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Second Sydney Big Day Out Review

“It almost feels like home.”

I wasn’t planning on going to the Big Day Out this year when I first saw the lineup. And I certainly could have never predicted that I would end up going to the Big Day Out in Sydney. However the stars aligned and the circumstances arose where I simply had to.

And I had a great time. In fact, I had a much better time than I was expecting. A sweltering day caused a lot of discomfort, and I maintain that the lineup was far from great, but ultimately all that matters is that it was a whole lot of fun.

This was in no small part due to the great venue, which is infinitely better than- and it pains me greatly to admit this- the Melbourne equivalent. As someone who went to the 2010 Melbourne Big Day Out, I found it simply astounding that there was shade and proper seating at the Sydney venue. The use of stadiums was inspired, and the entire festival was spread out over a much greater space than in Melbourne, resulting in much less congestion.

As is to be expected at the Big Day Out, the crowd was extremely diverse, ranging from experienced festival veterans to Southern Cross emblazoned bogans more interested in the bars than the stages. However after The Hot BBQ the crowd actually seemed quite bearable, and I found that so long as you were friendly and polite, you didn’t really have anything to worry about.

All this being said, it was probably only because of the infamous two-for-one ticket deal that I was attending, and it was a relief to see that despite this extra complication, entrance to the festival was still completely painless. This allowed my mate and I to arrive in time for the first act of the day, and one of the bands I was most looking forward to.

The Big Day Out organisers seriously underestimated the popularity of New Zealand band The Naked And Famous when they scheduled them as the first band of the day. This is a band that deserves a much later timeslot, and I have little doubt that in a couple of years they will be much higher on festival bills than they currently are.

The crowd was onto this fact however, as a pretty massive group of people had already assembled around the mid-sized stage by the time we arrived. The band proceeded to put on a show that justified both the significant hype around them at the moment as well as the large crowd.

Like all truly great electro-pop acts, they somehow manage to sound extremely raw whilst still utilizing various electronic elements in their music. Punching In A Dream was great, and the crowd really were getting into every single track that the band belted out, despite the overwhelming feeling that a lot of people were waiting for that song.

Predictably, the band opted to play Young Blood last, but this was justified by the response the song received from the crowd. I don’t think I have ever seen a song from a first-act-of-a-festival band go off like Young Blood. Everyone gathered around the stage chanted every single word with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the lyrics, whilst the warm weather didn’t deter healthy amounts of jumping and dancing.

I loved every moment of The Naked And Famous (not just the last four minutes), and look forward to the next time I can see them live, no doubt at a much later hour than 11am.

It was one of the most significant clashes of the day next, with four Aussie acts that I kind of half-wanted to see all playing at the same time: Little Red, Children Collide, Parades, and Jinja Safari. What eventually convinced me to see Jinja Safari was that they were playing at the Annandale Stage, which was essentially a very cool mini-stadium sunk into the ground complete with proper seating and a miniature ground area directly in front of the stage.

I had seen all of the aforementioned clash bands live several times before, so wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by any of them, but Jinja Safari played a set that I now consider to be easily in my top two or three of the day. Their music has such a sense of adventure to it, and at no time does this come over as much as it does when they play it live.

The stage was adorned with their trademark jungle vines, which match the general theme of their music very well. Suitably, Forest Eyes provided an early excuse to get the small but enthusiastic crowd around the barrier moving. Despite the heat, it seemed that people were just naturally drawn to the sound and energy emanating from the stage, and the crowd grew exponentially as Jinja Safari played, to the point where the ground area was almost at maximum capacity.

It was a truly awesome crowd as well, easily the coolest that I have ever witnessed for a Big Day Out band. Everyone was dancing without a care in the world, especially a few people towards the back who were cutting swooping and sizable lines across the ground with exuberance. Jinja Safari have coined the term ‘ugly dancing’, meaning essentially dancing without a care for how you look, and this is exactly what the Big Day Out crowd was doing. It was a true sight to witness.

Peter Pan was of course wonderful, but it was actually far from the standout of their set. Instead, every song was great, from bigger hits to unreleased tracks to lesser-known EP songs. Any excuse to dance.

Jinja Safari truly are a great live band, and despite their billing as a local act, their set was definitely one of my favourites of the day.

With the departure of Jinja Safari, and things starting to really heat up to the point where I was sweating off sunscreen as fast as I could apply it, I decided to hit up the aptly named, albeit indoor, Boiler Room to check out Kids Of 88.

