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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)