Golden Plains 2017 – Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, Victoria

Once again we descend upon the small town of Meredith seeking entertainment, adventure and spiritual release. We arrived on site at the Nolan’s farm a little later than usual, and our beloved Bush Camp was already closed, but we quickly found a serene and shaded spot in the suburb of Ringwood. Besides having to memorise an entirely new way to get home at night, this worked out well as it was a very short stroll into the Supernatural Amphitheatre.

The music starts a little earlier in the day for Golden Plains than it does for its sister festival Meredith, but this proved to be just the right amount of time to carry out the ritual of setting up camp, tracking down friend’s campsites, and assessing the situation at hand with a couple of tins.

By the time we headed into the Sup’ for the first act the weather was muggy and there was excitement in the air. Ausmuteants played a killer set of fast, bratty punk rock that was just the sort of opening gambit needed to get people ready for a big two days of music. Guitarist Shaun Connor maintained a running gag in between songs that he was actually Tim Armstrong from Rancid, a fairly nonsensical premise rendered funny through his deadpan delivery.

Margaret Glaspy was an artist that admittedly I had very little knowledge of, but was impressed by nonetheless. The guitar tones and the amount of attitude dripping from her vocals recalled 90s rock acts such as PJ Harvey, with splashes of country here and there that brought to mind Mia Dyson.

However it was Cash Savage and the Last Drinks that were the first act to really make a major impression on the crowd. The band were phenomenal, never settling into any straight grooves, but instead remaining constantly dynamic; the drum patterns rising and swelling while the violin created tension and the guitars, soaked in sustain and tremolo, helping to create a dark, brooding tone as Savage stalked the stage, microphone in hand.

The effect was so great that Kurt Vile’s subsequent set was harder to engage with. Even though he played very well and has some killer tunes, it was a little bit too easy to not be grabbed by his solo acoustic performance. A split guitar signal used to add distortion and delays during solos, as well as a loop pedal and drum machine helped to add interest, but also failed to live up to the studio versions, particularly during the songs from b’lieve i’m goin down.

Night fell and many retired to their camps to refresh and perhaps get costumed up. Shout out to the girl in the Falcor from The Neverending Story getup and the guys who came as an office Christmas party, who continued to dance in character as drunken businessmen all night. Kudos.

The Sup’ wasn’t full for The Damned but the amount of energy they brought filled the Amphitheater. For a band that has been around since the late ‘70s and has the distinction of releasing the first punk single in 1976, they sounded and looked fantastic. Singer Dave Vanian has a delicious croon that was particularly evident during their goth rock numbers, but it was the straight ahead punk anthems such as Neat Neat Neat and Smash It Up that galvanised the crowd. Guitarist Captain Sensible leapt up on the foldback wedges whenever he took a solo and generally lashed about the stage with the abandon of a younger man, a wry grin on his mug throughout.

Having seen Jazz Party a few times before, I had my reservations about their 9:30pm set time, as while they are a very good band, I thought their mix of bluesy rock’n’roll, blues and jazz might not provide the party soundtrack needed for that time of the evening. Of course, I was wrong and Aunty Meredith/Woody McDonald know what they’re doing. Loretta Miller’s gutsy, powerful vocal was staggeringly impressive and suited the old timey yet upbeat songs while Lachlan Mitchell’s guitar and Hue Blane’s piano parts continually showed the strong talent within the group. The only lackluster moments were during Mountain Goat and Rock’n’Roll Graveyard, both of which are fairly generic sounding rock songs sung by saxophonist and bandleader Darcy McNulty.

Our shaded new home in Ringwood paid off when I awoke pleasantly late in the morning and surprisingly refreshed. We eased into the day from the campsite, enjoying the dreamy harmonies of The Dusty Millers travelling through the air, eventually staking out a couch to watch the mighty Olympia. Part of what makes Olympia so special is how complete her vision of her art is; from her costumes to the arrangements to the songs themselves, what is presented onstage is a wonderful balance of quirkiness and accessible pop music, in perhaps more than a slight nod to David Bowie.

For the majority of the songs the rhythm section drove the arrangements, while the guitar, keys and backing vocals, all of which were often layered in reverb, never overplayed, helping to create a sense of space and a perfect bed for her voice. A cover of TV On The Radio’s Wolf Like Me went down well, but it was Self Talk, the Tomorrow Never Knows-sounding title track of her album that stole the show, loaded with more hooks than you could point a fish at.

