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Splendour In The Grass 2011: Day One

feat. Kanye West, The Hives, Gotye, Modest Mouse and more


As the fields of Woodford lay strewn with tents and camping equipment, thousands of eager punters began to file into Splendour In The Grass - arguably Australia's premier music festival - for another showcase of top local and international acts. Amidst tentative forecasts of rain and drizzle for the weekend, nothing could dampen the notion of one-off appearances from the likes of Kanye West, Coldplay and Regina Spektor.

  

There would be no shortage of action free from the headline acts, however, as the festival's first day kicked off in style. Melburnians World's End Press helped open proceedings, the potent funk-electronica outfit strutting their stuff at the Mix Up tent. They offered such a dynamite introduction to the festival, it was difficult to comprehend the reasoning behind the scheduling of their set. It appeared logical enough that World's End Press were ripe for conducting midnight frivolity, rather than posing to punters as merely a casual midday interest. The band pleaded their case, their drum machines in tandom with a precise performer in Tom Gould to lay down a strict and utterly flawless groove. World's End Press specialise in dead-set dance floor fillers underpinned by delicious basslines and ferocious keyed jabs of synthesisers. The band maintained a visually stimulating energy throughout their stellar set, one that no doubt came at the expense of patrons' eardrums. World's End Press and their impressively cohesive execution of rousing electronica packed one hell of a pop-tastic punch, providing the festival's first booster shot of entertainment. It's simply a mystery as to why the band have not gained in stature of late, despite consistently nailing their opportunities. It would be no surprise whatsoever if this Splendour outing lit a fuse.

  

As ominous gray clouds lingered above, Brighton's British Sea Power followed Millions as the second band to appear at the Amphitheatre, the festival's main stage. Who's In Control assisted in announcing their coarse six-string-laden aesthetic, emerging as a fun-loving inclusion faithful to its studio rendition. As a band, British Sea Power rarely present a difficult equation. Even as a casual observer, it's easy to understand their approach and appreciate it more readily as a result. British Sea Power showed they have more than a few tricks up their sleeves too, however, occasionally cutting loose their straightforward take on rock for some interesting departures. Soon, their new-found emphasis on piano in their live mix ensured a tender state of affairs, with an electric violin also finding its way to the forefront. A menagerie of alternative ideas and sounds revealed themselves, as Georgie Ray, for example - in recalling a kind of soundtrack to the third act of a prime time drama - became a standout. Similarly, Waving Flags was a highlight, its euphoric alternative rock marked by rapid-fire drum fills and a scintillating crescendo. Typically, British Sea Power would make a return to their comprehensive best, finishing their set with We Close Our Eyes in a banshee-wailing blaze of glory. As Yan cast his guitar into the air, the Amphitheatre attendees applauded a solid outing bound to appease any rock aficionados.

  

Hype-juggernaut Jinja Safari were next to the stage, their instruments and equipment laced with vines and bramble. Their set ignited with a thunderous double act on drums, coaxing the rest of the band to emerge before a growing crowd. Presenting an intriguing mish-mash between Vampire Weekend and Boy And Bear, the Sydney-siders carved out an obtuse, almost tribal aesthetic. Their music bred an impressive stage chaos, the incensed intensity causing band mates to collide, limbs all the while flailing wildly. With an emphasis on ambiance and imaginative compositions, Jinja Safari have the prestige of retaining some anthemic pop brilliance. The band had little trouble enticing the crowd to lift their feet from the stoney surface of the pit, as shenanigans galore ensued. Punters were treated to the best of both worlds: not only would the band's percussive interludes take place several feet in the air - a girder utilised as a stepladder toward daring behaviour - the band would also get in amongst the crowd on ground level. With an array of obscure ideas and sounds, Jinja Safari showed themselves to be a curiously captivating outfit with their enormous support to date well-deserved. Meanwhile, over in the G.W. McLennan tent, Kimbra was more than happy to seize control of her platform. Kimbra cuts a definitive, powerful presence, emerging a fantastic vocalist and a natural performer. Appearing in a blue and white frilled dress reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland attire, the spirited songstress delivered a shape-shifting presentation of surging piano pop and funk. Her craft, much like Kimbra herself, bears a glamorous and wholly confident demeanor. New single Good Intent was one notable highlight from the set, the sultry, shuffling gem encouraging anticipation for Kimbra's album Vows due this September. Another album track, Limbo, featured interludes of expert harmonies, twisting and turning gleefully. Cameo Lover was a crowd favourite whilst the set's closing track, Samaritan helped establish a fond farewell. The song seamlessly transitioned into a cover of Daft Punk's Robot Rock, delighting the enormous crowd instantly. A surprising many had flocked to see Kimbra perform and all no doubt would have caught a glimpse of the performer's great wealth of talent and potential. Meanwhile, as the tent began to empty, those with foresight knew to expect her return to the stage in only a few hours time.

