So after last year’s smashing festival, I decided to renew my ticket for this year’s “Splendour in the Grass”. It is reportedly Australia’s largest winter music festival, squishing more than 30,000 people into the site at Woodfordia. This year, I aspired to take in more of the festival than last year and this year we scored some camping tickets on site, so we arrived in the beautiful Woodford a day early and used this opportunity to do a bit of exploring. Let me start by saying that the festival grounds are enormous. There must be at least a hundred tents peddling all manner of things from pies to ponchos, and I had quite a time trying to buy a different type of food for every meal at the festival. I also decided that I would take a few notes on each of the bands I saw on my iPhone, simply because I enjoy writing and thought perhaps I could capture the moment on virtual paper. Almost 4000 words on 20 bands over 3 days. A bit excessive, so I cut it down a little. But anyways, here it is!
Illy – 12:30 – Mix Up Stage
Listen to: ”Cigarettes”
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for “Aussie Hip-Hop”, so I thought I may investigate Illy. He surely looked the part, strutting across the stage with a sort of Mick-Jagger-cross-Eminem sort of vibe, yet he managed to get away with it and the crowd ate it up. An eclectic mix of pop, electro, rock and a delightfully chest pounding bass made up a deceptively clever beat. With no shred of doubt I will say he’s one of the more impressive hip hop artists I’ve seen and I felt he deserved a much better spot on the bill.
James Blake – 15:45 – Mix Up Stage
Listen to: “Limit to Your Love”
First impressions are everything, and impress is apt. There’s definitely something new here, a post-modern mix of pop, electro and powerful vocals, all with a strong dubstep overtone. A possessive sort of sound. Blake uses his sound as a weapon, effortlessly weaving his music together. He seamlessly ties his soft with his loud, sometimes without a build-up. Never knowing what to expect is a pleasurable experience though, sometimes finding no division between his vocals and his melodies.
Eskimo Joe – 18:00 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Black Fingernails, Red Wine”
I’d always thought of this band as just another rock band. However, while seeing them live I was pleasantly surprised to say they deserve all the hype. It’s no surprise after 13 years that they played as an extremely tightly knit unit. The majority of their songs are the classic modern rock quintet; two guitars, bass/vocals, drums and keys, and, although slightly generic, the songs were incredibly sonically pleasing. But hey, if you’re good at something, do it lots right? And they are excellent at what they do.
Modest Mouse – 19:30 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Float On”
I was convinced by a friend I came with to get up front for these guys. I must admit, I really wasn’t a fan before tonight, but I am converted. Every note over their 20-year lifespan intricately crafted and practiced; yet still they managed to represent something new, even for the dedicated fans. They played different instrument after different instrument until I couldn’t deny myself liking them anymore. A person nearby in the now well-cramped mosh pit mentioned that their songs were perhaps too similar to each other, but she was wrong. The subtle change in instruments meant a change in the whole band, and each song became different, yet still within the same common musical ground they had carved since the first note, and when the final note sounded I was instantly and harshly brought back from planet mouse and thrown back into my comparatively tiny reality, left feeling full, and ready to gorge myself on more.
Gotye – 20:30 – G.W.McClennan Tent
Listen to: “Somebody That I Used to Know”
I saw this guy a few months ago at “Groovin’ The Moo” back home in Canberra so I felt it safe to go sit on the hill by the tent he was playing at and just listen. I can’t help but thinking how musically talented this man is. The deep intricacies and subtleties in is his music are enough to make anyone who has ever attempted to play an instrument weep. He draws complicated bass lines that I can’t follow and mixes them with a variety of instruments and sounds that he wrote on his own. All the sounds eventually meld together while keeping the dignity and individuality of the originals. He improvises most of the time and still manages to convince the audience of a sing along, which he fits seamlessly into the music, using it as an instrument of his own.
Tim & Jean – 12:30 – Mix Up Stage
Listen to: “Come Around”
I have had the pleasure of seeing these two more than a few times around the place. I would consider them one of the most under-rated bands at the moment. Nothing overly unique or iconic, their electro pop rivals that of Art vs. Science. They have some quite complex improvised mixes. The music is in your face, nothing subtle here, but that just adds to the atmosphere as they draw in ladders by. I can’t help but nod my head in approval of the almost painfully catchy hooks whilst they keep me visually drawn to their sheer stage presence. These guys are guaranteed to be a lot of fun, so if you get the chance, they are a must see.
