Big Day Out @ Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (30/01/2011)

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Melbourne turned the heat up to scorching for this year’s Big Day Out extravaganza. Coupled with the sheer size of this event, the many stages and sensational line up of acts, over 52,000 punters and the desire to check out as much music as humanly possible, made this one of the most arduous yet exhilarating Big Day Outs ever.

This was my fifth year covering this iconic event, and boy did it throw me a few curveballs. Apart from having my work cut out for me trying to navigate the schedule, which is always a priority as a reviewer, I was indeed one of the thousands that succumbed to heatstroke. Thankfully, with some shade, water (plus, it must be said, help from my gem of a friend Katie), I was up and enjoying the music again before I could say, “St John’s Ambulance”.

Aussie band The Vines kicked off proceedings, with a somewhat surprisingly early set time. Lead singer Craig Nicholls gave his best rock n roll guitar thrashing at the end of their set, which is pretty much expected from the Vines lead man, although may have been interpreted as a little bit keen for that early in the day. But whatever floats your boat.

Fellow Melbournians and my favourite band of the moment, Gypsy and the Cat were creating magic at the Hot Produce stage. The Triple J Hottest 100 entrants (with a whopping three songs being voted in) were wowing the crowd, not only with Lionel Towers and Xavier Bacash’s all-white ensembles, but also by the brilliance of their live performance.

Hailing from Brisbane, Dead Letter Circus were rocking it out to a hearty crowd at the Orange stage. This extremely impressive band only released their debut album last year and it hit number one on the Aria charts. They gave an electric performance of latest hit Cage and it is little wonder that they have supported such heavyweights as Muse and Linkin Park in their latest tours of the nation.

Another local act to pound out the drums and thrash the guitars were Warrnambool heavy rockers, Airbourne. Big Day Out may not have fallen on Australia Day again this year, but the Aussie pride was glowing brighter than the noon day sun with these well versed rockers’ raw and gutsy set.

Next door at the Orange Stage came the much anticipated set of Lupe Fiasco, and did the American deliver or what?! Jumping around the stage and rocking out with his band, he gave a high powered performance of fan favourites Kick Push and Superstar, as well as newbie The Show Goes On. Still at the two main stages, Aussie hip- hoppers Bliss n Eso riled up the crowd with a serving of their home-grown rapping, in-your-face lyrics and catchy beats. Tracks Down by the River and Addicted got the anthemic response that Bliss n Eso are no doubt used to by now at festival gigs.

Over at the ironically cool Boiler Room, South African hip hop trio Die Antwoord were getting their freaky on. Ninja, DJ Hi- Tek and Yo-Landi Vi$$ier were a refreshingly different addition to the BDO line-up, as they exhibited some Afrikaans lingo, getting the crowd to chant back about their Mum’s genitalia in a fish paste jar (‘Jou Ma Se Poes in a Fish Paste Ja’). I had heard all the hype about this left-of-centre rave rapping group and was pleasantly intrigued by their performance and energy. Coupled with some crazy surrealist visuals and a blatant phallic obsession, their internet sensation hits like Enter the Ninja & Evil Boy were going off in fine fashion.

The buzz around electronic Canadian band Crystal Castles’ set at Big Day Out was palpable and the Boiler Room was at capacity during this late afternoon set. Lead singer Alice Glass managed to perform with a broken ankle as the crowd lapped up their avant-garde and chaotic performance.

Back at the Blue Stage, four piece Perth locals Birds of Tokyo were rocking out to an eager crowd, spilling out of the beer tent to allow their ears to drink greedily of the awesome set and also for a bit of a breeze, as that tent was stiflingly hot. Hit single Plans went off as expected as the crowd chanted back the lyrics to frontman Ian Kenny.

Still out in the sweltering heat, the mob’s enthusiasm continued to grow even more as the John Butler Trio played their feel good blues and roots, with such tracks as What You Want, Don’t Want to See Your Face and Close to You making people get up and do a bit of a jig.

Over at Lilyworld, I was keen as mustard to check out New York-based Reggie Watts. He is the phenomenal one-man show that combines beat boxing, stunning a cappella vocals and comedy to a looping machine and makes it work to perfection. With his fuzz of hair and matter-of-fact, tongue-in-cheek jokes, he really is brilliant to witness live.

As his set wasn’t the loudest in that part of the Flemington Racecourse, he was competing almost with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros for the soundwaves. Hilariously enough, he paused to appreciate the band’s songs; stating that they had a “great sound” and that we should listen to some of it. Thankfully, that wasn’t a cue for everyone to leave and join the Converse Stage brigade instead. Watts is one of the most original artists I have seen perform in some time and he was a welcome pause in the heavy rock juggernaut that was taking over the two main stages.

Iggy Pop and his Stooges were dishing out the punk rock, as the vein riddled influential innovator of the genre invited (yet again) members of the mosh-pit to join him up on stage. Iggy just keeps on keeping on, and so for that, I give him a solid thumbs up.

Yet, that didn’t mean I was going to miss any part of Sia Furler’s performance, as she was my highlight of the day. With her penchant for dressing as a replica of her stage backdrops, she outdid herself this time with a striped backboard attached to her equally striped outfit. With her Adelaide twang and uber cool down-to-earth attitude, Sia’s uplifting tracks were a blissful way to enjoy the twilight taking over Big Day Out.

Her lack of movement, that was mainly due to her outfit, was counteracted by the crowd’s eager energy, jumping up and down to Clap Your Hands and You’ve Changed, as well as a soulful rendition of her melancholic classic track, Breathe Me. Sia is a true performer creating a relaxed yet effervescent and fun vibe for all present, even going so far as to practically auction off the ‘available’ members of her band as the set wrapped up.

Scottish alternative rock outfit Primal Scream were performing on the Green Stage to a reasonably small group (most probably due to Rammstein playing at the same time on the Orange Stage), gathered to watch Bobby Gillespie strut back and forth to his psychedelic rock tunes come gospel-esque praising with their final song Come Together.

Another highlight for the evening was Pnau, whose great light show was mesmerising against the darkening sky. With green and yellow lights and strobes fluttering, Nick Littlemore was a far cry from his Empire of the Sun persona but intriguing and beguiling nonetheless.

With tracks like Wild Strawberries, Baby and new ones Truth and Embrace being emphatically delivered and received by the audience, this was one terrific final set for the Converse Stage. As I headed back towards the exit (sorry MIA, you just didn’t have that much pulling power for me this year and I was in severe need of a shower and bed), I wandered past the Boiler Room as it was shaking with the familiar sounds of Booka Shade dropping In White Rooms to a thoroughly pleased crowd.

And finally, as I traipsed across the path to Epsom Road, I witnessed the spectacle that was Tool. All green and white lights, projected skeletons dissolving into ash and some hardcore alternative metal delivered by Maynard Keenan, it was a good send-off; despite having missed them play Stinkfist.

Big Day Out packed a huge punch this year, and only the strong survived it. It can be brutal, exhilarating, exhausting, magical and sublime. It is still one of the heavyweights in music festivals and is growing exponentially each year. And it sure delivered the goods again this year.

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