Big Day Out 2014

Pell Almqvist of The Hives gets in touch with fans at the Big Day Out

Pelle Almqvist of The Hives gets in touch with fans at the Big Day Out

Whilst the crowd numbers were down on previous years, the Melbourne leg of the Big Day Out  in 2014 still had something for everyone.

The rain bucketed down in the hours leading up to the Melbourne leg of the Big Day Out festival in 2014. After being spoilt by perfect conditions in 2013, this was – at least at first – a day for the poncho sellers.

Making the soggy and incredibly queue-less trip inside the gates of Flemington Racecourse, the first thing that was apparent were the crowds. There weren’t any. Perhaps it was due to the weather, and a quick glance at the watch showed that it was only slightly before Midday, on a work day. So surely come later in the day things would swing around? We’d find out in a few hours.

DZ Deathrays (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

DZ Deathrays (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Opening up on the main stage were Brisbane duo DZ Deathrayswho played their usual brand of thrashy rock but this time…in broad daylight. It was a strange choice to have on the main stage, and although they were well received by an early mosh circle down the front, their brand of high energy drum and guitar assault and battery was unfortunately lost in the daylight of Flemington. Go and see these guys in a pub or club.

Bluejuice are festival gold. Figuratively, and literally. From the second Stav Yiannoukas and Jake Stone bounce on to the stage in gold lamé mankini-jumpsuits, the crowd are faced with a decision – to scratch their heads, or to have a bit of a dance whilst scratching their heads. The sound and tunes are secondary to the visuals as both smart-dressed men cover every inch of the stage, knock back a midday bottle of scotch, and launch themselves into trouser-splitting high kicks. One of several bands on a stage today who are out to entertain as well as deliver their songs. They’ll keep getting booked for festivals despite – or in spite – of their recorded output on the strength of their visuals and crowd interraction.

Bluejuice (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Bluejuice (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

It’s over to the smaller – and sheltered – Red Stage next to catch Brisbane grunge throwbacks Violent Soho. They’re popular lads – the tent is full – and as they rip into their hairy and sweaty set, the sea of people move as one. This is an early highlight and despite wearing their mid-90s influences fairly prominently on their sleeves they still give the packed Red Stage a killer 45 minutes.

Violent Soho (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Violent Soho (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Returning to the main stage, Portugal. The Man make a low key entrance, deliver some low key songs with a low key stage presence. The 3 piece from Alaska somehow avoid any form of interaction with the sparse crowd, and barely manage to turn on the ignition let alone find first gear. Next.

Portugal. The Man (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Portugal. The Man (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Making the first of several treks to the JBL Stage – the furthest one can get from the main stage – Melbourne’s own Kingswood immediately create a better mood than was just experienced at the main stage. With fuzzed up guitars and an engaging frontman, these guys have slowly crept up the festival timetables in the past 12 months. Their set has drawn a really solid crowd too, which again serves to demonstrate the early weaknesses on the main stage.

Kingswood (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Kingswood (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

With a decision to make, it was back to the main stage for Tame Impala. See, The Drones are brilliant and were playing at the same time on the Red Stage, but the former is slightly more of the radio fodder sought by the client than the latter, so it’s a trot back to the Orange side of the big stage.

Tame Impala have lost their rubber faced bassist Nick Allbrook (though he was out and about very early at the festival to check out his former bandmates), and their high production and psychadelic lightshow have generally worked well at festivals after dark. In the mid afternoon though – by now bathed in sunshine – and with Kevin Parker wearing a timid ‘we don’t really want to look at you’ expression throughout, even the solid songs of Lonerism don’t cut through. His voice is patchy, and the shoegazing must require a physio to work on his neck after each set. Musically it sounds fine, the lush layers of Rickenbackers sound as good as on the album, but vocally it’s not strong , visually it’s dull, and once the band have belted out Elephant about halfway through, the crowd vote with their feet and presumably head off for a bite to eat or a very speedy toilet break by virtue of a complete lack of queues. Should have gone to The Drones.

