Splendour In The Grass 2011: Day Three

w/ Coldplay, Pulp, Kaiser Chiefs, Elbow and more

The final day of Splendour In The Grass 2011 would prove the most successful of the weekend's proceedings, an unprecedented consistency in quality the ultimate reward for bruised and battered patrons. A damp, dewy dawn preceded brighter pastures, with a veritable feast of top-notch music on the horizon. The festival's British contingent - comprised of Elbow, Kaiser Chiefs, Pulp and Coldplay - would go on to stage a thrilling climax to the weekend.


First to the amphitheatre stage were Alpine, a much-lauded indie-pop act direct from Melbourne. In the same way that Ghoul had offered an appropriate introduction to day two of Splendour, Alpine's dreamy, mellow pop-rock assisted patrons in gently settling in for another huge day of festival action. The band's most striking element comes in the dynamic duo of Phoebe Baker and Lou James, the pair combining beautifully, yielding stellar harmonies to fill-out the front-line of the band's live formation. They were restless performers found in perpetual motion - their behaviour, at times, in complete contrast to that which their music actually evokes. Nevertheless, the demonstration cast Alpine as a band relishing their first festival appearance, with energy enough to assist punters' recoveries from the likes of The Living End and Jane's Addiction from the night before. Strangely, despite a frequently guided and methodical song-craft, the band profess a a style equal parts intriguing and gorgeous in its execution. It would be nice to see Alpine escape their strict adherence to specific shades, moods and tones, but this very idea is likely to surface as the band grow and develop together. The prevailing thought to take out of Alpine's set was simple enough: there's a definite spark - something very special - going on for this group and only time will tell if they ignite to fulfill their immense potential. For now, it would appear they're on the right track to becoming the toast of Melbourne's indie scene.


American indie-rockers Grouplove had attracted a formidable crowd to the amphitheatre, wasting no time in delighting their many fans with a near-flawless performance. Itchin' On A Photograph provided an immediate insight into the band's penchant for cute, refined melodies, their collection of songs effortlessly resonating with a rejuvenated audience. Whether accidental or otherwise, Grouplove's pursuit of commercial radio play was found in full swing. They excel in a slew of textbook pop-song fundamentals, showing immense promise amidst a tight live unification. In conjunction with their apparent simplicity is a complete abstinence from any overbearing angst or melancholy, both lyrically and musically. Splendour's fervent adoration for the Californians unfolded without interruption, with band curating a sunny vibe to eerily coincide with the day's new-found warmth. Favourite Naked Kids imbued the festival with a sense of escapism, the frivolous college rock soundtrack in their set's best inclusions. Colours, however, would ultimately steal the show with the pit returning every line and sentiment to the stage with ardor. Well-suited to the festival platform, Grouplove's Splendour set simultaneously encouraged the prospect of stadium-rock stardom for the group. With a single like Colours under their belts and more of the same forecast, combined with a pronounced live prowess, it's more than likely we'll be seeing much more of Grouplove yet. Highly recommended.


Next, the nation's burgeoning love-affair with Hungry Kids Of Hungary continued, the band riding high off the immense success of their debut album, Escapades. Their Splendour set would casually justify their ascension to the limelight once more, the locals indulging in another brilliant live performance. The band never missed a beat in bringing their euphoric, infectious collection of pop-rock to the festival domain, successfully electrifying the crowd and picking up right where Grouplove had left off. The oddly ecstatic Let You Down saw the introduction of giant white and transparent spheres to the stage, the band ensuring their release to the crowd with a swift kick or two. It was almost unfortunate, in a sense: amidst such frivolous festival fun, it was easy for punters to overlook the band's stunning delivery. Dean McGrath and Kane Mazlin gifted Splendour with a flawless double-act, interchanging vocal duties and occasionally combining for sublime results. The sweetly sorrowful You Ain't Always There emerged a prime example of their talents and a key highlight of the set alongside other such gems as Set It Right and Coming Around, the closer. Coming Around has long been the band's swansong now and remains the perfect final impression, the stirring epic and its ascending harmonic scales roaring beautifully to seduce Splendour one last time. Hungry Kids Of Hungary again proved that they are one of the nation's hottest live commodities, Splendour re-casting the locals as accomplished performers and immensely talented popsmiths.