Foster the People – 15:45 – Mix Up Stage
Listen to: “Pumped Up Kicks”
This band was sonically confusing. They had the potential to be awesome, but they let themselves down on half the songs. The band itself looked like they were having some fun after flying half way around the world, and they’ve drawn quite a crowd. This band had been the only band so far to disappoint me. It really sounds like I’m listening to two different bands here; one mediocre band and one amazing band. I left confused and disappointed.
Kele – 16:45 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Everything You Wanted”
When Kele steps out I’m unsure what to expect. Out comes this bald black British guy wearing a black singlet and a gold chain. But then he opened his mouth and after a few minutes of technical bullshit, his voice sounded out across the hill and all prior assumptions were obliterated. Kele and his banditos rock. All his songs are quite different, favouring different instruments. His songs are undeniably dance-able, even on the hill I can’t help but move to it. He’s a born entertainer. I’ve instantly fallen in love with this beautiful man.
Architecture in Helsinki – 19:45 – Mix Up Stage
Listen to: “Heart It Races”
Wow. What to say about this band? I’m still not quite sure what those 15 minutes were all about. Visually they were your typical Melbournite hipsters, but the audio sounded like a B-52s cover band with an electro-pop feel. They looked like they were having fun at least, synchronised dancing in their ridiculous outfits. What an impressive spectacle it was. They’re nothing special lyrically and they’re musically simple, but they put on an excellent show and the tunes are catchy and the audience was going mad for the 15 minutes I saw them before rushing off to the amphitheatre to see…
The Mars Volta – 19:45 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Inertiatic ESP”
Heavily gained guitars make riffs with electro-synth dubbed eloquently over the top, combine that with heavy metal drums, and a Robert Plant-esque vocalist with more energy than the entire mosh pit combined and you may have what’s apparently known as “The Mars Volta”. Honestly, these guys are awesome. They rock all over the stage from the word go. They reek of the rock stars of old, but the audience seems surprisingly unreactive. They have such a big in your face sound. No room for subtleties in this band, they play loud and fast and fierce, like them or not, they don’t give a fuck. When Cedric came on stage and welcomed us to the band’s jam session, he wasn’t kidding. Anything goes as far as The Mars Volta is concerned. Eight minute guitar solos, equally long vocal solos hold a place with elongated rhythmic jams on the stage. Cedric may have worn a fake horses head, but it is them who are taking us on a ride.
The Living End – 21:15 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Prisoner of Society“
They do not disappoint. The veteran rockers hail from a period of Aussie rock unfortunately long past. A period of overdriven pentatonic rock solos, back up vocals, catchy riffs and heartfelt lyrics. Although the band is ancient, they show little, if any, signs of aging or slowing down. They played hit after hit and I felt surrounded by people that knew all the lyrics. The band is tight, from the guy rocking double bass, to the drums, to the complete shredding of the lead guitarist/vocalist. They play with the knowledge and experience of an aging band, but with the tenacity of a young one. And boy can that guy shred. His fingers flow over the fret board like his hand was built around the guitar. Definitely some tasty licks.
Group Love – 12:00 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Colours”
What a lovable band of misfits they are. Talented misfits at that, I think everyone in that band could sing, the bass guitarist was all over the stage, the drummer must have created his own personal Olympic sized sweat pool. They are so tight knit, not a note was misplayed, or missed, they knew exactly what everyone was doing and played accordingly. Their music is so free and joyful with a mix of two guitars and sometimes a ukulele, tambourine and some mysterious ten stringed instrument? But they were all having so much fun up there, all their songs were so happy and fun. Look out for this band and their upcoming record, I have a hunch it’ll be big. And awesome and they just played their way into my heart. Definitely in the top ten acts of the festival.
Hungry Kids of Hungary – 13:10 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Scattered Diamonds”
These guys have to be the most underrated band I know of. In short, they rock. Their electro rock tunes belt out with the power and attitude of far more famous bands. Their last record, “Escapades” was absolutely brilliant. Live, they haven’t disappointed me so far. They definitely lived up to my expectations, although they didn’t outdo themselves. They definitely lived up to my expectations, although they didn’t outdo themselves. A really fun band and I’m really looking forward to their new record.
The Vaccines – 14:30 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “If You Wanna”
The classic rock quartet powers out a few catchy hooks here and there, while still maintaining a sort of mellow rock feel. I feel as if this set would have been much bet
ter at night though. I can’t wait for this band to find it’s feet, they have an ear and talent and they could go far if they fiddled with their tracks ever so slightly, and a little crowd interaction couldn’t hurt. Although, the unfinished feel of the songs may be a product of the setting.
