Report: Big Day Out, Gold Coast 2013

Report: Big Day Out, Gold Coast 2013

Big Day Out 2013
Gold Coast, Parklands
Sunday, 20 January 2013

It's comforting to walk back into these festival grounds. I've barely given this event a moment's thought in the preceding months, yet I know instinctively that I'm in for an entertaining day. This is what the Big Day Out has been synonymous with for 20-plus years: putting on a reliably good fucking show. In last month’s Rolling Stone, festival co-founder Ken West said that if this year's tour goes wrong, the game's essentially over. No more BDO. Was he exaggerating? Shouldn’t that be the case every year: don’t sell enough tickets, don’t make enough money? Yet as the venue fills throughout the day—this show hasn't sold out, though they seem to have come awfully close—the stakes seem, strangely, lower than ever. It's an eclectic, strong line-up led by one of the most popular rock bands in the world. What could go wrong?

Before we get there, though, there are ten or so hours of live music to experience. Some of it good, some of it not. triple j Unearthed winners Jakarta Criers fall firmly into the former camp. They're not doing anything particularly fresh or original within the confines of rock music, but the songs are good. So's the musicianship and stage presence. They combine ‘Wicked Game’, ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Gone Away’ into one mega-cover, which is a kinda cheap tactic but handled well, so the young Brisbane quartet score points. They play before several hundred applauding people today. I think they'll be just fine. A career rock band in the making; a Birds Of Tokyo with balls, perhaps.

Melbourne quartet ME are impressive, despite the bad band name. With a debut album out next week, they’re a tight live unit thanks a couple of years touring overseas. (An interesting take on the well-trodden path to indie rock success in this country.) If you’ve never heard of them, you’re forgiven: they're playing the main stage, yet among the hundred or so initially paying attention to the band, it appears only a few dozen know what to expect. ME are an operatic rock band, essentially: somewhere near Queen and recent Muse -- the four-piece write some of the most shameless arena rock you've ever heard. It's awesome. It's so transparent, what they're doing, that you can practically see their internal organs. Yet it works so well. Falsetto vocals. Excellent guitar work. Powerhouse drumming. Good songs. I can’t look away from a chubby fat guy in a white shirt near the front, who spends a few minutes playing the most intense, unselfconscious air guitar I’ve seen. That dude sums ME up. You should check them out.

Evil Eddie sucks terribly; real lowest common denominator stuff. Every Australian hip-hop fan discovers Butterfingers at some stage, and likely has a laugh at the funny/crude lyrics, but that shit’s just like the candy bar the band named themselves after: ultimately, bad for you. Eddie fronted Butterfingers, and he’s pulling the exact same shapes solo. It’s embarrassing; Australian hip-hop has come so far since Butterfingers were first amusing, yet here’s more of the same. He closes with two recent singles, ‘(Somebody Say) Evil’ and ‘Queensland’; the former is by far the worst thing I hear today. Just awful. I’ll note that there are hundreds of people jiving away before the Lilypad stage, so he's evidently still mining fertile ground.

Sampology, on the other hand, rules. I walk into the Boiler Room while he’s mashing up footage of the Wiggles in that fucking Coles ‘down down, prices are down’ ad while a much better song plays over the PA. That’s what the dude does: he DJs, skilfully, while cleverly-edited visuals play on the screen behind him. It’s compulsive viewing and listening; worth watching purely to see what he samples and mashes next. We dance while watching looped snippets of Free Willy and The Hangover, among loads of pop cultural touchstones that each get a cheer as they appear. Perfect festival fodder. Deserves a standing Big Day Out booking.

The sum of my notes taken while watching Gary Clark Jr.: “CLASSIEST MOTHERFUCKER”. That's really all there is to it. He’s a 28-year old Texan singer/guitarist who put out his major label debut in late 2012, Blak and Blu. Clark can sing, but it’s the guitar wailing we’re all here for. Fronting an incredibly tight four-piece band, Clark exhibits perfect guitar tone and phrasing. It's such a pleasure to watch a master at work, and that's just what Clark is. People keep throwing around the ‘H’ word in this context, referring to a legendary guitarist. It’s not really fair, but it’s basically true. This is one of the best sets I see today. All signs point to a healthy career shredding for a living, blowing minds like he does mine. If you get a chance to see this man play guitar, don’t hesitate. Please.

The finest moment of wish fulfillment I witness today occurs toward the end of Grinspoon’s set. Right after they finish playing ‘Champion’, a buff, tattooed bogan requests ‘DCX3’ by yelling “Dead cat!” at the top of his lungs. As is the custom. I’m amused when the band play it next, especially since we’re a hundred metres away in the middle of a huge, vocal crowd. The bogan is very happy, and so am I. They’re very good in this slot, Grinspoon: mid-afternoon wish fulfillment, meeting the expectations of the masses by playing old favourites, and inducing the day’s first true arena-wide singalong: ‘Chemical Heart’. Singer Phil Jamieson wheels across the stage and plants a kiss on Ken West’s cheek. I only catch the tail-end of their set - I didn’t dare miss a note that Gary Clark Jr. played on another stage, at the same time - but wish I saw more.

