Back for the 22nd year is the annual rock pilgrimage we know as the Big Day Out. It could be called that for numerous reasons; the vast array of music acts on offer or the ever-increasing ticket prices which this year, were either $185 for General Admission or $285 for the ‘Like A Boss’ experience.
Being a veteran of the first few events in the 90s, the thought of seeing a mixture of rock veterans such as the Cosmic Psychos and Pearl Jam along with newer groups like The Hives and Tame Impala seemed like a reasonable proposition, as did the ‘Like A Boss’ option for a slightly VIP experience. The extra $100 got you a raised platform to one side of the stage, separate toilets, and a bar/ food stall with relatively shorter lines but whose prices weren’t cheap by any means.
Given that it was around 40 degrees, the organisers kindly supplied free tap water to punters by way of intermittent hydration points throughout the grounds of Bonython Park, which were well utilised and much needed on such a sweltering Adelaide summer day.
The first band off the rank in this person’s itinerary was Kingswood from Melbourne, who set the tone (and volume level) for the remainder of the day with a loud and hard show that ‘went off’. A brisk walk over to see The Naked and Famous was made more comfortable due to the impromptu cool down system set up on the pathway, which was merely a suspended garden hose full of holes. Innovation at its best! Next, Tame Impala did their thing on the Orange main stage to the delight of adoring fans young and old. By now the mercury had peaked and even the ice was sweating.
Back in town, the legendary rockers the Cosmic Psychos delivered a hard and loud set to a small yet appreciative group of fans, many of whom would have seen them at the first of the Big Day Out’s in the 90s.They finished their show in true Psycho’s style by bearing their bottoms to the audience, and continued leaving a trail of empty beer bottles in their wake.
Yet another sprint across the empty can and bottle wasteland called Bonython Park, I caught the end of Bo Ningen’s psychedelic set on the Headspace Stage, which was a good find and would have been great to see more of. The Japanese foursome played to a small group of entranced punters who were right into the vibe.
Veterans Primus were still finishing off their set, and looked to be enjoying themselves as did the audience.
The highlight of the day though, was The Hives from Sweden, whose energy and sheer boldness had the crowd literally eating out of lead singer ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s’ hands. Their claim to be the best live band in the world is hard to argue with, their total commitment not only to delivering fast-paced music but entertaining and interacting with the crowd lacks nothing. The set did tend to drag on at the end though, perhaps due to the heat, which Swedish lead singer mentioned earlier in the set, as being like putting “a Polar Bear in the middle of the desert”. Either way, they stole the show and were a hard act to follow as evident in the next groups to take the stage.
Liam Gallagher’s ‘Oasis Lite’ band Beady Eye sounded good, but Gallagher looked like he was handcuffed for the entire show and kept his hands behind his back, only removing them to wipe sweat from his head with a towel occasionally.
He clearly wasn’t interested in being here and made that clear by his smugness and contempt for the crowd, and by walking off stage in a huff at the end of the set.
Arcade Fire were a colourful and cool change and took stage with their trademark huge masks on, which must have been awfully hot inside. The Canadians received a scorching welcome and gave the crowd a complete show, with songs from Reflektor and earlier albums.
By now it had cooled to a more reasonable temperature and, as dusk settled in, headliners Pearl Jam entered stage right and immediately the heat-fatigued crowd came back to life. Eddie Vedder has lost nothing in terms of vocal ability as many aging rockers have the tendency to, and neither has the band’s sound or energy. Hearing their songs held some nostalgic value, and that they have remained true to themselves and their sound is a great thing. The familiar songs were there, Alive, Even Flow and Betterman, but the stories behind some of these songs explained in Vedder’s interaction could best be described as bookmarks in the life of Pearl Jam and it’s members. They were a solemn reminder of life, its hardships and triumphs, and of times gone by when bands played for the love of music and not wealth or fame although it followed many.
It must be said that the crowd ranged from the typical Y Gen (*“Who are Pearl Jam, are they like, new?”) to the more mature (*“We’re old enough to be these kid’s grandparents”). *These were actual conversations overheard on the day.
The overall crowd though was pleasantly well-behaved and all seemed to be enjoying the spirit of the day along with the odd alcoholic beverage. With the recent focus on alcohol fuelled violence, it is encouraging to see that a mixture of generations and peoples can seemingly ‘come together’ at an event as energetic as the Big Day Out and have a great time without the need for egotistical & narcissistic behaviour marring the event.
Whatever the future holds for the Big Day Out, it has certainly earned its place in Australian history and has given joy to the thousands of music fans who have braved the heat for 20 plus years. Despite the controversy and tragedy that BDO has endued over the years, it has served as a timestamp of each generation it has played to, and has provided an analogy of the Aussie values and our way of life, which in recent times has been questioned. Those values you ask? Apart from the obvious like a bit of sun, a few beers, and some decent tunes, we can proudly say that we love to enjoy ourselves, express our freedom, and embrace diversity. Woodstock defined a generation in America, Sunbury defined Australia at the time, and the Big Day Out has continued to define subsequent generations to this day. Without a doubt, a hard act to follow!
Reviewed by Darren Hassan- Fri 31 Jan 2014