written by Chris Familton
As with last year’s Big Day Out the weather gods decided to test the endurance of the masses with another hot and sweaty day in the concrete sauna of the Sydney Showground. The event that is as much a rite of passage for teenagers as a music festival had this year gone with somewhat of a best-of lineup that glanced back at some of the festival’s more memorable acts like The Stooges, Tool, Rammstein and Aussie perennials like John Butler.
Naked and Famous are Kiwi kids making waves and they had the opening honours up in the smaller dual stage area. On the surface they are another electro-tinged pop group but beneath the shine they clearly also draw influence from less mainstream acts like My Bloody Valentine and New Order and they started the day off with a strong, well received set.
Down in the main arena The Vines were kicking things off and sounded remarkably together for a band that is notorious for erraticism, mostly from frontman Craig Nicholls. New songs showed he still has that magic touch with melodies as well as the bratty punk side that came out in the guitar smashing conclusion. The hits like Get Free all got aired and the first mass sing-a-long of the day came with their cover of Outkast’s Ms Jackson which suited the summer vibe perfectly.
Newer kids of grunge – Children Collide – did their best to whip up a storm of distortion and they certainly had the front rows bouncing along but they quickly showed the limitations of their form when Jim Jones Revue followed them with one of the highlight performances of the festival. Jones is a testifying frontman in the vein of Cave and Jagger and his dedication to the cause in a three piece suit was something to be admired. The band looked like South London thugs, po-faced and gritty while Jones sweated and hollered out blues-drenched exhortations of love, sex and revenge.
Rock of the hard kind was also echoing around back at the main stages with AC/DC replicants Airbourne taking things back to the solid and simple school. It was all about sex, rock n roll and highways as they chugged along in front of a wall of Marshall stacks. Joel O’Keeffe did his usual scaffolding climb, this time all the more spectacular with the sheer height of the climb and a guitar hanging from him.
Washington predictably drew a large crowd following on from her massive success in 2010 and she worked the outdoor vibe well for the Triple J demographic For those who found her pop songs a tad uninspiring there was always CSS over at the Boiler Room; whipping up a humid frenzy with their electronic funk and the relentless work from singer Lovefoxxx.
The Boiler Room soon became a chance to get out of the sun but not the heat, especially with the arrival of Die Antwoord, a band that probably puts more effort into their style and performance than they do their music – think Prodigy for a new generation. The buff boys and denim cutoff/bikini brigade loved them and there was no denying the fun aspect of what they do. Another pint-sized frontwoman followed when Crystal Castles brought industrial screes of digital noise to the room. The initial impact of their coruscating sound wore off quickly on some punters, especially with Alice Glass restricted to crutches after breaking her ankle in Japan.
Of the Boiler Room acts, the one that seemed to best master the human/machine connection in their music was LCD Soundsystem. Drunk Girls in some ways typified the day and when the whole room sang along to the line ‘where are my friends tonight’ during All My Friends you knew that many were actually asking that question in the haze of the festival.
The inclusion of the Annandale Stage provided the opportunity for a couple of much loved Sydney bands to return to the Big Day Out. 90s indie popsters Knievel showed they still know their way around a light and artful melody with a few new songs. The same stage was also graced by the 30 year old Hard-ons who sounded like a tornado touching down as they sped through a set of characteristic thrashing punk pop. Rounding out the resurrected locals was Smudge who played to a pitifully small crowd including a few who chose their set to have a quick nap. Regardless, the band seemed to enjoy themselves, playing classics like Outdoor Type to the rewarded few.
Also playing to a small crowd at the seemingly always sparse Hot Produce stage were The Greenhornes who impressed many when they played the BDO in the early 2000s. Featuring the rhythm section from The Raconteurs they didn’t let a dead keyboard deter them as they cranked out their bluesy garage rock with ease and a precision unmatched at the festival.
As the evening descended the big names took to the main stages. John Butler capitalised on a busy and successful 2010 with a set that showed the full extent of his musical abilities – from folk to funk to roots and rock he was a perfect choice to farewell the sun before bands more akin to the darkside appeared.
Iggy Pop has been doing the same show for decades now but for first timers it must always surely be a thrill to see an aging legend of punk rock still giving his all. With James Williamson back on guitar they felt like a tighter and more adventurous band and songs like Raw Power and Kill City’s Beyond The Law provided a more diverse setlist this time. The obligatory stage invasion is a tad contrived when you know it happens every show and it backfired when some of the fans were manhandled from the stage once the song was over. Iggy though was in fine form, giving the crowd a taste of why he is so special.
In stark contrast to The Stooges’ down to earth rock, Rammstein used every trick in the stadium/rock opera book – employing fireworks, breathing fire, treadmills and make-up in their set. They really were ridiculous though hilarious and highly entertaining and probably a necessary injection of drama to the festival. Tool followed and they too were high on visual enhancements with massive screens overpowering any sense of a band playing live. Maynard James Keenan has always played in the shadows but his lack of interaction added to the distance between band and audience. While the bulk of their set explored their last album and its more wandering, prog sound they did remind us why they are one of the great art metal bands with a closing cluster of songs that included Forty Six & 2 and the crowning glory of AEnima.
Those that chose Grinderman over M.I.A. to round out their day were treated to a truly wired and unhinged Nick Cave. Flailing limbs, flying mic stands and ventures into the audience were all part of a brutally primal performance and now they have two albums to draw from and who they are they were simply astonishing. One of the definite highlights of what was another well organised and successful Big Day Out.
Check out some more photos from the day HERE
this review first appeared in Drum Media