Big Day Out 2008

Every year the Big Day Out comes around and I think, “Ugh, I’m too old to go this year,” either because I don’t know enough of the music or I think I haven’t got the stamina for it. But then it comes and if if I don’t go, I always regret it.

So this year I just went ahead and bought a ticket as soon as they came on sale, without even knowing (or caring?) who was going to be playing this year.

The weird thing about BDO this year was that I didn’t seem to know many people who were going so I just kinda turned up to Mt Smart Stadium without a posse. Even my boyfriend, the slender gentleman Mr Simon Le Bones, had ditched me (somewhere between Real Groovy and Mt Smart Stadium. I think he’s got work as a roadie for Arcade Fire. Arsehole.).

I caught the very last fading chords of the Checks’ set, dammit, and then Liam Finn started playing on the adjacent stage. I wasn’t ready for a reasonably popular singer with a largish crowd, so I went over to the obscure stage, uh, I mean, the Local Produce stage and saw a bit of The Lookie Loos. You know how some bands can be really competent musicians but not have any of that magical spark that makes a great band? Yeah, they were like that.

Dry

I was thinking back to the first Auckland Big Day Out, in 1994. Back then, you couldn’t buy bottled water, so I wonder what people drank back then. I can’t remember. Did we fill an old soda bottle with water? Bring along an old school drink bottle? Did we survive on Diet Coke and those weird “smart drinks” that was en vogue at the time? How did we survive? How did we not dehydrate and wither and crack into a fine powder and be scattered by the wind over the general Penrose area?

Anyway, back over on the Essential/Green stages area, I got the end of Tiki Taane’s set and stuck around for about half of Kate Nash’s. See, there were rumours that the Cribs were going to be playing, but that never happened. But Kate is going out with Ryan Cribs, so that little connection was what kept me there. But I was getting tired in the hot sun, so I went over to the bad old stadium and sat down for a bit.

Kate Nash

The Bleeders (yawn) were finishing up on the Orange stage, and then Spoon played after them. In Australia Spoon will play on the smaller Green stage, and that’s where they should have played in Auckland. They are not a stadium band.

Around the place, I noticed quite a few guys with New Zealand-themed tattoos. The coastline of New Zealand was quite a popular one, as was a variant of the Southern Cross stars from the New Zealand flag. This is a simple and effective way of saying that you went on your OE and got really homesick.

I wandered back up to Green/Essential and caught the end of the Hilltop Hoods, an Australian hip hop group who appear to be hugely popular over there. They have violins and hip hop beats, which is all a bit ’80s novelty act, if you arks me.

Billy Bragg took to the Essential stage. He said he’d left his backing music behind, so it was just him and his guitar, but that was OK with me. He played a number of his old hits (“Greetings To The New Brunette”!) his strong political ones and a Woody Guthrie song (and a free lesson about songwriting). The low point was a reworking of “One Love” to be all about wiping debt of developing nations. It’s a good message, but the song came across like something you’d sing in primary school. The audience seemed to be into it, bloody lefties. He ended with “A New England”, which is one of my favourite songs of all time, and included the extra Kirsty MacColl verse. Nice one.

Billy Bragg

Next was The Nightwatchman, which is the solo project of Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. I have this feeling that the inclusion of The Nightwatchman was a proviso of RATM’s appearance, because I can’t imagine that it would have been booked otherwise. It was just him playing crappy songs on an acoustic guitar. Through his work in Rage he’s such an influential guitarist, but this didn’t show any of that. The fanboy audience seemed to like it, though. I walked out after a couple of songs.

I saw a bit of Pluto back in the main stadium. I still don’t get Pluto. They seem to make music for themselves. Hm.

And back up the top, I caught the end of SJD. I don’t get SJD either. I know a few people who love SJD, but it also feels like music written for himself rather than for the listener. Alienation ensues.

Then Battles were playing. I started out near the front of the stage, but then I realised that I couldn’t see anything on the stage, I was surrounded by sweaty topless guys, and this girl was smoking in my face. So I moved over to the grassy area by the side of the stage and enjoyed things sitting down. It’s not music you can dance to, so it seemed far better to sit down and just enjoy the wiry sonic journey rather than trying to make it all fit some rock festival template.