Though many remained at the amphitheatre to determine the credibility of the hype behind The Vaccines, the opportunity to witness Liam Finn play the G.W. McLennan tent was much too alluring for this writer. Those that opted to catch Finn's show were rewarded with arguably the most committed performance of the festival, the Kiwi frequently lost to a delirious, animalistic intensity alongside his band (named, if only temporarily, Charles Darwin's Turtle). Naturally, Finn would be first the stage, indulging in the creation of a gravelly riff before thrashing about wildly on his beloved drum kit. The chaos would assist in introducing Finn's ensemble, comprised of not only friend and long-time collaborator EJ Barnes, but brother Elroy Finn. Whereas EJ would take charge of percussion and backing vocals, Elroy remained stationed at an additional drum kit for the entire show. The set would include a mix of old favourites alongside material from Finn's new album, Fomo. There's much that's clever about Finn's songcraft, presenting ingenious blend of imagination and irresistible pop sensibilities to create an entertaining spectacle. I Don't Even Know Your Name and Cold Feet were in the best of the set's offerings, whilst Roll Of The Eye prompted a Finn family affair. In the song's outro, Liam - stationed at his personal drum kit - combined with Elroy to produce a thunderous avalanche of snares and toms, a ferocious, unified stormfront breaking throughout the tent. Liam Finn's rock and roll theatricality had only just begun, as a thrilling finale became apparent.


The closing song, Lead Balloon, would at long last introduce Finn's infamous theramin to proceedings. "I know what you're looking for!" Finn would roar in profile to the crowd, before collapsing in one swift downward spiral to the stage floor, microphone first. Clambering to his feet, Finn would hold the instrument aloft, drawing an enormous cheer from the entranced crowd. Stumbling to the front of stage and scaling the amps with nimble precision, Finn's possessed demeanor recalled a ferocious, primal tantrum. Cast as a kind of menacing hunchback, Finn would return to the drums one last time to combine with his brother, the duo indulging in a spot of epic calamity. Fittingly enough, Liam - following the incensed spectacle - would finish forehead to snare, drawing an emphatic roar from festival attendees. Finn would climb atop his stool, one drum stick aloft to acknowledge the adoration, only to free-fall back to his station for one final strike. The motion would conclude the set, the performance leaving most punters stunned and scrambling for words to describe the afternoon's profoundly entertaining interlude. All in all, this was an amazing set marked by Finn's extreme showmanship, the show emerging a benchmark for the festival.


At the conclusion of Liam Finn's set, there remained time enough to catch Cloud Control play the amphitheatre. The band were found covering The La's There She Goes, producing a nice, faithful rendition in the process. Fans would have noticed a slight change in line-up and the band were happy to address the issue: their regular bassist, Jeremy Kelshaw, had become a father, forcing a substitution. The news came as a casual announcement and one not given much more thought, especially with the onset of the band's hit, Gold Canary. However, unbeknown to Splendour, Cloud Control had a little more in mind. A minute or two into the song, the lumbering serenity of Gold Canary would suddenly shatter, impassioned African cries blasting through the amphitheatre speakers. It took no time at all for patrons to identify the song: it was The Circle Of Life, lifted from Disney's much-loved triumph, The Lion King. The festival screens would show the infamous still of Rafiki holding the newborn Simba aloft, before Jeremy and his daughter were superimposed over the image, attempting to recreate the iconic scene. Amidst the celebrations, front man Alister Wright tried his hand - and indeed his entire body - at crowd surfing, as giant coloured spheres were distributed to the festival. The celebration might have been a jarring interruption to one of Cloud Control's biggest songs, but it was a fantastic spectacle and a cute celebration for their bandmate. They proceeded to slip straight back into Gold Canary, before There's Nothing In The Water helped infuse the pit with passion once more.


Amazingly, the Circle Of Life stunt would not be the only major talking point to emerge from Cloud Control's set. In a euphoric display, a perfectly unified parade could be seen descending from the hillside, a dust storm in tow. A giant self-contained party comprised of hundreds of spectators had somehow ensued and, once Splendour became aware of its presence, recruitment had begun. The mob's idea was simple enough: meet at the portaloos on the far-most hillside and party all the way to the amphitheatre's white marquee. Their presence became undeniable, Wright acknowledging the parade and earning rapturous appreciation from the many hundreds gathered as a result. The country-bumpkin bounce of Buffalo Country would close another stellar performance from Cloud Control, as the afternoon yielded what will be fondly be remembered as the feel-good set of Splendour 2011.


