Ausmuteants played a killer set of fast, bratty punk rock that was just the sort of opening gambit needed to get people ready for a big two days of music. Guitarist Shaun Connor maintained a running gag in between songs that he was actually Tim Armstrong from Rancid, a fairly nonsensical premise rendered funny through his deadpan delivery.
However it was Cash Savage and the Last Drinks that were the first act to really make a major impression on the crowd. The band were phenomenal, never settling into any straight grooves, but instead remaining constantly dynamic; the drum patterns rising and swelling while the violin created tension and the guitars, soaked in sustain and tremolo, helping to create a dark, brooding tone as Savage stalked the stage, microphone in hand.
The effect was so great that Kurt Vile’s subsequent set was harder to engage with. Even though he played very well and has some killer tunes, it was a little bit too easy to not be grabbed by his solo acoustic performance. A split guitar signal used to add distortion and delays during solos, as well as a loop pedal and drum machine helped to add interest, but also failed to live up to the studio versions.
The ‘Sup wasn’t full for The Damned but the amount of energy they brought filled the Amphitheater. For a band that has been around since the late ‘70s and has the distinction of releasing the first punk single in 1976, they sounded and looked fantastic. Singer Dave Vanian has a delicious croon that was particularly evident during their goth rock numbers, but it was the straight ahead punk anthems such as Neat Neat Neat and Smash It Up that galvanised the crowd. Guitarist Captain Sensible leapt up on the foldback wedges whenever he took a solo and generally lashed about the stage with the abandon of a younger man, a wry grin on his mug throughout.
Part of what makes Olympia so special is how complete her vision of her art is; from her costumes to the arrangements to the songs themselves, what is presented onstage is a wonderful balance of quirkiness and accessible pop music. For the majority of the songs the rhythm section drove the arrangements, while the guitar, keys and backing vocals, all of which were often layered in reverb, never overplayed, helping to create a sense of space and a perfect bed for her voice.
You can always count on Aunty Meredith to introduce you to acts that have somehow flown under your radar and this year Confidence Man were just that. Their upbeat and updated take on the UK break beat sound of the early 90s was just the sort of lift the crowd needed at that point in the afternoon, and soon everybody was on their feet, stretching their tender dance muscles.
Billy Davis & The Good Lords were one of the highlights of the whole weekend, and one suspects that more people will be familiar with their name very soon. Led by songwriter and bandleader Davis from behind his keyboard, every piece of the band was explicitly funky and smoothly soulful, from the flautist to the three vocalists to the rapper – it was a tightly wound combined effort.
Orb more than made up for this with a powerful set of 70s riff-based heavy rock. As the trio weaved through different sections, the fuzzed out bass and wah guitar often followed each, pulling syncopated stops like punctuated remarks, while the thick reverb on the vocal complimented the heaviness.
Remi immediately had the crowd eating out of his hands, the work that he and producer/percussionist Sensible J have put in over the last few years evident in their confident and hook-laden performance. The Melbourne rapper kept the energy up, even bringing out Sampa the Great for their collaborative single For Good.
The Peep Tempel returned to the Amphitheatre victorious, having stolen the show with a mid-afternoon slot at Meredith in 2015, the trio took to the stage for an 8:45 headline spot. Blake Scott’s vocal diversity is truly impressive, utilising his lower register in several of the verses before raising in volume and good old fashioned punk attitude during the choruses, such as on highlights Ray Gun and of course the inevitable unifying moment of their anthem, Carol.
Speaking of classics and unifying moments, everyone knew what they were in for with Neil Finn, and he certainly did not disappoint. Sounding effortlessly unchanged by the years, Finn’s band this time around consisted of Crowded House’s Nick Seymour, as well as guitarist Dan Kelly. Starting off with a stripped back version of Private Universe, it was clear that this would be a greatest hits set that picked from throughout Finn’s catalogue. Soon enough everyone had their arms around each other, singing Don’t Dream It’s Over and basking in the genuinely warm feeling emanating en masse throughout the Sup'.
Kicking off with Ghost Town, The Specials pulled out the majority of their classic ska/pop tunes with a big, full sound that seemed to round out some of the punky edges of their original recordings. A lot of people seemed unfamiliar with the songs, until A Message To You, Rudy, Gangsters, and Monkey Man had them on their feet.