Australian Guitar - - Axes in Action -

Its 18th edi­tion sell­ing out in a mat­ter of mere sec­onds (par for the course at this point), Splen­dour In The Grass con­tin­ues to be Aus­tralia’s big­gest and most di­verse mu­sic fes­ti­val, with a lineup fo­cus­ing equally on the youn­gins des­per­ate to prove their might (see: Stella Don­nelly, West The­bar­ton, No Mono, Soc­cer Mommy...) and the legacy acts we all know and love (Al­bert Ham­mond Jnr, Franz Fer­di­nand, An­gus & Ju­lia Stone – even Ken­drick La­mar is worth point­ing out if you hap­pen to dab­ble in the rap world).

Per­haps moreso than ever, too, the fes­ti­val’s 2018 in­car­na­tion was a whirl­wind of six-string serendip­ity – even on the main­stage, rock and punk acts drew some of the wildest crowds of the week­end, many a mosh pit vir­gin de­flow­ered. We could fill a whole is­sue with sto­ries of all the first class acts we caught, but for now, let’s just riff on the cream of the crop…


Sans the part where she an­nounced it was the last in her de­but al­bum’s tour­ing cy­cle, it was hard not to crack a smile dur­ing the Mel­bourne slacker-pop queen’s day­time set. Lahey her­self was in spir­its as high as most of her crowd, ev­ery buzzing chord packed with ar­dour and ev­ery pseudo-sar­cas­tic quip burst­ing with life.

I Love You Like A Brother cuts were all met with rap­tur­ous fan­fare, of course, but it was a cheeky Avril Lav­i­gne cover that re­ally ce­mented Lahey’s set as a high­light.


The ever-cheer­ful in­die plucker reaped the only stand­ing ova­tion we caught at Splen­dour ’18 (gifted to the jaw-drop­ping ren­di­tion of her 2017 hit and un­of­fi­cial mar­riage equal­ity an­them, “Not Worth Hid­ing”). It was well de­served, too, with Alex Lin play­ing some of the most hyp­no­tis­ing – and im­mensely cru­cial, top­i­cally – tunes of the fes­ti­val. Her de­but al­bum is ex­pected to land in early 2019; we’re ex­pect­ing to see her on much, much big­ger stages once it does.


Words could not be­gin to do jus­tice the tran­scen­den­tal chaos that Alice Ivy yields. Her imag­i­na­tion was bound by noth­ing – not even her in­stru­ments, it seemed, as she used a weath­er­worn Tele to bust out quirky elec­tro hooks. The genre-bend­ing dy­namo treated a crowd as po­larised as it was ab­sorbed to a spate of cuts from her de­but LP, I’mDream­ing, which lasted 45 min­utes but felt no longer than ten.


The mes­meris­ing Mel­bour­nite is mak­ing 2018 her bitch, all three of her re­leased tracks met with an on­slaught of ac­claim. Those – and plenty more – were all given their due spin in the spot­light, un­re­leased bop “Pasta” and the in­stant clas­sic “Slow Mover” two par­tic­u­lar stand­outs in a sea of top notch tunes. Her sound was driven by res­o­nant strums slathered in re­verb, vo­cals flour­ished with a soul­ful and sul­try hum that cut in­hu­manly deep with ev­ery poetic line.


Wa­ter is wet, fire is hot, and the “Blood Side Out” duo made a tent full of pun­ters swoon their hearts out on Satur­day night – no sur­prises here, re­ally. The blues leg­ends played to each other’s strengths in spades, Harper rock­ing a fa­mil­iar acous­tic fuzz and Musselwhite downright tear­ing shit up on the har­mon­ica. Most of the setlist was pulled from their col­lab­o­ra­tive GetUp! al­bum, and we have to ad­mit, we were im­pressed with how many Splen­dour­go­ers knew what they were in for.


Syn­ony­mous with LA hard­core, the riff-split­ting five­some brought ev­ery ounce of its sig­na­ture gruff and gory charm to an at­mos­phere that, in all hon­esty, doesn’t suit it one bit. Joby Ford and Ken Horne were both downright de­struc­tive with their axes, but the real win­ner here was scream­lord Matt Caugh­thran, whose shiny head spent a bulk of The Bronx’s hour­long show­case be­ing knocked around in the pit. God help the se­cu­rity hired to wran­gle their im­pend­ing headline tour.


She’s a sta­ple in the cur­rent league of Triple J stal­warts, and right­fully so: Ge­or­gia Flipo’s sharp and ec­cen­tric pop-rock slap­pers washed over an early-arvo crowd with an avalanche of good vibes, our hero­ine bounc­ing at will be­tween keys, gui­tars and a live-an­i­mated drum kit (named Jeromeo) with not a lyric off-beat. When don­ning her gui­tar, Filipo was no mere heat­seeker with a few bang­ing beats: she was an icon in the mak­ing, more than deserving of a spot along­side the greats.


This was the kind of set that those of us lucky enough to wit­ness it will take sto­ries of it to the grave. The hour­long jaunt was de­fined by its the­atri­cal­ity, live strings and dy­namic pro­duc­tion bring­ing some­thing worth star­ing at to ev­ery inch of the stage. Of course, most eyes were just locked on front­man Dave Le’au­pepe, a true master of all three skills nec­es­sary in de­vel­op­ing an icon: a riv­et­ing voice, a pow­er­ful strum and some slick, suave and god­damn sexy dance moves.


Blend­ing tight math rock stylings with a ven­omous punk at­ti­tude, the UK hel­lions were hell­bent on mak­ing first-day pun­ters go men­tal in the pit. And de­spite their stage time be­ing lopped in half by tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, they pulled it off with un­de­ni­able aplomb thanks to scorchers from this year’s Know­ing What You Know Now LP.


For a band whose songs are so of­ten steeped in melan­choly, the in­die-rock rav­agers played with a pow­er­ful en­ergy. Han­nah Joy was a force to be reck­oned with, the front­woman lay­ing re­morse­lessly into her Tele as she tore through vis­ceral and im­pas­sioned vo­cal har­monies. Her soul-numb­ing shreds were met with a creamy twang from co-gui­tarist Tim Fitz (also her hus­band), the pair form­ing a rhythm sec­tion that was im­pos­si­ble not to shake your butt to.


Four years MIA, the world­beat mas­ters made their come­back one for the ages, an ul­tra-var­ied setlist of hits span­ning all three of their al­bums spurring By­ron into a flurry of shaking hips. The chem­istry be­tween front­man Ezra Koenig and tour­ing ax­e­man Brian Robert Jones was all kinds of cap­ti­vat­ing, the pair trad­ing noo­dles aplenty with the nat­u­ral en­thu­si­asm of schoolkids trad­ing Poké­mon cards.


New cuts like “No Apol­ogy” and “Labrador” (plus a clas­sic Pow­derfin­ger jam with the one and only Bernard Fan­ning) proved that the Bris­bane vibe-punk trail­blaz­ers have world dom­i­na­tion on their sights, front­woman Maz DeVita thrash­ing out the­atri­cal dance moves and heart-burst­ing bel­lows over a bat­tle­field of slick riffs from gui­tarists Chris An­to­lak and Ewan Birtwell. Though still rel­a­tively new to the scene, WAAX gelled with the vir­tu­os­ity of sta­dium fillers. Mark our words: one day they’re gonna headline this god­damn fes­ti­val.

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