I had seen these guys a couple of days earlier and been pretty impressed, and they were definitely well suited to the Boiler Room. It was an imposing stage setup, with an indoor ferris wheel and various LED light setups scattered amongst the enormous warehouse that would go on to startle and confuse many a drunk bogan later in the day.

By the time I arrived the Kiwis already had the medium-sized crowd in the palm of their hands. Unfortunately I missed my favourite track of theirs, Everybody Knows, but I still witnessed a set of fun, mindless party music that had the front few rows in an absolute frenzy.

“Even though there are only half as many of you guys as there was yesterday, you are easily the best Big Day Out crowd we have ever played to”.

Up next was Washington back at the medium dual-stage setup. She’s pretty much the hottest thing in Australian music at the moment, and I’ve seen her live quite a few times, but to be honest there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on that annoys me slightly about her. Or maybe I’m just bitter that she drew such an absurdly large crowd that it was impossible to even get a decent view of her.

Regardless, she certainly has an impressive amount of hits under her belt considering that she has only released one full-length album. She played them all at the Big Day Out, in a fast-paced set spearheaded by The Hardest Part, How To Tame Lions, and Cement.

She was pretty cool I suppose.

Seeing as I would sooner jump off the roof of Olympic Park Stadium than go and see Gypsy And The Cat again, there was quite a sizable gap after Washington and before the next act my mate and I wanted to see (although in hindsight I definitely wish I paid more attention to the party that was Andrew W.K.).

Thankfully, due to the awesomeness of the venue and the setup, we were able to just hang around in the shade, wandering a few of the smaller stages and grabbing something to eat from one of the countless food stalls set up around the outskirts of the festival grounds. It was a surprisingly good place to just relax and take in the surroundings. Plus the permanent toilet fixtures of the stadium were very welcome.

Ultimately we settled for a spot in the grandstand of Olympic Park, where we were able to watch a couple of the bigger acts from the comfort of seats. It was amazing having access to the upper tiers of the grandstand, and provided a very welcome way to escape the glare of the sun and recuperate for a bit. Have I mentioned I was kind of impressed by the venue?

Anyway, we witnessed the latter half of Lupe Fiasco and the entirety of Bliss N Eso from a distance. Both bands are about as far from ‘my thing’ as it is possible to be, and I didn’t enjoy either of them, so anything I have to say about them will be wasted here. Suffice to say that they both drew staggeringly large crowds that nearly stretched back to the other side of the oval, which was a truly awe inspiring sight to witness. While I have certainly been in moshes that size, I have never seen them from afar, and it was quite the spectacle.

The alternating dual stage setup of the Big Day Out, whereby paired stages alternated performance and set-up without any break, really is brilliant, especially when it is applied to both the main two stages and the two medium-sized stages. The crowd was never left with no band to see, and there was remarkable little downtime throughout the day. Say what you want about the Big Day Out, the organisers make a lot of smart decisions.

With chill out time over, we decided to head to the ‘Essential Stage’ to check out the recent winners of the 2010 Triple J Hottest 100, Angus And Julia Stone. While they both seem like lovely people, I find their music kind of boring, and this was asserted at the Big Day Out.

Admittedly the heat was just reaching its peak, and the crowd was obscenely large, which meant I couldn’t even see the stage, but I still just don’t really like their music. I really wasn’t having a good time, and managed to persuade my mate to check out another act instead after just a couple of songs.

And it’s a good thing we did, because as it happens we headed to Lilyworld to see Brooklyn’s Matt And Kim, and they were probably my favourite act of the whole day.

As one of the few genuine bands scheduled on the small, cozy, and penis-filled Lilyworld Stage, Matt And Kim really did own the stage for the duration of their 45 minute set. The infectious happiness of the duo made it impossible for the crowd not to dance and sing along, and their demeanour and stage presence perfectly complimented their impossibly upbeat ‘powerpop’ music.

It really did just seem like the couple were having a ball during every single song that they played, with Matt’s limbs flailing everywhere while he somehow managed to play keys and sing lead vocals, and Kim absolutely demolishing her drumkit. The crowd matched their energy, forming one of those great situations where both audience and band are feeding off the energy of one another.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare was simply electric, as was Lessons Learned. The band wasted no opportunity to get the crowd involved in the gig in whatever way possible, including conducting large-scale singalongs, Kim giving a ‘booty dance’ to the front couple of rows whilst balancing on their outstretched hands, Matt ambitiously and impressively scaling the scaffolding, and even getting everyone to blow up balloons and release them in unison, creating a very cool moment.