Cloud Control – 15:30 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “There’s Nothing in the Water We Can’t Fight”
A refreshing break from all the moderately heavy stuff from before, Cloud Control are excellently mellow and relaxed. The simplistic rhythm section with a heavily reverbed guitar, soothing keys and heartwarming vocals. Also good to hear a girl sing, even if they aren’t the lead vocalist. There aren’t enough girls on today’s music scene, and it bothers me. This band seems a bit like a fish out of water. They’re the kind of band to be listened to headphones in, no-one home sort of style, and the stadium rock is pushing them into background music. They have a nice way of harmonising all their instruments and voices into a single soul-clawing direction.
The Middle East – 17:15 – G.W.McClennan Tent
Listen to: “Blood”
They are amazingly talented and sound like no other band I’ve ever heard before. Their record is one thing, but live, I find myself filled up with the sound. The sound comes at you relentlessly. They play without stopping, each track finishes in a jam which in turn becomes the next track. The music builds up like thunder before one hell of a lightning storm. Each member plays a countless amount of instruments. I wasn’t really sure if the world was ready for The Middle East, but judging by this crowd, we are, and I’m glad. It was their last show ever, so they made me cry. The music was so beautiful, the very thought that future people wouldn’t be able to experience the sheer beauty of this band again made tears streak down my face. Such excellent musicians seldom grace the stage with their presence individually, yet here I am in front of seven of the greatest musicians I’ve ever seen. That sure was an experience I’ll never forget.
Kaiser Chiefs – 19:45 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “I Predict a Riot”
With an obvious mid 70′s punk influence, the Kaiser Chiefs definitely hold the resounding anger and tenacity of the era. Their lead singer was manic, though, he is the only mentionable member of the band. Not to diminish the skill of the band, they didn’t miss a note, but in terms of stage presence, it felt like they were just standing back and letting him loose. Just enough rock and roll to make them understandable and just enough punk to get the point across. A smashing band, definitely a good choice for your next civil uprising.
Pulp – 21:15 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Common People”
Initial impressions give Pulp the look of aging rockstars clinging to stardom. These are a bunch of people that wouldn’t look out of place in any office in the world. And they played well, age had not wearied them. And as for the lead, well, he was… interesting. Jarvis walked, nay, pranced upon the stage with the agility and grace of a man half his age. He pulled all the same moves he had probably pulled fifteen years prior albeit with a slight bit more sarcasm this time round. He mocked himself around the stage, like a Mick Jagger impersonator, but it was brilliant entertainment. The songs were delivered well and hadn’t lost their gravity over the years.
Coldplay – 22:45 – Amphitheatre
Listen to: “Yellow”
My legs feel like they are about to crumple beneath me before finally, Coldplay grace us with their presence. Some presence it was too, I lost my voice in the first song. Chris exudes charisma. The audience and I screamed like giddy school girls whenever his baby blues glanced our direction. And while Coldplay wouldn’t work without any member, Chris is the heart of the band on stage. He frolics around the stage, singing his lovely high notes like a canary, talking and joking with the audience and all the while I couldn’t look away. They were called out for an encore and played us three songs. The last of which, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” had a whole new level of relevance. There is a lyric in there,
“All the kids, they dance, all the kids all night, until Monday morning feels another life.” that was absolutely mind blowing when he sang it. I laughed, I sang and I danced til I could dance no more during their set, and I feel as if I could have stayed forever. I wish I could have.
Mat McHugh has been releasing beautiful, soulful music for years now, under the name of The Beautiful Girls, and has now been brave enough to set out, playing under his own name, for a tour to play songs from his new EP, Go Don’t Stop.
On this tour, Mat is supported by the amazing and talented Ash Mannix – a young girl from Canberra and the NSW South Coast (Hey, that’s where I’m from!) who stunned us all with her beautiful voice and powerful songs. I was trying to think where I’d seen her before, and then she sung a lyric something like “These blonde locks are just a disguise…” And I was like “It’s Hannah Montana!” Then I felt terrible. Ashleigh is an amazingly talented young musician, not a creepy Disney venture. Go and see her, and be amazed and inspired.
I’ve seen Mat play all over the world – from Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA, the UK, all the way to Byron, and those shows have always been amazing – but this show was different – rather than being a bar,the Byron Community Centre is a proper theatre – with folks seated in an intimate semicircle – purely for the appreciation of the music. It’s not like yobs can choose between listen to the band, play pool or start a fight. There’s no smoke and beer and “FREEBIRD!” – just the music, enveloped all around us.
