Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 2010

Big Day Out Edition

Passion Pit
Due to other commitments, the Nevstar was a little late arriving to the BDO in 2010 and thus unfortunately missed a lot of the early bands. General enquiry revealed that the standout performance in the early afternoon was electronica band Passion Pit. I recall asking about ten people what the highlight of the early slate was and the unanimous answer was the band from Massachusetts, USA. Those in attendance reported a set full of dynamic, bouncy, infectious electronic pop. The one act Im genuinely disappointed to have missed and a band that I will have to look out for in the future.

It is possibly a little unfair to provide a review of Jet as I arrived at the tail end of their top field set and saw only the last couple of songs. I would simply note that this limited exposure merely confirmed my view that they have not been able to recapture the magic of their debut album Get Born which had those three fantastic singles. Good larrikin fun but not really that inspired.

The Horrors
One of the most anticipated sets for this punter was the effort of The Horrors whose recent album Primary Colours was one of the Nevstar's favourites from 2009. Onto the stage they casually sauntered barely acknowledging the reasonable sized crowd that had gathered to hear the "future of British rock" (according to no less of a source than Jarvis Cocker). Wearing their trademark black, they quickly launched into the killer track Mirrors Image with apparent disdain and indifference. But their apparent lack of enthusiasm contrasts noticeably with the tight, muscular output as the driving rhythms and evocative vocals entice and delight anyone with earshot.

Working through virtually their entire second album, The Horrors soon demonstrated their expertise and capabilities. Its a sound born out of repeated exposure to the likes of Joy Division, Depeche Mode, and the Human League. But it somehow manages to be derivative and original at the same time. Those familiar with their work revelled in hearing it live and loud, while those new to the band enquired about the history and output. Even Mikey Havoc was there enjoying the boys from more wintering climes strutting their stuff under a blazing Auckland sun. Top effort and great start to the day.


Set list : Mirrors Image, Three Decades, I Cant Control Myself, New Ice Age, Scarlet Fields, I Only Think of You, Who Can Say, Sea Within A Sea

Best Track : Who Can Say (see video here)

Concert crowds provide a vivid and visual reminder of the power of modern media. The dissemination of ideas, sounds and memes is almost instantaneous today. There was no better illustration of the increasing pace of adoption than the cracking melodies of a certain Pip Brown. Barely a year after emerging from obscurity, the young lady now known as Ladyhawke had what must be the surreal experience of thousands of strangers sing HER songs back to her. It must be an amazing feeling to hear a crowd of thousands of strangers sing YOUR songs. But sing they did to virtually every Ladyhawke song in the set illustrating her immense ability at writing great hooks.

In fact Ladyhawke seemed a bit apologetic throughout the show, as if even she couldnt believe that this many people not only liked her songs, but loved them. I had a particularly good view of the stage but couldnt see her through the mass of arms thrust in the air to the chorus of My Delirium.

The set was assisted no end by the excellent sound. I have been especially critical of the sound mixing of performances on the top stages at the Big Day Out but there were no complaints this year. The sound was fantastic. Ladyhawke had a wealth of supporting musicians including three violinists and a cello player which was remarkable in its own right, but the fact that we could hear the distinct tones of the violin accompaniement was a revelation. The band was exceptionally tight and extremely professional particularly given they havent had much stage time together. You wouldnt know it. From the first song to the last, the brilliant melodies and catchy hooks were played with verve and precision. An immensely enjoyable performance by a rising star of the New Zealand music scene.


Set list : Magic, Professional Suicide, Dusk Till Dawn, Better Than Sunday, Danny or Jenny, Back of the Van, Paris Is Burning, My Delirium.

Best Track : My Delirium

My Delirium

The Veils

The Veils are a London based indie alternative with New Zealand raised Finn Andrews as the lead singer / songwriter. He has a perfect pop pedigree as the son of former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews. They have three quite distinct albums, the stylish The Runaway Found, the darker Nux Vomica and the rather disappointing Sun Gangs. This was my first time seeing them live and I must admit to being a little disappointed. They started with verve and energy and a great rock sound. But as the gig progressed, they sounded more like a Smiths cover band with Andrews nasal delivery eventually starting to grate with this listener. The guitar playing was probably the highlight of this set particularly the smoking hot female bass guitarist. Is there anything hotter than a sexy female playing guitar! But despite these charms, I left early to position myself for other bands. Glad to make their acquaintance but not enough to hold my attention.


The Decemberists
As profiled in an earlier edition of the Nevstar Music Guide, one of the rare treats offered by the BDO in 2010 was the first visit to our shores of the Portland, Oregon based The Decemberists. The Nevstar has been a fan for a few years with The Crane Wife album receiving numerous spins under the laser light of my CD player. So I was well positioned near the stage before an admittedly smallish crowd when they stepped into the blazing sunshine. I wasnt quite sure what to expect as their output is predominately wordy indie fare often melancholy in nature, but I left with a huge grin having witnessed a stellar performance and a concert experience literally unlike any other.