Death Grips are bananas. Experimental hip-hop is how it’s described on paper, but in the flesh, it’s music to war to. Real gladiatorial shit. Wall-to-wall throbbing bass, twisted electronic samples pinging to the top of the Vans tent and back down again, Zach Hill murdering his tiny drum kit, MC Ride screaming with so much existential angst that it feels like the world is ending. Or maybe just his life. It feels right that a circle pit soon opens up, and that dozens of men starting slamming into one another in response to the mangled sounds that these two make. They string together tracks from Exmilitary, The Money Store and No Love Deep Web without pause; forty straight minutes of the most fucked-up, original, violent sounds heard anywhere within these festival grounds today. An A-plus performance. I also appreciate the ironic choice to play ‘Let’s Groove’ by CDB over the PA as soon as the band ends; an excellent way to mop up all that stray testosterone.

A playlist of consistent crowd-pleasers reveals itself between Death Grips and Childish Gambino (who I don’t see): ‘Slice of Heaven’, ‘Baby, I Love Your Way’, ‘Jump’. Goodwill is high as the crowd thickens, though I watch a nearly unconscious girl dragged over the barrier and escorted backstage. I bought three beers, but my friends don’t want to sacrifice their prime Gambino spots, sardine-like near the front, so I sip on the edge of the crowd. Nearly a year ago, at an In Flames show, a stranger bought me a beer out of the kindness of his heart and told me to pay it forward. Today I do just that. My mark is a buff, drunk guy who keeps playfully hassling a young security guard at the front fence, attempting to bribe his way into the photo pit with a $50 note. I ask why he wants to go in there and he doesn’t give me a good reason, but he keeps fucking with the green guard anyway. His behaviour gives me five minutes of pure entertainment, so I give him a beer. (I forgot to tell him to pay it forward, though. Damn.)

I haven’t listened to much of Brisbane trio I Heart Hiroshima since their farewell show at the Powerhouse three years ago, but I’m blown away by how fresh these songs still sound. Their two albums, Tuff Teef and The Rip, contain some of the most interesting and original indie pop composed anywhere, let alone Australia. Drummer Susie Patten is returning to Berlin in the days following this gig, which is a shame. This is a once-off reformation, but hopefully they'll reconvene to write more material in future. That two-guitar-and-drums sound is too fucking cool to let go. Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound punchy on the main stage, as the sun wanes, though I don’t stay for long. Both band and crowd seem happy. ‘Maps’ is a nice moment - “a love song”, as Karen O succinctly introduces it.

Crystal Castles are not having a good night at the Boiler Room. This is frustrating, because I was looking forward to them more than anyone else today. Their headline show at The Tivoli a year ago was mind-bendingly good. Tonight, not so much. They're clearly frustrated by something technical, and when a live act relies so heavily on technology, they’re only ever an accidental-unplug away from a sudden crash. An early attempt at ‘Baptism’ is aborted, apparently due to a problem with producer Ethan Kath's laptop and synth setup. They try it again later, and it's the set highlight - but the trio leave the stage after barely 40 minutes, without a backwards glance. A shame, as on a good night, few can compare to these Canadians. Perhaps I should have seen Foals instead. Their closing selections - ‘Red Socks Pugie’, recent single ‘Inhaler’, and ‘Two Steps, Twice’ - all sound fantastic. Their third album is out in a few weeks, so it shouldn’t be long between visits.

It's cool to see how much people love 360. Falling and Flying passed me by, but the overflowing Vans tent is reflecting every word back at the MC and his offsider. It's plenty loud, and the decision to end on a cover of Regurgitator’s ‘Song Formerly Known As’ is a good one. The crowd begins filtering out immediately, yet runs into a problem: the main arena is as rammed full as I've ever seen it, in the moments prior to Red Hot Chili Peppers starting. On the big screen, while we jockey for positions and wait, the band advertises their own downloadable recordings of tonight's show, Metallica-style; they also show pictures of whales in distress, and ask people to donate to the Sea Shepherd. An unexpected touch.

In a way, RHCP are the perfect festival headliner: so many of their songs are played on every single FM radio station in the world, every day, that nearly everything they play tonight is recognisable. If not the songs, then at least the components: busy bass, striking lead guitar, powerful drumming and hummable melodies. (And some of the most banal lyrics in popular rock music.) Importantly, the band are on time, a comment which won’t make sense unless you were at these festival grounds last year, watching - or not watching, as it were - Kanye West.

I’m thinking some fairly cynical thoughts toward RHCP for their first half-hour - These songs all sound the same! These lyrics are terrible! - but I’m won over by a comprehensive and commanding headline set. These four serve a purpose, and they serve it well. Unfortunately, the guitar is regularly inaudible from where I'm standing, a hundred metres back; no doubt it sounds worse back in the bleachers. This means that we occasionally miss some of those tasty lead solos, but no matter: the crowd sings along to the missing melodies. To the band’s credit, the setlist is vastly different to what was played in Sydney two nights ago. Tonight we get ‘Otherside’, ‘Suck My Kiss’ and ‘If You Have To Ask’, but miss out on ‘Scar Tissue’, ‘Soul To Squeeze’ and their ‘Higher Ground’ cover. They do ‘Under The Bridge’ straight, without affectation; a great song, no denying it.

The best moment of the entire day arrives late in the piece, during RHCP’s encore break. While the band is off-stage, catching their collective breath, cameras search the crowd, seeking—and finding—women willing to bare their breasts for the between-stage big screen. (Really? In 2013?) Suddenly, one hero comes into frame: a man standing proudly atop shoulders, wearing nought but a cock-sock. He gets a bigger cheer than any musician does today.

Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok)

(Photos: Justin Edwards)

REPORT: Big Day Out, Sydney 2013

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