Big Day Out Review : Part II
Simian Mobile Disco
A Big Day Out must is to spend some time in the Boiler Room. A more apt moniker is hard to think of as its hot and sweaty from the start. Its a nascent netherworld of light and sound mashed together transporting you to a different time and dimension. You can dance, sway, rock, trip, waltz, pogo, or combinations thereof. A place to be at one with the sound or the crowd. With a busy schedule, I only had time for one trip and thus selected one of my favourite dance acts, Simian Mobile Disco. Thus I ducked into the big tent to attach myself to the conjoining masses.
Perhaps not as well known as some other Boiler Room acts, Simian Mobile Disco are a duo who put out a very strong release, Attack Decay Sustain Release in 2007. It’s a fantastic dance album and I highly recommend it, but its also a great title as that’s basically the standard template for Dance DJs. Firstly, Attack with a outpouring of frenetic energy to ramp up the crowd, then slowly Decay that moment bringing the crowd down a touch, then Sustain the tension with a gradually building wall of sound before finally initiating the Release of all the pent up angst, rage and emotion in an explosion of sound and deep dark dirty bass. And that’s exactly what they did. Perfect mixing from Simian Mobile Disco took us up and then down, along and then up, Up, and UP !! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhhh.
A half hour later, I emerged a sweaty mess albeit re-energised and reinvigorated for the final part of the day. This is my church.
The Living End
For what seems like the 20th consecutive year, The Living End were again amongst the list of Big Day Out artists and they somehow made it as third billing on the main stage. Someone must really like them, but its not me. Determined to get a spot up close and personal for the Monkeys and Neil show to follow on the main stage, I found myself taking in the second half of their show. Its not that they arent competent, its not that they didn’t try hard. Its just, well, they are really quite dull. Its clean, overproduced rock by rote that they’ve done a thousand times before and it feels like it. Rock has moved on, so should they.
8.00pm brought about the biggest schedule dilemma of the day. On the top stage were NZ band Weta, purveyors of one of my favourite albums, Geographica. In the Boiler Room were the immensely talented UK electro pop act Hot Chip and then on the main stage were the Arctic Monkeys. After much gnashing of teeth, I settled on the polar primates if for no other reason to be up front and close for the Neil show to follow.
Few people are unaware of the Arctic Monkeys, a band that didn’t exist five years ago. That’s quite a impact from four young guys from Sheffield of all places. This is their third trip to New Zealand but first time that I have managed to get to see them so I was looking forward to seeing how they fared. On they came, all smiles and charm and you are immediately shocked by how young they look. Even after three years in the industry spotlight, composing songs which are bywords for the Y Generation, they look all of about seventeen. With a quick “Hello Auckland”, they got straight down to it launching into This House Is Circus before playing a set mixing several new tracks (Dangerous Animals, Pretty Visitors) with the ones they became famous for. Standout song is still I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor which got everyone around me dancing, and virtually everyone singing along too. Biggest surprise of their show was a rather cocky cover of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand off his essential Let Love In album. That I did not expect but it was excellent.
But their own material is what we were here for. And it really is quite simple rock and roll. Unsophisticated, unadorned guitar based sound wrapped tightly around withering staccato delivery of sharp and insightful lyrics without any attention seeking stage antics. Whats not to like ? So why wasn’t I moved ? They finished their set and I was left with a “Is that it” feeling? I concluded that they really don’t suit stadium rock. They are not overpowering or overly loud but cheeky, good humoured and mischievous. They arent looking to blow you away, just make you clap, dance and sing. They played a gig at the Powerstation the previous night and, much like their ertswhile counterparts, Franz Ferdinand a couple of years earlier, that was probably a better environment to really appreciate their talents and charms. An immensely gifted band and much to like about them but not a vintage performance.
Arctic Monkeys - Dancing Shoes (0:26)
From the moment the artist list was announced, the most anticipated moment was going to be as Neil Young strode onto the main stage to close the festival. So as the Arctic Monkeys headed off, an artist 40 years their senior walked on having promised to play a Greatest Hits set. I knew Neil must be getting close because the cigarettes being smoked around me started to smell different! Certainly a few ageing hipsters had made their way to the main arena, but quite a few of the kids too. And why not? Almost every band which play electric guitars owe a partial debt to Neil Young who didnt necessarily invent electric rock and roll, but certainly made it indispensable.
You really only need to outline the set list to get some idea of how magical the event was. It went something like this: Love And Only Love / Hey Hey, My My / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Powderfinger / Spirit Road / Cortez The Killer / Cinnamon Girl / Oh, Lonesome Me / Mother Earth / The Needle And The Damage Done / Heart Of Gold / Old Man / Get Back To The Country / Cowgirl In The Sand / Just Singing A Song / Rockin' In The Free World / Encore: A Day In The Life .
Personally, I was mesmerised from the start not so much by the songs, but by the guitar playing. You only really appreciate his messianic guitar playing ability seeing it live. He mashes his guitar with a visceral rawness, a primeval passion. He loves his guitar, he loves playing it and it really, really shows. And boy can he play that thing.
In a show of many memorable moments, three in particular stand out. Hey Hey, My My is one of those iconic songs that you have heard a thousand times. But there is nothing to compare hearing it live in concert under a perfect starlit night surrounded by thousands of devotees. An incredible moment which lived up to expectations as it was the one song that he absolutely had to play. Similarly Heart of Gold was perfection but only after an imperfect start. Launching into it, his harmonica kept slipping and so he humbly requested our forebearance while he fixed it. Everyone had their phones and cameras out to record the simple, elegant melody of this beautiful song.
And finally, we were treated to one more timeless moment when he came back for an encore. After a perfect performance of the anthemic Rockin In The Free World, he disappeared only to return for an unexpected encore. And it was none other than The Beatles' A Day In The Life! Incredible. One of my favourite artists playing one of my favourite songs. And it was an astonishing version as well, soaring, chilling, cathartic. A magical thrilling conclusion to an amazing day.
Neil Young - Heart of Gold (4.12)
Neil Young - Hey Hey My My (1:48)
Neil Young - A Day In The Life (0:58)
And so to the awards:
Best T-Shirt Seen – An Orange staring at a glass of Orange Juice with the caption “Is that you Mum?”
Best Outfit – One individual came as The Joker from Dark Knight. His paint leaching as the day rolled on only increased the effect
Best Band – My Morning Jacket
Best Performance - Pendulum
Best Moment – Neil Young covering A Day In The Life
Best Surprise – Autozamm playing Van Halen’s Jump
Best Solo – Christian Datsun on In Love
Best Track – A Day In The Life
Best Experience I Will Take To Grave – Hey Hey My My live
And so it ends until next year. Any day when you’ve seen your all time favourite NZ band, a monumental live performance from one of the worlds leading bands, a legitimate legend of rock and roll preceded earlier in the day by an OMFG moment from a band you’ve never heard of, you’ve had a pretty good day. In fact, you’ve had a Big Day Out. Funny that.