Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast, January 19, 2014
Despite going to six of the last seven Big Day Outs, I’ve always gone reluctantly. It probably makes me sound like some kind of music festival elitist, but frankly there’s always been too many bogans for my liking. It’s only been the presence of ‘must see’ acts like Neil Young or Noel Gallagher that have twisted my arm and made me go.
This year it was Blur who were responsible for reeling me in, enticing me with the promise of being able to sing ‘Tender’ with 10,000 other people. Of course, as we know now they would withdraw from the festival in November, removing the main reason I bought a ticket. It didn’t bode well, although being a big Oasis fan the addition of Beady Eye to the lineup made up for some of the disappointment.
But even without Blur, Big Day Out 2014 was one to remember. The move to Metricon Stadium has been the shot in the arm that the Gold Coast edition of the festival needed. Those ugly Gold Coast showgrounds are a distant memory, replaced by a spacious and modern venue with easy access, ample shade and the holy grail of festivals amenities … clean toilets. Better still, this year’s crowd seemed generally more mature and better behaved. I suppose it’s hard to wear an Australian Flag cape and start a fight circle to Arcade Fire?
My Big Day Out starts at noon as Bluejuice take to the main Blue stage. It’s absolutely boiling, and they have their work cut out playing this early in front of a small crowd. I’ve never listened to a Bluejuice album (and I probably never will), but I surprise myself with how much I enjoy it. It’s fabulously camp, with the group decked out in absurd gold leotards and cavorting across the stage in front of a ‘Bluejuice 4 Gay Marriage’ backdrop. They finish with ‘Broken Leg’, by which time Jake Stone has stripped down to a horrific G-String and been joined on-stage by Art vs Science who have appeared out of nowhere.
After taking a moment to check out the merchandise tents and the other stages (briefly catching some of Loon Lake in the process), I head back into the main arena to catch New Zealand’s the Naked and the Famous. I’m sitting high up in the grandstands, but the sound is clear. I’m too far back to really ‘connect’ with the music, but their brand of synth-pop is infectious and from up in the stands the crowd look like ants as they rush towards the stage as the band play their two big hits, ‘Punching in a Dream’ and ‘Young Blood’.
Next up on the Orange stage are Tame Impala, with their fuzzy, psychedelic tunes. Tracks like ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ have such an irresistible groove to them and show exactly why they group is so well vaunted by the likes of Paul McCartney. They sound amazing and during ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’ you could close your eyes and just as easily be back in the sixties listening to Cream. Not so much a negative – more of an observation – but Kevin Parker’s stage banter is strange. He is just so unbelievably shy and introverted that he sounds a little awkward. Best let the music do the talking, probably.
In their native Sweden it rarely gets above zero in January, so it is all the more amazing when the Hives turn up on stage clad in Mariachi suits. Heatstroke can’t be far off, but you wouldn’t know it as their frantic rock and roll comes at the crowd like machine gun fire. Front man Pelle Almqvist’s energy is infectious, and songs like ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy. They finish up with ‘Tick Tick Boom’, during which Almqvist asks the crowd to sit down before getting them to jump up and explode into life as the chorus hits one last time.
Next up are Beady Eye. This is the sixth time I’ve Oasis or their various spin-offs, but even as a ‘mad fer it’ fan I’m a little underwhelmed. Liam sounds the best he has for years, and he still has the classic stage presence – knees bent, arms behind his back, neck craning up to the microphone. The problem is Beady Eye’s songs just aren’t well known here and even the likes of ‘The Roller’ or ‘Four Letter Word’ don’t get much of a response. Only a pair of Oasis songs (‘Rock N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Morning Glory’) breathes some life into their set, and even Liam seems a bit frustrated. “You know this one, right?” he snarls during their cover of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’.
Beady Eye have barely left the stage before Blur’s ‘Song 2’ starts blasting out of the speakers. Wait! What’s this?! Have Damon Albarn & co decided to turn up after all? No, no, it’s just Arcade Fire’s intro music. They’ve bought a 10-piece band with them for a ‘Greatest Hits’-type set that borrows from their four albums to date, and they look and sound majestic. There is so much happening on stage, with bobble-heads and bongo-players bathed in beams of light bouncing off mirrors. They underline their festival credentials with an explosion of glitter into the night sky during a euphoric ‘Here Comes the Night’ before a rousing ‘Wake Up’ closes their set. They are an absolute treat and a highlight of the day.
From there I rush over to Boiler Room to catch the rest of Flume’s set. I still don’t really know what DJs do up there – obviously they mix tunes together, but do they decide what to mix in advance? are they spinning records? I don’t know – but it sounds good. I’m standing at the back stone cold sober but the place is absolutely pumping and I’m a little disappointed that I’m not up in amongst it all. Just a few days later he will make #5 on the Triple J Hottest 100 with ‘Drop the Game’, his collaboration with Chet Faker. He’s come a long way for a guy who was producing songs in his bedroom two years ago.
From there it’s time to grab a cappuccino (no booze for me today – what am I, an adult?) and return back into the stadium one last time for Pearl Jam’s headlining set. I’ve missed most of the first half but arrive to catch the encore which includes a gorgeous cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’ and a selection of hits including ‘Betterman’ (dedicated to surfer Mark Occhilupo who is watching from back stage with Mick Fanning), ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Alive’. Seeing them live makes me realise that I probably do underestimate just how important their place is in the history of rock and roll. They’re one of the all time greats, and they end their set with their searing version of Neil Young’s ‘Keep on Rocking in the Free World’.
And with that, my 2014 Big Day Out comes to an end. It’s been my most enjoyable Big Day Out to date, made even better by the slick new venue which has me back home in Brisbane just after 11pm. It’s been a great day and I’ve enjoyed every second. Who needs Blur anyway?