Tame Impala (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Tame Impala (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

In the world of bass players, there aren’t many that can compete with Primus’ own Les Claypool. Striding out to the stage inexplicably against a backdrop of two inflatable astronauts and red beach umbrellas adorned with disco balls (hey, it’s not raining anymore) they take us back to the mid nineties in the blink of an eye. Opening with the lo-fi vocals and trademark popping bass of Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, the band perhaps best known in the mainstream for the theme tune to South Park finally give us something worth watching at the main stage. To be fair, they’re also the first band to offer some genre and era crossover to the growing band of Pearl Jam fans beginning to assemble, 4 hours ahead of kick off.

Primus (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Primus (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Speaking of Pearl Jam, back at the JBL Stage Melbourne punk and pub rock icons Cosmic Psychos have an interested fan in the wings of the stage: Eddie Vedder has popped along to have a listen. At least, that’s what we can assume – hopefully it wasn’t to see Psycho’s guitarist John McKeering with a shirt on. Cosmic Psycho’s give us something that’s been missing for the bulk of the day so far – heart. They belt out their songs like a group of kids determined to ‘make it’ and – drenched in sweat – feel  the love back from a decent sized crowd.

Cosmic Psychos (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Cosmic Psychos (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Blur aren’t here. No one really knows why that is, but what we do know is that The Hives have taken their place. Modest, low key and mellow – three words you’ll never hear used to describe the boys from Sweden led by one of live music’s most engaging frontmen - Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist.

The Hives (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The Hives (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

“Melbourne! I am a pretty big deal!” he loudly proclaims, and, despite having seem them several times previously and once only 3 days prior, he’s right. The music almost takes a back seat to the on and off stage antics of Almqvist, who lives up to his role as puppeteer brilliantly. Spending as much time in the air as on the ground, The Hives are, to this point, worth the price of admission alone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Blur! Sorry we couldn’t make it, but you’ll just have to make do with a better band instead. Woooohooooooo!”. Ouch.

The Hives (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The Hives (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The marketing quirk of replacing Damon Albarn with Liam Gallagher was probably a good idea for a giggle at the time, and despite the younger Gallagher still holding a commanding stage presence, trademark scowl, and the same oblique hands-behind-back delivery of vocals, Beady Eye simply aren’t that big here. The crowd were, predictably, at their most active during the Oasis covers - Rock and Roll Star (dedicated to Damon Albarn) and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. Whether it was due to a scheduling decision, or a scheduling demand, Beady Eye killed the excitement of The Hives and really should have played in the earlier slot. That said, the songs sounded solid, Liam – with a new haircut and a few kilos lighter – gave a typical performance, and the hour long set had its high points.

Beady Eye (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Beady Eye (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The Lumineers pulling power was on show over at the Red Stage, with bodies spilling out to the surrounding lawn to hear the New Jersey folkies. Eye contact is at a minimum as frontman and guitarist Wes Schultz spends the bulk of the time gazing at the ceiling, but it doesn’t seem to diminish the enthusiasm from an adoring crowd. Unsurprisingly, 2012′s Ho Hey is given the star treatment, and as the only band on this year’s bill to feature a cello, there’s an immediate point of difference. Definitely in the top half of the day’s sets, but a fair way off the podium.

The Lumineers (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The Lumineers (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Cutting short viewing of the previous set, it was back to the Orange side of the main stage to indulge. Having seen Arcade Fire a couple of nights prior, this was not a set to be missed. Given a full 90 minutes by organisers to show off some new tricks from the James Murphy produced double album Reflektor, the Canadians opened with the same schtick from Wednesday – large headed caricatures being replaced mid song by the ‘real’ Arcade Fire. It’s the title track from Reflektor this time that kicks off proceedings, and the crowd – still dripping after being drenched by The Hives - are straight back into it.

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Frontman Win Butler joins them almost immediately, raising himself up on the barrier to connect with those in the front few rows. Bands like Arcade Fire and The Hives get it. In a festival setting like these, your songs along may not be enough. Connecting with the crowd – especially those who may not know the songs – can win you a heap of new fans.  Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) is a jump back to debut album Funeral, before a slightly more mellow grouping – possibly a poor choice – follows. The crowd thins slightly at the back, but those that choose to leave make a terrible mistake. From the slow ending of It’s Never Over onwards, Arcade Fire own the Big Day Out for 2014.

