As we drive through the Meredith township and head north a couple of miles, we hook a left down an unsuspecting road, void of any festival indications. Following our noses around the generous curves of the country road, tarmac gives way to the rich red dirt of the Golden Plains Shire. The familiar sound of stones flicking into the wheel arches of our ute, the hum of every loose object rattling on the dashboard, and the glorious cracking open of the first beer can only mean one thing: we’re home, Auntie Meredith.
As with the first night of any Meredith festival, there is some acclimating to do, as some of the inner-city inhibitions have not yet been carried away on the prevailing winds. But as Grimes’ last song fades out, the crowd’s angst goes with it and is replaced by dazzling displays of painted faces and dust-encrusted shit-eating grins.
We've been coming to the same festival for ten years now, and in no way is that depressing.
We wander past each food vendor, inspecting them scrupulously. At Southbank Food Court we locate Za’atar, and order a considerable quantity of Middle Eastern delicacies, only partly supported under collapsing paper plates. We find a soft grassy patch on which to rest while we gorge ourselves on lamb kofta, just as the Sunnyboys begin their set. Even with our distance from the stage, it is clear to our ears that despite 20-odd years in the wilderness, the Boys still possess the youthful exuberance needed to do their music justice. The crowd feeds off of this energy, engaging enthusiastically in carefree dance to classics like 'Happy Man' and of course, 'Alone With You'.
Before Spiritualized take to the stage, we scurry back to the tent to don our obligatory flannel, front pockets stuffed with plastic shot glasses and limes, tequila bottle in hand. We resume our usual spot under the red lantern, expecting the ‘Sup to be transformed into a church of psychedelia with Preacher Jason Pierce standing at the altar. The result is not quite as extreme – Pierce remains seated throughout the entirety of the set. The band’s slow-burning symphonic soundscapes seem to gently wash over the crowd; we do not witness the level of connection with the audience that we know the band is capable of. This could be due to a mismatch between their 11pm time slot and unhurried tempo – or simply that the flavor of the night is acid and ‘shrooms, rather than the usual pingers and blow. Considering the crowd’s plauteaued energy level, we can’t help but wonder if Spiritualized would have been better suited to a sunset billing.
Another interstitial DJ set commences and we pass the shot glasses around. Yes to communal lime wedges!
Jay Watson of Tame Impala saunters onto the stage, and to our astonishment, takes his place behind the keys, while an unfamiliar face sits at the drums. Why is Watson playing keys? And who is the new dude taking the place of one of Australia’s most engaging drummers? Regardless, now that Watson is closer to the stage, we get a zoomed-in view of those luscious gold locks. The psychedelic mass continues with Tame Impala’s first chords; although in this service, it seems as though a higher power has stuffed the PA full of pillows. The lackluster light show and visuals do nothing to aid the band’s free-jam approach to their set, which delves predominately into their most recent release, Lonerism. The band closes with 'Half Full Glass of Wine', and the extended tentative refrain leaves our shot glasses… half empty.
Despite the mediocre music, our tequila has kept us entertained. With only the rinds of our limes left, we retire to our one-pole-short tent.
When we wake up the next morning, we are fairly certain we have fast-forwarded to 21/12/12 – this hangover feels like the end of the world. One mango and one coconut later, we feel stable enough to venture over to the Tucker Tent for some bacon and eggs. The greasy fare secures our ability to hold ourselves upright, just in time for the Twerps.
Given the drummer’s Neanderthal performance, our only guess is that he had a night just as excessive as ours. Based on his timing ability, he may as well stuff a drum stick up his bot and try to shit it out onto his snare. It’s a disappointing start to the day, considering Marty Frawleys’s songwriting is held in such high regard.
Despite technical difficulties and a late start, Chet Faker’s crooning is so icy-cool that he almost negates the oppressive high noon sun. We continue our search for a hangover cure with a glass of wine at Eric’s Terrace. The bench provides a comfortable seat and impressive sight lines down the hill to the stage, presided over now by Royal Headache. The band performs with much greater conviction than their previous attempt at Meredith. Predictably, Shogun gets his rig out within the first few songs. He expresses our sentiments exactly when he says, “I can see why so many bands are doing the cruisy thing these days; it’s just more economical.” With those words, we cannot resist the call of the queen-size mattress that we hauled some 200km to the border of Bavaria and Inner Mongolia.
The comfort of a proper mattress in our tent does virtually nothing to make up for the greenhouse effect we are experiencing. Attempts at sleep inside this sauna are fruitless, so we lay there brainstorming other approaches to relieve our frustration. Hmmmmm. Before we know it, we are back under the red lantern – hangover cured! Not being very familiar with Rahzel and DJ JS1, we have no idea what to expect out of their performance. DJ JS1 displays his talents with some nifty party tricks, like scratching behind his back. As for Rahzel, he is just as pompous and over-the-top as any hip hop artist. He introduces himself Muhammad Ali-style, chanting, “The champ is here!” over and over again. Despite this dramatic display of confidence, we are floored by his beatboxing skills. Perhaps Rahzel is feeling a little lonely (given his self-proclaimed lack of entourage) so he decides to hand out some long-stemmed roses to a few lucky females in the audience. Swoon!
Next up are the Toot Toot Toots, who are gifted one of the best time slots for a virgin-to-Meredith local act. Despite this being by far the largest crowd to which they have ever performed, the band instantly warms to the occasion; although not warm enough for bass player Steve Gavan to oblige the ruthless catcalls to remove his shirt. Dueling frontmen Giuliano Ferla and Danny Eucalyptus create an intensely theatrical mood, complementing their kitschy conceptual (Old) bar room ballads. Bedazzled by the sequined fury of the Go Girl Gadget dancers, one can only wonder where they manage to find the Kylie Minogue-strength double-sided tape that keeps their sparkles in place.
