Blast from the past - Big Day out review (+ photos)

By Russell Baillie, Rebecca Barry Hill, Cathrin Schaer

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Another year, just another Big Day Out?
Possibly, and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the BDO 2008 and any of its many previous incarnations - the sound that dominated the closing overs was the rap-rock of the mid-90s, there were veteran singer-songwriters such as Brit Billy Bragg and Aussie Paul Kelly in the line-up and other blasts from the past.

The weather, though, was sure up to date with a global-warming scorcher.

But the day still pulled out some surprises. Yes, there was the usual core of testosterone rock that particularly dominated the stadium stages - and merged into one - throughout the afternoon.

But art also won through, whether it was the nerdcore of Battles, triumphant folk-rock orchestra Canadians Arcade Fire or the scatterbrained pop of our favourite tourist Bjork.

And, of course, much more. Here was some of it.

BEST BEGINNINGS
Local art-punk act Die Die Die were one of the first to get onstage. Keen to get the party started, lead singer Andrew tried to stage dive but the security staff were having none of it and prevented him with a bit of rough-and-tumble. The wily chap managed to get away, but the next time he tried to leave the stage, the cunning security guy had wound the microphone lead around his wrist so that if Die Die Die wanted vocals, their lead singer was going to have to stay on stage.

BEST LOOPY LOCAL
Liam Finn, who is just as good a drummer as he is a singer and whose dynamic pop tunes had more layers than a Sara Lee, care of his loop pedal.

BEST U2 ATTEMPT
OpShop, one of the softer acts headlining the main stage in the afternoon. They get brownie points for trying to inject a little metal into their set with guest vocalist, Blindspott's Damian Alexander.

BEST WIDE-LEGGED STANCE
The Bleeders, who brought hardcore to the masses when the day was at its hottest.

BEST USE OF TIME:
Brit-hopper Dizzee Rascal, who fitted as many punters into the Boiler Room as he did words in his motordrive mouth.

BEST RUDE ROCKER
Billy Bragg, who spent much of his set reprimanding the sound guy - "I didn't come all the way from London to give you feedback!" - and complaining about our obsession with sharks.

BEST ATTITUDE
A toss-up between local lads the Electric Confectionaires and the Exiles. After the grizzle-fest of Bragg and the Bleeders it was nice to see a young band with smiles on their faces, air in their hair and joy in their voices.

BEST ROCK ACT THAT'S SUPPOSEDLY NOT A ROCK ACT
Unkle, who fired up the Boiler Room with dry ice. Chemical Brothers with guitars?

BEST COMMUNITY ROCK
Arcade Fire, the circus that ran away and learned how to play an orchestra's worth of instruments - the end of every song was like a symphonic swap meet. But the set by the Canadian collective was that BDO 2008 rarity, something we hadn't seen before. It was also utterly brilliant, as they strummed, honked and chanted through one art-rock anthem after another. One of the greatest BDO performances ever, as well as being the best dressed band on the day.

BEST INSTRUMENTAL
Battles, who kept the art rock coming without a pause.

Their songs morphed into one another and then back again and somehow, unexpectedly, they made the crowd dance. Who knew what they were singing about but, damn, that guitarist/keyboardist is an ambidextrous guy.

BEST FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS IMPERSONATION
Well, when Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morrello - in his solo acoustic Nightwatchman guise - brought on System of a Down's Serj Tankian for a duet there was a spooky resemblance to our own fourth most popular folk comedy duo, though without the laughs. The rest was much strident strumming and political discourse but not a lot of memorable songs, suggesting the Nightwatchman shouldn't perhaps give up the day job.

MOST UNREPRESENTED SOCIAL SUBGROUP
Last year's Big Day Out was a good one for the floppy-fringed Emos, what with My Chemical Romance and similar bands making an appearance. This year the black fringes were something of a no show, with local band False Start getting a tiny crowd and exhorting everyone to go watch the Bleeders!

Or hey, maybe the fashions have changed?

BEST USE OF A FALSE BEARD
DJ Octagon clearly did not wish to be recognised after his appearance - he wore what appeared to be a ZZ Top style beard as he turned the tables. Or maybe he just wants to join the Phoenix Foundation.

BEST HOUR FOR ART ROCKERS
Between 6pm and 7pm, anyone who likes that kind of thing was torn between Battles, Arcade Fire and the recently reassembled Shocking Pinks, signed to hip American label DFA, who seem to be taking their cues from My Bloody Valentine rather than electronic dance acts and who would be well worth keeping an eye out for in the near future.

BEST SOLO FEMALE ACT
Although sadly this year's Lily Allen wasn't as good as last year's Lily Allen - who, um, was actually Lily Allen.

Because she sings in a distinctively British accent and has a following on MySpace, Kate Nash has been labelled the next Lily Allen. But she's not half as vitriolic or street as our Lil, and therefore her sweeter sounds got a bit lost.

BEST OTHER SOLO FEMALE ACT
Bjork was a real show-stopper, but one of those acts that you wish had the place to herself in a more forgiving venue. Even with the riot of colour and sound emerging from stage care of the singer and her unconventional band something got lost in the translation, especially on the numbers relying on hushed atmosphere. But that voice of hers carried her set and peaked with an explosive ending, helped by the Lords of Lightning atop some giant van de Graaff generators at the other end of the stadium. Eclectic and electric.

BEST HOMECOMING
Yeah it might have brought on a major sense of deja vu but Shihad's early evening bash showed much of the Aussie and NZ black T-shirt brigade who had preceded them that their live power is undiminished and they remain one of NZ rock's great constants.

BEST LOOK BACK IN ANGER
For a certain generation the reformation of Californian rock militants and past BDO headliners Rage Against the Machine is a certain generation's equivalent to the Led Zep reunion. After a delay to kick off, they got a heroes' welcome - and a giant crowd crush - and churned through the rap-rock anthems as if there was no yesterday. Nostalgia never used to be this loud?

BEST COMMENT ABOUT THE HEAT
LCD Soundsystem, who called the Boiler Room the "arse of a dog". They also illustrated the best way to get RSI: play the chopsticks-like hit All My Friends on the piano for 10 minutes.

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