Saturday at Peter Lehmann Winery was not your regular Day On The Green.
While some of these events lend themselves to sipping a Riesling on the picnic blanket, getting softly inebriated as the pleasant tunes drift overhead, this one was an unrelenting assault on the ears. And the crowd loved it.
Resembling what could have been a Big Day Out line-up from the nineties (although these five acts never actually shared the same billing on that festival circuit), the audience revelled in memories of these glory days of Australian indie-rock. And despite having aged a little, all the acts were in fine form: no stale renditions, delivering celebratory performances that demonstrated what made them such great bands in the first place.
The Meanies perfectly set the tone for the day with their savage punk rock drawing everyone to attention: this was all in from the start, certainly more than ‘10% Weird’ and 100% committed. Frontman, Link, stalked the stage, throwing his body around and howling with all the vigour that was there a quarter of century ago. Many of the bands later in the day would mention the influence The Meanies had been in their nascent years, so it was appropriate to begin proceedings with a seminal act who were pioneers of this era of Australian music.
Jebediah followed up looking as youthful as ever. Kevin Mitchell quipped how he enjoyed being the youngest act on the tour, but he must also have discovered the secret to eternal youth, looking like he hasn’t aged a day since the band’s breakthrough. It was unusual to have everyone up and singing at such at early part of the of the day, but renditions of ‘Leaving Home’ and ‘Animal’ in the first part of the set had most of the crowd on their feet in energetic appreciation.
Throughout their slot, Mitchell chatted amicably with the crowd, while the band was in top form, delivering terrific renditions of songs from across their career: the more recent ‘She’s Like a Comet’ sounding just a good as those earlier hits. It was all great fun and the minutes flew by, the rapid-fire tunes culminating with ‘Fall Down’ and ‘Telfon’.
By the time Spiderbait hit the stage, the crowd were already loose: just ripe for ring-master Kram to harness the energy in the natural amphitheatre, holding court from behind a monster drum kit (looking and sounding awesome with its double kick drum) and occasionally wandering out between songs. He promised and delivered a celebration, with the power three-piece whipping up a frenzy through a parade of upbeat hits including ‘Calypso’, ‘Buy Me A Pony’ and ‘Fucken Awesome’ (which was all the sweeter knowing it had been banned in Perth).
One of the best moments of the day came when Kram tore up the Day On The Green rulebook, issuing a command to those in the expensive seats at the front (usually the scene of more refined behaviour) to hold their chairs in the air for the duration of ‘Old Man Sam’. It was a perfect moment of cheeky rock’n’roll anarchy. Earlier in the day security guards had toiled bravely, attempting to stop people from dancing in the aisles – something now rendered impossible given there were no aisles. Spiderbait also produced the cover of the day, with Janet English delivering a flawless German rendition of ’99 Luftballoons’. Rounding off with a searing rendition of ‘Black Betty’, Spiderbait had brought the party.
The setting sun provided the perfect atmospherics for the start of the You Am I set. Mining a delightful soul vein these days, the outfit were augmented with brass, woodwind and two backing singers, and took to the stage in matching baby blue suits. In this guise, ‘Two Hands’ from last year’s Porridge and Hotsauce sounded fantastic, rendered in its full glory, while ‘Heavy Heart’ was an absolute highlight: always such a beautiful ballad, this took on a whole new bittersweet aura with a motown-style makeover. Meanwhile, the trumpet and sax lent real authority to the set opener, ‘Baby Clothes’. It was also an appropriate style for a performance dedicated to Sharon Jones, with whom the band shared a connection through Daptone Records where last year’s album was recorded.
As with many of the day’s acts, there were some great covers, including ‘Nutbush City Limits’, proving Tim Rogers’ assertion that rock’n’roll is dance music. Rogers is surely one of Australia’s best frontmen, a magnetic personality drawing you into the performance. Throughout the show he drank straight from his bottle of Barossa white and passionately ruminated on the importance of the local music scene, with a simple message for the punters to get out to more gigs. The point was well made: it’s all very well to turn up once a year to shows like this, but the next You Am I is probably playing the Grace Emily or the Cranker this week and struggling to find its audience. Greater support will help foster these acts for the future and, as Rogers pointed out: ‘If only five other people show up, your chances of sleeping with the drummer improve exponentially.’ So everybody wins. By the time the band delivered a rapturous version of ‘Berlin Chair’, the decision had been made to bring the drink purchase restrictions down early (only two drinks per customer and no bottles), an indication of how the crowd were faring.
Something for Kate finished off the evening with a display of pure power; the pace might have been a little slower in comparison to the previous acts, but the band delivered an awesome wall of sound, beginning with a face-melting rendition of ‘Captain (Million Miles An Hour)’. Given the celebration nineties rock, it was appropriate to open with the standout track from their 1997 debut LP. And for the next hour or so, this intensity never faltered. It’s doubtful the Barossa has ever heard anything remotely as loud as the chorus from ‘Star Crossed Citizens’ – probably best to check if there are any grapes left on the vines in Tanunda. The atmospheric SFK compositions were the perfect soundtrack to a balmy evening in this beautiful setting, with a career-spanning performance covering material from each of the band’s six LPs plus a terrific REM cove.
Paul Dempsey explained how the band had spent the afternoon sampling the delights of the Barossa and were well lubricated by the time they hit the stage. Some might have come expecting melancholic introspection from the brooding frontman, but Dempsey was in rock star mode, prowling the big stage with his axe and chatting freely between songs; it was a stellar performance, as it was from the whole ensemble. The scintillating ‘Electricity’ brought the program to a close, no encore needed: after five incredible acts everything had been left on the stage and the crowd were spent.
Commemorating its 400th show (marked with a cake and a singalong in the dinnertime break), A Day On The Green has certainly come a long way in the last fifteen years, presenting quality acts in some terrific locations. Saturday was also a celebration and a reminder of what can happen when we nurture and support the live music scene, as we did in the nineties. Hopefully many in the crowd will remember Tim Rogers’ words and get out to support an unheralded local band in the coming days, because we’d just witnessed what can come of this.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Pictures by Libby Parker