Bad weather may have marred Melbourne this past Labour Day long weekend, but there were no such woes for punters at this year’s Golden Plains Festival. Held at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre (home to the Meredith Music Festival), Golden Plains was spread over two glorious days with a number of eclectic international and local acts on the bill. Fans soaked up some sun, ate great food, dressed in outrageous outfits and danced the weekend away.
Day one was sweaty and hot as the temperature climbed to 28 degrees, and people desperately tried to stay in the shade. The lineup was a tad under-whelming, with early performances failing to make any major impressions, but as the day progressed a few artists managed to step up their game.
Having toured with freak-folk artist Devendra Banhart, there was an expectation of the strange and wonderful when Joanna Newsom came on stage. Despite the fact that her voice was almost unheard over the chatter of the crowd, she did a brilliant job staying focused. Her musicality on the harp was inspiring – her fingers appearing to have a mind of their own – and her voice never ceased to surprise with its ever-changing pitch and volume. There was definitely an unearthly weirdness to Newsom, but her set grew on me as it progressed. She did a notable rendition of ‘Have One on Me’, a beautiful song full of spider imagery. It got the attention of an otherwise distracted audience.
Next on was reformed ’60s Brazilian band, Os Mutantes, who put on a boisterous set. People danced and showed off their best Latin shimmies, and cha cha chas. The band’s energy was contagious, as they belted out songs with riffs galore and some quirky dance moves. Even though many of the songs were in Portuguese, it was a performance you would have been lucky to witness. Their end song ‘Panis Et Circenses (ingles)’ was a lovely psychedelic rock number. Their bow at the end was received with a standing ovation (even though everyone was standing to begin with).
A little while into the night, the crowd was introduced to Aussie rockers, Airbourne. Known for their energetic live shows, fans seemed ready to have their senses pummeled by the band’s ’80s extravaganza. Although some audience members wondered if they were a joke band, having an uncanny look and sound to AC/DC, there was no denying that they knew how to party. Their set was full of rock ‘n’ roll fury, with songs such as ‘Diamond in the Rough’ and ‘No Way, but The Hard Way’ encompassing their hard rock passion. With their long hair and bare chests, these guys made a lasting impression on the crowd, who were soaked in sweat after a lively bout of shoving and chorus chanting.
Last, Californian band Wavves entered the scene. The band is notorious for their drug fueled, angry performances; an example being lead singer Nathan Williams’ public breakdown at the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain 2009. A lesser version of his previous bad self, Williams insulted the security, and for some reason wore track pants for his performance. Despite their lazy appearance, Wavves managed to pull off a really great set. With songs like ‘So Bored’, and ‘Green Eyes’ they got the crowd dancing to their acid surf rock sounds. Playing a variety from their three albums, highlights came with ‘King of the Beach’ and ‘Post Acid’ in which the crowd reveled in William’s borderline whiny vocals. After a lengthy and noisy attack on their ears, the crowd was gratified.
The entire festival was up and raring to go on the morning of the second day. Once again the weather was great, besides a slight amount of rain midday, and the first band to hit the stage set the benchmark for some great performances.
Melbourne band Graveyard Train had the entire festival up at 10, and their performance was well worth it. In accordance to their name, there were mummies, zombies and bloodied people dancing in the crowd to songs like ‘Mummy’ and ‘Got bit by a Dog’. Who knew country music with some added macabre would be so good? Then there was lead singer Nick Finch’s declaration to the crowd during ‘Tall Shadow’, in which he rather vigorously stated that the entire crowd was going to die. He was met with applause and some woot-woots. Nobody could be down about death when Graveyard Train was singing about it.
Later in the afternoon, The Besnard Lakes, a band of four from Montreal, made the crowd go wild in their first Australian performance. Their shoegaze style – which only a few bands have taken up since the ’90s (a recent example would be Silversun Pickups) – and their eerie vocals, made for a scintillating show. With some odious black rain clouds overhead, lead singer Jace Lasek’s vocal diversity integrated with the band’s heavy use of effects, making the show an atmospheric experience. Their performance was definitely a striking surprise, and end number ‘And You Lied to Me’ more or less received the coveted ‘Boot’.
Next up were Californian garage babes, Best Coast. Unfortunately I’ve never really understood the big hype surrounding them — a lot of bands these days are doing the whole garage-surf-rock thing, including Wavves and Surfer Blood. The only differences I can pick is that lead singer Bethany Cosentino is number one, a woman, and number two, writing about girly laments. Nonetheless people love them and I can appreciate why. When the band did a rendition of the wishful ‘Boyfriend’, every girl in the crowd sang along. A highlight also came with ‘When I’m With You’, which had a great build up and easily followed lyrics. Their songs were catchy and fun, and sounded much better live than on recordings.
Pulled Apart by Horses (PABH) took on the crowd next, and theirs had to be one of the best performances of the festival. After announcing it was lead signer Tom Hudson’s birthday, it seemed they were up for some chaotic celebration. Head banging, throwing themselves around stage and into the audience, PABH proved they were as punk as an indie band could get. They had an aggressive energy, and it was arresting having Hudson screaming in your face while slightly bleeding from his forehead. Highlights included ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ and ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’, both of which triggered playful fisticuffs among some very excited fans. Besides telling the crowd that they smelt like a bunch of rapists, there was love all round for the boys from Leeds.
The only reason I feel compelled to mention the next band is because of the sheer bewilderment I felt for the entirety of their set. Reunited ’80s rockers Hawkwind had alien dancers, wore army helmets, and played some very odd space prog rock. As some would mention, the English rockers have influenced many musicians including the Sex Pistols, but I have absolutely no words for their performance. By the time they finished half the crowd had wandered off, or were waiting for them to end an already overtime set. They were a poor choice for a headliner, considering the earlier brilliance of bands like The Besnard Lakes and PABH.
Finally the Melbourne electro troupe World’s End Press made their way on stage for a welcome relief from the bizarre and the majority of punters who left during the last band came back to party. The band set out to get everyone pumped, and watching the drummer and lead singer bop around on stage with endless enthusiasm got everyone movin’ ‘n’ shakin’. Included in their set was a cover of the ‘eighties classic ‘West End Girls’ by the Pet Shop Boys, which went down nicely. It was a purely enjoyable way to end the last night.
All in all, the weekend was a success, allowing campers to get away from the inner city hubbub and to enjoy a bunch of great performances. It made for an experience to remember for years to come.