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Rain, shine and 'Better Be Home Soon': here are all the highs and lows of Golden Plains XI

Written by
Rebecca O'Malley

With gusto, we returned to the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre for another round of music and magic.

Making tracks through Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre early on Saturday morning, it became clear that very little had changed. Sure, The Meredith Eye looked a little smaller than usual, but the regular fittings were all ready and present. True to form, the One and Only Stage reigned supreme over the untimely clashes of other festivals and the Pink Flamingo tent was gearing up to keep us well-watered throughout. This year’s line-up was typically spectacular and inclusive, showcasing a melting pot of gender, genre and decade, as well as sizeable slots for local artists.

Of course, there were the classic set-backs: we’d waited 45 minutes for breakfast at Hungry Jacks and crucial party supplies had been forgotten in the heat of our departure. Phone signal was a distant memory, the air was painfully muggy and we’d hardly slept, but none of that mattered. With excited anticipation, it was time to get stuck into Golden Plains XI.

Melbourne five-piece Ausmuteants kicked things off with a bratty, angst fuelled punk rock set on Saturday afternoon, closely followed by Margaret Glaspy’s dulcet melodies, gritty vocals and low-fi guitar rhythms (insider tip: she’s one to keep an eye on). Kurt Vile carried us into sunset mode, delivering a much anticipated but seemingly lacking solo performance. Without the support of his backing band, the Violators, Vile failed to leave a lasting hook and chatter rose above his gentle finger picking.

Chilean composer and soundscape artist, Nicolas Jaar, easily gave the filthiest set of the weekend. Jarr dropped down tempo bass lines layered with complex synth tracks, building into a haunting expanse of minimal precision. It was sublime. Filthy and sublime. His was a tough act to follow, but Melbourne’s own Total Giovanni rose to the task with relish. Their hyper-sexualised, Italo-disco tunes drew in a vast crowd of liberal body-shakers and carried the good mood into the scattered showers. It’s hard to believe that these guys have only released four songs.

And so, it was Sunday. The rain had poured and washed away the cobwebs of the night before. We dozed in the sun and sauntered through a jangle-heavy set from Glasgow’s Teenage Fanclub, whose dreamy pop tunes offered a welcome soundtrack to an afternoon snooze.

As evening set in and the fairy lights continued in warm rotation, we greeted our beloved Neil Finn. He carried us through heartfelt renditions of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, as well as Split Enz classics ‘Message To My Girl’ and ‘I Got You’. The crowd basked in full nostalgic glory and roared in agreement as Finn stuck two fingers up to his curfew and rounded off with the Crowded House hit, ‘Better Be Home Soon’. Warm, comforting, monumental; Neil Finn’s performance stood for the very essence of Golden Plains.

Walking from our campsite to the stage, my friends and I discussed the credentials of ska. “It’s just the worst”, said one. “It’s such a hodge podge genre”, said another. Following Neil Finn is no easy feat, and while the Specials gave the headline slot a good old go, their efforts were largely futile. The crowd paled in comparison to Finn’s and while classics such as ‘A Message To You, Rudy’ and ‘Ghost Town’ were appreciated, it was hard to shake off the impression that the old boys’ relevance had been well overstated.

The Specials offered a clunky segway into the early morning DJ sets. Saturday night had seen scattered showers and power cuts, and Wax’O Paradiso’s artfully muddled cauldron of disco, funk, soul and bass certainly made up for lost time. Injecting a welcome dose of disco into the collective consciousness of the ‘Sup, it’s clear that the much-adored Melbourne DJ troupe can heal even the deepest of wounds.

Golden Plains XI was a special one, in that it was the first since the passing of Jack Nolan, sheep farmer, father to festival co-founder, Chris Nolan, and an all-round good sport. His memory was honoured by performers and punters alike, and by Monday morning, an immense placard was crowded with grateful tributes and well wishes. Golden Plains is a beautiful beast; a gift that keeps on giving. To dear Jack: thank you and goodnight.

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