A got a little bit of Paul Kelly, but was feeling hungry so I got a a felafel and sat down in the main stadium, where Shihad were playing. Wow, Shihad playing at the Big Day Out. How unusual!

While I was sitting there, I saw a hilarious thing. Two dudes, both wearing different t-shirts with “GUNT” on each of them, saw each other and the t-shirt he was wearing. They got excited and did a manly hug, before wandering off into the crowd, perhaps never to meet again.

Anyway, my time for liking Shihad was about 10 years ago, but I don’t like to think about those times too much. In fact, the whole Shihad set just got me really bummed out. Like, I’d never paid much attention to “Home Again”, other than thinking of it as being their “Wahey! It’s great to be back in New Zealand”, but I suddenly realised that it was one of those songs of the great rock theme where the singer is on the road and misses his sweetie back home. And I then I experienced that feeling – I’d only previously heard other people describe this – of being surrounded by thousands of people but feeling totally alone. Shit!

Watching Shihad

Something had to be done, and fast, so I quickly went up to the Green stage in time for the Phoenix Foundation. They were just what I needed. The crowd was small, but loving and when the band played “Nest Egg” and the whole crowd swayed along. And then when the “It’s a lie!” bit came, everyone shouted it out. Yeah, it’s a lie that you gotta be the big man.

It's a lie!

Again I went back to the main stadium and saw about half of Bjork. Actually, I only heard it, because my view was obscured by a promo tent. I’m not really a Bjork fan, but an old flatmate of my used to play “Debut” all the time, so I ended up knowing a lot of the songs she played. At one point green lasers shot out of the stage, and then a confetti bomb went off, showering everywhere with little bits of paper.

Then it was time for the antithesis of Bjork – Rage Against The Machine. I had (have?) their first album (on tape!). I know it well, and it was just fun to sit back and revel in all the fire and anger. Bullet in your heeeeeead! Bullet in your heeeeeeeeead! Yeah. But I realised after a while that RATM have no shadows and light. It’s all rage, all the time. And after a while it gets a bit tiresome and their songs all start to feel the same.

I thought about going up to see the Clean, but I realised that I really really wanted to hear Rage play “Killing In The Name”, so I stuck around for that, the final song of their encore. It was rool awesome. It’s just so well structured and it builds to the massive climax where virtually everyone’s jumping around, middle finger in the air, yelling out, “Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!” You can look for irony and say things about conformity, but sometimes it’s just fun to yell along to angry political songs and party like it’s 1993.

Killing In The Name

It’s kind of strange, though, how the two big headline bands were big in the ’90s. In fact, they both played at BDOs in the ’90s. Where are the big new bands of today?

And keeping with that theme, stars of Big Day Out 1995, the reformed Supergroove, were playing the last timeslot of the night up on the Green stage. I was never a Supergroove fan cos they were my age – they just seemed liked a bunch of dorky guys in a band, not cool rock dudes. I saw a couple of their songs, but the thought of going home appealed much more.

It’s strange. Like, I had a good time, but it was just really bittersweet this year – almost enough to make be not want to go next year. Oh, but I probably will. (It’s always better as a memory than as an experience.)

More of my BDO photos can be found over at Flickr.

What I saw

Present, presents

Christmas this year feels like it almost passed me by unscathed. Somehow I managed to avoid most of the worst aspects of the festive season.

Earlier in the month I was in Farmers and they were attempting to set a festive mood by playing early-’90s-style R&B versions of Christmas songs. It didn’t liven my spirit and send me merrily a-skippin’ to the till. It just annoyed me – really annoyed me – so I left.

You know all those Christmas pop songs that no one likes but everyone plays every Christmas, like the musical abominations that are “Snoopy’s Christmas” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”? Well, I managed to avoid hearing any of those in their entirety.

I’m not sure quite how I managed that, but I think it might have had something to do with not actually having much Christmas shopping to do. Buying stuff online or at other times during the year is a good way of avoiding Christmas craziness. (Not that you’ll do it, but I’m just sayin’.)