You can always count on Aunty Meredith to introduce you to acts that have somehow flown under your radar and this year Confidence Man were just that. Their upbeat and updated take on the UK break beat sound of the early 90s was just the sort of lift the crowd needed at that point in the afternoon, and soon everybody was on their feet, stretching their tender dance muscles.

Billy Davis & The Good Lords were one of the highlights of the whole weekend, and one suspects that more people will be familiar with their name very soon. Led by songwriter and bandleader Davis from behind his keyboard, every piece of the band was explicitly funky and smoothly soulful, from the flautist to the three vocalists to the rapper – it was a tightly wound combined effort. It’s a testament to Davis’ skills that such a still relatively new band could sound so professional and complete, these guys are definitely ones to check out if you haven’t already.

Chain & The Gang were fairly fun, but soon proved repetitive with much of their basic garage rock’n’roll – delivered with a New York Dolls-like attitude – sounding very similar. Frontman Ian Svenonius’ theatricality was amusing at first, but soon overshadowed the music itself until it felt like there was as much song introductions as songs.

Orb more than made up for this with a powerful set of 70s riff-based heavy rock. As the trio weaved through different sections, the fuzzed out bass and wah guitar often followed each, pulling syncopated stops like punctuated remarks, while the thick reverb on the vocal complimented the heaviness. Basically, if you’re going to go for a Black Sabbath sound, this is how you should do it, and Orb pulled it off beautifully.

Teenage Fanclub received a big crowd and their poppy 90s guitar rock proved very pleasant, their jangly guitars and lumbering pace recalling Pavement at times, but with lovely Byrds-like harmonies. The Concept and Sparky’s Dream were highlights that were both greeted with many boots being raised.

Taking advantage of a 25 minute break in programming, we regrouped and headed over to Inspiration Point to catch an incredible sunset. Upon arriving we found a full sunset party already in progress, with many revelers dancing and saluting our orbitary progress, with the sun even getting a boot or two.

Back in the Sup’ Remi had the crowd eating out of his hands, the work that he and producer/percussionist Sensible J have put in over the last few years evident in their confident and hook-laden performance. The Melbourne rapper kept the energy up, even bringing out Sampa the Great for their collaborative single For Good.

The Peep Tempel returned to the Amphitheatre victorious, having stolen the show with a mid-afternoon slot at Meredith in 2015, the trio took to the stage for an 8:45 headline spot to much applause. Blake Scott’s vocal diversity is truly impressive, utilising his lower register in several of the verses before raising in volume and good old fashioned punk attitude during the choruses, such as on highlights Ray Gun and of course the inevitable unifying moment of their anthem, Carol. It was a ridiculously tight performance from a classic Australian band.

Speaking of classics and unifying moments, everyone knew what they were in for with Neil Finn, and he certainly did not disappoint. Sounding effortlessly unchanged by the years, Finn’s band this time around consisted of Crowded House’s Nick Seymour, as well as guitarist Dan Kelly and son Elroy Finn behind the drum kit. Starting off with a stripped back version of Private Universe, the intent was clear that this would be a greatest hits set that picked from throughout Finn’s catalogue, including the Split Enz numbers I Got You and Message to My Girl. Soon enough everyone had their arms around each other, singing Don’t Dream It’s Over and basking in the genuinely warm feeling emanating en masse throughout the Sup’, before closing with Better Be Home Soon.

That would have been a hard act to follow for anyone, but The Specials were unperturbed, even dedicating a song to Finn at one point. Kicking off with Ghost Town, the reformed group pulled out the majority of their classic ska/pop tunes with a big, full sound that seemed to round out some of the punky edges of their original recordings. A lot of people seemed unfamiliar with many of the songs, until A Message To You, Rudy, Gangsters, and Monkey Man had them on their feet.

Wax’o Paradiso kicked off the DJ portion of the night, meaning it was time for some serious dancing. The group specialise in a very funky take on 70s disco, backed with a heavy dance beat and some well placed percussion – this was heavy, soulful stuff.

Pilotwings kept the vibes going, layering ambient sounds underneath heavy synth basslines and beats, but there was a reason why Harold was selected to close out the party at 4:35am. Kicking off with the theme song from Round The Twist, Harold was determined to get our attention and did so with a DJ set that moved quickly into some fairly intense techno beats that soon saw some late entry boots being raised. Before finishing, he brought out five body-suited dancers to carry out some choreographed moves, which was an appreciated touch.

All good things must eventually end, so we returned to Ringwood, tired but full of joy at seeing another Golden Plains successfully closed.

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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