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Big Day Out Festival
Sydney + Melbourne, AUS, 24.+ 26.01.04

Brian's Big Day Out: Sat. 24.01.04, Sydney Showgrounds
For what has become a summer tradition over the last ten or so years, thousands make the trek to the Showgrounds for this year's particularly rock-centric Big Day Out bill. It's been a few years between BDO's for this here punter and the large-scale operation is a surprise, resembling some kinda complete community without Jim Jones. You know you're part of the rock world's major calendar event when Metallica can wrest 1 hour 45 minutes for themselves near the top of a substantial bill.

Wandered in through the maze of sniffer dogs just after midday to catch Hoodoo Gurus offshoot The Persian Rugs' take on sixties psych pop. A great little power-packed set with Dave Faulkner in a fetching black turtleneck sweater (brave move considering the sweltering pre-storm heat) occasionally taking on keyboard/organ duties throughout for "Mr Tripper" and the raunchy "Be a Woman".

Perth's Sleepy Jackson bring it on in a shit storm of feedback and crashing drums, a surprise after an otherworldly & predominantly acoustic set at December's Homebake Festival. After a strong start that includes thumper "Vampire Racecourse" they tend to drift and meander. No doubt about Luke Steele's talent, but many mistake his apparent aimlessness for genius. Regardless, due to his single-mindedness & vision he remains one to watch.

The Darkness attract a large crowd on the main stage, many keen I'd say to separate truth from hype. Either the mix fails or they were just plain messy. Needless to say I didn't linger too long in wonder, especially when Justin frontperson stops the strut n' chug of the band to partake in further ridiculous vocal gymnastics - not enough substance to back the hype unfortunately. The Datsuns impress on a large stage, obviously their recent Metallica tour supports assisting in their quest for major league demolition.

Gerling hit one of the packed lesser stages and the whole joint is immediately smiling & jumping with their antics & electro tinged rock, highlight being the supersleazy "Who's Ya Daddy". Zip back to the main stage to a small dose of the Black Eyed Peas who head down the pedestrian hip hop route with their call n' response routine, all a bit tired really and executed in a more convincing fashion by De La Soul, Jurassic 5 & other hip hop tourists throughout 2003.

A bizarre yet beautiful set by Kamahl, creator and star of over some eighty albums, on the feral Lilypad stage as lightning cracked overhead is a surprising highlight of the festival. The crooner skips his way through "You Make Me Feel So Young" and other golden favourites. He returns for the encore in a gold robe and closes with "My Way" to thunderous applause and an embrace from a blonde beauty side-stage. A star able to knowingly work an adoring crowd in a performance that is affecting as it is truly bent.

The Dandy Warhols (with Courtney Taylor-Taylor sporting a coke-styled "enjoy weed" tshirt) are approached with some trepidation after reports of previous Australian tours where they appeared way too indifferent. No such bother on this occasion as they deliver on a big loud stage. Powering up with "Heroin" and "Solid" it sure don't stop, with a bonus being the towering ode to The Stooges' "Loose" in a powerfully hypnotic set. Jumping around with others in the pouring rain to "Bohemian Like You" yet another festival highlight.

Jet win over all folks packing their stage with an onslaught of hair n' denim-laced-ACDC-meets-Reef-riffery - bigger (and better) things expected from them in 2004. Second salvo from the Hoodoo Gurus came via the big stage following their set earlier in the day as The Persian Rugs. Many hits played & they also rip through a few newies, promising an extensive local tour this year in support of a new album - reassuring news for us old-ish fans! The Mars Volta are deep into sonic boom territory when I arrive, leaving many punters frothing at the mouth days after their Metro appearance.

The Strokes play to a justifiably huge crowd, carving a sonic niche all their own. Even from a distance their particular wall o' sound is both loud & intimate. I'd never really 'got with their schtick' before, but hearing the New York drawlers lock into their one dimensional barrage it all made sense. By all reports their show earlier in the week at The Hordern Pavillion (with no less than The Mess Hall and The Kings of Leon) was also outstanding. Beating the second album jitters and at the top of their game? You betcha.

Metallica keep their army waiting in the rain, but make up for it by delivering a crunching set. Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" was a fine touch to welcome them onstage - even if they've employed this idea for over ten years now. An unusual choice for the Big Day Out, their fans stand out not only in uniform, but in their blinkered attitude throughout the day (eg. a chorus of boos aimed at The Strokes pre-Metallica). A thrill to catch some faves including "Blackened" and "Harvester of Sorrow", but maybe next year organisers should drop the idea of booking such an overbearingly large band on the bill. Witnessing two of the world's best drummers in Mark Kingsmill and Lars Ulrich though was something pretty special this year - both consistently punishing thumpers over the years.