Yea Yea was some good old mindless fun, as was a surprising and brief cover of Better Off Alone. However all roads were leading to their final song, the one and only Daylight, and it was quite simply a bouncy ball of fun that caught the Lilyworld crowd in its spell and and wouldn’t let go. It was brilliant, and is proof that not all music needs to be meaningful and complex.

Sometimes, ‘fun’ is more than enough.

Without sounding too cliched, Matt And Kim demonstrated just how far a genuine smile can go as a live performer. Their sense of fun and carelessness was overwhelmingly infectious, and their music matched their disposition. This was a simply brilliant set.

Next on the agenda was to secure a favourable spot for one of my most anticipated acts of the day, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros. Surprisingly, despite not being all that early, we were able to get a spot in the second front row and right in the center of the stage. Thanks to the alternating stage setup we even had the wonderful music of Paul Dempsey, who did admirably at the very difficult task of filling in for The Black Keys, to keep us entertained while we waited.

After a very short wait the band appeared on stage to a deafening roar from the now enormous crowd. They looked somewhat like a fucking awesome gated hippie community. I counted at least nine band members, all of them in various strange and colourful clothes.

Right from the start, it was obvious that these guys were just at the festival to have a great time. There was a tangible sense of freedom in the performance of Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, and it felt wonderful to be carried away in their great sounds and great vibes.

40 Day Dream was played very early in their set, and I won’t soon forget clapping along to that instantly recognisable chorus along with a thousand other people, as the crowd was stretching for just about as far as the eye could see behind us.

Frontman Alex wasted no time in getting involved with the crowd, jumping into the first few rows and somehow acquiring a lost purse. He proceeded to attempt to return the purse to its rightful owner by reading out the name on the driver’s license, but had no luck.

He paraded amongst the front of the crowd, giving everybody a chance to sing along into the mic and really get involved in the performance. Janglin was brilliant live, and was significantly extended when compared to the studio version.

Alex went on an extended journey into the right side of the crowd, over to Paul Dempsey’s stage, and returned five minutes later with a beer in hand. Judging from the cheering emanating from that side of the crowd, the trip was a success. It was obvious that the band hadn’t thoroughly planned out their set, with band members discussing what song to play next at regular intervals, but this only added to the sense of carefree joy.

With ten minutes of the set left, it was time. Alex started whistling softly into the microphone, and the front few rows simply exploded with cheering and dancing as the opening sounds of the magnificent Home rang out around the Big Day Out. Everyone did their best to join in with the whistling, to varying levels of success, and it was a pretty special moment.

The song was absolutely brilliant, easily my favourite single song of the day. Frontwoman Jade was mesmerising with her swaying and singing, and the track really does just work perfectly live. A small folkmosh even developed for the chorus, but for the most part everyone in the crowd was just dancing and singing at the top of their voices, without a care in the world.

About halfway through the song Alex held the microphone out to the crowd, and the way everyone took over lead vocals gave me goosbumps- it was utterly amazing to be a part of so many people singing unanimously and freely, and huge smiles crossed the faces of Alex and Jade at the sight.

The song latest almost ten minutes, but it still didn’t seem anywhere near long enough. It was just so awesome. And just like that, the set was over.

Despite playing for nearly an hour, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros only played four or five songs, but this was just fine. The band on a whole had been fantastic: I particularly loved the drummers, keyboardist, and trumpet player. Alex and Jade meanwhile effortlessly charmed the huge crowd from the moment that they appeared on stage.

Like all great performances, this really did feel like it was unique. Live bands don’t come much more special or memorable than Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros.

My mate and I departed the area as quickly as possible in order to escape the sounds of Wolfmother, and decided to once again just chill in the grandstand of the main stages stadium for a while. Getting a look at Iggy from afar was pretty cool, but I thought his performance fell a little flat for a comparatively small main stage crowd.

On the other hand a massive crowd was already gathering at the alternate main stage for the arrival of Rammstein. A huge curtain had been set up to block the sight of the stage preparation, and the reason behind this was obvious the moment Iggy finished and the curtain fell.

