Report: Big Day Out, Sydney 2013
Who's saying what
Olympic Park, Sydney
Friday January 18, 2013
Donald Glover looks like an actor when he raps……which is funny, because half of his songs are about the irony of black actors trying to cross over into rap. In the liquid mercury barn that has replaced the Essential Stage, Glover takes his hip-hop moniker Childish Gambino to heights that nobody actually expected. For a start he brings an entire live band, that jump around like House Of Pain are still with us. And despite the fact that these are songs about deception, love, Facebook and Netflix, Glover imbues them with so much personality and self-ribbing braggadocio that it's impossible not to be impressed. Certainly the massive crowd that he pulls despite near-zero radio play in this country and his appearance in two low-rating cult shows demonstrates that sometimes the Freaks and Geeks of the world do have the last laugh. [A-]
Brandon Flowers has finally done it
The Killers have been vaguely threatening to morph into a gargantuan stadium rock band for at least three albums now, but nobody ever really took them that seriously. Last time I saw them in this setting they were playing at 2pm and Flowers still wore eyeliner. Now he's dressed like a Nazi Stormtrooper (unfortunate) and leading the Band That Nearly Wasn't in a victorious march through the songbook of American Dreams. And here's the thing, as stupid as half of the fist-pumping ballads are, as obviously as they appropriate The Boss and Bon Jovi, they are still uniquely Flowers. There may be no answer to whether we are humans or dancers, or why he doesn't look a thing like Je-sus or why soldiers don't have souls, but damned if it doesn't sound great sung en masse into the dark, sticky night. Never has a band turned its back on "cool" to such positive effect. [B+]
Big Day Out in Sydney manages to secure an unseasonably, unbelievably hot day almost every single year, but with the mercury pipping 45 degrees, it’s the best effort yet on behalf of the Sun. There are kids splayed out unconscious across the concrete jungle before we even make it through the gates, and it’s the kind of temperature where you’re already sweating before you even have time to think about sweating. The empty bottles we bring in for water actually start melting in our hands. The misting stations are totally useless. We have entered the gates of hell, and all we have to show for it are some free keyrings from the Vans tent. A solid set packed with the hits from God. [A]
She’ll holler til the cows come home.Brittany Howard, the immense, gravitational fireball of woman who fronts the Alabama Shakes is freaking incredible. She opens her mouth and out pours the last fifty years of FM music from the Deep South, neatly matching her seeming inability to hit a wrong note or not put three solos in every song. Like Gary Clark Jr before her, she's flanked by a band that seem too good to be true, anticipating her every move and launching into new songs without warning in key signatures that she calls out at random. Live performance doesn't get any more live than this. Imagine that huge fish you pull out of the ocean that refuses to stop beating on the deck no matter how many times you slam it on the head. That's the Alabama Shakes. [A+]
I have spent the last decade fighting with people who are telling me that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are past it. When you grow up with a band over so many years, it's incredibly difficult to let them go. But it's now time. Two average records haven't helped matters, nor the fact that they lean heavily on this material, but the only thing keeping this awesome foursome on the road are songs they wrote when I was aged 2, 5 and 12. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer may be a gun, but thanks to some terrible mixing, you can barely hear him anyway. When you do, it's clear he's no Frusciante, who wisely backed out for good a few years ago. Flea and Chad still jam it like nobody else on the planet, but for the thousands of gurning kids and old hats who are only here to hear 'Scar Tissue' and 'Under The Bridge' respectively, it isn't enough anymore.Despite the fact that he's literally turning into Iggy Pop, Anthony Kiedis could not look less interested if he tried. While he hits the notes he needs to, that's about as far as it goes. With 'classic' bands, the temptation is to walk out thinking they were great because the encore usually rules. And yes, the triple header of 'Higher Ground', 'Soul To Squeeze' and 'Give It Away' was tremendous fun. But that doesn't discount the fact that the vast majority of the rest of it was bullshit. Also, it has only just dawned on me that the lyrics to 'Calfornication' make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Maybe I'm getting old, too. [B-]
The revival is strong in this oneGary Clark Jr is the next black voodoo God and everything the newspapers and the critics have been saying is completely true. Despite being thrust onto a tiny stage at the ungodly hour of 3pm, the lithe Clark and his elastic band smash through an hour of proper blues and rock that gives the man ample opportunity to whip out his axe and melt the faces of the crowd who are already starting to look like Dali painting under the 48 degree heat. Utterly devoid of pretension and completely ready for the world, Clark is a raucous reminder that Big Day Out used to be about guitars and not masked fiends called Bloody Beetroots. [A]
Ciao Chow townThe heralded arrival of Porteno chefs and other affiliated hipster cooks at Big Day Out turns out to be as reliable as that girl you meet at a tequila bar on a Thursday night who tells you she’s an ‘artist’. At the time when everyone finally realises they need to eat food, all but three of the stalls have sold out of said ‘chow’ or had their refrigerators die on them and the eternal Dagwood Dogs bros are doing roaring trade. Bronte institution Three Blue Ducks hooks us up with a duck salad for ten bucks, but that doesn’t really fill the void that’s later sated by spending all of our money at a drive-thru McDonalds. Yes, I would like fries with my fries. [B]
Ambience: [C+] This hot concrete isn’t getting any easier. Take C3’s money and move this festival back to a park where it belongs.
Company: [B+] Surprising lack of dickheads and even more actual music fans. Nice one.
Entertainment: [B+] The Green stage as usual gets the least love from punters but has the best acts. Also, don’t put a band like Yeah Yeah Yeahs on a main stage if you can’t even mix their guitars properly.
Post-millennial relevance: [A-] Rock’s not dead yet. Put those paper and scissors away.
(Photos: Clare Hawley)