Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Concert review: Big Day Out, Mt Smart Stadium

Gin Wigmore. Photo / Dean Purcell
Gin Wigmore. Photo / Dean Purcell

Yes, it was the last Auckland Big Day Out. Yes, the turnout was but a fraction of past years. But as always in the festival's 18-year history in Auckland, it was the vast range of music that took pride of place.

And although the line-up lacked depth, it still had breadth - everything from Kiwi pop starlet Kimbra singing a Bobby Brown song to the Brazilian death metal of the Cavalera Conspiracy; from reunited grunge heroes Soundgarden - who headlined the first BDO here in 1994 - to the avant garde instrumental rock of New Yorkers Battles.

And while this BDO was smaller, the number of stages slashed to four across Mt Smart, it didn't lack for spectacle.

Especially care of a skate ramp in the main arena from which a skate contingent headed by superstar Tony Hawk launched themselves skywards throughout the afternoon.

Yes, the first conversation among BDO returnees as they arrived would have been: "Where is everybody?" But with no queues and no crush those who were there to see the event off will remember this one as the gentle encore to all the others.

The day threw up some incongruities too. The Cavalera Conspiracy- fronted by Brazilian metal legend and former leader of Sepultura Max Cavalera - ripped through a firestorm of an afternoon set. But a bigger crowd had gathered at the Boiler Room stage for reggae drum'n'bass rock favourites Six60. With girls hoisted on to their boyfriends' shoulders and the masses swooning and swaying, the Dunedin boys well and truly staked their claim as the country's new people's band.

Local duo Cairo Knife Fight chipped in with their own fired up trance rock. Guitarist Aaron Tokona also had a cheeky chat with the crowd about "hanging out to see Soundgarden" later on.

"They better not be stink," he said. "Probably get fined for that. They might not invite me back next year."

Tokona was having a hoot. And generally, those who bothered to turn up to the very last Big Day Out had a hoot too.

Early in the day, with the crowd spread between four stages and the various bar areas, it made for a sparse and sad looking festival. Then it rained, but the sun soon came back and so, it seemed, did more people. By the time Gin Wigmore, looking lovely in a white dress and red boots, hit the main stage at 4pm the venue was brimming with punters.

Playing in the main arena following Cavalera Conspiracy and Cairo Knife Fight was always going to be an interesting proposition for Wigmore - that's a pretty quick swing from testosterone-fuelled rock to pretty pop, but she knew how to charm a crowd. Gathering the largest, calmest audience in front of the main stage of the day at that point, she switched between songs old and new, her six-piece band of local luminaries ably contributing a chain gang of male vocals and guitar solos aplenty.

She proved why she's one of New Zealand's top selling artists, getting a right hoedown going with Under My Skin.

Meanwhile, Californian three- piece Best Coast, led by indie diva Bethany Cosentino, drew in dedicated fans for a short, polite set on the Green Stage.

"Next time we'll be back for a proper tour," she promised.

Half an hour later, Kimbra impressed as she pranced on stage in the frock of the day - a puffy number that looked as if it was made out of pink opera house curtains.She impressed equally with her set of dramatic, pop numbers from debut album Vows. Cameo Lover got the crowd dancing, and she ended with new song Samaritan.

Among other notable locals, ex-Mint Chick Ruban Nielson's new project Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which involves brother Kody on the drums, were on mid-afternoon as the sun came out blazing, and punters were happy lounging on the grass listening to the 60s-inspired funky psychedelica.

The normally rambunctious Nielson brothers were surprisingly quiet and subdued, although the set got blistering as Ruban channelled Hendrix through a few guitar solos.

Ultra-enthusiastic Brooklyn hip-hop crew Das Racist were an early- afternoon discovery. Pulling a curious crowd to the Boiler Room Stage, they promised the sunshine would return while they played, and it did.

With a backdrop of various mashed up video clips and sampling everyone from Billy Joel to Rihanna, they put the fun back into hip-hop.

For many of the 20,000 in attendance, Soundgarden was the band they had come to see. The arena achieved the crowd density of old as the renited Seattle band act fronted by Chris Cornell fufilled their headliner duties with a greatest hits set which reminded, thrillingly, of the might of their 90s heyday with anthems like Jesus Christ Pose, Spoonman and Outshined.

They helped make this small day out feel big one last time.

And it finished with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, the post-Oasis solo incarnation of the Britrock guv'nor.

Gallagher and band and his big tunes - new and old - were a sweet end to a bittersweet day.

- NZ Herald

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