Reviewed on Sunday January 26
Although there were a few mishaps in the lead up to Big Day Out 2014 (namely losing one of the event’s major distinctions: Blur), once the day arrived the lineup actually looked pretty rock solid. Speaking of rock, Big Day Out has always offered a plentiful selection of loud guitar bands, and this edition was no different. The electric guitar mightn’t be flavour of the month but the diversity of guitar-wielding bands on display ought to put to rest any spurious claims about the ‘death of rock’.
Noon wasn’t too early for Violent Soho to bring grungey thunder to the Red Stage. The Brisbane four-piece relied heavily on loud-quiet-loud dynamics, although the distortion pedals beckoned like ticking bombs through all of the quieter moments. The packed crowd happily united to scream the “Hell fuck yeah / Yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain of Hottest 100 entry ‘Covered In Chrome’.
Bluejuice took to the main stage in front of a giant “Bluejuice 4 Gay Marriage” backdrop, and Stav Yiannoukas offered a public invitation for PM Tony Abbott to “suck my fucking dick”. Otherwise, the locals’ set was their usual fare; uptempo, sweaty and barely clothed. The alternate main stage also gave Portugal. The Man the appropriate platform to showcase their increasingly shiny songs. The psychedelic jam attached to opener ‘All Your Light’ aimed to fill the reasonably empty arena, but it was slightly incidental. ‘Evil Friends’ asserted itself as the group’s strongest single, however the lesser selections from 2013’s Evil Friends LP sounded lacklustre, even with the widescreen projection.
Playing his polite, keys-driven pop to a quiet crowd on the grass was Toro y Moi, but indoors with Kingswood was where the day’s atmosphere began to lift. The Melbourne four-piece is everything a hairy rock band should be. Elsewhere, The Naked And Famous proved again that they’re made for big festival stages – if anything sounds more like summer than these Kiwis, it’ll need to come with a UV warning.
The Drones’ show was aided by comic banter from frontman Gareth Liddiard, drummer Mike Noga and guitarist Dan Luscombe. Between the sweltering ‘I See Seaweed’ and freakshow stomper ‘The Minotaur’, they took aim at crowd members’ groggy appearances and Australian flags as fashion accessories. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed “better than The Angels’ classic” ‘Shark Fin Blues’ reminded all that The Drones have owned an apocalyptic, dangerous sound for over a decade now.
The criminally scant crowd watching The Drones was partly excused by the amount present for Tame Impala. Whipping up a frenzy on the main stage, the group looked as nonplussed as ever. No-one could help from jerking limbs in time with the accents in ‘Elephant’, and further incitement to move came from a new song centred around an arpeggiating synth line and delay-soaked vocals. Kevin Parker nailed the falsettos in ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, and closer ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ illustrated how fresh Lonerism sounds 15 months on from release.
Cosmic Psychos certainly look like they’ve spent three decades playing beer-fuelled farmyard punk, and their deadpan songs about the hardly-there slog of being an Aussie bloke strongly connected with the mature-aged, mostly male audience. Likewise Seattle’s Mudhoney, whose fuzzy Stooges riffing occasionally became a bit repetitive, but things really took off when main man Mark Arm set his guitar aside, cracked a second bottle of chardonnay and offered his best David Byrne dance moves.
The moves were on show during The Hives’ set, too, though this time mostly from a large audience taking instruction from frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. He’d already promised “the greatest Hives show ever” – as he’s wont to do – and set closer ‘Tick Tick Boom’ took eighteen minutes to finish as Almqvist good-naturedly issued his orders. Not that Beady Eye’s Liam Gallagher appreciated it. He walked onstage offering sympathies for a crowd “bossed around all afternoon”, adding: “I don’t know whether to jump around or do the Macarena”. It was all grim business for the Oasis offshoots, who despite throwing in a couple of Noel Gallagher’s classics, were the weakest main stage act of the day.
90 minutes might sound like an excessive set length for the festival’s penultimate performers, but Arcade Fire have more than enough memorable tunes to allay any scepticism. ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, ‘Wake Up’ and ‘The Suburbs’ came early on, which seemed a bold move yet barely drained the supply of hits. The grooving backbone of tracks from last year’s Reflektor got the gleeful audience moving, and Win Butler’s earnest yet not beseeching banter was an endearing complement. Arcade Fire’s feel-good-with-a-message approach positively satisfied, if not surpassed, all expectations, confirming them as the classiest stadium band of our era.
The large contingent of the crowd who came purely for Pearl Jam – their t-shirts outnumbered the other bands’ by ten to one – were given plenty to vindicate their ticket purchase. Pearl Jam’s 29-song set was bolstered by the bulkiest sound mix of the day, and no doubt Mr. Vedder and co. satisfied the pious throng before them. However, it feels like Pearl Jam are almost too aware of their fans’ reverence and thus do exactly what’s expected (hit after hit, coupled with biographical details, and the odd new song or cover). But hey, that’s probably not a bad thing. ‘Rearviewmirror’ burned with rage, Mike McCready utterly destroyed eardrums on an extended solo in ‘Jeremy’, and tears fell to the elusive ‘Black’. It was clearly the most enjoyment Pearl Jam had found on a Sydney stage since at least 2006. “We’re not even Aussies, and we’ve had a great fuckin’ Australia Day,” offered Vedder, and it felt right.
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY AND CHRIS MARTIN