Mat played guitar and harmonica, but also worked with a sequencer, macbook pro and a dazzling array of foot pedals, bringing drums, bass, horns and harmonies. It’s really quite amazing to see – there’s one guy, building up layers and layers of sounds that seem to come out of nowhere, until the whole room is filled with music. Mat started with songs from the new EP, and worked his way through to familiar territory, playing his tunes from The Beautiful Girls – like Periscopes, Music and Blackbird.
It was also a great tour through Mat’s CD Collection – with occasional phrases from Bob Marley, Pearl Jam, Madonna, and The Eurythmics also making cameo appearances. A highlight for me was Mat’s cover of Sublime’s Saw Red – I’ve always kind of thought of Bradley Nowell and Mat as similar kind of musicians – both share a great musicality that’s grounded in reggae and reminds me of the summertime, both surfers – so it just seemed perfect to me. I was singing along, and It wasn’t till I got to the chorus that I realized that the song was a cover.
As great a show as it was, I still can’t but help that feel that Mat’s songs require a band. They need live drums and bass and vocal harmonies. It could just be because I love them so much, but I wanted to get up and dance and sing along, and cut loose with all the freedom and positive energy that Mat’s music generates in me. In the solo show, I felt a little like watching a juggler – this guy was doing so many things and being so amazing that nobody wanted to interrupt. Still transfixed and beautiful, but kind of constrained, too.
Halfway through the show, Mat joked that he wished he was more of a “song and dance man”, but that all he really had was himself and his relationship with music – that was why he did what he did. And that’s why we love him, and the songs that he writes – honest, tuneful songs about love and being alive on the planet – about our hearts and minds. There is a beautiful authenticity about Mat – both as a person and a musician that shines through everything he does. Before Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Mat explained to us that he had left his harmonica behind, so he was going to just leave out the solo and dub in back in later (assuming he didn’t stuff it up) I’m pretty sure that everyone heard that harmonica solo in their head just as well as I did.
And after the show, Mat stuck around in the lobby to thank everyone for coming, to shake some hands and have a yarn to his fans, sign a few posters and CDs, and prove to us all once again – that honesty and love that’s in his music is for real. It’s what he does, and I think the world is a better place today because of it. If you get a chance, make sure you get along to a show on this tour. Go – don’t Stop.
Musichord Rating: 8/10
When I told my kids that Bob Dylan was coming to town as part of Bluesfest last year, they said to me “Who’s Bob Dylan?” And I thought for a while, and I said: “Well, you know Paul Kelly?” Nods. “He’s kind of like the American version of Paul Kelly.” That seemed to suffice at the time, but now that I reflect on that story, after last night’s concert, it doesn’t really do Paul enough justice. Paul Kelly is a songwriter with such skill that it really defies comparisons – even to groundbreaking folk legends.
An Australian icon, and a landmark of the Australian music scene since his arrival with his band, The Dots in 1978, Paul Kelly has since gone on to pen some of the most beautiful and moving songs ever written. And it was fitting that last night’s concert was part of the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Often Paul seems to get more character depth and plot development from a song consisting of 45 lines than a lot of authors do in a body of work a thousand times longer.
And it turns out that quite a few of the writers here for the festival also express themselves musically. Prior to the show, we were treated to songs from Datson & Hughes, a couple playing fingerpicked handmade lap guitars, and also sharing their stories, from travels and experiences around the country, with beautiful harmonies. Following on, Sean Sennett took the stage. Hailing from Brisbane, he performed without his band – The Incredible Strand, sharing unplugged acoustic rock tunes such as “You broke my heart at the Big Day Out” – a sad tale of romantic dejection at a festival.
The final support act for the evening was Ange Takats. Also an author – and a great musician, with a beautiful folk voice tinged with soul and country tones, she played guitar and shared her stories with us via song. – I particularly loved her tune Good Woman – a song that she wrote after seeing an advertisement on Valentines Day that suggested that woman were only happy when you bought them diamond rings. She said it inspired a wave of self-esteem that led her to write about how good she was. I believe you, Ange!
And then Mr Kelly came to the stage. Rocking a dapper grey suit, he opened with a solo acoustic version of Dumb Things – A song which somehow had all the power of the full band behind it – despite their absence. The crowd at The Great Northern was a mix of writers, hippies and young kids – one might say the stereotypical Byron crowd – the love for Paul was clearly evident across the room.
