Splendour In The Grass
North Byron Parklands, NSW
July 22nd-24th, 2016
The thought of going to a 3 Day Music Festival in your 20’s is an opportunistic time of adventure for you and your mates, but as the years go by you start to realise you’re not the young, fit and legendary drinker you used to be so you have to pace yourself… this wasn’t the case for myself as I ventured to Byron Bay for the annual Splendour In The Grass Festival with a purpose of highlighting the heavy rock/metal side of the acts on the list. Don’t worry, I won’t be mentioning any of the Hip Hop, Pop and/or Weird bands in attendance and it is my absolute pleasure to kick off this review with the heaviest band on the entire bill from the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood…
Friday 22nd July – Day 1.
The first day of the festival (for most people) began with a hangover from the night before when they said they’d go out for a couple drinks, only to be vomiting up vodka and tequila on the beach during the early hours of the morning. Once composed we made our way to the Festival early in the morning to make sure we arrived in time to see High Tension rip up the Main Stage at 12:50pm… Unfortunately we didn’t take into consideration how quickly we’d be able to get the bus from Byron Bay to the Festival, a few kilometres away and we ended up having to kill roughly about 2.5hrs walking around checking out the venue. In the middle of the scorching heat. Wearing all black. BIG MISTAKE.
After sitting through opening act (and Triple J Unearthed Winner) Alex Lahey, it became apparent that we were in for a weekend of waiting around for indie rock bands to finish so we could see some decent and heavy rock. However special mention needs to go to Ms. Lahey for her ability to lift the spirits of the attendees who raced down the hill of the amphitheatre to score a spot as close to the stage as possible, she has potential to become the next big female fronted act in Aussie Music so keep an eye out… if thats your kind of thing. Up next was one of the 7 bands we couldn’t wait to see, High Tension took to the massive stage at 12:50 and immediately started churning out some of the heaviest and brutal chords the festival goers had laid their ears on. I managed to score a spot right on the barrier (which was easy because the mosh wasn’t full by this point) however that didn’t stop these legends from belting out song after song for those who took the time to check them out. The only thing at this point which was more brutal than the fourpiece was the sun and heat which they were playing directly into. How these guys managed to hit every note and not pass out is astounding, but what was even more impressive was front-woman Karina Utomo‘s screaming at full force, face going red and still managing to jump around having the best time of her life.
The crowd was also doing the same, jumping around into each other (in the softest mosh pit ever started at a High Tension gig) before security became the fun police and put a stop to it post haste. Not to let that action get in the way of a good time Karina Utomo left the stage bound for the barrier and awaiting fans. She leaped into the arms of eager fans who carried her (like the metal queen she is) while the rest of the band were still performing their biggest hit to date “Bully” before setting her on the ground so she could get her two step on as well. The ultimate feeling of togetherness when the artist spends so much time with fans like that goes to show why Tension will be the next Big Act in the Heavy Music Scene. Everyone looked out for each other and pats on the back were going all round as the band ended their short, yet satisfying early set. This would be the last time we’d get to experience a band this heavy for the entire weekend.
Several hours later (and a few thousand trips to the Gold Bar… cheers Splendour) it was time to get as close to the stage for Brisbane boys Violent Soho and what would be one of their biggest sets to date, early into the evening. By this point I wasn’t ready to sit back and watch the band from anywhere but the mosh pit, so off I ventured in amongst the sea of fans who were ready for these legends to take to the stage. As the lights dimmed and they all walked out “Like Soda” started and immediately the crowd rushed forward and didn’t stop moving for the entire set. It didn’t matter where you were, there looked like multiple circle pits forming as the boys played fan favourite tracks such as “In The Aisle“, “Neighbour Neighbour” before we finally got a chance to catch our breath momentarily for their slower former single “So Sentimental“. But the rush for the stage and circle pits grew even wilder and larger in size for “Dope Calypso“, “Viceroy” and current single “Blanket“. At one point a punter had hurt himself to the point where he couldn’t stand and instead of continuing to rock out, those in the close vicinity of the guy stopped, made space and saw too him and his injury. A lot of naysayers tend to give metal heads and hard rock fans a bad time saying we’re violent and disrespectful, but if they could see the way these fans came together to look after each other, they’d definitely change their tone.