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Afterlife – the best song from their current album to these ears - Sprawl IINo Cars GoKeep The Car Running, Normal Person are all wall to wall brilliance from each of their 4 albums. By the time the confetti cannons erupt during Here Comes The Night Time, the crowd at the Orange Stage have well and truly hit stride after a soggy start to the day.

And when you close your set out with Rebellion (Lies)  and Wake Up, well, who’s going to complain. A set of contrasts that could only have been improved by a couple of first half changes in tempo. But hey… even that’s a stretch.

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Arcade Fire (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

It’s as if a switch has been flicked (fluck?) and at the immediate conclusion of Arcade Fire’s set, Pearl Jam kick off their 2 hour plus set on the Blue Stage with Why Go from debut album Ten. That album is 24 years old. TWENTY FOUR YEARS OLD.

Pearl Jam (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Pearl Jam (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Never being the hugest Pearl Jam fan, it’s time for a brief trip over to the Red Stage to see if it’s possible to make out the silhouette of Snoop Dogg, er Snoop Lion through the smoke haze. If the Red Stage had walls, they’d have burst, it would prove impossible for others to squeeze in once the show started, but a show is precisely what we’re in for here.

Snoop Dogg (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Snoop Dogg (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

The songs aren’t great, but Snoop has celebrity power, and the self proclaimed pimp who had succeeded in getting himself a visa despite the efforts of a few wowsers who thought he posed some kind of ‘danger to society’. Yeah. It’s good stuff though, and perhaps kept interest a bit better than even Mr Vedder would as the trek back to the main stage ensued.

Just in time to hear a 10 minute version of Even Flow no less, it’s immediately clear why Pearl Jam sets can stretch to 2 and a half hours. There’s a lot of talking, and a lot of extending 4 minute songs beyond their usual length. The sound is great though, these are songs that have burnt themselves into the memory of anyone who went through high school in the early to mid 90s. Jeremy too is longer than usual, but also hits the mark, Surprisingly though, the crowd have started to disperse, and halfway through the set it’s really not too difficult to find a decent vantage point no more than 15-20 people back from the rail – a stark contrast to the same set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2013 who created gridlock at the main stage. 

Pearl Jam (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Pearl Jam (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

It was soon apparent where most from Pearl Jam had headed – a few perhaps to the the scary looking and probably not-for-the-kiddies Ghost at the JBL stage (who sounded great and really deserved a better turnout), or more likely to the Red stage to check out electronic mash up folks Major Lazer.

Ghost (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Ghost (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Major Lazer’s DJ Diplo had delivered a bizarrely chosen and largely uninspiring set a few days prior in support of Arcade Fire, but this was a world away from the button pushing and knob twiddling Macbook solos of the half full Sidney Myer Music Bowl. With frontman/hype guy/whatever Walshy Fire out the front, this was a show that focussed on the visual and made everyone crammed into the undersized red stage feel like they were in the front row. Crowd surfing in a orb ball, supercharged party poppers, neon lit dancers gyrating at the back of the stage, smoke bombs, fake money being thrown around…Major Lazer closed out the night in style.

Major Lazer (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

Major Lazer (Big Day Out, Melbourne 2014)

All in all though, the Big Day Out of 2014 possessed some incredible highs – Arcade Fire, The Hives and Major Lazer all a part of that, but lacked the atmosphere, heart and soul of other one day festivals like Soundwave or the seemingly sadly departed HarvestThe Big Day Out may indeed face an uncertain future. Whereas festivals like the two just mentioned, Future MusicSplendour in the GrassMeredith or Groovin The Moo all seem to know what they are, the Big Day Out seems to be trying to hard too attract everyone – ‘cast a wide net, catch a lot of fish’. At least in 2014, this didn’t work, and if the festival continues into 2015 with Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah becoming more involved it will need to perhaps define what it is – and who it’s for – in order to survive.

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