British rapper Roots Manuva was impressiveTHERE was a strange feeling among the Musicology Brains Trust attending this year’s Golden Plains Festival that the line-up we saw was maybe, somehow, underwhelming.

None of us wanted to say it, and none of us were truly sure if it was indeed the case.

The band bookers had done a fine job, ticking all the boxes they usually ticked, but somehow it didn’t quite gel, with some bands disappointing and only a few acts really blowing minds.

Having said that, there was still something for everyone, and picking a top five was still a difficult decision. So maybe we’re just spoilt – we’ve had it so good for so long at Golden Plains and its sister festival Meredith that we’re harder to impress these days.

Ballarat boys Hunting Grounds (formerly Howl) got things off to a flying start – they were that band this year that you were glad you went down to the amphitheatre early to see. And while their original material was excellent, it was their surprise cover of Beastie Boys’

Hunting Grounds:

Followers Total Control were a disappointing slice of yob-punk, while Real Estate were ok, offering up some cool pop grooves.

Lanie Lane won me over in the end. While her performance oozed charm and class her songs were slightly lifeless and drab. She wasn’t helped by introducing “the greatest uke solo ever” only to have the mixers unable to find the uke in the mix, but she finished strong and was well appreciated.

Wild Flag were a first-day highlight with their wonderfully ragged rock, but the biggest crowd of the weekend was for Bon Iver.

He proved divisive among the Brains Trust. Some said excellent, some said boring – personally, I’d say interesting. The fans loved his second-album-heavy set, with its spine-tingling crescendoes and plaintive melodies; others were perplexed by his strange dynamics and hookless meanderings. One thing for certain was that everyone loved his rendition of breakthrough hit

Even more divisive was Kisstroyer. While booking a Kiss tribute band is a typically Golden Plains-esque wacky-but-just-might-work move on paper, in reality it seemed like a joke that went on a touch too long. Even some of the die-hard Kiss fans felt strange afterwards, coming down with a case of Tribute Band Syndrome – no matter how good a tribute band is, there’s this weird feeling that it’s not quite right somehow.

Thankfully they were followed by Dexter, the DJ that everyone loves, and a big crowd danced the night away to his tent-rattling mash-ups.

Day two is always slow going, but in the early afternoon New York jammers Endless Boogie livened things up with an endearing and rocking set that comprised about four songs and lots and lots of guitar solos. The crowd lapped it up – they were the second band to get The Boot for the weekend.

Aussie legends The Celibate Rifles overcame early sound problems to play a much-loved set, with their Byron Bay surfie-punk having taken on a sort of vintage charm these days.

A weekend highlight was Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, whose country-flavoured tunes were sparsely but beautifully backed by The Cairo Gang, creating exultant harmonies and goosebump-inducing moments.

Sixty-four-year-old psych-rock legend Roky Erikson received a rousing welcome and with the help of The Black Angels delivered a rocking set. Erickson, who’s had a tough and strange life, seemed genuinely touched by the response from the crowd and proved to still be in fine voice.

British rapper Roots Manuva was impressive, but Urge Overkill was not. Their rendition of Neil Diamond’s

Another 63-year-old whose had a tough and strange life but proved impressive was Charles Bradley. With the help of His Extraordinaires, he summoned the spirits of Otis Redding and James Brown to lay down some choice soul-funk from his debut album, which only came out last year. He was the third act to receive The Boot this weekend, although at least one member of the Brains Trust wasn’t convinced, saying it seemed like by-the-numbers funk with no real soul.

Charles Bradley:

The same definitely couldn’t be said for Chic, who were loved by one and all. With Nile Rodgers commanding a crack band, he took fans for a walk through disco-funk history that illuminated Rodgers’ incredible influence on music as a writer or producer. Madonna’s

Finally, I have an important message for Golden Plains attendees – please don’t throw things into the crowd, even seemingly innocuous things. Believe it or not (and this may be the wussiest injury ever) but a roll of streamers, thrown from way up the back of the amphitheatre, left me with a bleeding headwound that first aid staff had to glue closed after threatening that I might need a couple of stitches. Nothing serious, but there’s nothing quite like a bleeding headwound to momentarily put a dampener on things.

To whoever threw that large blue roll of streamers, don’t do it again. To the staff at the first aid shed, keep up the good work. You’re doing a great job.

And to the organisers of Golden Plains, the festival was great – I’m sorry that we’re becoming a picky bunch. We’ve had it so good for so many years that our expectations are elevated to impossible levels. But fear not – we’ll be back next year, and for many more to come.

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