Prior to The Vines' set, a short video package (a cute cartoon) detailed the history of melodramatic Mancunians Elbow, the band celebrating their twentieth year together. Given the gulf of diversity between acts, the screening proved a useful initiative to entice patrons to stick around at the amphitheatre. Pleasingly, amidst excitement for the festival's thrilling conclusion, Elbow scored a colossal following and indulged in one of the most theatrical and evocative sets of the festival. Aided with a two-piece string section, the band were comprehensively magnificent, producing an untouchable magic. Naturally, as their veteran status' would predict, Elbow were a band well-rehearsed and in complete control of a near-flawless set. The eight-minute epic The Birds would kick things off, find a powerful plateau with front man Guy Garvey crooning each sentiment with unadulterated charm. Garvey would exude a disarming, mild-mannered authority, bearing a polite command over an entranced Splendour audience. "Come on," he would implore, "let's do festivally things!" His fans were only too happy to oblige as the sweeping orchestral swells of Mirrorball imbued the evening with an enchanting electricity. Having successfully navigated through a slew of singing trials, the crowd returned the impassioned cries of Grounds For Divorce to the stage with booming vigor, as Elbow's craft began to find teeth. As expected, however, Elbow's best moments would surface through their tender song craft, their set concluding with a formidable combination of Open Arms and One Day Like This. The former would see the amphitheatre with hands aloft, conducting a gentle waltz - one that would explode with immense fervor. One Day Like This presented a more straightforward tact, emerging a swiftly heart-warming affair of breathtaking beauty. Splendour witnessed an emphatic outro enough to recall the likes of Hey Jude, the festival in fine voice to bring the band's set to its wonderful close.


With Elbow's performance an amazing triumph, the festival's final evening was shaping up to be one mega-spectacle. This was only compounded by the fact that The Middle East had played their last ever show, announcing their split on stage. Many had rightly seen great potential in the group, the news sending a shockwave throughout Splendour. As a tremendously talented collective, they will be missed.


Following Elbow's set, Leeds lads Kaiser Chiefs burst onto the stage, ready to restore the frenzied activity of The Vines' earlier appearance. The renowned Everyday I Love You Less And Less did much to arouse the festival, the pit transformed into a violent clutter of flailing limbs and bodies aloft. The trademark vocal crescendo of frontman Ricky Wilson lit a fire beneath the festival, the song finding its thunderous climax. As Wilson's stage shenanigans began to emerge, the set to come would ensure a follow-on from the band's trailblazing beginning. Never Miss A Beat returned a cracking pace to proceedings, before The Angry Mob united Splendour, an intimidating potency prevailing with each chant. Festival patrons would be treated to new material, with Man On Mars pitting drummer Nick Hodgson as lead vocalist in one of the surprising highlights of the set. In reclaiming the spotlight, Wilson would work overtime in his commitment to fan service. Spotting a cameraman position at each wing of the stage, Wilson darted from one to the other repeatedly to offer a crazed address to the festival at large. In the process, he would personally command his own personal mexican wave, the amphitheatre pit eager to encourage such antics. When Kaiser Chiefs weren't conducting their own tumultuous beep test, their execution of their rousing craft was simply brilliant. Crowned as early as their stunning debut, Employment, Kaiser Chiefs managed to prove that, arguably, they remain kings of the alternative anthem, frequently stirring Splendour In The Grass into mad adoration. It was a savage yet entirely precise display from the band, featuring both new and old material nailed to a tee. Commendably, even with the likes of I Predict A Riot and the finale Oh My God performed with fiery fervor, Kaiser Chiefs had plenty still up their sleeves (eg. Everything Is Average Nowadays, Na Na Na Na Na) This was just the powerhouse of rock Splendour needed to drive things home. Recommended.


Pulp, as the penultimate act of the festival, would bask in their platform to provide some technical glitz and glamour. A series of green laser-beamed messages began to herald the band's arrival to the stage, successfully warming up the crowd in the process. It could be said that, beyond its sheer novelty appeal, the back-and-forth correspondence did endure fare too long and breach some tedium. It provided a refreshing and unique interlude to Splendour, however, and when the pink and blue neon-letter of Pulp lit up, the wait was forgotten. Do You Remember The First Time? opened the set with rousing fanfare, offering an ecstatic release alongside an array of delicious guitar licks. Much like Guy Garvey, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was ever the gentleman, both splendidly polite and hospitable. He's a remarkably expressive, charismatic figure, exuding a relentless cool. Imagine granting Johnny Depp a recording contract and a live platform and you're half-way there to a fitting enough description.