Closing set of the festival came courtesy of The Flaming Lips and it was incredible. At turns overwhelming, beautiful and hilarious, they fill the stage with inflatable sunflowers, Peaches in a bee suit and fans in an array of furry animal suits. Coloured balloons and bizarre surgical footage other great visual assets (and the nifty idea of camera fixed to Wayne Coyne's mic, even if he was a bit too verbal between songs). Winding their way through their catalogue and The White Stripes' "7 Nation Army" delivered via loud hailer was an apt close to another great BDO - roll on 2005!

Copyright © 2004 Brian Stradbrook e-mail address


Tim's Big Day Out: Mon. 26.01.04, Melbourne Showgrounds
Sad to say, but I think I'm over festivals. Ten years ago I would party for three whole days at Reading, Phoenix or Glastonbury without even blinking an eyelid. Now I'm getting older and more sensitive to crowds and extreme volume I'd rather see the bands I love playing in more civilized environs than the middle of a blazing field, the speakers as large as trucks.

I think the other reason I'm feeling like such a Scrooge about the Big Day Out is that I was really looking forward to it. The line-up looked really promising, and I felt encouraged enough about the Melbourne music scene to venture forth and check out some local bands. However, most of the music on offer seemed to boil down to lowest common denominator indie rock, and by the time you've endured several bands in a row with the same turgid sound, you know you're in the wrong place.

The day began with the loudest fucking guitars I've ever heard: The Darkness arrived with their ludicrous take on metal, complete with scissor kicks, swearing and absurd tattoos. Sounded like an AC/DC covers band to me, so Christ knows what all the fuss is about. Over to The Sleepy Jackson, and another disappointment as they seem to have turned into AC/DC too, all cranked guitars and rock'n'roll posturing. What the hell is happening here? Just because we're in Australia doesn't mean the locals only like heavy rock.

Instead of sticking around to hear the rest of The Sleepy Jackson I decided to head over and see Can legend Damo Suzuki. A true surprise to see his name amidst the next-big-thing hype monkeys, and he lead an interesting set of wailing, ambient noodling, and the inevitable krautrock drum pattern. Unexpected, and a breath of fresh air.

However, back to mediocrity with local band Gerling, whose punk-pop sound was at least cheeky enough to get the crowd bouncing around; I slinked off to catch Peaches. Previous exposure to the Peaches phenomenon, controversy and all, has been limited to her ballsy interviews, and the "Teaches of Peaches" track used in the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Live she was electrifying, the basic thud and bleep of her Roland Groovebox providing a sparse electro backdrop to her sexually charged city drawl and the Madonna-meets-Chicks-on-Speed stage show. Provocative.

Then over to The Dandy Warhols to experience my other bugbear of the festival set-up: poor sound. We sat way back in the stands, tired by the heat of the afternoon, and couldn't make out the songs apart from the thunk of the bass drum and the plaintive cry of the trumpet. If we were up the front it may have been good, but the band have never really got my pulse racing anyway. On the stage next door, Muse seemed utterly confident in front of a festival crowd, and ripped through a histrionic and heavy set. Good stuff, but when you're tired and feeling the effects of the sun, it's time for something different.

So, Mr Lif and Aesop Rock fitted the bill nicely. Hip-hop rarely tickles my fancy, but these guys put on a great show, and had me grooving for the first time in the festival. However, the first band I was really looking forward to were on next, so I headed over to excellent local radio station Triple R's stage for The Mars Volta. Although I could only take At The Drive-In's ferocious assault in small doses, it had the winning combination of strong tunes and razor-sharp guitarwork that gets me listening to a heavier breed of indie rock. The chaos of the more freeform Mars Volta, although initially thrilling, drags after a while, and you're left begging them to tie their loose, jagged grooves together into some more digestible tunes. Disappointing.

And then The Strokes. I could barely get halfway to the front as the crowd for New York's finest was so huge. Their set competently reproduced some of my favourites from Is This It, like "Someday", "Alone, Together" and "Last Nite". The newer stuff from Room on Fire I'm not familiar with, but it didn't really strike me as any better than the songs on their debut. The band seemed bored, and only filled half their hour-long slot. Such is the way with bands who don't need to try - they're just a good band playing good songs.

Thankfully the festival finished with a technicolour bang, as The Flaming Lips pulled off another ecstatic triumph. I think it was my fifth time seeing Wayne, Stephen and Michael and their cast of dancing animals, but they're just amazing every show. The energy they create is just staggering, and injects awesome songs such as "Race For The Prize", "Lightning Strikes The Postman" and "Fight Test" with such punch-the-sky joy that you can't help but have a good time. I was hoarse from singing along by the end of it, and know that wherever the Lips go next, I'll be there at the front with a grin on my face.

Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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