot.
As the stars came out just before pop-purveyors Architecture In Helsinki took to stage, so did a veritable Pandora's Box of glow sticks. The kaleidoscope of colour was further enhanced when the cheery Melbournites graced the arena to Decked out like a late-'70s bridal party in sparkling white tuxes and glittering blue bow-ties and dresses, Architecture fulfilled a run of pop numbers as cheesy as their attire. Their sound, and stage presence, was most definitely a stunning transformation from the last time we saw them at the Amphitheatre. The group appear self-assured and fully capable of being the country's next major crossover success.
Feeling absolutely destroyed, I couldn't bring myself to stay up for Hawkwind and their "70-minute acid-rock experience". But from all accounts, I hear they sucked major balls. Oh well.
Monday morning. The many white moths - which were omnipresent at the camping grounds - gave the trip down the driveway an ethereal feel, as if we were travelling down a trans-dimensional gateway back to the grim cityscape. Meredith, I miss you already.
Loved: Near-perfect weather for once. Huzzah! And despite all the sanctimony surrounding the many instances of raised boots, we should be pretty darn thankful that we got to witness so many bands worthy of the seal of approval.
Hated: The dickhead who tried to knick our esky on the final night. I do hope someone stabs him in the eye.
Drank: Too many cans of Melbourne, and a myriad of unholy concoctions which no doubt shaved a few years off my life expectancy. Well worth it.