Webcuts decamped to the stunning town of Byron Bay for a weekend’s fun at the Splendour in the Grass festival. Since we’re dealing with an Australian outdoor festival in winter surely the sun will be on our side. Right? Driving down the night before we’re seriously having doubts on this though as the thunderous rain reduces driving to a crawl and the decision to forgo any sort of waterproof clothing seems like the worst idea we’ve ever had. Thankfully by the time morning comes round the sun is shining and even if there are a few bleary eyes about we doubt this will last long. It’s Splendour after all.

With every square foot of floor space in a twenty kilometre radius booked up months in advance round these parts we’re left to stay out of town for the weekend and bus ourselves in. This actually seems like a great idea, as compared to other weekend festivals we’ve been at, the ability to have a hot shower and wake in a bed makes our heart sing.

I can’t imagine that Children Collide have played too many main festival stages before but they are certainly in their element today. Evoking the ghosts of many of my favourite moments of ‘90’s grunge and alternative rock, they play their whole set with a frantic energy that doesn’t let up at any point. That energy certainly transferred to the largish crowd that had gathered to watch their early afternoon set. Much more popular than I realised, a large portion of the audience were mouthing the words to all their songs. Rolling out the highlights from their debut album and EP’s they also included a couple of new tracks before closing their set with a barrage of feedback and noise. Children Collide were the first highlight of the weekend.

Tim Rogers - You Am I - Photo Marc GrimswadeI handed back my You Am I fan club membership not long after album #4 Record came out. Before that I was a gushing fan boy that watched them every time they came through town and I still consider Hi-Fi Way to be one of the best Australian albums of the ‘90s. It would be just shy of the ten year mark since I have watched them live and I am a little bit excited today about reacquainting myself with the band. Whatever reasons that made me turn my back on them all those years ago were quickly forgotten as they pump out a corker of a set.

Opening with a surprise cover of Regurgitator’s “Sucked a Lot of Cock”; they proceed to pull out all the stops to keep the crowd on their toes. Tim runs through all his ‘borrowed from the greats’ rock moves including his take on the Pete Townshend windmill. Rusty proves he is anything but, and is still one of the best drummers in the country. The set list seemed like eighty percent was drawn from their golden period up to and including #4 Record, with all the classics like “Cathy’s clown”, “Berlin Chair”, “Good Morning” and a Jack Ladder fronted “Heavy Heart” delivered. This is a bit disconcerting, as I was hoping they would prove me wrong with the strength of their newer material. Nevertheless the show has inspired me to find out what I have missed out on in the last decade. (SD)

The Specials - Photo Marc GrimswadeWith the trend over the last few years of bands reforming for one reason or another, be that settled differences or more likely to cash in on their nostalgic popularity, The Specials seemed like one of the most unlikely to reform. Heading over to the Supertop Tent for their set had us wondering how their brand of political ska and reggae would go down with the masses. Any trepidation was quickly erased as the boys sauntered on stage looking resplendent in 2 Tone suits and pork pie hats. Although the current incarnation is without founding member and songwriter Jerry Dammers no one here seems too stuck on that point, and why would you be when the performance is this good.

Rattling through the hits it’s quickly clear how much, young or old, the crowd lap them up. An early set outing of “Too Much Too Young” sets the crowd skanking and we can only watch on in awe at the energy of a band of this vintage. How can anyone fail to move to songs such as “Rat Race”? By the time they get to “A Message To You, Rudy” they have already proved to be one of the weekends highlights. Ending with possibly the greatest commentary on ‘80s Thatcherite Britain in “Ghost Town”, it’s testament to The Specials that in a field, in Australia, in 2009 — this still sounds as relevant as ever. (GT)

I run quickly from the main stage to the GW McLennan tent to catch what might be my last ever chance to catch Augie March play, well for a while at least. Flanked by a four piece horn section they play a scattering of songs from all of their albums to a modestly full tent. When performing they bring a lot more intensity to their songs especially on “This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers” a long time live favourite. It’s about this time that we should be gearing up to watch Jane’s Addiction play. It really needs to be said that cancelling a tour because of an elbow infection is really one of the weakest, un-rock ‘n’ roll excuses ever used. Stephen Perkins, you are a pussy.

On the upside Jane’s Addiction’s no show has allowed us the opportunity to watch the object of desire for many a male hipster, the ever delightful Sarah Blasko on the McLennan stage. Donning a cape and a colourful oversized tie she runs through a set that draws heavily from her recently released As Day Follows Night and a selection of highlights from her first two albums. Sarah’s smooth voice and quirky interpretive dance moves had the sizable audience who were smart enough to avoid seeing The Living End rapt. (SD)

Happy Mondays

Now it’s time to head to the Mix Up tent and reminisce with the Happy Mondays. Now hopefully we can be forgiven, but it is with some apprehension that we await the boys coming on stage. Anyone who has seen Shaun Ryder’s post 24 Hour Party People interviews will attest that this could easily be a train wreck of a set. Thankfully though these fears are allayed with Shaun looking merely as dazed as ever. Bez is in fine form and manages to wring some remaining life out of a battle weary crowd who in turn lap up the classic tracks such as “Step On” and “Kinky Afro”. Surprisingly this turns into less of a nostalgia trip and more a fitting ending to what has been a great first day. (GT)

Splendour in the Grass (Day Two) – Sunday 26 July 2009

Text: Garry Thomson (GT) and Scott Daniels (SD)
Photos: Marc Grimwade (Splendour in the Grass)