But for the times I did venture into shops, I found one really good way to stay sane: listening to good music on my iPod in the shop. It had the added bonus of making shop assistants leave me alone – it’s just that much harder to ask me if I need help with anything or if I’m just happy browsing. But it did mean that they eyed me suspiciously, as if perhaps I was actually listening to the audio book “U Can Steal It! Shoplifting in seven easy steps!”

As for Christmas Day itself, well, it was boring, but that’s how it always is. If most of the day was grey, there was a bright moment of gold when Christmas lunch was served. We went for slow-baked salmon this year, which quite frankly kicks the arse of anything ham or turkey may have to offer.

And I will make this observation: comedy presents are fine, but when you get one real present and the rest are comedy ones, it does get a little depressing when you realise that all those nicely wrapped presents are $2 Shop lolz. Yeah, I guess if you stop believing in Santa, he stops believing in you.

But, you know, no matter what goes on on Christmas Day, it’s never a bad day. I have my spunky new camera, and generally stuff is rather good.

New dumb pony club

There was a work do at the races, which did not set my heart a flutter. See, I’m not a pony girl. I’m not hot for horses. I don’t quite understand horse racing – it’s just gambling on animal performance. And there’s something about racetracks that seems really bleak.

The function had a dress code, wherein ladies were advised to wear a cocktail dress. But ever since the cocktail dress incident of ’96, well, let’s just say that there are some promises that can never be broken. I wore jeans.

So, upon arriving I checked out the bar. On the weekend I was having a discussion about how the worst drink in the world is anything that can be described as “complementary bubbly”, i.e. cheap sparkling white wine that someone is providing (free!!!!) in attempt to class things up. Well, there was complementary bubbly a go-go.

I sat down with my complementary bubbly and read the race guide. A few pages in was “a ladies’ guide to betting,” which seemed to have been written in 1962.

[L]ife itself is a bit of a gamble. We marry, buy dresses one size too small in anticipation of a huge weight loss and we embark on a myriad of programmes to preserve our looks and prolong our lives. Any dead certs in there? Only one so far that I can see.

You know how some people ask if feminism is still relevant in our modern society? Well, when I got to the part where it compared horses with husbands (lolz!!!) I knew the answer.

The race guide also had a hilarious list of the theme tune each jockey had picked to be played after his or her victory. Now, it’s probably not a huge surprise that most of them were songs with obvious victory choruses, like “U Can’t Touch This”, “I Want It All”, “Blaze of Glory” and “These Boots Were Made For Walking”. But there were a few unusual choices, like “Of Wolf and Man”, Metallica’s song about a shape-shifting man-wolf, and the “Ghostbusters” theme song, suggesting a Scooby-Doo-like adventure featuring a horse being ridden by a goulish jockey.

As it happened, I couldn’t bet on any of the horses because I didn’t have any cash. If I did, I could have followed the “ladies’ guide” and chosen the horses based on their names or the colour of the jockey’s shirt. (“$20 each way on Princess Fluffy and the one in the pink shirt!!!!”) That would have been fantastic.

The magic combination of complementary bubbly plus horse racing plus bad ’80s music (Really, since when did Club Nouveau’s 1987 cover of “Lean on Me” ever get any party started?) did not add up to a good time.

So the valuable lesson learned is that Robyn and the horse-racing experience does not make a good combination. Perhaps I should stick to greyhound racing.

The alligator and the girl fight

On Friday night I got the ferry over to Devonport to see Bill Direen playing at the Masonic Tavern. The ferry was full of nicely dressed middle-aged couples returning to the Devonport after a night out in the city. (I like the idea of living in Devonport and ferrying to the city. That could be me, I tell you, if only great-grandpappy Mays hadn’t sqandered the family fortune!)

Anyway, after seeing Bill Direen play at the PR Bar back in September and being very impressed, I was keen to see him again. After all, it’s not often that he plays these days.

The Masonic was full of many people who looked like they’d been fans of Mr Direen since the ’80s. In fact, I got talking to one lady, a long-time fan, who was in Auckland for a conference and couldn’t resist coming along.

For me, the Bill Direen experience comes down to this: he’s a really good songwriter. It’s just a pleasure to hear the words unfurling with the musical accompaniment.

My favourite tunes were the Russian rug song, which is best appreciated in a seated position, and a rearranged “Alligator“, which is best appreciated in a twisty, slinky position.

I had a splendid time, and I suspect that the older audience members had an even better time.

Then on Saturday night I went to a girl fight!

Heather‘s been learning women’s sport-fighting at Mania gym for a while now. It’s a combination of several martial arts and wrestling, and is much more practical than traditional martial arts of self-defence. Yo, it’s street.

So there was a big event at the Transmission Room, and Heather was fighting in the penultimate pairing (cos she’s that good).

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up really enjoying it. I suspect many years of watching Superstars of Wrestling had prepared me for being an appreciative audience member.

So, with Supergroove’s “You Freak Me” playing, Heather came out as her alter ego Fabienne Rush, and magically transformed from a lovely, code-writing, SJD-loving girl into a fierce-as lady wrestler. Seriously, she was scary.

Needless to say, she kicked her opponant’s arse. It was really cool cheering her on – and it sounds like she has a bit of a following.

I think I’m a bit too much of a wuss to do anything like that (plus having Lasik puts me out of contention for any extreme contact sports like that, dammit), but I was really impressed by not just Ms Rush, but all the ladies getting fierce in the squared circle.

‘Twas a good weekend!

Shining, not raining

I went to the Grey Lynn Park Festival yesterday. It didn’t rain, which is a remarkable achievement. Nice one, the weather.

The park was full of people and entertainment, but in a way there was nothing special. A lot of it is the same sort of stuff that is found at other festivals and market days.

My favourite thing was finding a stall that had a number of people I’d seen at the last Craftwerk I went to, including the DIY badge-making lady. Among the badge-making materials was a copy of the Alphabetical Spelling List book, a classic New Zealand primary school textbook. In that, next to the entry for “no” was a bracketed example that provided me with an ideal badge material:

No good

I had a nice time. It was a lovely sunny day, and the park was full of happy people, from Grey Lynn teen gangs to young mothers to dudes with Movember moustaches to little kids running around.

More photos can be found by clicking on this lady:

Stylish lady

It’s OK, mate

I don’t really know much about rugby. I’ve only ever been to one rugby game, which was in 1990, when I wagged my fifth form typing class to see the Hillcrest High first XV play some visiting school. I remember being vaguely impressed by those “line out” things.

17 years later, I haven’t even watched a rugby game on TV. When I see one, it just looks like a bunch of guys running around on a grass field, and sometimes skidding over lines or kicking the ball into places that makes the crowds cheer.

But I’m a New Zealander. I live in New Zealand. And therefore I can’t not be exposed to rugby in some form. It’s everywhere.

And this year I was kind of getting into the Rugby World Cup commentary and discussion over at Public Address’s Some Foreign Field, and enjoyed I the lively podcasts from the lads (and occasional lass) at The Dropkicks and I was thinking that this whole rugby, All Blacks and Rugby World Cup thing might be worth getting into for entertainment purposes.

But, well, I didn’t get around to it, and now the All Blacks, aka “we”, have lost the quarter-final against France and everyone is really really bummed. Or something starting with F that Anton Oliver was bleeped saying on the news tonight.

I understand that the people of Aotearoa are angry with the ref for turning a blind eye to a forward pass and/or the coach for his controversial resting and rotation policy and/or the players for sucking. But despite all the misery (and, oh, there were some miserable people out there on the streets today), people aren’t giving up. They’re not saying, “Oh, we’ll never win the Rugby World Cup!” They’re saying, “Now it’ll be 24 years until we win the cup again!” There’s hope.

The thing is, New Zealand is the one country in the world where rugby union is the be-all, end-all sport. Other countries, like Wales and various Pacific Island nations, do like the egg-ball game, but most countries are hot for football. Only New Zealand has its national identity sewn up so tightly with rugby.

But what I don’t quite understand is why the Rugby World Cup is considered the last word in rugby supremacy. I mean, the Olympics are another quadrennial competition, but we don’t discount the non-Olympic sporting competitions – regional and word championships – that happen in the interim years.

And what happened prior to 1987 when there was no Rugby World Cup? Was there a niggling fear that perhaps, while the All Blacks were quite good, maybe they weren’t actually all that good? Not even!

I reckon if we can love New Zealand, if we be so nationally proud that we call New Zealand Godzone, then surely it’s enough to know in our Aotearoan hearts that the All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world regardless of how they do in any Rugby World Cup competition.

Winning the World Cup should be the icing on the cake, not a definitive statement on how good the All Blacks are.

Oh, cheer up.

Character building

I finally got around to filling in my ballot for the Auckland City Council elections.

With so many different things to vote for and so many different people to vote for, I went through the candidate profile booklet and started eliminating candidates based on their little blurbs.

I will not vote for candidates who said the following:

  • “I call for the withdrawal of US and ‘coalition’ troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.” OK, but what about plastic-bag recycling?
  • The anti-abortionist who says that, if elected, he will “use the office of mayor solely in this battle.” Sorry, the mayor can’t help you. He’s busy stopping a 15-year-old rape victim from aborting her unwanted foetus, etc.
  • The candidate who who “understands company reports as NZX investor.” This sounds like she sat down with a Work and Income CV consultant and learned to maximise her potential.
  • Regarding Queen Street being “a mess” – “I will encourage those concerned to wake up.” Yes, you Queen Street retailers had better wake up or there’ll be trouble.
  • The candidate who has no conflicts of interest with the “(insert name) District Health Board”. Yeah, me neither.

It looks like the mayoralty is going to be between the incumbent mayor and the previous mayor. Neither of them really excite me.

Sometimes I like to go into the Auckland Public Library’s Auckland resource room and read old city council propaganda publications. This is what I have learned – there are always going to be mayors who have really amazing plans for the city that never get to happen.

Mayor Robbie’s idea of a rapid rail system is often hailed as an example of this. I found the 1974 district plan that had this detailed in it. It was bit weird. There would have been an underground concourse running from Hobson Street (where Sky City is now) down to Queen Street, and up to Kitchener Street. Why? What’s wrong with walking down the street? And there would have been all sorts of peculiar tunnels and escalators needed to get under and around the hilly inner-city landscape.

But for every visionary idea that never makes it, there are also really horrible ideas that never get approved, like the plan to put a mall and office block on the site of the Civic theatre.

Every mayoral or council candidate that isn’t currently on the council seems to be running on the promise of change. Something is broken in this city, they say, and they’re going to fix it. But why does Auckland’s brokenness have to be fixed? Why can’t we accept the flaws of this city as being what makes it special? Does Auckland actually need “world class” paving stones on its footpaths?

Now I’ll just have to remember to post my ballot off.

Werks of craft

I finally made it along to Craftwerk, a semi-regular alternative craft fair type event, usually held in St Kevin’s Arcade.

I mainly wanted to go along to see Annette’s Nut and Bee goodies. She’s been busy working over the last couple of year, turning her supercute designs into things like writing paper, badges, magnets, and Moo cards.

I was greeted with a table full of cuteness, and I picked out four fridge magnets, that now have a place on my fridge between the fish and Britney:

Nut and Bee magnets

I had a look around at the other crafters and their goods. There was some really cool stuff there, though it got a little repetitive seeing the common idea of getting an old thing, splitting it into pieces, and turning the pieces into earrings or pendants.

This crafting renaissance going on at the moment is encouraging. It seems that it’s another thing that’s really able to happen due to the internet bringing people together to, say, buy cool old plates with “Cunt” or “Dickhead” written on them.

I feel inspired! Maybe it’s time to get my subversive cross-stitchery going again.

Music from the present

From all accounts, the Wellington Karajoz Great Blend on Thursday was splendid, so this created a precedent that the Auckland Great Blend on Saturday had to at least match.

I was a bit late to the Dalmatian hall, so I missed William Cooper’s interview, but I was in time to enjoy the funny MrBrown from Singapore give a presentation of his video and audio podcasts. He specialises in political satire, which is a rather bold thing in a country like Singapore.

The panel discussion, which centred around the future of public broadcasting in New Zealand, was interesting, but I found it kind of hard to concentrate on things. You see, I was really excited about the L.E.D.s, who’d come all the way from Christchurch to play. Eventually the panel finished and the L.E.D.s took to the stage and all was good.

Their music seemed more energetic and powerful live than it does on their album. It added another dimension to their songs, and made it hard not to want to dance, dance, dance.

When I was in Nelson, I read the Christchurch Press so became au fait with the goings on in the Christchurch mayoral campaign. This meant that when Blair L.E.D.s introduced “Rumba” with the question “Do you need a beard to be the mayor of Christchurch?” I laughed.

It’s kind of common at Great Blends for the geekier folks to leave the room when the band comes on, but I hope that at least some of the geeks stuck around to experience the L.E.D.s.

The L.E.D.s rock out

And a big thank you to the other Mr Brown, Russell, for organising yet another great Great Blend.

After the Blend, I ended up going along with the hardcore stragglers to the PR Bar on Ponsonby Road to see Bill Direen play. He’s one of those Flying Nun musicians who I’ve heard about for years, but I’d never actually heard any of his music or seen him play. All the lads were excited and for good reason – he was brilliant. He just got up on stage and sang songs, sometimes just him and his guitar, sometimes accompanied by another singer, other times with a bass and drums. He’s such a good song writer, and it was cool to see the guys in the audience yelling out requests (“Monsieur Le President!”) and having Bill play them. I feel really lucky to have been there.

Then the group ended up going to this guy’s place, where we sat around and listened to records, man. “‘Bee Thousand’ is like the indie ‘Sergeant Pepper'”. Yeah, one of those gatherings.

What an excellent night.

Melyn’s Hag Do

Last night I went to Dylan and Melanie’s stag do/hen night, which for convenience’s sake we shall call Melyn’s hag do.

We started off at the Pearl Garden Chinese restaurant in Newmarket, and had many plates of many delicious foods. I think my favourite was the cashew chicken, but then I’m a Pakeha, so I would.

Unlike stereotypical stag dos and hens’ nights, there were no plastics boobs, blow-up sheep, nylon bridal veils or penis necklaces. No, the hag do was far more civilised than that. We had 10 pin bowling.

We went up to the bowling alley atop the car park on Khyber Pass. From the outside, the bowling alley stop the car park is somewhat of an architectural monstrosity, but on the inside it’s got everything you need for a good night out.

I played a couple of a games, got a couple of strikes (see, all that Wii bowling has payed off), but also managed to suck. I shocked the lads with my left-handed bowling. OMG. I’m left-handed.

After that we taxied up to Forde’s bar on Anzac Ave. I’ve always been curious about Forde’s. It’s on the top floor of the old Station Hotel, offering panoramic views of Foodtown, the stadium and some apartment buildings. But, due to a quirk in downtown Auckland’s coastal geography, it’s also on the ground floor, so there were no stairs to climb.

Forde’s is an awesome bar. If I was going to be an alcoholic and I need a regular, this would be it. Mr Forde, the proprietor, is everything you want in a pubman.

We all played a bit of “I have never”, with the unsurprising conclusion being that we are all awful people.

Afterwards the party was reduced to me, Melanie, Dylan, Morgan and this guy called Glen. We all wandered down to Showgirls, and this is where things got really exciting.

There was a large group of girls standing outside Showgirls. Now, having spent a year catching the 11.40 bus across the road from Showgirls, I know that usually the only people who stand around outside it are the sort of men who are regular at Showgirls, and strippers on fag breaks. So it was obvious that something was up.

And there he was – Lukas Rossi of television’s “Rockstar: Supernova” fame. Dylan took some pics. OMG!

Lukas is really short and I could totally beat him up. He was surrounded by heaps of excited girls who all seemed to want to have sexual relations with him. Why? He’s short. He’s not hot. It can’t just be that he was on the telly and he was in a band.

Knowing that nothing could really top that, we had hot chocolate and then called it a night. And a rad night it was.