Shockingly, the smothering heat suddenly evaporates as a cool change comes through. The temperature drops some 15 degrees, so we promptly scramble back to the tent to rug up. We hustle back so as not to miss Regurgitator, the one Aussie band to consistently deliver the best of '90s pre-pubescent teenage nostalgia. An exceptionally large audience gathers to embrace their dorky yet infectious pop songs; a busted keyboard only serves to further encourage a passionate crowd sing-along to 'Polyester Girl'. Whether you know the band’s songs or not, Regurgitator’s performance is easily one of the most energising of the festival.
Turbonegro doesn’t really click with us. We watch from high up on the hill as we devour a late dinner, occasionally giggling at lines like “I got erection".
The festival headliners, Primal Scream, bring to the ‘Sup by far the most professionally produced show of the weekend. They trawl through the decades of hits, with heavy emphasis on the Screamadelica album. For a man who has lived a life of excess, Bobby Gillespie remains youthful in appearance, and clearly age has not dampened his swagger. The Scream closes with aplomb; we applaud the band as they leave the stage, but Gillespie lingers momentarily. He wishes us a final farewell, which the sound engineers loop into a mind-numbing cacophony.
Gillespie’s final words continue to devolve into an unrecognisable resonance, and they form the soundtrack to the beginning of the Meredith Sky Show. The smoke machines are set to turbo, filling the ‘Sup with a viscous, pea soup-like fog. This presents us with a perfect opportunity to scatter off into the night whilst the wide-eyed ravers are drawn to the lasers like insects to a light bulb.
Sunday morning brings pleasant weather conditions much more conducive to a sleep-in. Extra shut-eye, minus apocalyptic hangover, equals heaps of energy for the final onslaught that is Day Three!
Fraser A Gorman & Big Harvest are our first act of the day. For a guy of Geelong coastal upbringing, his shtick is more Sons in the Saddle than Dogtown & Z-Boys. Fraser is such a raw, young talent who sings quite evidently from the heart. It shows great courage to wear your heart on your sleeve through song; this is so often avoided in today’s generation of songwriters. His between-song banter reveals boyish nerves – we can’t help but be charmed by the sheepish smile on his face after cursing into the microphone. One can only dream of being greeted with a little bit of Fraser every Sunday morning!
After an intermission, an exciting new character appears on stage. Even though Brendan Huntley has performed multiple times at past Merediths, he still maintains a unique erraticism on stage that makes him an enigma of the Melbourne underground music scene. Today he comprises part of Boomgates, a sort of anti-super group: the band has formed organically, which is evident in the chemistry between Huntley and Steph Hughes. The two meander their way through the set, taking us on a journey across mundane, outer-suburban lifestyles.
We are then introduced to JB Smoove of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, who fires out jokes at the rate of an Uzi. He introduces himself and shares his first experiences of Australia, which include his unique take on the old adage of the stoned koala and his preference to be called “The chocolate Tim Tam.” He challenges members of the crowd to impersonate himself, and the eventual victor receives an unsuspecting prize: the literal shirt off his back. He then plucks a single lady from the crowd and coerces the two into a passionate embrace. The crowd is going wild: there is something hilarious about this guy whose culture and humour is such a stark juxtaposition from the audience's. He assures us he will return to MC The Gift.
The Murlocs hit the stage next, the second band of the weekend to hail from the Geelong coastal area. Perhaps there’s something in the coastal water: front man Ambrose Kenny-Smith, like Fraser Gorman, is a force to be reckoned with in his own right. His stage presence is akin to that of a young Bobby Gillespie, with a laidback swagger and nonchalant confidence beyond his years. The band’s soulful garage sounds accompanied by too-cool-for-school body language only further thrusts the squalling Kenny-Smith into the limelight.
The Murlocs disembark, and now Smoove is back, this time joined by the Town Bikes to commentate the one and only Meredith Gift. One thing has changed this year: the course has been extended to a lap around the ‘Sup rather than the former straight line sprint. Smoove’s humour was over-the-top as expected, bordering on inappropriate at times. He warned the male competitors not to get too excited as they ran beside the female participants, and also “not to break a dick.”
Of note was the male Gift champion, who was racing in his tenth competition and finally won. Good on you, mate; wear your golden jocks with pride!
Whoever has to take the stage as the final band has a tough gig: you are perpetually watching the crowd dissipate, but this isn’t necessarily reflective of your performance. Bittersweet Kicks are a band able to tackle this challenge with their “too tough to care” ballsy rock ‘n roll. Frontman Jack Davies proclaims to the crowd, “We’ve still got some party left in us; Meredith is still going!” This is precisely the necessary attitude for the closing band at Meredith. The Kicks rip right on through with a flamboyant performance, including Mark "Jacko" Jackson handstands and Johnny Kicks inevitably getting nude.
The Bittersweet Kicks are an aptly-named final band, as the end of Meredith is just that: bittersweet. Although there is something distinctly gloomy about dismantling our tent, there is some relief in the act as well. Meredith is not for the faint of heart – there is a reason why it only comes around once a year. The first shower back at home beckons to wash away a weekend’s worth of the lush red dirt, yet as with all visits to Auntie’s Supernatural Amphitheatre, we long to return.