Big Day Out - Gold Coast 2008
Gold Coast Parklands, Australia
Sasha Ong - 20 January 2008
As the pre-show beers are tossed in the bin and the beeline for the entrance takes a more orderly fashion upon nearing the gates, two pasty-skinned gents quietly position themselves outside the entrance and begin greeting punters with a friendly nod and the English equivalent of g’day in their best South London accents. “Alright mate. Anyone wif tickets to sell, I’m buyin’, anyone whose buying, I’m sellin’.” Even 10 000 miles away, you can’t escape these opportunistic, cockney buggers.
Still old enough to be popping pimples in the mirror before school, the Gold Coast’s own young pop rock upstarts, Operator Please, are first up on the Blue mainstage, bopping about singing annoying songs about white balls and wooden paddles. It’s bad enough that there’re famous here, let alone blaring out across UK airwaves now thanks to their recent appearance at Reading. Nonetheless, vocalist Amandah Wilkinson is full of pizzazz and energy and is surprisingly quick-witted onstage. Her rebuttal to one punter's homemade signage that reads, “Operator Please Shut The Fuck Up,” spurs the singer to insist to the crowd that anyone who sees the guy with the sign should “twist his nuts!” The band's bubble-gum pop doesn’t wash well on those with beers in hand but for the festival first-timers up front, well this is probably the best day of their lives.
As the rain falls (traditionally unheard of at this time of the year) and the punters hop, skip and jump over mud and puddles moving from stage to stage, the earth starts to resemble what you’d imagine the contents of a port-a-loo to look like at the end of a 12-hour festival. Thankfully this kind of festival weather is rare for us Australians, unlike the unfortunate fans over in the northern hemisphere who never seem to keep their feet dry at outdoor events.
Anti-Flag emerge on the mainstage with their well, anti flag in tow, which turns out to be a hardly symbolic American flag turned upside down. 20 years in the business and a major label record deal warrants a tad more ingenuity, but nonetheless the Pittsburgh political punks dish up their anti-Bush and anti-capitalist sentiments by way of fast, loud punk rock, providing the Sunday lunch-time rock fix for the bogans with brains.
Fresh from carving out crop circles for their latest video, which happened to be on the same farm Led Zeppelin once visited for the Remasters album cover, Perth’s Gyroscope crank the amps and deliver the first guitar-crunching, ballsy rock set of the day. Despite looking on the skinnier side of thin, singer Daniel Sanders slams his guitar about and throws his voice to the back of the tent during opener ‘Beware Wolf’, setting the pace for the rest of the set.
From the muddy, mosquito-incubating humidity that is the boiler room, the sounds of “He’s just a rascal, a Dizzee Rascal” can be heard. Bounding out with his cheeky brand of ‘old skool’ flava, Dizzee Rascal works up the crowd with panache and style. Accompanied by an additional MC and a DJ as support, the crowd are treated to rapid fire lyrics, booming bass lines and Dizzee’s dance moves, making the 15 minute mission through the crowd and up to the stage completely worth it.
From the outset, vocalist Rou Reynolds and drummer Rob Rolfe from Enter Shikari stomp about the Converse Essential stage not looking out of place on the Gold Coast with their knee-length Hawaiian style boardshorts and white tank tops. Their pre-show crowd warm-up goes like a Jane Fonda workout video – the lads get their legs working with some step-ups on the fallbacks and climbing up and down the scaffolding, whilst the upper body exercises consist of shoulder-dislocating windmills and some fierce air karate. Either these boys have been on the ‘roids backstage or we’re in for one crazy show. The band's punk-trance sound encompasses Queen-esqe synth crescendos mashed with pounding guitar and chunky rhythms that are absorbed by the crowd, who return their enthusiasm through frenzied mosh and dance. These boys will be selling a few discs come 9am Monday morning.
A precursor to one of, if not the most anticipated headline act to grace the BDO stage since its inception, Tom Morello, aka The Nightwatchman, is the one man revolutionary band armed at the hip with his acoustic guitar and air of insightful protest. Thankfully his set doesn’t descend into spoken word badgering, instead he lets the twang of his guitar and downright catchy country-tinged assaults, at times sounding remarkably like youthful Johnny Cash, simultaneously enlighten and entertain.
