Live Review: Groovin The Moo, Bendigo 30/04/22

Hope D. Credit: Joseph Mayers
(Image credit: Joseph Mayers)

WHERE: Prince Of Wales Showgrounds, Bendigo VIC
WHEN: Saturday April 30th, 2022
REVIEW: Matt Doria

There’s no other festival in Australia that feels like Groovin The Moo. While it’s undoubtedly one of the country’s biggest live music events, with lineups packed from top to bottom with acts that could easily headline festivals of their own, there’s always a distinct homeliness to it. Part of that comes courtesy of its regional setting: the air smells like real, genuine fresh air, the countryside sprawls on in the distance, and when the night rolls in, you can see actual stars glittering above the figurative ones onstage.

Two years out of action, Groovin’s return to Bendigo came with an avalanche of good vibes. Walking through the gates, the excitement buzzed, the festival fashion was immaculate, and rarely did we see a face void of a smile – an energy only intensified by Telenova. Opening the Cattleyard stage to an impressively dense crowd (given their late-morning slot), the Melbourne troupe put on a mesmerising set of summery, cinematic indie-pop. Their widescreen soundscapes translated uniquely to the stage, lacking the crisp pomp and atmospheric shimmer of their studio work, but filling in the gaps with an authenticity and liveliness that can often be lost on record.

Jem Pryse nabbed the local slot assigned by triple j Unearthed, and from the moment he strummed the first silky and bright notes of ‘Turing Reality Into Dreams’, it was clear why he so acutely deserved it. Pryse’s surfy, sepia-toned indie-rock felt tailor-made for Groovin, treating early arrivers to a youthful and spirited performance that set a buoyant tone for the rest of the day. Notable, too, was the addition of saxophonist Harry Godfrey in Pryse’s backing band, adding a smoky, soulful glow to songs that already teemed with colour and snap.

Keeping the bubbly, wholesome vibe alive was Brissy-native luminary Hope D, whose punchy alt-pop added some tasteful fire to the fray. She and her cohort – flanked by the Strat-wielding Ainslie Dimmock and Bridget Brandolini, while D herself brought some glittering levity with an Acoustasonic Tele – kicked off with an unreleased cut called ‘Senseless’. Like its title implies, it was an absolute rager, angsty and biting with a PVRISian emo-pop energy that fast had passersby stopped in their tracks. Dimmock stole the spotlight on ‘Cash Only’ with her searing, Prince-channelling solo, while the trio all shone in their own ways for a dark and stormy, swaggering cover of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears.

Offering a solid handful of punters here their first (and probably only) circle pit experience, RedHook stormed the stage with meteoric aplomb. They had the same issue at Groovin as they did at UNIFY last month, where their glitchy, pseudo-sleazy nu-metal didn’t translate perfectly to the festival atmosphere. It was moreso glaring here, given the rest of the bill’s pop- and indie-leaning fare, but after being plied with a few warmup tunes, the crowd took to RedHook’s idiosyncratic flair with open arms. The star of the show was shredder Craig Wilkinson, whose dirty, overdriven Tele riffs made an easy lunch of the speaker setup.

Whoever mixed the last four sets must have ducked out for a smoke break when Sycco (aka Sasha McLeod) took to the triple j stage, because while her predecessors all sounded sharp and well-balanced, her set was hit with a largely inconsistent mix. When it was audible, McLeod’s strumming was clean and dry, and added a radiant texture to the synth-driven palette. The guitars truly shone on the woozy and warbly ‘Germs’, with a stunning, psych-tinged solo taking things far beyond “the next level”.

Leaning heavily on highlights from their full-length debut, 2018’s Lost Friends, Middle Kids delivered the best set of the whole day. It was a more lowkey affair, with their easygoing grooves and airy melodies offering reprieve from the high-energy acts that played before them. It was also the first Middle Kids show attended by the two-year-old kid of frontwoman Hannah Joy and bassist Tim Fitz, who we’d have to imagine was pretty dang proud of their rockin’ ’n’ rollin’ mum and dad.

Much like their music on record, Hockey Dad’s set was… Whelming. It wasn’t bad, by any stretch, but it wasn’t particularly good either. But that’s their schtick, really: the band deal in perfectly serviceable indie-rock designed meticulously for mass consumption – they’re the McDonald’s of triple j-baiting pinger-pop. But we couldn’t fault the performance – Zach Stephenson’s dusty, ever-so-slightly crunchy Tele chords are sharp and strike with a solid oomph. They stuck to the mix like old gum to pavement, Stephenson whipping out decently enjoyable runs of warm and homely riffage to match his similarly catchy vocal melodies.

Montaigne, on the other hand, aimed to stun for the full 40 minutes of her set, and – as she tends to – pulled it off without a hitch. Though scant on guitars – an acoustic cameoed on ‘Clip My Wings’, but this was otherwise a bass and keys-centric affair – we’d be remiss not to address how downright stunning Jess Cerro’s performance was. The art-pop prodigy soared with every tight and kaleidoscopic track, her tenor opulent and riveting, and her movement, trapezing around the stage like the lead in an old Disney musical, was impassioned and bewitching.

We have to give props to Polaris for even showing up to their Groovin set, with frontman Jamie Hails and guitarist Ryan Siew both whacked out of sorts by illness. They crushed it nonetheless, Hails belting out a faultless onslaught of barbed, bloodthirsty screams in spite of a punishing throat infection, and Siew wreaking havoc on his fretboard without a note off-beat. The band’s setlist showed equal love for their two albums, though unsurprisingly, it was their monstrous cover of ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’ by Eskimo Joe (which they minted for Like A Version two years back) that really set the triple j stage alight.

As veritable icons of Australian rock, Spiderbait were met with deafening acclaim for their golden-hour set. The majority of us here grew up jamming out to songs like ‘Calypso’ and ‘F***en Awesome’ – and let’s be real, the band’s appearance at the Moo was quite a shameless play of the nostalgia card. But they were all about it, happily geeing up the crowd with call-and-response chants, extended solos, and the kind of OTT banter that only Kram can pull off in earnest. And though this meant they only played a handful of songs, every last one felt timeless and explosive.

Filling in for the stoner-pop debonairs in Milky Chance (who dropped out due to complications with COVID-19 restrictions in Europe), Lime Cordiale made a solid case for their potential as future Groovin headliners. Studded with hits primed for singalongs and made ever more striking with live horns, their set was ceaselessly enrapturing. Oli and Louis Leimbach gelled with all of the jaunty, laidback chemistry that made them stars of Australian pop-rock, grooving through their litany of surfy, smoky bangers with unerring spirit and zest.

The sole exports on our radar for this year’s edition, Wolf Alice sent Groovin ’22 out on the highest note humanly possible, sandwiching a run of their dreamier, more groove-oriented cuts (largely pulled from last year’s Blue Weekend record) between wallops of the belting, punk-infused pop-rock the British crew cut their teeth on. Especially poignant was the juxtaposition of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ and ‘Play The Greatest Hits’, with the former’s heavenly sway making the later’s venomous and volcanic energy all the more intense.

None of the bill’s remaining acts (Hilltop Hoods and Peking Duk on the main two stages) piqued our fancy, so the night came to an end at the rather quaint time of 8:30pm. We’re not complaining, though – after nine hours of nigh-on endless euphoria, we were struggling to keep our knees from buckling. More than anything, we were preemptively planning our outfits and dream lineups for Groovin ’23…

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Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…

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