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Live Reviews : Big Day Out (Sydney) – 22/01/2010

By on February 4, 2010



Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney – 22nd January 2010

Over the last several years, Big Day Out just hasn’t appealed to me. First came the line ups that I found bland and characterless, and then in addition, the festival’s growing customary clientele left little reason for me to want to attend. Then, after visiting numerous European music festivals, I could no longer justify spending the money on a music festival that only comprised of a small handful of bands that I wanted to see.

So after a seven year break from Australia’s biggest touring festival, I decided to finally return to see if my expectations could be altered. This year’s first announcement was actually enough to persuade me to purchase a ticket, with bands such as Mastodon, Muse, and The Mars Volta being revealed as part of what would hopefully be one good day out.

Travelling to the festival is, and will most likely always be, an ordeal. Picture January’s hottest Sydney day for 2010, and add a thirty minute train trip which bared a striking resemblance to tightly packing sardines into a can, and then take away any form of breeze or air-conditioning, and you’ve painted yourself a good portrait of the start to my big day. Unfortunately I don’t think it helped that I forgot to pack a pair of shorts when I left home, so jeans were a bad choice! Haha!

When my sweaty, dehydrated mass finally disembarked from the “pleasant” Cityrail experience, I made way straight to the nearest bar outside the venue entry, to attempt to put the liquids I had just lost back in. I found a few mates inside who obviously had the same idea as me, and we shared a few brews until it was time to make our way in to catch the first band we all wanted to see, Karnivool.

As part of reviewing this festival, I received a very decent perk which gave me access to the Guest Bar which was amidst the grandstand surrounding the two main stages. This benefit could not have been more welcomed, as it contained a bar with no lines, clean, flushable toilets, and the best part, it was in a nicely air-conditioned room! So it was safe to say, I ended up watching a lot of bands from in there instead of under the scorching sun.

Immediately after entering the guest bar, we could hear the heavy soundings of Perth’s Karnivool, who were just starting their set on the orange stage. Karnivool is one of those Australian bands I know quite well of, and put in the same category as bands such as The Butterfly Effect and Cog, but don’t actually own any of their CDs nor have ever seen live. So I went into this with an expectation that they would put on a good show, but I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it or not. They ended up not only meeting my expectations, but exceeding them by far. Karnivool performed exceptionally well with their own blend of hard rock and dark melodies. It was definitely a good idea for the Big Day Out organisers to put these guys on early in the day as they worked the crowd really well, and despite the heat, got the crowd moving. I will definitely have to check these guys out next time they’re playing a headlining show in my neck of the woods.

Next up on the adjacent stage, came Atlanta’s Mastodon, one of my most anticipated bands of the day. I’ve managed to see Mastodon twice before, once when they opened for Slayer at the Hordern a few years back, where I only saw their last two songs, and then again at France’s Hellfest last year, where I once again only caught their last two songs. So it was finally time for me to see a decent length set of theirs. Mastodon came on stage and broke straight into the opening track, “Oblivion”, from their latest album Crack The Skye. They then continued to played through the subsequent tracks from the new album, where it then became apparent that they were going to play the album in its entirety. The American quartet played with such precision and musicianship, and had crystal clear clarity throughout their set, although you’d expect that being on the main stage and all. There were some unfortunate circumstances during their performance though, the major one being the lack of people watching and getting into it. I mean, the heat was quite extreme at this point, but it just seemed that most people around me were just checking them out and leaving after one or two tracks. Mastodon probably aren’t the most suited band for a festival, especially in a line-up like BDO, but I still thoroughly enjoyed them and look forward to their next endeavour down under.

After killing the next couple of hours wandering around the venue, checking out stores, having some overpriced lunch, and sampling a few alcoholic slushees, I made my way over to the Green Stage to watch Oregon’s The Decemberists. The Decemberists are a laid back folk rock band who implement a good mix of instruments such as an accordion, upright bass, and Hammond organ, with more common instruments like drums and guitar to make a good blend of upbeat rock and folk ballads. The Decemberists had a decent sized crowd considering they were competing against some bigger bands that were playing on other stages during the same time slot. They put on a good show, and despite the fact that it wasn’t the kind of band that got everyone moving and jumping around, the crowd still seemed to enjoy every moment.

