Gig review: Splendour In The Grass, Woodfordia, 29/7/2011 – 1/8/2011

Enter this way. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

Waking up to brisk cold and laughing  kookaburras isn’t too bad a way to start off your first day at Splendour.

DAY ONE

While some slept in, others trekked to the expansive Woodford site for early risers British Sea Power, playing an energetic and melodic set bolstered by a fervently passionate Georgie Ray.  It was encouraging to see people out so early, and it’s even better when you discover something unexpected, like violinist Marques Toliver, who I stumbled upon on the other side of the grounds. He was absolutely captivating with nothing but his instrument and voice, playing simple but elegant music.

I’ve never been entirely sure what spurs people on in dressing like various creatures and/or foods at festivals, but nonetheless the costumed punters were in full flight by the time Jinja Safari played a midday slot in the natural surrounds of the Ampitheatre  beautifully mirrored in their folk pop. Capped off by the lead singer crowdsurfing and running around the hill with the crowd racing behind him, they were followed by the alt-rock melodies of Jebediah. The audience sang along to Outta My Control, but it was the classic Leaving Home that caused a teaming mosh to form.

A blurry shot of Wild Beasts. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

Wild Beasts played a stellar set ranging from the sing-song All The Kings Men and The Devil’s Crayon to synth driven newbies like Bed Of Nails. Singers Hayden Thorpe and Ben Little’s voices were astonishingly visceral, ranging from falsetto to baritone in a single line.

By contrast, James Blake was all about the bass with many an ear feeling the after effects of it. It was to the point where vibrations could be felt from feet to head, widening your ear passages and inching to the very tip of your nose. Ditching introspection for sheer noise, he admirably made songs like The Wilhelm Scream and Lindsfarne I and II fit into the festival environment and seemed genuinely overwhelmed from the overflowing tent’s response.

On the main stage Glasvegas played to a criminally undersized crowd, blasting out their droney Glaswegian rock with verve as Jamie Allan raged and crooned, sometimes prostrate, concluding with the epic Daddy’s Gone. As the sun set The Black Seeds got the crowd moving with their funky songs, and in the Hunting Lodge James Blake‘s beats heavy DJ set did the same. The number of girls trying to grind up on the decks was impressive to say the least. But it was the electro-rave of Does It Offend You Yeah? that saw wild break out, as people thrashed to opener Monkeys Are Coming.

On a hill enjoying Modest Mouse. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

Up on the hill in the Ampitheatre it was perfect timing to take in the raucous Americana of Modest Mouse, with a devoted singalong to Float On that had those of us seated on the hill rise to our feet. The mood changed to electric with The Hives; singer Howlin’ Pelle was hype-man and screecher, as he encouraged the audience to make noise. The Tick Tick Boom finale had us all seated upon his command until he told us to jump with a massive rush passing through the crowd.

Showering sparks upon Kanye during Runaway. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

Kanye West knows how to put on a show. A three act performance saw dancers, lasers and showering sparks all play out. Best of all, the set was a stunning summation of Kanye’s work, from his elevated appearance to Dark Fantasy to the autotune emotion of Love Lockdown. He went from classics like Jesus Walks to Power with ease and finesse, abundant in swagger. As he rounded out with a touching Hey Mama, doubters best believe he was a headliner not to be missed.

DAY TWO

The second day saw the pace and attendance drop post-Kanye, though Ghoul drew a small morning grooving crowd with their dub downbeat tunes. As we all nursed a variety of overnight ailments, Cut Off Your Hands did nothing to help by playing a self-indulgently dull set of slow pop to a dwindling audience, with new tunes receiving no response. Dananananakroyd were fantastically energetic, screaming their fight pop before getting the audience to split into two and run towards one another to hug in a ‘war of cuddles’.

If anyone was wondering why Mona were playing their deep South rock music to barely 30 people, it would be because the tent for The Jezabels was fit to burst. I had absolutely no idea how big this band was but they ripped through a set of their finest, whilst singer Hayley Mary’s stunning voice wailed along with the hoardes.

I won’t lie, I’ve never really been a fan of Bloc Party. Some better acquainted with me may even suggest that I hate them. However I will be the first to admit that Kele Okereke has transformed for his new guise as a solo artist into a slam dancing entertainer, as he swiftly glided across the stage and sang to the massive techno beat of Tenderoni, all whilst wearing gym sweats and newly bald. Not one to disappoint fans, a Bloc Party medley crept in and the set aptly ended with Flux.