  

England's Wild Beasts would follow Kimbra in the G.W. McLennan tent, indulging in some hauntingly melodramatic overtones. Front man Hayden Thorpe wasted little time in casting an awestruck haze upon the modest crowd, his vocal delivery nothing short of flawless. Thorpe also exudes a strangely hypnotic prowess, the execution of blistering bass guitar riffs a consistently spellbinding marvel. With his talents combined with those of his tremendously accomplished, cohesive band mates, Wild Beasts were shaping up to be an early surprise packet of the festival. Their craft seeks to gently caress the listener, conducted with patience and plenty of poise. The result is an enticing spectacle, marked by an array of mysterious and pensive songs. Tom Fleming would take up vocal duties for The Devil's Crayon, a dreamy disconnected trip underscored by scattered percussion. Reach A Bit Further would follow in its restless jungle pitter-patter, a silver-tongued chorus tumbling forth to emulate the song's distinct bounce. All The King's Men, a song of a similar ilk, was as every bit delightful as its predecessors in its merry jig. Wild Beasts proved themselves a refreshingly unique outfit in professing their earthy, ambient alternative rock, with a set to be treasured by those that happened to roll the dice and give the Brits a chance.

  

The Kills, meanwhile, were rocking the Amphitheater with a spirited yet fairly academic collection of tunes, as Kate Moss inspected the performance in the side-of-stage shadows. The duo of Alison Mosshart - Splendour's own personification of the sexy rock chick - and Jamie Hince specialise in monotonous melancholic drudgery, presenting an exercise in dirty head-banging rock tedium. The set was a chance to showcase through more recent material from their album Blood Pressures, as The Kills shred and tore through one song to the next. They're a highly rhythmic band and their style as such is quickly entrancing, but the spell is broken by the sheer insistence of their aesthetic. By the end, it was far too easy for any unacquainted punter to predict what the The Kills had in store. The band's set was a blend of emphatic yet methodical dynamics, as their rock's excessive decibels surged across the pit in a familiar manner with each track. No one could take away from their performance, both Mosshart and Hince working overtime to fill an entire festival stage with only themselves and their craft. However, The Kills music seems more and more an acquired taste that you have to really ‘get'.

  

Scottish indie rock outfit Glasvegas were next to the Amphitheater, as front man James Allen emerged dressed in white and blue Adidas parachute attire. Though his appearance suggested the onset of a strict exercise regime, Allen instead presented a curious opposite, showcasing an often complacent stage demeanour whilst frequently found in profile to his audience. It's difficult to read into the behaviour as indifference or a natural style, though, whatever the case, it was an oddity witnessed by the Splendour crowd. Performing before a solid turn-out, Glasvegas' set suffered initially from a strange mix, Allen's vocals lost amidst an overbearing fuzz. Fortunately, any problems were gradually rectified, as the Scotts began to hit their stride. It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry indulged in an outpouring of self-pitying emotion, an impassioned ebb and flow surfacing alongside the band's glistening grunge approach. Glasvegas were well-suited to the festival platform, their indie rock sounding altogether mighty. They made Splendour's biggest stage their own and were a comfortable fit for their time slot. The enormity in their output, for some, could be more a curse than a blessing, however. At times Glasvegas appear stuck within a stadium rock mediocrity, accomplishing only a big sound without an irresistible spark or that world-beating song to take audiences by storm. Credit where credit is due however: Glasvegas are certainly in hot pursuit of explosive success, the band proving this very notion more and more as their set progressed. Allen would take a seat on the edge of the stage to address the pit directly, a distant gaze recalling cinematic poise and laying the foundations for a surprisingly tender tune. The track would of course evolve into Glasvegas' usual fare, though the series of moments again inspired consideration of the band's exciting potential. The crowd had warmed to Glasvegas well, but it was time for the finale: the favourite Daddy's Gone. A cautious recommendation.