And the audience was treated to a mix of beautiful tunes, carefully crafted and intricate, delivered through Paul’s impressive guitar and harmonica, and his uniquely Australian voice. Musically, I was amazed at Paul’s sense of timing – it was really clear that this guy has been playing with bands forever – and his sense of “where the music was” seemed to be much bigger than just the parts that he was playing. As a white man, his ability to shift into the dub/reggae groove of We’ve Started A Fire without missing a beat was particularly remarkable. Other highlights included How to make gravy, To Her Door, Everything’s turning to White, and a brand new song, Seagulls of Seattle – a tale of nostalgia and recollection of the beaches and water around the world. As the song drew to a close Paul remarked – “Well, there it goes – I’ve played that one out loud. It’s off into the wild – Good Luck!”
I swear I saw a white gull fly off into the wings.
Too soon, it all drew to a close, and Paul returned for a brief encore , including When I first Met your Ma, Stumbling Block and closing with Deeper Water - as the crowd all sang the harmonies. House lights, and we were ushered out to the hubbub of excited opinions bristling against each other in the lobby.
As we stumbled into the streets of Byron, I was reminded of the distinction between a musician and a songwriter. A musician works with the medium of sound, and aural textures – of intervals and mediums and rhythms and syncopation. But a songwriter works with stories. With words and emotions and human frailties. With characters and morals and consequence. And these may be the most meaningful things of all to us, as social human beings. Sadly, the bulk of modern pop music seems to draw heavily from the musical side of the equation, often neglecting the stories at anything more than a cursory level. There’s a real power there, and last night Paul Kelly showed it clearly to us all.
Musichord Rating: 9/10
Okay, so the whole concept of “The British Invasion” is, lets face it, a bit naff, and really, in today’s modern world of connected music, pretty much laughable. Where exactly are these bands invading again? And where are they from? Okay, fine, I get it, my headline is completely nonsensical. I’m sticking with it, because I just have got a vibe of late that there are a whole host of amazingly talented youngsters from the UK that seem to be producing spectacular music.
When you look at the history of Rock, a lot of the big genre defining acts have come from the UK. Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles. In fact, I once got into a drunken argument with a bunch of US colleagues, when I made the assertion that there haven’t actually ever been any really massive original American Rock acts. Really, what have you got? Jimi Hendrix? (but he was pretty much unknown until he went to London) – Aerosmith?
Hmm… The point remains. I’m just gonna leave that there…
Here are 5 great new bands from The UK that are worth some quality ear-time.
From the same town as some other famous band I forget, Liverpool, England, The Wombats second album, This Modern Glitch, features a wide range of musical styles, ranging from new romantic 80s synth pop through to indy rock, and everything in between. Sporting lots of heartfelt and occasionally cringeworthy lyrical content, all delivered in Matthew Murphy’s northern accent, you can catch the band live this October at New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience. Check out the latest single from the new album, Jump into the Fog:
Hailing from Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys have been a prominent band on the indie rock scene since their first album, Whatever People Say, That’s what I’m not was released in 2006. Their latest album, Suck it and See continues their straight ahead solid rock and roll approach to music – check out Brick By Brick:
The Kooks are a self described pop band from Brighton, East Sussex, and they make the most tasty, catchy pop tunes that may not change the world, but certainly have a way of making their way into your brain and imprinting on your day. Formed in 2001, this four-piece have released three albums, with the latest, Junk of the Heart released September 2010. From their 2006 Record Inside In/Inside Out, Check out Naive:
Two Door Cinema Club
From Bangor and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, Two Door Cinema Club are a fresh and exuberant young band that seem to have a lot of fun, and it comes through clearly in their music. I saw these guys rock the Northern Hotel in Byron earlier this year, and they have a huge and friendly fanbase who completely adore them. After spending a little time with their only album to date – Tourist History, it’s pretty easy to see why. Check out Something Good Can Work:
Eliza often gets compared to her Parlophone Labelmate Lily Allen, but really, she’s quite a different artist. For starters, Lily would be a lousy girlfriend, with all her high maintenance and partying. Eliza on the other hand seems sensible, fresh, friendly, and kind – much better girlfriend material. She also writes beautifully crafted pop songs and sings with an impressive and powerful voice. Her first self titled album was a big favorite for me last year – you can’t get these tunes out of your head. Check out Pack Up: