Words by James Tait and Dani Hansen
The dust (and surprisingly minimal mud) has settled on another Splendour In The Grass. Everyone who attended has probably recovered physically (probably), if still a little fragile emotionally, so now that the big dance is over, we thought we’d look back and commit to the nigh-on impossible task of whittling three entire days of amazing times down into just the ten best moments, but we did:
10: Tegan And Sara have everyone longing for their youth
I was never a huge fan of Canadian twin power duo Tegan And Sara growing up, their indie pop not resonating inside my misguided heavy metal-sensitive ears back then, but the impact they had on that Sunday afternoon crowd was undeniable. My significant other danced around with a kebab and a dart in one hand like she was a 14-year- old on too much red cordial and the people just sprinting for the moshpit whenever an oldie would play was a sight to see.
Couple that with the duo’s fantastic chemistry and perhaps some of the best crowd banter all festival and it was a wonderful Sunday afternoon show to behold.
9: Leon Bridges has Splendour swooning
It was always going to be tough for Texas’ own Leon Bridges, playing to the GW McLennan tent at the unfortunate same time as national heroes Violent Soho were laying waste to the amphitheatre. Nobody who chose the former left disappointed though, the crooner charming the figurative pants off of everyone in attendance, having them boogie-ing along to tunes like Twistin’ & Groovin’ and Better Man, raising their hands to a bonechilling rendition of River and singing back every word of Coming Home and even taking a surprising turn with a raunchy cover of Pony by Ginuwine that saw levels of bumping and grinding increase by over 9000.
It was a stellar set from Bridges who, at the tender age of just 26, will surely be back to have Australian crowds swooning many more times in the future.
8: City Calm Down invigorate the Sunday afternoon crowd
Another Australian group quickly making their mark as one of the best rock bands in the country are Melbourne’s City Calm Down, who made the most of their opportunity on one of the biggest stages of the national music calendar. Their Sunday afternoon set was full of twists and turns and hits from their breakthrough 2015 album In A Restless House. The tired and sore early Sunday afternoon crowd found themselves full of energy, screaming the words to Rabbit Run and Wandering and losing their ever-loving shit to a mammoth Your Fix that ended the set.
It might have been their tribute to the late David Bowie though with their stomping cover of Let’s Dance that got the crowd going the most though, everyone jumping around like a pack of giddy idiots with shit-eating grins everywhere. Frontman Jack Bourke mesmerised the crowd throughout, showing off a stunning vocal range and helping City Calm Down absolutely own that stage for the afternoon.
7: Gang Of Youths cement their position on the national stage
No band wanted to be at Splendour In The Grass as badly as Gang Of Youths. We’d pegged them as one of our must see acts prior to this year’s event but not even we could be prepared for how good they would end up being. As frontman David Le’aupepe’s booming voice rang out over the amphitheatre, throwing Saturday afternoon goosebumps around like they were party favours running through huge renditions of Poison Drum, Radioface, a couple of new tunes in Strange Diseases and an as-yet- untitled taste of their next record as well as a set-closing Magnolia that left throats hoarse and nary a dry eye in the whole place.
Le’aupepe took every opportunity to thank the crowd and to express how grateful the band were to be there, something refreshing to see given some of the more established acts on hand seemed as though they felt the opposite. Gang Of Youths are some of the best storytellers in Australian music going, energetic and evocative, honest and so hungry. Saturday was their coming out party to the country.
6: The Avalanches are back with a bang
A source backstage reported The Avalanches boys looking just slightly nervous ahead of their Friday night set, understandable given it was their first Australian show in over a decade. Any notion of nervousness was chokeslammed out the window immediately though and it felt like the trio had never left that stage. The entire amphitheatre crowd was seething, grooving along to hits from Since I Left You and Wildflower alike (Frankie Sinatra went off like a frog in a sock). Mixing up Frontier Psychiatrist with Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy a stroke of genius.
Having been forced to cancel their international appearances, their lone appearance at this year’s Splendour felt even more special. Even though many in the crowd would have been watching Sesame Street back when Since I Left You first dropped like a bomb, The Avalanches won everyone over and proved that 16 years hasn’t slowed them down one bit.
5. Fat White Family
Pandemonium from the get-go. As the band settled into their first song, frontman Lias was drinking straight from a bottle of Absolut whilst screaming down the mic; the rest of the band keeping the loud, trashy rhythm going around him. He threw burgers and fries into the crowd at one stage and shoved the mic down his pants. By their fifth song, Lias was substantially blind, shirt and pants off, and proceeded to perform the rest of their set completely starkers.
At some point he also threw his beer bottle into the crowd, hitting me square in the shoulder and spraying beer everywhere. That was my second band of Day 1 and it was certainly my highlight of the entire festival. Fat White Family were everything I hoped they would be and so much more.
4. The Strokes
Similar to many other fans of the indie scene, I’ve digged The Strokes for a very long time. This was, however, the first time I had seen them live and I loved every second of it. They made the crowd wait half an hour before gracing the stage but when they finally arrived, I was reminded of how eternally cool they are.
Unsurprisingly (and to my utmost delight), Julian was being typical Julian; first complaining about how bright the lights were on stage and then addressing the crowd with wry and barely audible anecdotes. We heard a few of their newer numbers, although they covered most of their debut album Is This It as well. As a long time fan, I appreciated this wholeheartedly. Every member held their own and each song was on point. Perfect finish to Day one.
3. Spring King
For their first Australian festival, I knew these Manchester natives would bring an absolute riot. The band opened with old favourite Better Man and ascended into their usual raging surf-rock-infused awesomeness as the crowd grew accordingly. A few songs in they had already blown an amp and, during the interim, got some live impromptu elevator music going while jokingly commenting on the stunning weather we were having.
This was the perfect start to Day two: hilarious one-off moments with my favourite Mancunians.
2. Tired Lion
As one of my favourite Aussie acts out at the moment, I made sure I was front and centre for this Perth four-piece and they did not disappoint. The crowd for their set was huge and clearly loving it as there was some rioting/circle pit action happening behind me for most of it.
It may be a cliché to say how refreshing it is to see a garage indie band fronted by a woman but, man, Sophie Hopes absolutely owns that role. The band have honed their own brand of 90’s alt-fuzz and it was incredible to experience from 10-feet away.
1. James Blake
It was during this set that I fully realised for the first time the genius of James Blake. Performing just before festival headliner Flume on Day three, the anticipation for this British mastermind was palpable. His first time touring Australia, James lamented that he felt it was “about time” he made his way here and that he was “so happy we came with such force.”
His music has this incredible push and pull that hits you in waves, and even though he was performing to thousands, the energy in the Ampitheatre was hauntingly zen. I waded through Limit To Your Love but my jaw dropped when Radio Silence came around. I was almost in tears. Soon after, Flume opened with Helix and I actually was in tears. And thus ended my Splendour in the Grass of 2016.