Groovin The Moo 2017
Violent Soho / The Wombats / The Darkness / Milky Chance / Tash Sultana / The Smith Street Band
Maitland: Maitland Showground, Maitland 29/04/2017
Canberra: University Of Canberra, Canberra 07/05/2017
What little energy we had reserved after a triple-hit of K.Flay, Against Me! and Montaigne was put to good use when Melbourne punks The Smith Street Band rolled out, the mainstage crowds packed to the brim and beyond with those in the market for a good sadmosh. Rocking choice jams from their brand new frothfest, More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me, the four-piece spurred pit after pit, no time allotted for a breath in their 40-minute onslaught of blistering emotion and angst-tinged melody. Singalong stalwarts like “Death To The Lads" and "Surrender" gave lead axeman Lee Hartney a cue to steal the spotlight, mental runs and biting solos in no short order atop Wil Wagner's humble yells.
Wagner's own guitar playing was nothing to gloss over, though - the frontman shredded like no tomorrow on a '76 Stratocaster knock-off (which you can read about in AG #121), heart-on-sleeve hymns like the anthemic "Young Drunk" and stately "Shine" gushing through the festival grounds like a tsunami of enormous punk rhythms. Notable too is how much Wagner embraces the shift in atmosphere from theatre to field: The Smith Street Band didn't just lazily translate their normal club setlist to the outdoor stage. Every song they played was one that genuinely worked in a festival setting, which meant that every song they played was met with riotous acclaim from their sea of supporters. If they could just go ahead and play every festival in Australia from now on, that'd be swell.
Following a handful of laryngitis-inflicted show cancellations - including her appearance at Groovin in Maitland - it was particularly exciting to see Tash Sultana saunter casually onstage in Canberra. Still riding the skyward high of last year's Notion EP, Sultana had the focus of pretty much everyone in attendance: whether she was beatboxing to her heart's content, tearing out a mean guitar solo, slapping away on a bongo drum or pouring her soul into a softly sung verse, every scuzzy, psych-y loop dug us deeper and deeper in love. Such unrestricted freedom in her setup meant that improvisations were a common occurrence; new little tweaks and twangs in "Jungle" and "Big Smoke", for example, proved that even if you're totally burnt out on Sultana's records, she's totally worth making the pilgrimage out to see live.
As the sun began to set and the beers began to flow, both Maitland and Canberra were buzzing with good vibes. Sure, it might have been the whole "festival atmosphere" thing, but credit is at least partially due to German folk-poppers Milky Chance, whose sunset showcase saw not a second of dullness. Doughy accented harmonies and breezy semi-acoustic strums led the set, frontman Clemens Rehbein as hypnotic as they come perched calmly in the centre of the stage. Numbers pulled from their new LP, Blossom ("Ego", "Cocoon") were received well, but the longstanding adoration that triple j devotees have with Sadnecessary cuts "Stolen Dance" and "Stunner" simply couldn't be routed.
Same goes for The Darkness, whose set was almost entirely comprised of certified bangers from their timeless debut, Permission To Land. Yes, they played "I Believe In A Thing Called Love". They smashed out a ten minute rendition of "Love On The Rocks With No Ice", too, complete with frontman Justin Hawkins taking a stroll through the crowd on his guitar tech's shoulders - while he rips a gnarly solo, of course. There's a million things we could write about the band's (criminally short) 45-minute set, but at its core, they played what could easily be considered the funniest, brightest and most theatrical set in Groovin The Moo history. Probably the first to have C-bombs emblazoned in giant light stacks, too.
The Wombats are a lot safer of a band, both in style and composure, but coming from the ridiculous energy of The Darkness to their carefree and whimsical one made for an oddly delightful contrast. Matthew Murphy's pitch-perfect guitars melded effortlessly with his honeyed vocals, while summery synth backings flipped what might have been an otherwise mundane pop-rock show into a raging dance party. Riffs dug themselves deep into high-octane hellraisers like "Tokyo" and "Let's Dance To Joy Division"; if your feet didn't cane by the end of the latter, you weren't doing it right.
Thus brought us to the defacto headliner of the festival: Mansfield grunge-punks Violent Soho. Touted as their last run of shows before slipping into a short hibernation, the 420-friendly foursome had a lot weighing on their shoulders - and, in the complete opposite of Soho fashion, actually fell a little flat in the end. The ten-song setlist was mostly typical - built primarily on WACO bangers and a few gems from Hungry Ghost - but the decision to sub self-titled mainstay "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend" for "Muscle Junkie", snub one-off classic "Tinderbox" and prioritise long, slow songs over their catalogue of brash and powerful pit-starters seems like a monumental missed opportunity.
Having said that, we'd be lying if we said we didn't find ourselves right there in that pit, losing our every last marble when James Tidswell (lead guitar) kicked into the walloping chorus riff on "Blanket" - or when it came time to pillage our vocal chords with the obligatory, "HELL FUCK YEAH" - or, in Maitland, when Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson swaggered out for a casual (see: anything but casual) cover of their 1995 hit "More Than You Are". After all, even the most disappointing Soho set is a pretty great time, and between the unwavering passion poured into Tidswell's shredding, the filth-plastered acidity of frontman Luke Boerdam's and the general feeling of, "Yeah, this might be the last mosh pit I'm ever in,", there was a lot to indulge in. And, y'know, it's hard to complain with the last song of the night being a deep cut ("Scrape It") from Soho's since-abandoned mixtape/album, We Don't Belong Here.
All sets considered, worn in and analysed through our mosh-filtered lenses, we can safely say that the 2017 edition of Groovin The Moo was one of the festival's best - if not their best. Whether or not next year's lineup can beat this is yet to be seen, but honestly, it's going to be a tough one.