As we begin a new decade, we carry with us the promise of hope, resolution and new possibilities. On January 15th, 2010, there was a strong sense of anticipation and possibility in the air. Though ironclad, meteorological predictions of rain and thunderstorms were made, the sun showed up in full form, and did not falter or fall victim to precipitation or pessimism even once. It seemed the gods were smiling upon Mt. Smart Stadium, and that anything was possible. And as a man strapped to a jetpack flew through the sky, completely free from the confines of gravity, all doubt and skepticism disappeared. To top it all off, as many as 50,000 people crowded into the stadium to bear witness to the greatest musical event of the decade (so far). With superb weather, a flying man, and performances from some of the biggest names in today’s music scene, it sure as hell was a Big Day Out.
Big Day Out is, and continues to be the most highly revered and respected international music festival down under, with seven shows throughout Australia and New Zealand. This year we had some Big Day Out veterans, some up-and-comers and some global superstars; it was an exciting and incredible lineup that truly installed feelings of euphoria into audiophiles of every genre.
Big Day Out features five main stages, an indoor tent known as the Boiler Room (because of extremely high temperatures inside) and an array of food stalls, promotional tents and carnival rides, all spread out over a large stadium area. Due to the number of acts, scheduling and distance between stages, it is impossible to catch all the bands playing unless you plan on literally sprinting from stage-to-stage, which I for one was not. Therefore I did miss a number of acts, including British indie rock band Kasabian, Australia’s Powderfinger, Eskimo Joe, and a number of DJs and dance groups. Big Day Out is known for its wide variety and large number of acts, but because the day only has twelve hours in it, there are always scheduling clashes, so I was forced to prioritize and unfortunately did miss some great bands.
Local teenage talent Bandicoot played a pre-official-opening show (testing out the sound system, smoothing out kinks), and despite their tender youth, delivered an extremely passionate set well beyond their years. After the rules, regulations and safety precautions quieted the crowd, the iconic notes of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey erupted from the loudspeakers, and welcomed concertgoers to the 16th annual Big Day Out. This was the first Big Day Out of the new decade, and there was a sense of anticipation that this was going to be a day to remember.
Australia’s own dream pop darlings The Temper Trap (QRO album review) played early on, and awarded fans with an excellent set. The highlight was definitely “Sweet Disposition” which had the crowd swaying in unison and singing along to the falsetto chorus. Almost directly after came Boston buzz-band, Passion Pit. Delivering a near-perfect set of songs from their critically acclaimed album Manners (QRO review), Passion Pit injected their fans with feelings of ecstasy, and was rewarded with a frenetic mosh pit that sang along to every song. I can honestly say, the entire crowd singing along to “Sleepyhead” sent chills down my spine. Passion Pit immersed the audience in pure sound, mood and energy and never let them come up for air once during their 45-minute set.
By midday the temperature had reached oppressive levels, and bands unfortunate enough to be scheduled at this time, played to smaller, albeit dedicated crowds. Atlanta-based metallers Mastodon were one of the few who were on during the heat of the day. They did however play a lively set, and featured the only double-necked guitar of the day. Also on at this time were local favourites Midnight Youth and Ladyhawke (QRO live review). Midnight Youth played to a relatively large crowd of eager young fans, and gave them a solid set, while Ladyhawke lamented the Haiti tragedy during her show on one of the smaller stages.
At 3:30 PM, a seemingly dark haze was cast over the stage as U.K. goths-turned-shoegazers The Horrors (QRO live review) appeared down under for the first time. With their ethereal atmospheric melodies, to front man Faris Badwan’s indolent yet passionate tone, The Horrors explored unprecedented musical territory, whilst conveying their signature deathly undertone to all who dared to listen. It was quite an experience, with “Scarlet Fields” being a particular highlight.
After that, the indoor Boiler Room was the place to be, with back-to-back performances from Girl Talk, Peaches and Calvin Harris (QRO album review). DJ Greg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, turned the Boiler Room into a massive dance party by inviting fans up on stage with him and managing to jam several hundred songs into a fantastic mash-up. Taking the stage straight afterwards, Peaches proved to be her usual vulgar and unique self, with sexually explicit raps and distinctive if perverse costumes. Early on in her set she yelled, “Jesus walks on water, Peaches walks on you,” and then proceeded to, with great trust in her audience, literally walk on top of their hands. A very impressive act, that was later almost outdone by her donning a penis shaped suit whilst singing “Shake Your Dick”.
By now much of the crowd was making their way down to the main field in preparation for the day’s main attractions. The field was completely thick with people and by the time Dizzee Rascal entered the stage, every inch of grass and every tiered seat was occupied. The motor-mouthed Londoner sent the arena bonkers with his fast paced hip-hop-meets-dancefloor-meets-grime set, featuring a triple dose of his hits “Dance Wiv Me,” “Holiday” and, as an encore, “Bonkers”.
Following Dizzee was fellow Londoner Lily Allen, who sauntered onstage barefoot wielding a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Ms. Allen looked right at home back on stage, after her latest retirement from music last year. She performed all her hit singles including “Smile”, “LDN”, “22”, and was rudely cut short by her band during “The Fear”. She also sang a saucy rendition of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer”. But by far the most crowd-pleasing song was “Fuck You”, delivered in a way only Allen could pull off.
The Mars Volta (QRO album review) then played an impressive set of highly technical, yet often difficult to dance to, songs. Despite the incredible guitar solos, or vocal capability of the band, the audience only had one thing on its mind by then; Muse. So The Mars Volta were never fully enjoyed and possibly disheartened by a “we want Muse” chant that began halfway through their set. But eventually they finished, and an intoxicating hush fell over the audience…
And then there was Muse (QRO album review). What can one say about Muse that hasn’t already been said before? How does one describe the best live band in the world? Well let me first set the record straight by saying that Muse seemed completely deserving of that superlative moniker. Breathtaking, incredible, outstanding and superb are a few adjectives that come to mind when attempting to describe Muse live. But the truth is they are indefinable; there are no words for what was experienced at Muse’s show. As the diehard Muse fan next to me said, “Muse is the best band in the world full stop. They are why we are all here today.”
Perhaps this is true. There was a disproportionate number of Big Day Out-ers wearing Muse shirts and carrying Muse banners, and the crowd seemed to come alive when the trio appeared on stage. So maybe this was simply a Muse concert, with over 40 opening acts. Whatever the case, Muse played a phenomenal set, beginning with “Uprising” and “Supermassive Black Hole”. With insane lasers, smoke, flames, confetti and numerous other stage effects, Muse rocked the 50, 000 strong crowd and gave us all a night to remember.
The night did eventually come to a close; those who still could stand after Muse’s moshpit, bravely went and partied to Groove Armada, while the rest of us went home with vivid memories of an epic night to keep with us for months to come. It sure as hell was a Big Day Out.
-words: Lukas Clark-Memler
photos: taken from www.nzherald.co.nz submitted photostream (link)