Review: Splendour in the Grass
Empire of the Sun performs at Splendour in the Grass. Picture: Getty Images

FESTIVAL
Splendour in the Grass
North Byron Parklands, NSW
Friday, July 26-Sunday, July 28
REVIEW SIMON COLLINS

On the flight up from Sydney to Ballina on the New South Wales north coast, the young couple besides me debated whether to catch US/New Zealand rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra or white-hot Californian sister act Haim, whose sets clashed on day one of the 13th annual Splendour in the Grass.

"Do you want to see what's cool or what's good," the lass asked her fellow.

Turns out you can see both at Splendour, which made its debut on the weekend at the new North Byron Parklands venue, about half- an-hour-drive out of Byron Bay. Haim almost took the chocolates on Friday, turning out an immaculate set of syncopated rock and pop, which peaked with the hit singles Don't Save Me and Forever.

They were just shaded by Sydneysiders Boy & Bear, who unveiled smooth tunes from their second album Harlequin Dream, due out next week, and were then topped by totally cool and really, really good New York alt-rock gods TV on the Radio, who destroyed the main tent with their modern classic Wolf Like Me.

Mumford & Sons closed day one, with the hoedowns like Little Lion Man and I Will Wait prompting the majority of the 25,000-strong crowd to churn the ground in the Supertop into sludge.

The terrain was even muddier over on the GW McLennan tent, where You Am I performed their 1993 debut album Sound As Ever from go to whoa. The Aussie legends backed it up again on Sunday with a run through the 1995 follow-up Hi Fi Way. This was truly awesome, as was singer Tim Rogers' suspiciously unblemished white suit.

Saturday got off to a slow start, with 19-year-old Nottingham folk- rocker Jake Bugg and Melbourne stalwarts Something for Kate warming the early-arvo punters up on the main stage, while Aussies Cloud Control and Yanks Cold War Kids both failed to fire.

Luckily, Splendour has other options if the music isn't doing it for you, such as epic variety of food, including Yemeni and Cajun delights, as well as a karaoke bar.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, Sarah Blasko overcame an early sound hitch as Perth's Birds of Tokyo rocked the main stage. Texan cult ensemble the Polyphonic Spree tackled The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, only bested as a spectacle by the Barnraisers, a performance installation featuring Amish-ish folk conceived by WA artist Bennett Miller.

Saturday night peaked with Empire of the Sun's glorious pop, Bernard Fanning's adult contemporary pub rock and the sumptuous sounds of American indie-rockers the National.

Sunday kicked off with a bang, namely the bi-coastal rock of Florida's Surfer Blood and California's FIDLAR.

Warrnambool AC/DC acolytes Airbourne continued the riff-fest, emerging from behind their Marshall amp stacks to the Terminator theme tune before unleashing a bang-on set of Oz rock. They deserved a bigger crowd.

The big story of Splendour 2013 was Lorde, otherwise known as 16-year-old Kiwi songstress Ella Yelich-O'Connor, who was drafted in at the last minute when Sunday headliner, Frank Ocean, pulled out with damaged vocal chords. Her Triple J hit Royals was magic, as was the gorgeous Another Time, which closed Lorde's mightily impressive performance. A star is born.

Refusing to be overshadowed, the Rubens delivered a punchy set, before helium-voiced singer Michael Angelakos led Passion Pit through fan favourites Sleepyhead and Take a Walk. Iceland indie-folk outfit Of Monsters and Men seemed a little too fey to close the mammoth three-day event but the punters disagreed, flooding the Supertop to sing along to global smash Little Talks as rain tumbled down and people tried to remember where their tent was.

Phew. Three days, 80-plus bands and untold quantities of mud - Splendour in the Grass is undoubtedly Australia's answer to iconic UK festival Glastonbury. In a nutshell? Splendid.

The West Australian

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