Originally published through Tone Deaf
Big Day Out is the one day of the year on which over 55, 000 people all gather outdoors at Sydney’s Olympic Park; dancing, moshing, and generally moving about within direct firing line of the sun.
So of course it was going to be a sweltering 45.8 degrees, the hottest day experienced by the NSW capital in recorded history (the runner-up being way back in 1939).
Great rewards require great sacrifices, however, and after sticking out the painfully oppressive heat, the night’s acts more than compensated for the weather.
Besides, patrons were in safe hands, with plenty of shade, misting stations wherever you turned, and an army of volunteers both handing out free water and spraying the nosebleed section with hoses.
Ironically, one of the shadiest places earlier in the festival was up the back of the Boiler Room, where the concrete floor was actually below a temperature you could fry an egg on.
Here, the ubiquitous summer sounds of Flume featured in sets from Nina Las Vegas to Sampology. Meanwhile, over at the main arena, ME channelled Muse in their high-reaching vocals, epic guitar work, and affinity for drama.
The hype surrounding Against Me!, and their vocalist Laura Jane Grace’s brave admittance to transgender dysphoria, as well as their last-minute change of drummer pre-Big Day Out, clearly hadn’t affected the band’s ability to play spectacular live music.
The frontwoman formerly known as Tom Gabel was the epitome of badass in her tiny leather shorts and heels, leading the charge in the band’s crackling setlist: from the punkspirational ‘Teenage Anarchist’ to their latest destructive anthem, ‘Black Me Out.’
Wandering around the oven-like atmosphere of the grounds, hungry punters had a choice to make. Would they stick to the traditional chips-and-gozleme fare found at most festivals, or would they try the sampling of gourmet dishes at the inaugural presentation of Chow Town?
By far the longest line at this row of white tents was for Porteno’s, whose Wagyu Beef burgers on a “brewski bun” were clearly a hit with the festival crowd.
The menu choices for some of the other restaurant-come-food stalls, however, was a little peculiar. While undoubtedly delicious, there is a time and a place for vanilla tapioca, and dancing to Grinspoon is not necessarily it.
Speaking of the Australian rock foursome, they’ve become a festival staple over the years, and predictably, Grinspoon performed admirably.
Opener ‘Hard Act to Follow’ functioned as a siren call to the masses, as uncountable shorts and midriff tops swarmed in to fill the area in front of the stage.
Across the park at the Green Stage, Gary Clark Jnr played his transportive guitar to a gathering silenced in awe. He opened with a spiralling crescendo that gave new meaning to the blues scale, as notes jerked and spun over a thick, distorted sonic base.
Particularly moving was the heart-wrenching ballad ‘Please Come Home’, which balanced the simplicity of his clean falsetto over swirls of beautiful fretwork.
Filling the changeover time between acts was all-robot trio Compressorhead, banging out vocal-free hard rock and metal covers. It was quirky enough as a novelty, but after about 30 seconds of watching them, two clear questions arose: why is this a featured act? And are a range of Compressorhead t-shirts really necessary?
Back in the realms of music played by real people, Band of Horses performed their soothing indie rock to a reasonable crowd in front of the Blue Stage. It took a while for the band to reach the spell-binding heights they are so capable of, but by the time ‘Is There A Ghost’ appeared mid-set, their gorgeously high vocals and in-built nostalgia had won the crowd over.
The soft surety of ‘No One’s Going to Love You,’ ‘Ode to LRC’, and ‘The Great Salt Lake’ saw the Seattle foursome at their best, and the delicate opening notes of closer ‘The Funeral’ sent a shiver down the spine of each person present.
Next up were the two dance-iest acts to grace the main stages. Vampire Weekend’s upbeat pop was one of the highlights of the day, as the spontaneous flash mob that broke out certainly seemed to agree.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O was nothing short of a lightning bolt of charisma; swallowing the microphone, hurtling all over the stage, and most importantly projecting her razorblade vocals into the crowd. Even her “thank you very much” was more of a screech than anything generally heard in the human register.
The Killers’ choice of opener in ‘Mr. Brightside’ affirmed their reputation as an incredible live act from the get-go, filling the cavernous Olympic stadium as though it were a tiny room.
The transition from tightly wound rock (‘Somebody Told Me’) to spacious dance-based tracks (‘Spaceman’, ‘Human’) was effortless, and they won serious Australian brownie points for their exquisite cover of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over.’
The stage exploded with mini fireworks and a rain of gold sparks during closer ‘When You Were Young,’ a powerful rendition helped by the fact that everyone within radius of the stage clearly knew all the words. If it’s possible there was anyone in the park wasn’t already a Killers fan, they definitely were by set’s close.
Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis is almost as renowned for his showmanship as for his vocals, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and drummer Chad Smith are among of the best in the business; but the star of the LA foursome’s Big Day Out performance was undoubtedly demon bassist Flea.
The set was littered with his mind-bending solos, each one throwing open the commonly assumed function of bass as a background feature, and instead whirling the audience into a thrilling vortex of funk every time his fingers reached for the strings.
When not bent over his instrument as though his back had broken, or charging around the stage with the rest of the band (obviously discounting Smith) the purple-headed Australian native was engaging the crowd with an eclectic array of stage banter.
Highlights included the affirmation “being mean is for cowards!” and a random, spoken word recital of William Blake’s poem The Tiger.
The band’s setlist was a little obscure, well-loved tracks ‘Otherside’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’ didn’t rate a mention, while they did include the lesser-known ‘Factory of Faith’; but it seemed a progression geared towards showing off their rhythm section, as well as their most recent album I’m With You.
‘Californication’ flowed into ‘By the Way’ in a double-hit of melodic guitar magic, while final encore ‘Give It Away’ ensured the show ended with the crowd on their feet and jamming to the irresistible groove of the early nineties classic.
They have some great albums, but it’s clear from their live performance that the on recordings, the Chili Peppers are holding themselves back. They are in their element in the flesh, and it is an experience not to be missed.
Anyone who still had any energy left dutifully trotted off to witness the loveable weirdness of Animal Collective, wrapped up in a tunnel of light, with the centipede from their latest album cover, or the warped dance punk of the Bloody Beetroots.
But for those too exhausted (or with a train to catch) the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ showing was a perfect golden high on which to end the night – especially since the temperature had, by then, dropped to a pleasant 23 degrees.
But really, despite all the heat-based complaining, what’s a summer festival in Australia without a little sunburn?