Apologies to both The Middle East and Dananananaykroyd — the shuttle bus from our unit in Ballina again inexplicably chose a pick up time that was a mere fifteen minutes before your sets started. At the very least it removed the dilemma of which of the two bands we were going to watch.

Splendour in the Grass 2009 - Kram - Photo Marc Grimwade

Faced with a dead spot in the timetable we eventually decide to have a look at what Kram from Spiderbait has been up to during the band’s hiatus. Mistake. From where we were it looked as though he has gone all Neil Young on us. Standing alone on the main stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, Kram was playing a fairly woeful take on folk crossed with country to a rather disinterested crowd when we arrived. The final straw came when he launched into an acoustic cover of The Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” in the same unlistenable style. I felt like someone had raped my ears, so immediately head over to the GW stage to see what Jack Ladder is all about. As we walk away it sounds like a full band is joining him but there’s no way I’m going back after the earlier atrocities.

Splendour in the Grass 2009 - Jack Ladder - Photo Marc GrimswadeLooking a tad uncomfortable guest fronting You Am I the previous day, Jack Ladder is far more in his element on the more modest McLennan stage. Possessing quite a remarkable and unique baritone Jack (real name Tim Rogers) serenades the crowd with his tales of heartbreak and loss. Ladder has a disaffected rock swagger and style that comes from a long gone era of music which draws heavily from folk, ‘80s indie and classic rock and blues, often all at the same time. Thank god for Spunk Records for continuing to bring us some of the most interesting names in Australian indie rock. Expect to hear a lot more in the future about Mr Ladder. (SD)

Constantly drawing comparisons in their native London to either Editors or Interpol, depending on which side of the fence you sit, must be hard for White Lies. To be fair we can see why after this set. It’s nothing mind blowing but the huge early Sunday crowd don’t seem to care. “Death” though shakes the last remnants of last night’s hangover from us and for that we’ll be grateful for the rest of today. (GT)

Jebadiah never really did it for me back in the day. The combination of their teenybopper fans and how irritating I found their single “Leaving Home” caused me to never give them much of a chance. Vocalist Kevin Mitchell, almost as if for my benefit alone, fooled me into listening to him by performing under the pseudonym Bob Evans. No one was more pleasantly surprised than I that he has dropped the nasally whine and started churning out Beatlesque pop gems. Live, Bob and his backing band have a much fuller and warmer sound than I was expecting. While the crowd assembled is by no means the size that his former band commanded in their heyday, he has a great pop sensibility, a fine singing voice and I wager a much better shot at not having to get a day job in the near future. Jebadiah are apparently returning with a new album soon, one can only hope that these new sensibilities and maturity carry over to them. (SD)

Splendour in the Grass 2009 - The Doves - Photo Marc GrimswadeIt’s been a while since we’ve seen Doves live round these parts and they don’t fail to disappoint. As festival veterans they know how to pitch their set perfectly, mixing just the right amount of new songs in amongst the old favourites. Opener “Jetstream” kicks them off and for the next hour they are absolutely faultless. There’s not much chatter from the boys but they soon let us know that they’ve just flown in from Japan so we’ll forgive them. The double salvo of “Black and White Town” and “Cedar Room” have us thinking this could be band of the weekend and when they round things off with “There Goes The Fear” there’s more than a few Cheshire-like grins near us — and why not? — the boys have played a blinder.

Quickly hot footing it across the site to catch some of The Gutter Twins we’re left a little under-awed by the size of the crowd. Maybe it’s the vast numbers waiting around elsewhere for the impending Grinspoon set but secretly we’re not going to complain at seeing musical luminaries like Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan at such close quarters. Lanegan’s voice sounds as whisky soaked as ever resembling a drone bass that perfectly underpins Dulli’s soulful tones. They don’t disappoint from the songs that we see and when they pull out Afghan Whigs’ “Summers Kiss” the sparse crowd is in raptures. (GT)

So, on the main stage tonight we have the privilege to be entertained by The Doves, MGMT, The Flaming Lips and Grinspoon. Did something sound wrong with that sentence? Let’s check that again. We have three bands who give a critically acclaimed widescreen take on modern rock and then we have Grinspoon. When was the last time a friend, whom you respected the musical taste of, turned to you and said that they don’t mind the latest Grinners album? Probably never I’m guessing. It is a little more than embarrassing, hell, let’s go one step further and call it a travesty that this is the best Australia can dish up to mix it up on the main stage with our international visitors. Same could be said for The Living End (we all know ARIA’s are worthless guys) and Birds of Tokyo.

