Highlights & Lowlights of Splendour In The Grass 2011
by Justin Edwards
Although I missed Pulp’s seminal 1995 Glastonbury performance (I was over at the Acoustic Tent watching Evan Dando get booed off and Portishead’s headline set) I saw the band a couple of times down the years and was never disappointed. If, as Jarvis Cocker tells the Splendour crowd, it is to be their last time in Australia, they do it with style and end as the main highlight from the three days. Anything Britpop is always going to have the extra advantage of nostalgia for a certain proportion of the audience and it was impossible to hear ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’, ‘Babies’, ‘Sorted For Es And Whizz’, ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Common People’ and not reminisce back to the heady days of 1996. Plus they also played ‘This Is Hardcore’, a song I always loved and thought was much under appreciated, much like the album. The only downside is that the band look old now and if they look so much older 15 years on, so must the rest of us. Given that they’ve headlined much bigger music festivals, it’s a bit of a mystery why they aren’t headlining the Saturday night at Splendour, especially as, unlike Coldplay and Kanye West, who were only playing the one show, they have been in the country and playing sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Even as a huge fan of Jane’s Addiction for more than 20 years, they were the wrong choice for a headline set. It should have been Pulp.
How many Kanye West songs do I know? A bit more than none but I’d still have plenty of space if I were to count them on the fingers on one hand. I’m not much of a fan unlike the crowd who have come to watch him tonight. It’s breathtaking to look up the hill from the side of the photo pit and see just how many people have crammed into the amphitheatre to see him (it looks even more than were here last year for Florence And The Machine) and not only that everyone is going nuts; it’s not just the people squashed against the barrier and as close to stage as they can get who are punching the air, jumping up and down, dancing like mad and singing all the words, it’s happening all the way to the back. It’s clear that everyone has come to Splendour this year for Kanye West and this is his crowd. It’s all a bit different from the reaction that Jay Z got when he was booked to headline Glastonbury.
As for Kanye, it’s an amazing spectacle. There’s a sudden burst of dry ice and suddenly there he is being raised way above the crowd on a hydraulic lift. It makes a change from running onto the stage from the wings and shouting “How you doing Splendour? Are you ready to rock/party/have a good time” that all the faceless landfill indie bands do. He makes his way back to the stage towards the end of the first song to join a troupe of dancers. The dancers come and go throughout the set and other than a few keyboard players at the very back of the stage, it’s just him on the massive stage but he commands it effortlessly.
Having said all that, after 45 minutes I’ve a bit bored by it and don’t stick around for ‘Act 3’ (missing out on the Chariots Of Fire hilarity moment I was told about the next day) and go and catch the end of DJ Shadow’s set (having never seen him play live before). But for those 45 minutes you couldn’t fail to be seriously impressed. As I’ve said previously when I’ve photographed the likes of Beyonce and Kylie, it’s always a refreshing change to go and see something very different every now and then from my more typical nights out seeing your usual indie bands at small venues and Kanye West definitely is a refreshing change, even more so from a festival set when you never get anything more than four or five guys playing guitars, maybe going to the full expense of hanging a backdrop behind the drum riser if they’re really pushing the boat out. In more than 20 years of going to festivals, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like Kanye West’s Splendour show.
I know it’s distinctly uncool to say anything remotely nice and/or positive about Coldplay but I’ve never really minded them. I should also add that I’ve got their first three albums. I’ve also seen them three times down the years, each time at one of their Glastonbury shows; the first time they played, a Friday early afternoon set just as ‘Yellow’ was breaking, and the first two headline sets. As much as you might despise them, the thing about Coldplay is that they’re one of the very few bands that can really play to a massive crowd and do it so well they make it look effortless. I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Chris Martin has the knack to talk to an audience in such a way that he makes you part of it; there’s a down-to-earthness about him, a common touch that Bono could only dream about. It also helps that they sound really good tonight; with a fifth album due soon, they’ve got enough songs to play an easy, crowd-pleasing greatest hits set and also be able to chuck in a few new songs.
It’s a quick return to Australia for Warpaint, with the band having been out for the travelling Laneway festival in February. As I’m walking up the slope towards the GW McLennan tent I overhear someone say “Let’s go and see some hot chicks play some music then”. While it might be a true statement of fact, it’s something of a disservice to the band who play beautifully and sound fantastic. I’m later amazed by some of the reviews and commentary bemoaning the band playing extended jams in some of the songs, obviously written by people who would have much rather stayed at home and listened to the album, with each song not being a second longer than appeared on the CD. I’m regretting not picking up a copy of their album from Fopp for a fiver when I was back in the UK last year (mainly because I was feeling guilty about the amount of CDs I bought when I was over there) and really need to do something to rectify it soon, even though it’s going to cost me a lot more than five quid in Australia. (I checked; $24 in JB Hi-Fi.)
With the exception of ATP, where you get put up in nice little chalets, everytime I’ve been to a multi-day music festival that’s involved staying onsite, I’ve camped. That’s more than 20 years of festival camping. Since last year’s trip down to Byron for BluesFest, I haven’t had a car, so, as last year, I was always having to hire a car to get to Splendour. My camping experience at last year’s Splendour was a fairly miserable time, coming back to the tent on both nights to find that a tent pole had snapped and it had collapsed onto the ground. While I carried out some running repairs on the Friday night, I ended up spending Saturday night crammed into the back seat of a tiny hire car. So this year I was also going to need a tent.
I decided to solve both the car and tent problems by hiring a campervan for the weekend. The decision was also driven by the lack of media room last year and wanting somewhere I could more comfortably download photos from memory cards on to my laptop at the end of each day, although we were told close to the festival that this year we were being given access to somewhere where we could work and also recharge camera batteries and laptops. Hiring a campervan was a fantastic decision and I don’t think I could ever go back to camping; a decent night’s sleep each night on a comfortable mattress, curtains that meant you didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn, not having to set up or take down and pack up a tent, and somewhere far better than a tent to do some work. I’ve always said that music festivals, camping and photography don’t mix but I now know the way forward.