I wandered around for a while longer with some mates, checking out our surroundings, but in the heat, our paths all drifted towards hydration, which found us back at the guest bar in the air conditioned heaven. Here we stayed and watched a few acts on the main stage that failed to impress *cough* Lily Allen *cough*, although I still think she may have pulled the biggest crowd of the day. Next up on the blue stage was The Mars Volta, a band I’ve enjoyed for quite some time but have never gotten around to seeing live. I’ve always heard good things about them live, being extremely energetic and active on stage, and even know people often moan about their extremely extended musical passages that they waft in and out of between and during songs, I was actually looking forward to a performance of both rehearsed and improvised material as I’m a big progressive music fan…haha! Unfortunately I was kind of disappointed with their set. They pretty much just played a best of set, with a few new tracks thrown in for good measure, with no jams or anything. Also, I think they were the only band who graced the main stage this year that had terrible sound. Instruments and vocals dropped in and out a few times, especially earlier in the set, which made the show a tad unbearable. They played tight though, and put on a solid performance, but the energy was definitely lacking, and they were probably my major disappointment for the day.

Afterwards, I retreated back to the guest bar for another refreshing beverage, where I watched Powderfinger with lethargic interest. I didn’t mind this band back in the day (we’re talking about late ‘90s), but I find them way too formulaic these days, and I really can’t stand Bernard Fanning, especially on stage.

Towards the end of Powderfinger’s set, I headed down to just outside the D Barrier so I’d have a good spot of the next band I was really keen on seeing, the UK’s Muse. With the whole arena going dark during the changeover, the crowd began to roar for the headlining band, and as they hit the stage, the massive panels that were on the side of each stage became colossal video screens for an intense close-up of all the action on stage. Kicking straight into “Uprising”, the opener and first single from the latest album The Resistance, the crowd went absolutely nuts and rightfully so as this track is just made to be a stadium sing-a-long song. From their on, Muse played a nice range of tracks, including their hit singles such as “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Time Is Running Out”, and also opened their encore with a cover of the AC/DC hit, “Back In Black”. Unfortunately they felt the need to bring out the singer from Jet for that one, which if anything, detracted from the experience! Closing with the massive hit, “Knight of Cydonia”, Muse put on a vigorous, massive stadium show, and made the price of admission worth it for them alone. Muse were definitely one of the best bands I’ve seen live, which is a big statement seeing I’ve been to almost twenty European music festivals, and attend live shows almost every week. I will make sure I see them the next time they visit Australia, which I hear may be later this year.

The day had almost come to an end, but not without seeing one more band, a late addition to the Big Day Out bill, only being named in the third announcement. I’m talking about Fear Factory, or a version of them anyways. Most people reading this will know all about the debacle that has been surrounding Fear Factory over the last 12 months, with legal issues and such, but at least they’ve got together an amazing band for the time being. If previous drummer Raymond was classed as the battery of Fear Factory, then replacement Gene Hoglan must be something along the lines of the nuclear energy of the band. Gene belted out each beat with surgical precision, and the rest of the band was on fire as a result. Fear Factory had never sounded so good, from the opener “Shock” to the well know tracks “Self Bias Resistor”, “Zero Signal” and “Edgecrusher”, they ran like a machine, barely taking a stop for a breath. A very fitting end to the day, although there were crowd violence issues which stopped the band from playing for a while, and therefore making it impossible for them to play their whole set, so we missed out on “Replica”. Oh well, apparently they’ll be back mid-year, so there’s always time then.

Well, the day had ended, and I’d avoided the heat and the Southern Cross inked wankers that plagued the festival, so all in all, I had a pleasant Big Day Out experience. Would I go again next year? All depends on the line up and the weather forecast I guess…haha!