Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Long Weekend Munter Cuddle Fest '08

Big Day Out Sydney 2008

Even with a great performance by Tool last years Big Day Out (my first in Sydney) was a bit average. At the time I blamed the Australian attendees innate inferiority to a Kiwi crowd, but this year was an absolute blast, so either I was being prejudiced or I'm going native.

My enjoyment was in spite of the fact that I'd had a bender the night before and was feeling less than super, but a nice champagne breakfast where I helped myself to a bit of a hair of the dog and a shitload of pancakes got me ready to face the day.

One thing I wish that I'd taken a photo of was the guy they had dancing on top of the entrance to the venue. He was dressed up like that little retard from Melbourne who was in the news last week for inviting everyone on myspace to a party, and was greeting everyone entering the park: “Come on in everyone, it's a party! Woooo!” I thought it was pretty funny.

During the early afternoon we spent a good deal of time just wandering around, and one of the coolest things I saw was the drum playing robot. You can't tell from this picture but it's playing 'Bullet in your Head' by Rage.

A drum playing robot

The first band I made an effort to see was Regurgitator, who I have some fond memories of. They were the first band I saw at the first Big Day Out I went to way back in 1999 (oh my god, that's almost ten years ago...) and were really good back then but I saw them again a couple of years ago and was pretty disappointed. They weren't actually any better this time around but they at least closed out with good versions of 'What's at the End' and 'Polyester Girl'.


I'm not sure what the deal was with the girls in the wedding dresses

Next up were Midnight Juggernauts, who I wanted to give a chance but after two songs I was bored to tears. I thought their first song was some kind of drawn out intro and was surprised when it suddenly ended to applause.

There then followed a terrifying interlude in which I tried to find a toilet stall that wasn't utterly horrifying, with only limited success.

Tom Morello + half of Anti-Flag

I made it round to the small stage to see in order to see The Nightwatchmen, a.k.a. Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine solo with an acoustic guitar. I'd heard this stuff before and didn't find it very interesting, but I'm glad I gave him a chance because it's the kind of music that's meant to be experienced live. It might be simple and low key (and completely different to Rage) but protest songs work best when heard as part of a crowd and you can pump your fist in the air along with everyone else pledging support for the striking miners union. By the end I was ready to go smash up a McDonalds or something.

Tom plays the tom

I'm not sure why I was surprised but Morello turns out to be a pretty good front man. As befitting the genre he was playing in he put on a folksy, friendly manner, chatting with the audience and joking that his album is 'available for illegal downloading as soon as you get home'. When he had to stop to retune his guitar he had everyone jump around and scream our heads off so that there wouldn't be a lull in the performance. Highlights of his set included the jump up and down singalong end of his second to last song 'The Road I Must Travel' and his Aussie pleasing covers of ACDC's 'Dirty Deeds' and Midnight Oil's 'Beds Are Burning', for which he was joined by two members of Anti-Flag.

Anti-Flag and The Nightwatchmen play 'Beds Are Burning'

After a few shenanigans in the boiler room I returned to the small stages for Battles. My last chance to see them in concert was soured by personal problems, so I was very glad that they got a chance to impress me again when my only emotional issue that they had to contend with was my full bladder. Battles have reworked their songs a bit for the live show, drawing the grooves out more so that the tracks now stretch to seven or eight minutes each. Their performance was as phenomenal as ever. Kind of sort of frontman Tyondai Braxton stunned me once more with his ability to play keys and guitar simultaneously, and the legendary John Stanier showed incredible skill on the drum kit, as the entire 45 minute concert was performed with each song segueing directly into the other, save for the finale 'Race: In', meaning that Stanier drummed for about 35 minutes nonstop. As the long, polyrhythmic intro of 'Race: In' approached it's climax you could see the strain and concentration on his face, and the release of tension when he turned around and smashed that high ride cymbal was a brilliant moment.

'Atlas'. Everyone joined in on the "Woo Ooh Ooh"s

John Stainer is a fucking demon

Battles are a bit of an abstract, egghead band so it's not all that surprising that their audience was full of big black glasses wearing indie geeks, and just as at the Gaelic last year they were a boring, tepid bunch. Fortunately I found a group of really wasted guys who were dancing and joined in. It turns out that Battles live are a lot more fun when you're waving your arms and jumping up and down like an idiot to them. The climax of 'Atlas' was the huge 'fuck yeah!' moment of the day (save for the other one, and you can probably guess what it was, that came at the end of the night) when I found myself involuntarily headbanging my arse off. It was a damn good set and one that quite easily washed away the bad taste of the last time I saw them.

I caught a wee bit of Karnivool, a fairly decent Aussie nu metal act, and I would have liked to have stuck around for a bit more of them but I really needed to get off my feet and rest for a little while in preparation for the headliners. So I ended up seeing a little bit of The Arcade Fire from the stands, who I knew nothing about and who sounded kind of nice but made very little impression. Although I was pleased by their brief inclusion of a few lines of a Bjork song, who we should have been seeing right then but who had cancelled on account of illness (much to my dismay).

And then at last it was time for Rage Against the Machine, who played almost exactly the same setlist as on Tuesday, but with 'Wake Up' switched out for 'War Within a Breath'; a slightly bewildering decision, sure 'War Within a Breath' is a great song but how can they not play 'Wake Up'? The band were tighter and not as tired as they were on Tuesday, but playing in the stadium instead of the smaller venue did mean that some of the atmosphere was lost.

This time around I was in the moshpit so it was a completely different experience to the previous concert. I had to deal with the usual festival moshpit perils: Mr. Ultraviolence, Ms. Clear Out A Space The Size Of A Circle Pit To Take Photos Of Her Friends and worst of all, Mr. Stand There And Do Nothing. For the first few songs I couldn't really appreciate the music because I was moving around looking for a good spot. I ended up in about the worst possible position, sandwiched between a circle pit and a group of sweaty munters crammed together faces to armpits like clowns in a phone booth. I am tempted to suggest that these people only come to metal concerts to experience the untender touch of their fellow man, rather than for the music. After I realised that I was the only one singing along and even trying to pay attention to who was on the stage, I moved back to where I saw a bunch of people jumping, and found a spot where I could kind of see, it wasn't too crowded and people were getting down and having a bit of a boogie.

Part Two of Terrible Rage Against the Machine Photo Masterpiece Theatre

Once I'd sorted that out I had a great time. I can only speculate as to what it must have looked like from the stands but the moshpit must have been enormous. Every song (with the possible exception of 'Renegades of Funk' again) went off like a motherfucker. The climax to the whole day came of course at the end of the set, when they pulled out old reliable 'Killing in the Name', a song perhaps suited like no other to be played for a stadium full of screaming munters by a band who've just returned from an eight year hiatus. The 'fuck you I won't do what you tell me' pay off is one of the most insane things I've ever seen at a concert. Just as the slow build up paused and the band hit the chorus to that infamous refrain, the stadium floodlights came on to reveal the moshpit flying up into the air as one for as far as I could see in all directions, and when everyone hit the ground again on the second beat everything. Just. Went. Fucking. Nuts. Dreadlocks thrashing everywhere. I could swear I saw dudes flying past me horizontally, although perhaps it was just that I was at 45 degrees and they were at 45 degrees in the other direction. A fucking glorious end to the day.

After that it was home to bed for me. Here's hoping next year will be as good!

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