Sydney Big Day Out Review

The day before this years Sydney Big Day Out presented attendees with a likelihood that Umbrella’s and ponchos would be the fashionable items. I fell into the trap and prepared myself for another deluge, despite knowing in the back of my mind that it had never, ever, rained all day for more than an hour or two at the 12 Big Day Outs I had previously attended. When I arrived at the carpark it was pouring and things were looking grim. That quickly changed as another Big Day Out came and went… here is what I saw…

After being confused at the new entrance to the Sydney site I found my way into the main arena and first band of the day ended up being Papa vs. Pretty – a band whose name I’ve been familiar with but who I’d never heard the music of. They seemed affable and competent but then, as I tried to discern who they were, they launched into a cover of ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ which lost me a bit. Play your own stuff, and if you’re going to play a cover make it sound like your own, not a relatively note-for-note version. That’s what I think anyway.

Not long after that it was time for Frenzal Rhomb to return to the arena for the first time in what feels like forever. Starting off with ‘Bird Attack’ the set continued to be a punk-rock onslaught of songs both old and new, interspersed with humourous insults ‘this ones for all you Australia day racists’ to a rant about Kanye’s rider and the excessive lengths people go to before ending it with ‘our window barely fucking opens!’. Just goes to show you. The Big Day Out stage has missed Frenzal and they really didn’t disappoint.

The Boiler Room was next on the agenda as it was off to see Bluejuice for the ump-teenth time. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them play a similar show twice as all the costumes, graphics and setup were identical to Splendour. This wasn’t a problem, merely an observation and once again they were on fire. Bluejuice have become one of the most entertaining, professional acts in the country and its been a pleasure to watch them evolve over the last few years. The newer songs stand right up next to the old ones and the festival setlist was a relentless party to say the least. Great fun.

Faker

The last time I saw Faker they were playing in the main arena with an elaborate looking set and a massive crowd. Since then I’ve heard very little about them and this fact was highlighted by the relatively small size of the crowd in attendance. I also remember them being a significantly more polished live act last time but something about their performance this year was just… great. No bullshit, no pretense, the songs were played well to a receptive crowd. I thought of it as raw and I still consider that an apt description, a good contrast.

Evidently the crowd that wasn’t watching Faker was watching Boy and Bear in the main arena because I haven’t seen a crowd that big for a folk act in a LONG time. They sounded great and you could tell that the songs have been refined more and more since the album earned them significant critical acclaim.

Boy & Bear & Crowd

The only thing that drew me to Das Racist was the minimal use of German in the name. I had no idea what type of music or people they were but, as I had time to kill and REALLY needed to sit down I inadvertently caught their performance. I like the irony of the name with a multicultural ensemble and while I couldn’t entirely hear the MCing a lot of the time the energy they produced, the way they bounced off each other and their crowd interaction were all superb. I thought they were very enjoyable, and, had the sound been better I feel they would have attracted an even larger crowd than the one they pulled.

Mariachi El Bronx

Mariachi el Bronx were a surprise inclusion on the lineup in my eyes, but a pleasant surprise at that. I’ve never even heard the Bronx before but I had heard these guys and was keen for a bit of a Meixcan siesta in the afternoon. Seemingly I wasn’t the only one as they had a significantly larger crowd than Das Racist, playing on the same stage. The atmosphere was great as the band serenaded a loving crowd. Mariachi music and summertime go together better than milk and milo, and as much as the fans were loving it, so were the fully-outfitted band – A hidden treasure of the day.

Battles were next on the agenda and were quite possibly the act I had been anticipating the most all day. Theres something about watching Battles – they don’t sing, they just play, but they play ridiculously well. Very talented composers and musicians, building and constructing loop upon loop, riff upon riff. Any vocal duties were taken care of by samples playing the lyrics of Gary Numan or whoever else was singing on the track as they were shown in special videos they must have recorded specifically for the live show. Truly fascinating and incredible, they make the time fly by so quickly.

I must be one of the only people in the world I know who can’t get into Kasabian. They had a huge main arena crowd, I know so many people that love them and while they seem good at what they do, I still just can’t do it. I know and like ‘Shoot the Runner’ but I’m not waiting around for 40 minutes enduring the rest of your repertoire just for one song.