“Saramona Said“, “Fur Eyes” and “How To Taste” followed as the awesome foursome performed without fail as guitarist James Tidswell and bassist Luke Henery whipped their hair around in a vicious circle and ran back and forth, owning the stage for all to witness. How these guys managed to do so for the hour they had is astounding considering towards the end of their set, the crowd were obviously drained of their energy. Things picked up when the boys played “Evergreen” next and stated the next song in their set list, hadn’t been played for over a year before launching into “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend“, resulting in one of the biggest sing-a-longs I’ve ever witnessed at a Soho show, however it was this next song which really caught everyone by surprise and fuckin blew us all away. Front-man Luke Boredom announces to the crowd the next song isn’t one of theirs and the band immediately began playing one of the best covers my ears have witnessed. Nirvana‘s “Breed” sent everyone into a frenzy, bodies flying all over the joint, fans launching off the backs of others one after one like when you see Army parachuters follow each other out the back of a flying plane. It was insane and honestly the BEST song the band could have covered. Everything about it was right and it still gets me now how sick it was to witness first hand. The boys ended with the ultimate crowd favourite “Covered in Chrome” and we all gave our last bit of energy to once again smash into each other, help those who fell and sing to our hearts content. Hands down the 2nd Best Set of the entire festival and and arguably the best of the entire first day.
We decided to park ourselves on the hill for The Strokes to end Day 1, playing their only show in Australia at Splendour, however the band were 20mins late to play and by this time it was getting well on into the night at 10:50pm (well past most punter’s bed times) but we pushed through to witness these Americans take to the stage in front of an almost full capacity amphitheatre. Earlier in the day some of the bands performing on the main stage were subjected to sound issues (it sounded soft even from close in the mosh pit) unfortunately for these guys the issue still remained yet it had been fixed a little, but not to let that get in the way of a good show the band played through a combination of newer and old hits, at first front-man Julian Casablancas seemed dull and flat in some cases (which was a shame because by this point we all needed something to get us pumped up again) but those issues subsided by song #7 “Heart In A Cage” where the rest of the band were finally in tune with his antics.
Julian addressed the crowd shortly after this with an anecdotal story about how a fan had spotted him running around Byron in his short jogging shorts and requested the band play a particular song for them, that song in question was “Reptilia” and at that exact moment the entire area stood up and started dancing. It was a sight to be seen having witnessed thousands upon thousands of people dancing in unison. Their set ended with the obvious Encore performance of “Last Nite” proving these guys were in fact headlining material, however if a little more enthusiasm was displayed by Julian, the set may have been more enjoyable by myself.
Saturday 23rd July – Day 2.
The next day began a little later than expected (for a lot of people), as lines for the bus exceeded an hour wait and it was even longer to get inside the actual festival itself. Had it not been for the three amazing women who offered up a ride to the event for myself and my mate, we would have missed the entire set of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard who were already in full swing on the main stage by the time we arrived. By 3:35pm the sun wasn’t as offensive as the previous day and the mass crowd were enjoying the psychedelic rock sounds these lads had to offer. Having never witnessed King Gizzard before (I had heard they were a definite band to check out) I was rather impressed with their ability to keep up with each other and the best way to explain their energy and appearance is to get you to imagine if someone forced Cold Chisel to drink a litre of Red Bull and made them snort 50 lines of speed before sending them onstage to perform. It was nuts and highly recommended.