It was obvious that, despite the brilliance of Pulp's performance, much of Splendour were more focused on the impending arrival of Coldplay. It was sad to discover the wealth of festival patrons in the dark concerning Pulp, their pivotal mid-nineties success and their role in a much revered era of Brit-pop. You got the feeling Cocker could sense the rising apathy, though commendably both her and his band pushed on to give a great performance of both captivating and masterful execution. Cocker would showcase a quote from author J.K. Rowling, before declaring, "This could be the most important night of your life." The sweet acousitc-driven ballad of Something Changed followed in a tender, heart-felt interlude. Disco 2000 then liberated Cocker, the frontman opting for a vertiable feast of flamboyant moves, striking poses akin to the late Freddie Mercury. Babies would offer yet another highlight, its swirling, dreamy ambiance unfolding alongside an insistent bassline and crunching guitars. Underwear would similarly impress by way of twisting, turning outro yielding both kooky and amazing results. The ever-popular Common People marked the end of Pulp's set, as punters finally awoke and bought into the band. Cocker's very final sign-off, however, reiterated a serious declaration made earlier in the band's show: Australia might have seen their last taste of Pulp live ever. Why this should be the case, exactly, was not explored within the heat of the moment. Needless to say, it cast an ominous shadow. No doubt any diehard Pulp fans would have felt conflicted, left with both the euphoria of a great show and its devastating aftermath.


Soon after, Coldplay would relish the prestigious title of Splendour's ultimate headliners, set to bring the festival to a euphoric close. With their claim to fame as one of the world's biggest bands both past and present, they would not only step up to the plate in an epic finale but exceed every expectation voiced for the days, weeks and months leading up to the festival. Put simply, this was the pinnacle of Splendour In The Grass 2011 and, subjective highlights aside, it really didn't get much better than this. The crowd would roar with adoration as an exciting overture began to unfold, one marked by the infamous Back To The Future soundtrack. With new material to open - MX leading into Hurts Like Heaven - the top of the amphitheatre played host to an eruption of rainbow fireworks, as Splendour ascended to new, glamorous heights. "Use your heart as a weapon," sung their super-friendly front man Chris Martin, quickly finding his very best for a rapturous audience. Hit after hit tumbled forth from the band's modest presence, Yellow sung heartily by all with warm golden glow cast upon the domain. In My Place was received similarly as well, before a truly tender rendition of The Scientist would tug at the heartstigns. Martin, clearly enthused and impressed with Splendour's devotion to every sentiment, offered the festival another run at the chorus. As thousands stood united in voice, it was clear that something very special had swept over the festival.


Coldplay could do no wrong, presenting a nice mix of old favourites with an occasional glimpse into the crystal ball, the band's future immensely promising with the likes of Us Against The World and Charlie Brown featuring. Typically, however, fans would flock to the favourites, as the foot-stomping rock of Violet Hill added an appropriate dose of grit and Viva La Vida enabled a magnificent melodic roar to echo into the night sky. Sensing an appropriate window, Martin would break from a song mid-intro to celebrate band mate Will Champion's birthday, Splendour once again found united in song. Post-celebration, Martin distributed the balloons to the crowd, his awkward attempts only securing their release to the pitch-black void above. The front man was left to curse the death of an environmental message. "I can't believe we made it this far and we fucked it all up with the fucking balloons," he joked. "Don't mention that to any of the press or anybody by the name of Rupert Murdoch!" Life Is For Living would end their set, though it was obvious to all that an encore was in store. Of course, Coldplay returned to the stage to present a stellar end to proceedings. The band first offered Clocks, then Fix You - with a tribute to Amy Winehouse and a few more sets of fireworks for good measure - and finally Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, throughout which confetti cannons aided a glorious conclusion. As patrons trudged out of the ampitheatre headed for the nearest party or their campsites for the last time, most united once more in a fan-made rendition of Viva La Vida. If you were a Coldplay fan, Splendour's finale offered a slice of heaven. If you weren't, it was, regardless, much the same story - such is the power of arguably the biggest band in the world.


Overall thoughts:


How could you go wrong with Splendour In The Grass? This was a fine festival indeed. Despite a few disappointingly average performances scattered throughout the duration of the event, Splendour's hotly-anticipated acts truly delivered. Patrons could go home happy, secure in the knowledge that the festival's much-maligned expense was worth it. Who could forget the likes of Coldplay, Kanye, Elbow, or indeed any of the evening acts at the amphitheatre? Splendour 2011 was filled to the brim with memorable moments of all shapes and sizes.


To be fair, there weren't an abundance of truly essential acts amidst the sheer enormity of proceedings, but you could always seem to count on a solid performance at the very least, regardless of the stage you were at and the band you ended up with. This, above all else, illustrates a strong festival bill and - above all else - just why Splendour In The Grass remains, for another year, among the nation's premier music events.

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