Golden Plains turned six on the weekend, and what better way to usher in a fairly insignificant birthday than with one of the greatest indie lineups ever put together in this country.
I’m not talking about Kisstroyer (though they were fun) or Chic (though I appear to be the only person on earth who just didn’t get it), but spectacular performances by local and international artists including Endless Boogie, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Harmony, Lost Animal, Wild Flag and the old farts of indie rock, Urge Overkill. Golden Plains six has set the bar high.
Saturday was off to a slow start with enjoyable, but not particularly memorable performances by Hunting Grounds, Total Control (featuring members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and UV Race) and Real Estate.
Things picked up with the exquisite Lanie Lane but it was Wild Flag that first showed any signs that this was truly one of the great line-ups of Australian festival history. The four piece don’t lack any stage experience. With members having played in Sleater-Kinney, Bright Eyes, Autoclave and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the band’s confidence on stage projected a plague of enjoyment out to the crowd who couldn’t keep their feet on the ground. Their multi-instrumental skills insured the band was as consistently interesting to watch as they were to listen to.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti kicked off their set with an odd opener. The song which went almost entirely unrecognised by the audience saw Pink holding an A4 sheet of lyrics in front of his face and singing something a lot rougher than what his fans were expecting. After was seemed like a silly dare, they returned to the psychedelic folk-pop they are loved for, even if it did at times feel a little half-arsed.
One of the biggest acts ever to play at the festival, Bon Iver, was certainly dividing opinions. Punters either love or hate him, though all but his biggest fans seemed to agree that at 9pm at a festival something a little more lively would have been appreciated. His spectacular band did not disappoint, but it was interesting to see saxophonist Charlie Stenton so restricted when his solo work reveals one of the wildest and most fascinating musicians on the planet. I’ll admit, occasionally I enjoyed some of Bon Iver’s work, but I’d prefer these moments were the low point of a more interesting gig than the high point of a dull one. Top marks go to the random punter standing near me who exclaimed: “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s a c*nt!”
I don’t know who the evil genius is who decided to put Kisstroyer on straight after Bon Iver, but I’d like to buy them a beer sometime. Sure, it was actually kind of lame having a cover band headline a night at a festival, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. They wanted to rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day – a dream that was put to sleep quickly when DJ Dexter hit the decks delivering exactly what was expected – big beats and bad-ass skillz, but minimal rock ‘n’ roll.
Sure, Saturday was great, but Sunday quite literally brought one of the best line ups of music ever to fit on one bill.
Harmony seemed like an odd choice on paper, but when singer Tom Lyngcoln’s pipes opened up all hangovers were cured. The band have quickly gathered a reputation for being one of the best live bands in Melbourne at the moment and this performance was the best of the best. It felt like they had coalesced their sound into a slow headbanging wall of sonic goodness.
They were followed up by Lost Animal – another Melbourne band quickly gathering a great reputation, albeit in a slightly different scene. With the crowd digesting their breakfast, the Melbourne duo (who have since morphed into a quintet) played tunes from one of the more interesting albums of 2011 as though their unique sound was blindingly obvious and everyone is an idiot for not thinking of it earlier.
Swedish country duo First Aid Kit were highly anticipated. After being discovered through YouTube after they uploaded a Fleet Foxes cover a few years ago, they have gone from strength to strength. Their second album The Lion’s Roar was rightfully lauded, but unfortunately, what made an interesting album was missing in this performance. An album filled with pedal steel guitars and things like that was replaced by two (albeit amazing) vocals, an acoustic guitar, keyboards and some minimalist drums played by a drummer who drummed like he was Dave Grohl, circa 1991.
Endless Boogie out of New York are the most Aussie group of New Yorkers ever to hit a stage. “We’re a Wild Cherries tribute band!” singer Paul “Top Dollar” Major joked as they walked on stage, in reference to the Australian 60s garage band that featured Lobby Lloyd before launching into Top Dollar Speaks His Mind from their album Full House Ahead – a song which took up more than half of their 50 minute set and included another of Lobby Lloyd’s riffs imbedded into it – G.O.D. by Coloured Balls. Major’s rantings during this song should become the stuff of legend. “Who out there has my mind? You! You have my mind! Throw it to me!” he shouted at a bewildered audience member. “What’s that in the sky? It’s a car! Someone shoot the cars out of the sky so they don’t fall on me!” he shouted at nobody in particular. You know? I was too young to see Billy Thorpe at Sunbury, but this show just about made up for it.
As the sun was getting low on the horizon, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy featuring The Cairo Gang gave a stellar performance. I had half expected Will Oldham and co’s show to go the way of Bon Iver the night before, but with just four people on stage, they managed to provide one of the most dynamic shows of the entire festival.
This was followed up by a true musical icon, Roky Erickson. Backed by his son’s band the show was filled with cult favourite after cult favourite. Night of the Vampire, Two Headed Dog, Bloody Hammer. Everything was there, including the biggest song from Erickson’s 60s psychedelic band The 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me to close the set.
Roots Manuva and Urge Overkill were two shows that excited the hell out of me when they were announced. Unfortunately both were a little underwhelming. Roots because he was playing too much of his lacklustre latest album 4Everevolution and Urge because, well, they just seemed to be plodding through a bunch of old songs. Sure, Urge Overkill had some great moments and it was cool to hear songs like their biggest singles Sister Havana and their Neil Diamond cover Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon, but they just lacked the pizzazz I was hoping for – and let’s face it, they had a few great songs, but they had a few M.O.R. moments along the way too.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires brought the soul back into the festival with a stellar performance from the 63-year-old which included him (almost) doing the splits, him walking out into the crowd to hug his fans and him doing a beautiful cover of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. The former James Brown impersonator was undoubtedly a highlight of the festival.
This was followed up by Black Lips. Their latest album Arabia Mountain – made with Mark Ronson at the helm – featured heavily in the set. While a few years back they were placed in an early afternoon slot to a few onlookers, 2012 saw them in a headline spot playing to thousands of adoring fans who weren’t afraid to get whipped into a garage party frenzy.
This left CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers to play an hour and a half of tacky 70s and 80s disco that included songs by David Bowie (Let’s Dance), INXS (Original Sin), Sister Sledge (We Are Family and He’s The Greatest Dancer) and of course CHIC’s Le Freak. If fans were a bit confused as to why this tacky cover band was playing all of this, Rodgers repeatedly told the crowd “I’m Nile Rodgers! I wrote an produced all of these songs!” in what felt like an act of hopeless desperation coming from a man who realised that he might die without his name being forever remembered every time someone sings Madonna’s Like A Virgin.
Golden Plains 2012 was brilliant – as if you didn’t already know that. One of the best festivals in the world is in our backyard, which makes me ecstatic. Sure, some bands were a bit disappointing but others were better than expected. Harmony are my new favourite hangover cure, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is my new favourite folk singer and Kisstroyer my new favourite cover band.
As always I discovered new artists thanks to the good team at Golden Plains and I’m a slightly better person for having been to the festival. If that’s not the mark of greatness, I don’t know what is. In fact, so much goodness went into Golden Plains 2012 that every future festival will now be rubbish by comparison.
See you in 2013, Golden Plains!
Follow the author Tim Cashmere on Twitter.