We may have just had our Splendour highlight, and Splendour hasn’t started yet. The Great Northern Hotel hosted the pre-party last night, to both international A-Listers and festival punters who couldn’t wait till the Friday kick off. Appearances from Harts, Methyl Ethel, The Kills and The Avalanches rounded up a pre-party that didn’t disappoint.
After early day appearances at Bluesfest, Groovin’ the Moo, Mountain Sounds and now Splendour, it seems to be a new, unspoken rule of Australian festivals that you bring out Harts in order to kickstart the day with a jolt of energy. This was certainly the case at the Splendour pre-party last night, and after a few strums of his cream coloured guitar, Byron’s Great Northern was already buzzing with energy. Joined by only a drummer and backing tracks (controlled by Harts via synth) all attention was on the guitarist’s incredible skills which didn’t disappoint. Strutting around, dropping down to the stage, playing guitar behind his head, the man is a true rock star in the making. New single, ‘Power’ was particularly impressive and shows that there’s bigger things set to come.
Perth fuzz centric Methyl Ethel followed, and the fuzz was set to maximum. Catchy choruses and hooks were occasionally washed out by the amount of feedback coming from the hazy amps, but given the Perth psych scene it was most probably on purpose. In saying that, their sound didn’t get to be soaked up by first time listeners as well as fans who had recordings to go off. If you were a Methyl Ethel-head and convinced your mate to come, they may still be undecided. Resembling sleepy pirates, the three-piece’s set became a lot clearer by the end as the dial was again turned up.
The Kills were next on the bill and if you’re familiar with the duo, you know it’s going to be intense. Thoughts of ‘Alison Mosshart is the greatest frontwoman’ quickly changed to ‘Alison Mosshart is the greatest frontperson’. She whips and hits with every smack of a drum and chord that guitar-god Jamie Hince plucks. Her long limbs and exaggerated flails resemble the air-vamped blow up dolls you see at car sales, but Mosshart isn’t mocked. The crowd were in her control from opening track ‘No Wow’. It’s a contagious energy that could trigger your grandparents to head-smash like it was Woodstock ’69. New tunes from June album, Ash & Ice made up the majority of the setlist, but you would’ve thought they were only playing classics. The on-stage camaraderie and interactions with the front-row-faithful evoked mayhem. To be honest, The Kills could play The Wiggles best of and still impress.
And then the moment we were all waiting for, and the reason that the pre-party had become such hot property, The Avalanches’ big comeback. With no phones allowed in the room and knowing nothing about what their set would entail, anticipation and curiosity couldn’t have been higher. Yet somehow, just as Wildflower hit the crazy expectations set for it, their live performance lived up to the room’s incredible expectations.
The live performance consisted of five musicians; original members Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi on guitar and decks respectively, plus a live drummer, female vocalist and male rapper. Between them they pulled off the impossible feat of recreating those two, sample-laden masterpieces and translating them into a live setting. The chemistry and excitement of the two original members made the evening feel very special, and they seemed genuinely stoked to be back on stage.
Set highlights like ‘Since I Left You’, ‘Subways’ and ‘The Noisy Eater’ showed how well the two musicians work together after so many years, with each taking turns to recreate the complex samples from the album, whether it be Di Blasi playing kazoo or Chater treating us to disco-guitar.
Their new female vocalist also fit into the group perfectly, with her diverse style and range helping to successfully cover all the different and varied vocal samples across the tracks without requiring an army of guest vocalists. Despite rocking a hair-do reminsicent of a young Danny Brown, their new rapper seemed somewhat unprepared for the gig (perhaps sixteen years isn’t enough time…) and had to read to lyrics of lead single ‘Frankie Sinatra’ off a phone. The song still evoked a massive response from the crowd, with excited punters outrapping the onstage performer anyway and bopping up and down to the tune’s fun-house style instrumentations.
The only real negative of the show was, unexpectedly, a rendition of ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ which fell a little flat. A mashup with Gnarls Barkleys‘ ‘Crazy’ seemed like a good idea on paper but in reality made for a cluttered performance where everything got a bit lost in the mix, and the manic energy of the studio recording became too overwhelming. I hate to say it, but the crowd probably would’ve preferred it if the band had just plugged in an iPhone and played the original track from start to finish. Props to the band for still attempting the sort of experimentation that makes their albums so innovative, and other cracks at this playfulness, such as dropping in samples of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ worked a charm.
What made the set particularly special was how well the crowd reacted and how passionately they welcomed the band back to our stages. They danced to every song, sung every weird vocal sample (“You’re crazy in the coconut”) and walked out of the room with huge smiles on their faces. The Avalanches are back, and they remain as innovative and energetic as ever. Bring on the proper Splendour set…