It revealed a massive German flag towering over the stage, which dropped immediately to reveal the band themselves. The roar from the crowd was impressive, but it was soon drowned out by heavy riffs and fierce drumming from the stage.

By now you would have gathered that Rammstein probably aren’t my cup of tea, but the pyrotechnics of their performance were truly impressive, with fireworks and fire breathing accompanying almost every song.

While many people I’ve spoken to found the performance menacing, I found it almost adorably camp. The diversity of the crowd was hilarious as well, with diehard Rammstein fans in the front and drunk bogans attracted to the loud noises and shiny things in the back.

While the pyrotechnics were awe-inspiring at times, they did limit the movement of the band members around the stage, to the point where it was basically stand-and-deliver. The crowd didn’t seem to mind however, and it was rather enjoyable watching the audience members lose their minds to the industrial German heavy metal music emanating from the stage.

I departed halfway through the set however, with the goal of achieving a good spot in the Boiler Room for LCD Soundsystem.

Unfortunately this meant enduring 20 minutes of Kid Kenobi and co., which was far from enjoyable. The atmosphere in the Boiler Room was electric however, and I somehow managed to get a spot in the first five rows, which I was very happy with.

With little fanfare, James Murphy and band strolled calmly onto the stage, surrounded by their setup of retro sci-fi instruments. I was very disappointed with opener Get Innocuous!, because it pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn’t be hearing Dance Yrself Clean, but it was still a pretty cool opening.

Even I hate myself slightly for saying this, but LCD Soundsystem really don’t have a great live show. Good, yes; but certainly not great. Their bombastic dance music is just so impossibly difficult to translate effectively into a well-rounded live show, and this was evident at this Big Day Out, where their set fell well short of when I saw them last year at Splendour In The Grass. Their music left the crowd unsure of whether to mosh, dance, or nod their heads, and many people seemed to compromise by just standing still.

This being said, it was still very enjoyable. I managed to find a pocket of energy in the crowd where everyone was dancing and going nuts, and rather enjoyed joining in. All My Friends was the unquestionable highlight of the set, and it was once again a pure joy to witness the full version of the magnificent song live.

Daft Punk Is Playing At My House was fantastic, and James Murphy was once again the epitome of cool, despite an at times underwhelming stage presence. The closer of New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down was as unexpected as it was great, and went some way to making up for the lack of Dance Yrself Clean.

LCD Soundsystem’s set was pretty great, and a whole lot of fun, but it most definitely wasn’t up there with my favourite acts of the day. The Boiler Room should have perfectly suited LCD Soundsystem, and by all rights they really should have demolished that stage, especially considering the initial enthusiasm of the huge crowd. But they didn’t, and their set was missing that palpable sense of power that their Splendour performance had.

And that was it for my Big Day Out. All up, it was a remarkably fun day that far outdid my expectations. I found that paying half price for a ticket greatly lowered my expectations, and somehow placed less pressure on the need to have an unbelievably good day full of music.

Instead, I was perfectly happy to just chill in the shade when the timetable called for it, and was only fussed with getting to the front for a handful of acts. For me the highlights of the day were Matt And Kim, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, Jinja Safari, and The Naked And Famous, all of whom were pretty much faultless. And that in itself is well and truly worth the price of admission.

I didn’t hate the crowd as much as I thought I would, and the venue was simply spectacular, with diverse stages, a huge area to move around in, plenty of undercover permanent seating and passable facilities. It is going to make going to the Melbourne Big Day Out again very difficult indeed.

I had an absolutely wonderful day, and in the end that is both all you can really ask for, and all you really want.

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3 Responses to “Second Sydney Big Day Out Review”

  1. YES YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN ANDREW WK. YOUR FUNERAL MATE.

    I’m glad you had a good time in our fine city! Interested to see what melb bdo is like if this was a dream setup for you…so stuffy!

    You should have stuck around for Grinderman too, probably my favourite set of the day. They killed it.

    • I definitely wouldn’t call it a dream setup (that’s Splendour for me, easily), but it was soooo much better than Melbourne, where every outdoor stage is pretty much the same and there is no real shade and no proper seating. Everything is much more packed in here as well.

      I was pretty wiped by the end of the day and we wanted to beat the rush home, but I do kind of wish I saw Nick Cave.

      • Definitely try and see him next time he’s around… I was never huge on him until recently and he has the most enormous stage presence. In love, so in love. Stoked for new Bad Seeds this year.

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