I’ve seen Architecture in Helsinki 3 times in the last 6 months. It’s a great way of getting to tell if you’re seeing an average band play a great show or a great band at the height of their powers, and AIH definitely fit into the latter category. Every performance has been spectacular but the Big Day Out show took the cake. With what I’m assuming were supposed to be giant water-drop like things (that actually just looked like scrotums) bouncing all over the stage and a killer set, PLUS their first time at a Sydney BDO the crowd and the band were both in love with the moment. True festival bliss and AIH have gone from a band I really liked to a band I love. Brilliant.

My big problem with the next time slot was that it pitted the two bands that had justified my ticket purchase against each other at the same time. While having a couple of weeks to deal with my anger it still pissed me off most on the day. I stayed at the stage AIH had just played on and waited with my friend Mr. Earthling for the beginning of Foster the People. The first thing you noticed was the flood of people as your personal space slowly got smaller and smaller and by the time the band took the stage the size was incredible. The band themselves were a hit, opening with my personal favourite ‘Houdini’ the rest of the set that I saw showed a band, seemingly humble, like a group of guys who never actually thought they’d make it to a stage like this. The songs are well rehearsed and tight, and now we must all wait for the new album. I didn’t stay for the entirety of their set, justifying my rationale by thinking ‘Foster the People will be back, more than likely many times….

I Want Some Tachitos!

…but Soundgarden probably won’t’. The first thing I noticed when I got to the main arena was the fact that the 90’s gods had actually managed a pretty small crowd compared to relative newcomers Foster the People on the other stage. Perhaps many other people were in the same predicament I was and that, to me, further accentuates the stupidity of putting those two bands on at the same time but oh well. Soundgarden themselves were excellent, and walking into the arena to the start of ‘Fell on Black Days’ certainly trumped my earlier experience with PvP. It was a greatest hits set and the standard kind of fare you expect from a classic band but they still did it well enough to give me a great memory and the ability to tick another great band off my ‘must-see’ list.

As Kanye’s fans streamed in to the main arena I slowly made my way out. I had seen the show before at Splendour and, judging from everything I’ve heard it really was pretty much the same show. While I can’t deny it was good it certainly didn’t need another watching and I headed over to the Green stage to catch those legends of Aussie rock – Regurgitator. When I got there I had to check again that I had the right stage because the band I saw before me did not look like the ‘gurge. Two shirtless guys in skinny jeans and with shoulder-length hair (I STILL don’t know if it was a wig) were rocking out on something that sounded experimental-electronic-punk-ish which was still enjoyable before ending and claiming it was a new one. Then came ‘Black Bugs’ and I realised it really WAS Regurgitator. The act has changed a bit, but only for the better. They seem to be more groove-focussed now – the new songs sound great and the old songs have been revamped in a certain way that, while not changing the songs too drastically, certainly breathes new life into them, and in a great way – almost sexy even! Watch the video, you’ll see. They thanked the crowd for watching them instead of Kanye and it was over, a great set by a band who I’m excited to watch in the next few months.

Last but not least came the Cavalera Conspiracy for that token bit of metal to end the night. I lasted about 3 songs as the volume was all over the place. The only consistency in it was that it was LOUD, and while I’m glad I got to see another living legend in Max Cavalera on stage, the headache I’d developed and my fatigue told me it was time to go home.  I couldn’t even stay for Noel Gallagher, but just read my review of his show at the Enmore on Monday and use your mind to work it into this one – and that’s a full day!

So another Big Day Out gone and, just like at the end of the last one I have to ask myself if that will be the last one. That being said I hope you’re all grateful of the fact I tried to see as much music as I could (I’m pretty sure that’s 14 bands there, and for one guy who didn’t eat that’s pretty good) – and while I missed out on artists like Kanye and Nero, too bad. Still, it was a great festival – and it rained… ONCE.. for 5 minutes. I got sunburn for crying out loud.

The thing I’m noticing now, as a festival veteran, is the re-tooling of festival announcements to direct them at the younger crowd – the next generation of festival attendees. There’s less and less for me each year and I understand the natural progression. The problem is that so many of these kids seem to be shit-heads. But that’s for another time. Until then…

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