By contrast Seeker Lover Keeper were understatedly melodic, with a devoted fanbase singing every word to Even Though I’m A Woman. The trio sounded perfectly matched in their harmonies, beaming at the reception of their first festival show.

Another Australian act getting love were The Grates. Patience Hodges was a force to be reckoned with as she leaped about in her tasseled dress, never afraid to jump into the crowd, all whilst singing pitch perfectly on hits like 19 20 20, Burn Bridges and the new Turn Me On.

When The Mars Volta appeared, you could sense the immense gratitude radiating from the audience. As Cedric Bixler-Zavala mounted amps and the drumkit, donned a horse mask and vaudeville hat, both thrown from the crowd, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez shredded in ways heretofore thought impossible.

Regina Spektor won hearts with her touching piano songs, simple and elegant both in persona and musicianship. Her voice sparkled on Fidelity and On The Radio, with her adoring fans only wanting more. For those on the hill outside the overflowing tent there would have been bitterness aplenty, as the generic dance sound coming from the Mix Up Tent meant they could barely hear Spektor.

Jane’s Addiction drew a quarter of the crowd Kanye did but not for want of trying. Looking fresh out of the 90s, Perry Farrell played the creepy old guy well, especially when simulating fellatio with his dancer wife during Three Days. Been Caught Stealing was the absolute highlight, as Dave Navarro noodled away on guitar and Farrell screeched. There was a definite rock-by-numbers vibe and though they may have just been going through the motions, Farrell looked pretty pleased with himself, grinning ear to ear.

DAY THREE

A sunny Sunday morning served Alpine well, with many rising early to see their exuberant performance complete with a rousing Villages. Los Angeles’ Grouplove improved the clearing of threatening clouds with an overtly summer pop vibe on tunes like Itchin On A Photograph. Like a gem hidden in the dark, Adelaide’s Leader Cheetah were tucked away on the other end of the festival but not overlooked, as they played their uniquely rollicking brand of rock with gusto not to mention a violinist on call.

The Vaccines get rowdy. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

‘What did you expect?’ glared the backdrop on stage during The Vaccines. If the NME hype is to be believed, then quite a lot. The band were tight enough to cause several sweaty moshes and leave all singing If You Wanna. Maybe not the next best thing, but certainly promising.

Speaking of promising, Cloud Control have certainly come into their own over the last year or so of touring. With commanding presence, they had over 100 people on the back hill at the main stage kicking up a duststorm as they raced back and forth. News that the band’s bassist has recently had a child led to an amusing The Lion King/Circle of Life video and multiple balloons launched into the crowd.

Balloon amusement at Cloud Control. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

The big news of the day was the sudden announcement whilst on stage, that The Middle East have broken up, with this their last ever performance. A fitting finale that peaked with a stunning Blood, they are a band talented beyond their years.

Then came the time for as many British bands as one can possibly fit into an evening, also known as this reviewer’s favourite part of the festival. The crowd watching Elbow seemed almost reverential; hushed until called upon by Guy Garvey, whose raspily deep vocals sounded glorious on Bones of You and Neat Little Rows. The set climaxed with the spine-tingling bass line of Grounds For Divorce, that had everyone swaying in time.

Friendly Fires had no shortage of feet on the dancefloor as they pumped out their Brazilian tinged electro pop. Lovesick and Jump In The Pool had both those in and away from the stage dancing, as did Live Those Days. The Anglophilia continued with a rowdy set from Kaiser Chiefs, churning out the hits with reckless abandon and nailing the end with Oh My God.

They certainly owe a great deal to this next band; Pulp. As Jarvis Cocker danced lewdly, bantered amusingly and sang cynically, it was a shame to see the lack of audience partcipation. Common People still sent people into a frenzy, but it was obvious this wasn’t the time slot or audience for them, especially thanks to the impending headliner.

Pulp light up the night. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

Now to the somewhat misplaced headliner of Coldplay who took the finale reins and set them to neon fluro. Though Chris Martin was on top form and the setlist saw everything from Everything’s Not Lost to brand new unreleased material aired, the show middled mostly. Taste was thrown into question with Martin singing Amy Winehouse’s Rehab to the tune of Fix You, though when he sang his own song it left us all feeling a bit delicate and weepy. By the time the encore was over, confetti and fireworks exploded and we were enraptured.

It wasn’t the most uplifting of festival finales, but perhaps the lesson is, don’t get Kanye West to headline your first night because we will spend the whole festival comparing the other headliners. And they will fall short.

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