  

Time between sets provided a chance to seek coverage of the festival - or, rather, the pursuit of some huge festival news. A rumour that Jay-Z had arrived at Brisbane Airport, with a view to joining headliner Kanye West on stage, had spread like wildfire within a matter of hours, social networking sites abuzz with reports. Soon, almost every media outlet concerned with the festival had climbed aboard the bandwagon, adding some degree of credibility to the idea of Jay-Z's appearance. Combined with the circulation of texts between friends throughout the festival, the rumour mill was shifted into overdrive. Most were beyond convinced: Jay-Z was on his way. Only time would tell, however, if there were any credence to such claims.

  

Back at the amphitheater, Modest Mouse had filled out the stage with an impressive array of instruments. The ensemble, led by the animated Isaac Brock, took every chance across their repertoire to prove just how technically adept they were. Modest Mouse offered a frequently chaotic brand of intensity with a set that featured a welcome pick-and-mix from their catalog. Brock spat and snarled his way through every sentiment, pitted as the unique voice of a unique band. Similarly, the band would conduct savage a aesthetic, frequently nailing each bar with plenty of bustle and bluster. Livewire rocker Dashboard and its bold brass component proved a memorable highlight, as the kooky, bass-laden Fly Trapped In A Jar prompted a head-bobbing trend. A great deal of focus marked Modest Mouse's Splendour appearance, as neither Brock nor any other member of the band addressed the burgeoning evening crowd too frequently. This - combined with an unfortunate slew of more casual, laconic set inclusions - may have been a critical oversight, as interest in the band seemed to gradually fade. Modest Mouse's more calm and methodical moments - those moments in which the band truly took the foot off the pedal - destroyed the boisterous enthusiasm of an emphatic following, a crowd with a huge night ahead. The everything-will-be-alright anthem of the day, Float On, saw the festival in fine voice and proved a somewhat redeeming factor, but you couldn't help but leave the amphitheater feeling like something was a bit amiss. Modest Mouse were not so much a disappointment, yet frustratingly serviceable.

  

Modest Mouse's set left just enough to rush (i.e. trudge slowly in a sea of people) towards Gotye's set at the G.W. McLennant tent. Wally De Backer had been met with a colossal following, punters lining the outside perimeter of the tent. Enjoying the set, the Splendour crowd made collective request to De Backer, hungering for volume. The performer was only too happy to relay the suggestion to the mixing desk, the band's output promptly raising in the prominence. With the crowd well and truly on his side, Gotye could indulge in a bit of fun - and voice modulation. New song State Of The Art provided a crucial insight into Gotye's upcoming record Making Mirrors, showcasing a reggae-inspired swagger with cool interstellar ambiance. Meanwhile, Thanks For Your Time offered a lounge-lizard shuffle that would evolve into a mechanical dance gem, as gizmos and gadgets galore were implemented for wondrous results. Truly, stood at a station of keys and percussion, De Backer appears to be in his element as a wizard of an instrumentalist. Soon - perhaps a tad predictably - Kimbra would find her way to the stage again, set to combine with Gotye in the sublime Somebody That I Used To Know. The crowd roared, blessed with the impending partnership. The song, a tender gem, resulted a potent festival moment, its chorus securing a bittersweet release shared by fan and artist. In the seconds following the song's conclusion, punters began to leave the tent in droves. They would be stopped in their tracks, however, as the opening orchestral flutters of Heart's A Mess rang beautifully throughout the evening. It was an amazing sight to see such a collective about-face, as Gotye reclaimed almost a third of his audience with the onset of arguably his biggest song. Of course, it was a triumph, De Backer's stunning voice soaring alongside an impassioned crowd. I Feel Better, a new song, closed the set with a swinging 60s motown schtick. The happy anthem sent punters on their way, as Gotye's performance solidified as one of the definitive highlights of Splendour's first day.

