On Sunday 26 January I attended my first Big Day Out music festival in close to twenty years. The impetus originally had been to see Arcade Fire and Blur, then, with Blur pulling out, to see Arcade Fire and have a good time.
And I did.
My BDO Buddy and I, being conscientious adults, arrived on time and spent the morning wandering around, familiarising ourselves with the layout (that might have been more me than her) and checking out bands we didn’t really know.
The venue had seven performance spaces, with up to six operating at any one time. The Orange and Blue Stages, in the main arena were side by side – one band sets up while the other is playing – offering non-stop music for the inclined.
Wandering around, we listened to half a DZ Deathrays tune on the Orange Stage (didn’t grab us) caught one tune by Parramatta band Tiffany Britchford and the Reckless Abandon on the tiny Headspace Stage. They were good, but we were in exploration mode.
Other bands we sampled early on were energetic rockers All the Colours, who did a fab Doors medley, Jungle Giants (ho hum), Violent Soho (ok, but I wasn’t in the mood for grunge), and classic Kiss-style rock from Kingswood (winner of the best guitar solo of the day until Mike McCready from Pearl Jam played an extended two minute guitar solo during Even Flow (still Pearl Jam’s best song) with the guitar resting on the back of his neck. From the glory years:
The first highlight of the day was Bluejuice on the Blue Stage. The band were all sporting Freddie Mercury style gold jumpsuits and performed in front of a massive backdrop which read Bluejuice support gay marriage.
They all looked like they were having a fabulous time as they bounced across the stage and got the crowd pumping early in the day. Super entertaining and reminded me of my favourite ELO songs. Oh, and excellent moustaches.
The contrast to Tame Impala in stagecraft couldn’t have been more pronounced. While Tame Impala performed their music admirably, they performed on the large Orange Stage in front of a plain black backdrop and confined themselves to a tiny section of the stage, barely interacting with the audience at all. It was as though they hadn’t put any thought into the performance part of the performance. My BDO buddy asked me during Tame Impala if there was a genre of music called stoner rock – spot on. I like what they do, reminded me of Black Sabbath and the Flaming Lips in equal parts. Great music, but I could have been listening to them at home or in the car or something.
Grouplove played outside on the Red Stage and the crowd all had a fabulous time. They’re probably not the kind of music I’d buy, but I’d pay to see them live. Lead male singer Christian Zucconi has a voice like Perry Farrell from Jane’s addiction.
I was disappointed by the Drones, sadly. I came to the BDO really looking forward to seeing them. Perhaps the organisers had put them on the wrong stage. The Drones have an atmospheric mood which would have been more suited to the indoors JBL Stage rather than the outdoors Red Stage, which was the stage most open to the wider festival. The band came across as arrogant and dismissive of the crowd too. I’m keen to check out their music more, but I think what they do suits a more intimate venue.
While we’re on disappointments – Pearl Jam. I loved this band in the 90s. In fact my BDO Buddy and I saw them together back in 97 and I stopped listened to them after No Code in 1996. I didn’t much fancy the direction they were heading in. The heavy reliance on songs from those first four albums to get the audience really pumping is an indicator that the band are well past their prime. I’m sure there were some people who were into it, but I like their old stuff better than their new stuff.
Thankfully Pearl Jam weren’t the reason I was at the gig. Arcade Fire were, and they didn’t disappoint. I managed to get 10-15 metres from the stage for the cracking 90 minute set Drummer Jeremy Gara didn’t take his foot off the kick drum for the last four songs, with one driving tune rolling into another. Very fabulous. Keeping track of who of the 10 were playing what instrument at which point was impossible – four separate people played the drums from what I could see. The ensemble feel extended into the crowd, with everyone singing and dancing along and having a great time. The band shied away from slower numbers (another advantage of having rotating musicians is it’s easier for people to rest if they need to) interweaving the most rocking 2-3 songs from each of their first three albums around the best grooves from the latest. By the end I felt like I was in a carnival with the crowd in front of the Orange Stage. No one wanted to stop.
It’s hard to pick just one Arcade Fire video, so here’s one off the first album, then one off the most recent. The first (with David Bowie) will give you some idea of why they’re so much emotional fun live:
Later, skipping out on the disappointing Pearl Jam, I caught a couple of Deftones numbers. Again, I got the sense of a band past their best – there were fewer people in the crowd than there had been on the same stage for Kingswood a few hours previously. Then I got happily absorbed into the mass dance party that Major Lazer put on outside on the Red Stage. It was all lights and thick beats and jumping and grinding kiddies as far as the eye could see. Super absorbing stuff.
Good news too that Diplo, one of the DJs from Major Lazer, will be supporting Arcade Fire at the entertainment centre tonight. I imagine my ears and dancing shoes will need a rest come Wednesday morning.
All in all it was a great day – I’ll go again next year if a couple of the headliners are worth it.