The queue snaked around the fence-line of the Bendigo showgrounds. Everyone was eager to get inside and impatiently waiting to file through the narrow entrance. Above the chatter of the crowd I could hear the earlier bands. Neon Love, Spoon and Muph & Plutonic had already played when I arrived at Groovin’ the Moo, the travelling music festival that has been rolling into regional towns since 2005. Bendigo was on the map this year for only the second time, and tickets sold out for the occasion. This was an all-ages festival, the site spilt by a barrier designating the licensed area.
As I cruised through the crowd towards the twin stages, Kisschasy were playing their last few songs. Opinions Won’t Keep You Awake garnered the largest audience response as everyone sang along, their hands clapping frantically above their heads.
The soft, girlish voice of Lisa Mitchell was a contrast to Kisschasy but received even more crowd enthusiasm, especially when she played Stevie and Neapolitan Dreams. A full band including a trumpet, a violin and a double bass accompanied the diminutive singer. However, when her set finished and she hadn’t played Clean White Lies, Wine Lips or even Coin Laundry, I heard aghast moans of disappointment throughout the audience.
British India followed, their guitarist wearing a thick black hoody in the warm spring sun. In the background, a giant bungee ball threw people into the sky. They closed with This Aint No Fuckin’ Disco, and I could see t-shirts with this slogan peppered through the crowd.
It wasn’t long before the breezy, summery music of Miami Horror swept through the festival. Some girls sat on their boyfriends’ shoulders throughout the set, waving their arms erratically in the air. Miami Horror instigator Benjamin Plant played numerous instruments, switching with Daniel Whitechurch between keyboard and guitar. As the singer climbed the stage scaffolding, his big, dark sunnies shielded him from the intense golden light of the sinking sun. Sometimes was their closing song and again, the crowd went nuts.
Spoon played next but my aching stomach led me to the food stalls. Reasonably priced (for a festival) burgers and schnitzel rolls were available at stalls in both the licensed and unlicensed areas. Thank god, I was beginning to starve. While I was away from the crowd I also made my way to the licensed area for a drink. With only one entrance, it was a bit of a struggle getting in and out of the area, which only became worse as the crowds increased into the night.
The sun had almost set completely when Tegan and Sara made their way onto the stage. They came with multiple guitars and played by far the best set of the day. Playing the majority of songs from either The Con or their newest album Sainthood, it was songs like Back In Your Head, Nineteen and Hell that received the best response. I, on the other hand, just went nuts for their whole set…
After Walking With A Ghost, which people screamed the words to, Tegan (or it could have been Sara, they’re almost identical and from the distance I was at, it was difficult to tell) expressed her gratitude. “We love you almost as much as where we come from. It’s a very close second,” she said to us. For the next song, we had a roll to play. “You want to sing this part by yourself?” she said. “OK, I’ll start you off but you have to sing with everything you have otherwise I’ll look ridiculous for letting you sing!” So the audience sang the chorus of Where Did The Good Go. They closed with a track from Sainthood that they apologised in advance for, just in case they forgot the lyrics. They didn’t.
Grinspoon was a popular act with some guys in the audience jumping on each other’s shoulders and crowd surfing. Chemical Heart got the best response from the crowd but again, once they walked off stage there were cries from the audience. Apparently they hadn’t played Just Ace.
Before Empire of the Sun stalked on stage, it was obvious that this was going to be a spectacle, not just a set. The roadies carrying instruments on stage were wearing gasmasks and were followed by dancers wearing shiny blue Lycra bodysuits and weird head pieces. When Luke Steele finally came on stage (Nick Littlemore had recently left the band) he was wearing silver armour and an industrialised American Indian headdress to match.
During the set, the dancers had numerous costume changes, each one stranger than the next. Steele also changed costume a couple of times and it as watching these theatrical aspects of the show that retained my interest in the set. Walking on a Dream was the closer before we turned our attentions to the other stage.
Vampire Weekend seemed to be the highlight of the festival for most people. Their stage was decorated with crystal chandeliers and a giant replication of their album cover. They played all of the requisite hits including Campus, One (Blake’s Got a New Face) and Cousins.
Singer Ezra’s blue checked shirt glowed in the coloured stage lights as the chandeliers above flashed in time with the music. Some people in the crowd seemed excruciatingly excited as they jumped around and screamed for their favourite band.
As Daniel Johns’ familiar voice pierced the cold night air, I was flooded with nostalgia. One of my favourite bands when I was 16, it felt like nothing had changed except the length of the singer’s hair. However, they did play new songs, including Straight Lines, their chart-topping hit from a couple of years ago. Having not played a show for two and a half years, they seemed pretty tight although, they do have decades of experience together.
“We got evicted from our flat today,” yelled Johns at one point. “Apparently our neighbours don’t like loud noise.” And then Freak blasted through the still night. As the last chords died down, Johns hung his guitar from the microphone, ensuring the sounds lingered as the cold punters made their way out of the showgrounds. I was glad to reach the car, pump the heater and begin the ling drive home.
This review was first published in Beat magazine.