Monday, February 04, 2008

Big Day Out, Sydney

Just like last year, I reviewed Sydney's Big Day Out for Drum Media. Here is what I thought:BIG DAY OUT
Olympic Park, Homebush

It’s remarkable how the loss of one big-name international act can suddenly give a festival line-up an entirely different perspective. As soon as Big Day Out had a Björk-shaped hole ripped out of it, the seemingly outstanding bill suddenly looked immeasurably less diverse and, subsequently, less interesting.

However, anyone mourning the last-gasp cancellation of Iceland’s favourite daughter would have at least been cheered up by the boundless verve of Operator Please. I’d never understood their appeal before, but everything fell into place upon watching their barnstorming performance. Maybe they offer little more than disposable fun, but fun is something which many bands forget to bring to the table at all.

Away from the main arena, the slightly bland nature of Josh Pyke’s laidback folk was followed by an altogether more dynamic and attention-grabbing performance from chirpy Londoner Kate Nash (below), who put on one of the performances of the day by juxtaposing biting lyrics with pop-tinged melodies. Meanwhile in the Boiler Room, UK grime trailblazer Dizzee Rascal had a pumped crowd eating out of his hand with his high-octane vernacular.Sydney was well represented on the Local Produce Stage, most notably by a majestic performance from teenagers Bridezilla (below), for whom frontwoman Holiday Sidewinder’s luscious vocal sounded particularly impressive. While a sizeable crowd was enjoying a band that are surely destined for a big future, over at the Blue Stage those intent on looking backward rather than forward were reminiscing with Grinspoon. Whether the rockers are still relevant or merely living on past glories seemed not to matter a jot to the shirtless hoards that moshed their hearts out.

While the kids bounced with abandon to the entirely mediocre hip-hop offered by Hilltop Hoods, the more senior members of the crowd took their increasingly aching limbs off to the Essential Stage to see Englishman Billy Bragg, who offered the most engaging between-song banter of the festival. The veteran’s impassioned left-wing sermonizing took in the following subjects (deep breath): fascism, racism, sexism, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, George Bush, education, healthcare, Tony Blair, third-world debt and, oddly, Ricky Ponting. Bragg’s charisma was such that the world felt a slightly better place for the duration of his folk-rock set, which was drenched in working-class romance and humour.As the evening drew in, all attention turned to the main stages. The many members of Arcade Fire were originally scheduled to play before Silverchair’s crowd-pleasing show but Björk’s absence afforded them the opportunity to demonstrate their striking art-rock under a setting sun, which created a perfect atmosphere as a captivating mix of strings, keys, guitar and all manner of percussion swept through the crowd. At any one time a melee of enthralling activity ensued on stage, especially from multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, whose playful charm and elegance perfectly personified the band’s appeal. This beautiful performance surely cemented their place as the best group around right now.

I could probably count on one hand the things that would cause me to miss the hauntingly beautiful ballads of Sarah Blasko, but one of those things is a time-clash with Rage Against The Machine, for whom the sense of anticipation was tangible as a massive crowd poured towards the Blue Stage. From opening track Testify each song was greeted with euphoria and every word was hollered back at the four-piece, who were drenched in sweat within seconds of stepping onstage. Any fears that the band would have lost its vigour were soon allayed as hit followed hit and absolute carnage ensued in a moshpit that spread the entire length of the field. Frontman Zack De La Rocha bounced around stage as he spat bile-fuelled lyrics with the same wrath he displayed 15 years ago, yet he was unable to prevent a smile from cracking his face as he looked out on a sea of fans still going absolutely ape-shit to the likes of Bombtrack, even after all these years.This pulsating show was a million miles from the languid comeback that many bands would offer after an eight year break. Indeed, the songs sounded even more relevant than they did the first time round, although it’s questionable whether their deeply political subject-matter made any kind of meaningful impact on a crowd largely intent on beating the hell out of each other. Regardless, Rage Against The Machine’s long-awaited return, which ended - of course - with Killing In The Name, was an unforgettable event.

But, as expected and in spite of the magnificence of the two main acts, the line-up lacked the kind of colourful eccentricity that a certain Icelandic pixie could have provided. Were it not for those pesky swollen vocal chords, one suspects that a fairly good day out would have been a bloody amazing day out.


Dan said...

Battles were awesome too.

cybele malinowski said...

thank god for the lizard lounge