The long wait then began until At The Drive In took to the stage for eager punk rock fans who had forced their way into the amphitheatre to see these guys in action. Their last appearance at Splendour In The Grass was in 2012, yet their set-list had only changed slightly in between this time, but that didn’t stop the El Paso five piece from rocking he fuck out in one of the fastest paced performances we’ll ever see over the long weekend. The obvious crowd favourites were “Arcarsenal“, “Pattern Against User” and “Non-Zero Possibility” which all kept everyone of their feet moving around ferociously as front-man Cedric Bixler-Zavala launched off anything he could get his hands on, into the air and straight back to the microphone as if nothing had happened. The rest of the band keeping up with his epic aerobatics without blinking as much as an eyelid. The band wrapped up their performance with “One Armed Scissor” (side-note, one of the best and most fun songs to play on Guitar Hero: World Tour) before leaving the stage to a standing ovation and applause as far as the eye could see…. across the area.
The band of the hour (and entire Festival) hit the main stage at 9pm, Robert Smith and The Cure to the most attended set of the whole of Splendour. Now before you start crying about the fact the rest of the band members should get a mention to, they will but it was Rob and his incredible voice and playing ability which stole the show for myself. Beginning with the slow jam “Plainsong” to ease us into the night and bring everyone together, things were slowly sped up for “Pictures of You” which seemed to last forever, but there wasn’t an issue with that at all, the way they all performed on stage, they could have played the same song for an hour and it would have been just as magnificent to see. The Cure weren’t even halfway into their set and they had already blown every other band out of the water with their talent, proving once again the older your band, the more experience and knowlege you’ll have about how to put on a great, flawless show.
By the time they came towards the end of song #8 “In Between Days” I was starting to feel the effects of the cold weather and tiredness from now being able to withstand the already huge two days of celebrating, but when I was about to call it quits for the day, Robert started strumming the opening notes to “Friday I’m In Love” and almost immediately I was perked up again joining in the celebration of sound with music lovers all around me. The acoustics sounded too goo to be true but this track just oozed perfection as the band played on and on, looking around it was hard to find a single person who didn’t have a huge smile on their face and who wasn’t singing along. Its as if all the issues and troubles faced earlier into the day (and the nightmare of getting home after day one) had disappeared in an instant and we were once again stoked to be there witnessing the talent and legacy this band has created over the years. I only lasted two more songs “The End Of The World” and “Love Song” before calling it a day. I would have loved to have been able to witness their complete 30 Song, 3 Hour set but as you get older you’ll realised how hard it is to party on (as I addressed earlier into this review).
Sunday 24th July – Day 3.
By this point I was on Struggle St. There was no way shape or form I would be able to last another entire day of walking across an entire festival watching musicians and I think that was the general consensus of the entire festival. There was hardly anyone waiting in line for the bus and to get through the gates but we had to start out day early so we could catch Perth act Tired Lion again considering how they blew us away on Spiderbait‘s recent Anniversary Tour. For a band who opened up the Festival last year (following their win of Triple J’s Unearthed Comp) they had managed to pull the biggest crowd Sunday morning had to offer and for good reason too, they were on point and sounding great during their short (yet appreciated) set. Playing a combination of slow jams to start their performance and playing songs dedicated to Ex Partners and more serious topics such as Mental Health, this foursome lapped up every minute of their time and probably enjoyed themselves more than their fans who had turned up to watch them (well maybe it was a close tie). They captured the attention of us all and maintained it until the end, even getting the audience to pose for a photo at one point. My only gripe would be they should have played in a bigger area and for longer because by the time they had finished, we were left wanting more.
Following these guys we didn’t have any other rock/heavy bands to see so we stopped by a few EDM artists (as there was no way I wanted to sit through a Courtney Barnett set) and roughly about 7:30pm I called it quits on the long weekend of music, booze and dust. When discussing Splendour’s value for money with a mate, it became apparent that metal fans would have lacked out over the weekend, indie rockers would have relished, booze hounds would have been sent broke and sober and drug dealers would have made millions… probably. A great display of a wide range of bands in a fantastically spacious venue. Attention Festival Planners, you’ll make millions hosting one here during the warmer months, keep that detail in mind.
A collection of pictures are here for your FOMO viewing pleasure… I’m going to bed for several days.
Until next time, rock the fuck out