I think we were about half an hour into our drive from East Malvern when I first heard it said. “After Golden Plains, I really thought the Supernatural Amphitheatre is the happiest place on earth.” This became a bit of a motto for me over the weekend, in what would be my second visit to the hallowed grounds, but my first for the Meredith Music Festival. Having attended Golden Plains earlier this year on a bit of a whim to see Belle & Sebastian, I was highly curious to see how the bigger sister would hold up.
Being nowhere near as fussy as some of the other campers (I don’t think I’ve even been to Bush Camp in two trips) we hit the road at 9am, with 8 people and two 4WDs loaded to the brim. Without the use of my rearview mirror, there were a few hairy moments leaving the suburbs, but nothing my superb driving skills couldn’t handle. After an exceedingly long wait to enter the grounds, and an eventful period setting up our tents and gazebo, we cracked a few tinnies of Squire Golden Ale and enjoyed a few hours soaking up the South Pines ambience.
I had a particular eagerness to see the opening act, Melbourne boys King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Despite never seeing them live, I enjoyed their latest EP, but more importantly, they were likely to be one of the few bands of the festival I would witness while at least partially sober. For a band of their young stature, they did not seem daunted by the magic of playing the Amphitheatre. With members from both Melbourne and Geelong, the band seemed honoured to be able to perform. In fact, looking back now King Gizzard were the first of many Victorian bands that put on amazing performances over the weekend. It’s the magic of the festival. After playing their up-tempo surf-punk for about 45 minutes to a largely satisfied crowd, the band finished with a brief rendition of I Wanna Be Your Dog, sung with the microphone inside the singer’s mouth to get the desired effect.
After catching some Zs and having some more brews, we returned to the Amphitheatre slightly intoxicated (or in my case, highly intoxicated) armed with a CamelBak full of Sangria. Kurt Vile & The Violators have been one of my favourite discoveries of the year, but I was a little disappointed with the set. Rather than sticking with the melancholy crooning on his recordings, Kurt flicked between distorted and acoustic guitar,and the songs became a little muddy and lost in translation. The fact that it was still a good set just goes to show just how much I loved his recordings.
Insane in the Brain was voted as the ‘clean-up’ song for the festival. This meant that I spent the next half an hour quoting The Simpsons to anybody who would listen.
“Do you guys know Insane in the Brain?”
“Urgh, we mostly play classical. But we’ll give it a shot”
I wish they’d recorded a version with the London Symphony Orchestra, cause the excerpt from that episode is mad.
But then we were back at it, and somehow we were standing at the front, centre of the stage for Explosions in the Sky. In the past year, I’ve become a huge fan of Post Rock, thoroughly enjoying Mogwai’s set at Splendour and Explosions in the Sky’s latest release Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is one of my favourite albums of the year. Needless to say I was pretty excited for their set. As the sun was setting on the first day, their tuneful anthems caressed the amphitheatre with Postcards from 1952 being my personal favourite.
After a few too many drinks, I think I made it down to Barbarion but cannot comment on the rest of the evening.
I awoke with a surprisingly clear head given my failings the night before, and headed down for breakfast and the Ballarat Municipal Brass Band. A fixture of the festival every year, the group really epitomizes the local atmosphere of the festival. Eating satay noodles, listening to Brass band cover versions of The Final Countdown and snoozing in the morning sun was a perfect start to the second day.
OFF! absolutely ripped through their afternoon set, blasting classic punk rock across the overcast festival. Interspersed with bite sized political diatribe the super-group lived up to their well-earned reputation. Some of their power however was lost in such a large area, their sound echoing across the sleepy afternoon amphitheatre.
In the lead up to the festival, a few people mentioned that I had to see Graveyard Train. After dominating their morning slot at Golden Plains earlier this year (for which they received a well-deserved ‘booting’) I forsook my afternoon drinking and caught their set. And I’m incredibly glad I did. Armed with a washboard, a chain and a kettle drum, the only thing the band was missing was a bottle of moonshine. But the odd arrangement worked to brilliant effect, as the whole crowd was jumping around. For the second time in the year, the band received a ‘booting’, a tradition which has now moved from Golden Plains to the older sister.
We sat in the Pink Flamingo Bar and drunk the most manly drinks we’ve ever had as the jazzy tunes of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears blasted their noise. But our conversation was too engrossing to pay proper attention. Discussion turned to the group that would be performing later that night, The Juan Pablo Family Hour. Researched via Google showed there was no group, and that it was a secret duo. The Avalanches were shouted, as were Tenacious D, and we started a Presets rumour. But we wouldn’t know what it would be until later that evening.
The night began with Mudhoney. An interesting choice for Meredith, these seminal punk rockers can lay claim to being one of the more influential bands of all time. A favourite of Kurt Cobain, their musical stylings were inspirational to Nirvana. Needless to say, we were pretty excited with for their set. Although they are older now, the showed no sign of weariness as they belted out a hit laden set, including In ‘N’ Out Of Grace, Suck You Dry and Touch Me I’m Sick. It’s no wonder they were such an inspiration and the crowd respected their entire set with one of the rougher moshes of the festival.
As our group dispersed, the second 80s act took to the stage. If Mudhoney were an interesting choice, Icehouse were just strange. Their music is on the edge of corny and cool, with many people choosing the former. I believe the latter though, and was quite excited to see Iva Davies perform. Playing hits like Crazy, Electric Blue and We Can Get Together in a frenetic opening showed that the band still had their youthful exuberance. Perhaps recognising that the majority of the remaining viewers were older, the band dropped the tempo for Don’t Believe Anymore, before finishing off the set with Great Southern Land. Although the sound lacked balance at times, I found them incredibly inspiring.
As the rest of the campsite filed into the amphitheatre for Cut Copy, the anticipation increased. It proved to be worth it, as the Victorians put on an amazing show. As I stated above, they recognised just how special Meredith is and performed as though they were having the time of their lives. Out There On The Ice and Hearts On Fire are now staples in their set, and Zonoscope tracks Pharaohs & Pyramids, Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution and Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat are on another level when heard live. But it was Lights & Music and set-closer Need You Know that were truly magical in the night-sky.
But finally, Grinderman took to the stage. Warren Ellis is Meredith. More commonly appearing as The Dirty Three in the Amphitheatre, his band with Australian music icon Nick Cave, made their first appearance. In what we would later find out to be Grinderman’s last performance, the band performed hits from both of their albums spanning across the last five years. From the opener Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars), Cave stunned his adoring followers, regularly mounting the barriers and shouting lyrics using his sultry voice. Kitchenette was a treat, and my favourite live track from the band in the two times I’ve seen them, but after encores and the grand finale Grinderman, Cave confirmed “that’s it for Grinderman. It’s over. ” Hopefully this means more Bad Seeds.
Despite heavy cloud cover, the festival went ahead with their Lunar Eclipse festivities the highlight being “the national anthem of the moon”, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of The Heart. It’s been in my head for 10 days now.
As we waited for The Presets to take the stage (I now believed my own rumour), it was a little disappointing to only have Yacht Club DJs come out, by in hindsight, they did the job perfectly.
We failed to see any bands on the last day, the urge for sleep and recovery overwhelming all, before we left the “happiest place on earth.” At least until March 🙂