Likewise, Billy Bragg is a passionate and plugged-in
individual and from the get go the crowd is completely engaged. With only a guitar and his mic, Billy weaves his stories with
such clarity and beauty; it’s no wonder his music is still completely relevant and transcends generations. Inciting
festival goers to react, he works through his song bag of political awareness and social commentary. Opening his set with
banter and humour, he delivers ‘There Is Power In A Union’ like it was 1986 all over again as well as few tracks
from his forthcoming album which stand shoulder to shoulder with his earlier works.
The crowd welcome the 10 piece guests with heavy anticipation. The stage is littered with an artillery of instruments (including megaphones, pipe organ, French Horn, violins, and accordion) ready for the soundscape that is Arcade Fire. With a muddle of delicate sounds and chaos, they keep the music bound together just tight enough for it to hold hands nicely. For an atmospheric band, they are a little limp, enjoying their own music enough to encourage some of their die hard fans to sing along.
Can you play keyboard with hand and riffy guitar solos with the other at the same time? Ian Williams and Tyondai Braxton of Battles can, and they are easily the best band of the day. To say that their sound is unique is an understatement. The stage is loaded with all kinds of experimental high-tech goodies contrasted with old school analogue rock and roll instruments. Pegged as ‘math rock’ due to the intricate technical nature of the music, their set is visually and aurally spectacular, shifting between obscure, airy soundscapes and biting jump-up-and-down style live dance music, all powered by the ferocious ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier. One bug-eyed, front row punter who looked as if this was his only venture outside the doof tent, summed up Stanier’s abilities beautifully, “that guys’ a fuckin’ freak!” Indeed.
Australia’s Silverchair look and sound tired. Singer Daniel Johns, sporting what can only be described as neo-Nazi short blonde crop meets Colonial Sanders, presents an air of arrogance onstage that the music just cannot hide. Long drawn out instrumentals mid-set and the bulk of material from their latest album 'Young Modern' barely garners any movement from the crowd whatsoever. Even the predictable closer ‘Freak,’ is dull and lifeless. Leaving Battles early to watch Johns is a clear mistake, and with inane between-song banter and dismal call-and-respond attempts it proves a rubbish waste of time.
Bjork enters the stage behind a 10-piece rainbow clad marching band, preparing her audience for an intergalactic performance. Making maximum use of the screen, her onstage entourage include a drummer, a keyboardist and two electronic guys who mesmerize the crowd with amazing digital control panels. These panels are intergrated into the show, resembling a large game of battleships with equalizers. Little is said between songs, helping to heighten the mystery that leaves you woven into her thick thread of beauty and childlikeness. Playing a variety of tracks from her back catalogue, the ethereal sound and unmistakable atmosphere is enchanting and haunting. Concluded with a blast of confetti, we are left with the desire for more.
The headliners for the night fill the main stage area, making movement and mobile phone reception a nightmare. Like ants relocating their colony, you could be mistaken for thinking we're at Download as the anticipation is so thick you could almost smell it (or perhaps the smell is coming from the stinky shirtless pissheads whose bodies have been excreting a sour stench all day). Exploding onto the blackened stage with ‘Bulls on Parade’, Rage Against The Machine enter, giving the green light for the pit to kill. The front couple of rows are hammered by the first three tracks with such force, people are flowing over the rail like maggots flowing out of a meat corpse left in the sun on bin day. Owning the stage, Zach De La Rocha commands with his trade mark scowl and venomous delivery, every word with gusto and spine-crushing resonance. The rest of the guys in the band, including guitar genius Tom Morello, are equally as potent and energetic, reminding every person in the crowd what real music with real musicians sound like.
As ‘Killing in the Name’ rings out, Big Day Out punters peel themselves off
the person beside them (oh, and in front of them as well as behind). Survival is triumph after another unforgiving Queensland
Big Day Out. With dehydration looming, everyone heads off home praying the police dog squad doesn’t pull them over and
savage their exhausted bodies.