Splendour in the Grass 2009 - Grinspoon - Photo Marc Grimwade

Grinspoon, at best, are a limp, sub standard neanderthal take on nu-metal. In any other country in the world they wouldn’t even be allowed to roadie for any of the international acts playing. I know I am breaking the first rule golden of Oz music writing in outright lambasting a local band instead of writing an indifferent or moderate review, but someone has to make a stand about this. I realise that we should give our local talent a leg up and occasionally look the other way to get them to a level where they can compete with the big boys, but this is affirmative action gone mad. (SD)

Possibly the most hyped band of the weekend, MGMT really were never going to live up to their billing. It’s a shame for the band that they have to play to a crowd expecting a full on party live show, and what they get is a duck’s ass tight band simply playing great tunes. “Time to Pretend” almost tears the roof off the tent but until they reel out the rest of their singles everyone again falls kind of flat. From where we’re standing though it sounds pretty damn good and if only the expectations were a little less, then the crowd would be a little less disappointed. Not in recent memory (and we checked with a few folks on the way home) has a band been such a crossover hit and not ended up sounding blander than three day old rice. “Electric Eel” and “Kids” sound as great as you would expect but ironically it’s actually the album tracks that standout for us tonight. On record “Weekend Wars” and “The Youth” may not be distinct but here they are as strong live as anything we’ve heard flogged to death over the last year. Personally we’re hoping that this is the step to something much bigger for these guys but we can only think that with their next release they won’t be playing to anywhere near this size of an audience. (GT)

Splendour in the Grass 2009 - The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne - Photo Marc GrimswadeThe Flaming Lips are pretty much the perfect festival band. They are a spectacle to behold and have the songs to match. Talking to random strangers this weekend it seems they are the must see band on every other person’s list. I’m not sure how many dead beats were watching the Hilltop Hoods play but it seemed like everyone was trying to squeeze into the tent as the Lips were gearing up to come on stage. If I was an 18 year old with little idea of who they were, I am pretty sure I would have found my next favourite band after this show. After a lead in tape of a psychedelic soundscape from their Christmas on Mars soundtrack the band emerge from the centre of a large screen on stage from a naked green female being’s vagina (yes you read that correctly), followed by Wayne Coyne crowd surfing over the crowd in an orb. Okay it was a transparent inflatable beach ball, but still.

Opening with perennial favourite “Race for the Prize” the sky fills with confetti and large coloured balloons which are thrust continually back into the air by the celebratory crowd. Any spare stage space is now occupied with dancers (in a very loose sense of the term) dressed as frogs and kittens. After a few minutes of vocal microphone hiccups the band are in full flight. Following up with new song “Silver Trembling Hands”, which is a total psychedelic freak out that bodes well for their soon to be released double album Embryonic.

Continuing with a handful of songs from At War With the Mystics including “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “The W.A.N.D.”, they also play a stripped back “Fight Test” and dust off “Mountain Side” from 1990’s Priest Driven Ambulance. Closing with “Do You Realise?” mountains of confetti again fills the air and the whole place seems to turn into a hippy lovein.

The only gripe we have is the length. Limited to an hour, once you take away intro tape, inflatable ball, bugle solo and all the other trimmings that the set came with, you are left with only forty minutes or so of Lips’ music. Splendour organisers could probably take a leaf out of the Big Day Out’s timetable and allow headliners to perform ninety minute sets to accommodate this.

Or better yet allow Brisbane to have some sideshows. I read the explanation in the interview on this site but for the life of me between the size of the crowd watching them, the amount of people who travelled to Sydney and Melbourne to see them and those I know who wished that they could have seen them, I can’t fathom how a Flaming Lips show at the River Stage/Tivoli/wherever could have possibly lost money. When your run of tickets sells out in less than two hours every year before the full line up is announced it is pretty much impossible to cannibalise your ticket sales. This notion of festival exclusivity in Brisbane has to stop. Sydney and Melbourne resident’s have always had the option of seeing their favourite bands in a more intimate setting.

What hurts the most here is that the festival (at least initially) was started on the huge profits that came with Brisbane band Powderfinger’s success and is organised by locals, yet we are treated with the same contempt that we are shown by southern promoters every year. I urge you to stop passing us over on sideshows every year. You have a great festival going on here, in a lovely location, with a much friendlier crowd that is ten times more enjoyable to be at than the Big Day Out, it just needs a little tweaking to keep some of the Brisbane fans happy.(SD)

Splendour in the Grass (Day One) – Saturday 25 July 2009

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