  

Back at the amphitheatre, The Hives - dressed to the nines in black and white suits - were in the midst of an explosive set, their abrasive rock expertise stirring the pit into a frenzy. The band slashed and ripped the incensed Hate To Say I Told You So to pieces as Howlin' Pelle Almqvist exuding a brilliantly obnoxious charisma akin only to a maniacal ringmaster. Almqvist would boast an unprecedented urgency in his performance, quickly informing arriving crowds of just what they were in for. "Children, children, children - take it easy on yourselves!" he would begin, found in a rare quiet interlude. "Actually, let me rephrase that: go fucking crazy!" The band presented some brand new material set to make it onto The Hives' upcoming album (pending the Splendour crowd's approval, apparently) but the true highlights were their ingrained hits. Try It Again presented a familiar fun-loving rock grit, prompting Almqvist to join the fans face-to-face. The follow-up It Won't Be Long, with its white-hot guitar-lick motif, also successfully charmed Splendour, as The Hives consistently found new avenues to intensity. It could be said that The Hives - or at least Howlin' Pelle Almqvist - as an insistence on crowd participation and fan-dialogue gradually emerged a dubious strategy. The band's finale, Tick Tick Boom, prompted Almqvist to demand a seated posture of the festival's patrons. That not all were compliant audibly frustrated the front man, his commands beginning to falter. Meanwhile, various punters expressed displeasure in the sudden emphasis on talk. The end result, however, made the experiment worthwhile, the pit springing to its feet in one last ferocious tilt at the chorus. The Hives illustrated their brilliantly rousing repertoire - one that would never miss a beat - donating every last drop of sweat to the stage for an enamored Splendour crowd. This was a rock performance at its finest, the Swedes energetic, entertaining and essentially flawless.

  

The main event of the festival's first day would be the arrival of American rapper Kanye West. The preparation for his set at the amphitheatre proved busy work for the road crew, a swarm of workers descending on the stage to, of all things, pull up the floor, leaving a clean white surface. As the stage began to take shape with props and platforms shifted into plain sight, Splendour's rumour mill only intensified further. Would Jay-Z join Kanye on stage, or had a masterfully simple con swept the festival?

  

From the outset - or "Act One", rather, featuring opera, ballerinas and general melodramatic absurdity - Kanye West's Splendour set appeared pretentious, overblown and frankly ridiculous. Each element, however, would determine a large part of West's success at Splendour. Whereas The Hives had put on a rock show, West would treat the festival to a rock eisteddfod. The rapper would emerge from smoke on an enormous elevated platform in the middle of the pit, Dark Fantasy kicking off proceedings. It was a fitting choice for an opener, the words "Can we get much higher?" ringing across Woodford as the platform continued to ascend. It was a showy spectacle, with everything from laser shows to pyrotechnics use to full effect as West commanded an entire festival effortlessly, a sea of hands bobbing and swaying gently. The show saw West sample everything from Michael Jackson ( P.Y.T.) to MIA ( Paper Planes) to Queen ( We Will Rock You) - though the latter especially would only succeed in longing for the late Freddie Mercury's presence. Eventually act two would commence, offering less emphasis on rap with more of a lean towards auto-tune assisted singing. Though the auto-tune proved a little too much for some - the crowd promptly cooling as a result - Gold Digger would effectively reignite some life back into Splendour. Act 3, meanwhile, would bring more choreographed routines and fireworks in a truly extravagant display. Hey Mama would close the set and the day's proceedings, a bow from all performers met with more fireworks. As a performer, West is obviously confident and charismatic and certainly knows how to play to a crowd, though it's rather difficult to gauge just how successful this set might have been free of its purely technical magic. As far as Splendour's patrons were concerned, Kanye West's appearance was an absolute triumph. Realistically, though, West had an abundance of assistance and, in addition, it can be suggested that, realistically, patrons enjoyed the spectacle rather than the performer. It was interesting, also, to note the absence of Jay-Z despite continued reports heralding his arrival. A great deal of credit should be directed towards the group or individual responsible for the wildly successful prank - one that left most patrons confused and disappointed. Maybe next year?

  

Overall, day one of Splendour In The Grass 2011 offered a serviceable enough start to the festival. Kanye West's headline slot proved unforgettable - not to be confused with outstanding, of course - whereas the likes of Gotye and The Hives provided their own sensational shows. That much of the day felt padded with acts that merely satisfied, however, indicated that the best was yet to come.

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