First published on 2 Aug 2012. Updated on 2 Aug 2012.
No matter how often you tell yourself that you are too old for festivals – that the crowds, mud, exorbitant drink prices and spine-crushing camp beds are just no longer for you – the draw of so many excellent bands in one place is more than most of us can withstand.
Following a freak hailstorm that didn’t bode well for the newly returned festival, the Shins ramped up the first evening with a mix of new stuff (‘Simple Song’) – and old favourites like ‘New Slang’. Seeing the new incarnation of James Mercer’s band was certainly a motivating factor for many people to buy their tickets and push thoughts of port-a-loos into the hidden recesses of their minds.
As far as manic pixie dream girls go, you’d be hard pressed to match Samantha Urbani, lead singer of Brooklyn hipster-band Friends. With her long hair, blue eyebrows and white onesie, she shimmied and wiggled through the set, flying the flag for open relationships with their single ‘I’m His Girl’. Unfortunately they never quite reached critical mass, wedged in an awkward timeslot that was too early for wasted enjoyment and not early enough in the day for relaxed, sunshine listening.
The young, local acts fared much better in the daylight. The Rubens got quite the turnout for an early set on Sunday, armed with a combination of good looks and the promise of a debut release in September, while Brisbane’s Ball Park Music brought the happy-go-lucky element to a festival that was in danger of taking itself a little too seriously. For anyone feeling a little fragile after the first day, the upbeat singles from these Triple J darlings were a cure-all for dirty hangovers and sleep deprivation.
Father John Misty also did great things with a lunchtime set. The man may have gotten his start playing drums with the Fleet Foxes, but hand him a mic and he is all frontman, all the time. The louche, beardy muso thrusted and howled his way through an absolutely cracking set that included ‘Only Son of the Ladiesman’ and ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’.
From alt-country to electro-hop, Azealia Banks did one of the most anticipated and frighteningly short sets of the festival. The Mix-Up tent was packed to the gills waiting for the pint-sized popette and she didn’t disappoint. All flash and attitude, she powered through her limited material in record time and then rounded it all off with ‘212’, leaving the audience pumped and slightly disoriented.
The big question is always, “who was it that made all the filth and fatigue and cricked necks worthwhile?” For Time Out it came down to a battle between Jack White and Band of Skulls. The gloriously eccentric and absurdly productive Mr White got to play his solo work to an audience that knew and loved his latest album, Blunderbuss. Both his all male and all female bands made appearances, as did Ruby Amanfu who took to the stage for ‘Love Interrupter’ – the most knee-quiveringly sexy performance of the festival.
The icing on the cake came in the form of White Stripes singles ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’, a salve to those whose hearts are still aching from the Stripes split.
In the other corner, valiantly fighting for our undying devotion, Band of Skulls were, quite simply, cool as fuck. With singles like ‘I Know What I Am’, ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’, and ‘Sweet Sour’ in their arsenal, the Southampton trio didn’t have to work for the crowd’s love – we were adoring putty in their hands.
The thing about festival headliners is that some will be everything you hoped for, some you see just to say that you have and some you see because they were on in a convenient time slot.
When it came to Lana Del Rey, we just had to see it for ourselves. Say what you will about her, she is beautiful, as are her voice and her stage settings. Basically, it’s about as aesthetically pleasing as any gig you are going to see.
But after a handful of songs and ten minutes of grainy, nostalgic footage you came to the realisation that this is it: a pretty girl in a wedding dress singing songs about heartbreak and smoking fake cigarettes. Nice to look at but not enough to hold you there – though her cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ definitely lent her set some street cred.
Brit-pop lads the Kooks were just here for the Falls Festival six months ago but they were playing the penultimate set at the Supertop so everyone stuck around and dutifully sung along to ‘Naïve’ while trying to conserve their energy for what came next.
But people were wary about pinning their hopes on the Smashing Pumpkins. They wanted a life-changing set but they feared the kind of arrogance that causes rock stars to refuse their hits in favour of their newer material. But to everyone’s delight, the Pumpkins were all about compromise, happily mixing newer offerings with ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, ‘Today’ and ‘Tonight, Tonight’. The angsty sixteen-year-old in us was not left wanting.
By this point people were visibly tired, cold and experiencing the kind of full-body rejection that follows too many dagwood dogs and Redbull mixers. But rest assured that with a few green leafy vegetables in us, even the most strident festival nay-sayers will started counting their pennies when next year’s line-up is released. Splendour in the Grass is just that sort of festival and no one wants to be miss out, not for all the feather pillows in the land.