The set kicked off with lead singer Colin Meloy slowly strumming a mandolin before launching into the title track of my favourite album. What a great start. The Crane Wife is a brilliant, touching, acoustic ballad and it would normally be completely out of place at the 'rage hard, harder, HARDEST' atmosphere that predominates at the BDO. But for some reason, it was perfect. A sun drenched stage, an expectant crowd, a man, a mandolin and a moving mercurial moment.

Colin then introduced his band and they launched into some faster paced songs, quickly running through the 3 piece mini opera The Island from the aforementioned The Crane Wife . Then, noting that they were from Portland where it rains all the time, they played an ode to the sunshine (July/July) before announcing they were going to "darken it up a bit" because hey, thats what they do. Sterling versions of the earnest The Rakes Wife, the poignant The Engine Driver and the cheeky 16 Military Wives followed.

The final song was the magnificent Irish jig (thanks Juliet!) of the The Chimbley Sweep which concluded with a brilliant guitar duel between a double bass and an electric guitar. This intense fretboard action seemingly exhausted the participants. Slowly they sunk to the floor, the last echoes of notes sweeping across the field. They were then followed to the floor by the drummer and organist before Colin turned to the crowd and motioned for us too to lie down. A bemused New Zealand crowd initially ignored the request but his persistence and insistence were infectious. Slowly and surely, every single person watching the show sat or lay down on the ground. Once everyone was 'asleep', Colin and organist Jenny Conlee, tenderly sang unaccompanied before bringing the rest of the band and then the crowd to life in a trimuphant rampaging musical finale. The Nevstar has been to a few concerts in his time, but I have never seen anything like it. Watch some footage here although this doesnt begin to capture the moment. It was surreal. Great finish to a great, great show.

10 / 10

Set list : The Crane Wife, The Island : Come and See / The Landlord's Daughter / You'll Not Feel The Drowning, July July, The Rake's Song, The Engine Driver, 16 Military Wives, The Chimbley Sweep

Best Track : 16 Military Wives

Dizzie Rascal

The undoubted crowd favourite of BDO 2010 was Dizzie Rascal who drew an absolutely massive crowd to the main arena for his 1 hour set at 6pm. I was in the main stand and had a great view of a packed infield. To be honest, am not a fan of the music but it mattered little as this lad is a genuis entertainer. The entire field was bouncing and cavorting to his manic exhortations. On completion of the set, the crowd absolutely demanded an encore and he surely delivered coming back with an anthemic version of his crowd pleasing Bonkers. No other adjective better describes the crowd reaction.

If I was to be churlish, I would perhaps point out that his last three songs basically consisted of a chorus which went "Jump jump jump jump" followed by "Hey ho, Hey ho". But that would be unfair. Anybody who can get that many people to 'Jump Around' is a musical entertainer extraordinaire. Similar to Public Enemy at Rhythm & Vines, you dont have to like the music to appreciate the skill of the showman.

And if you were in the midst of all that mayhem, this is what it looked like from the above. Essential viewing.

Lily Allen
What the phuq! Whose idea was it to schedule a lounge act between a hip hop madman and two industrial rock madmen. Lily Allen sucked. Maybe, just maybe, it might have worked on the top stage as the night wore on, but her modus operandi of giggly, flirty strutting accompanied by dour ballad type numbers was an irretrievable loss of an hour of my life. Maybe Im just not the target audience (there were an awful lot of 17 year old girls around me) but if you cant sing all that well and dont really have any good songs, what are you doing wasting my time? Sure she's hot, but there were hotter girls surrounding me and I wouldn't pay to see them either. The ultimate indignity was when she had the temerity to sing a tepid, beyond dull, insulting version of the ripping Oh My God by the Kaiser Chiefs. Her next song was a witty, urbane, charming number apparently entitled "Fuck you, Fuck You Very Much" to which all the 17 year old girls around me proudly sang along to while urgently gesticulating with their middle fingers. How edgy and naughty. I cannot summon sufficient disgust and scorn. Fortunately it eventually ended......

Mars Volta

....... only to be replaced by a cacophony of discordant sound courtesy of Mars Volta who played ear-splitting, pointless, non-melodic, self-indulgent rubbish for 80 minutes. Life is too short to write about such crap.

Finally Muse were due up to deliver BDO 2010's headline show. I was really starting to question my wisdom of maneouvring myself early into a prime position following the antics of Lily and Mars Volta. They had better be worth it I thought to myself as the lights dimmed. They were.

Muse are a headline show band equal of any live band on the planet. The sound is majestic stadium anthemic rock proudly synthesising the best of Floyd, Zeppelin and Queen. There cant be three other guys on the planet who make such noise, but do it so beautifully (I hope Mars Volta were watching from backstage). Their astonishingly precise and accurate musicianship is only fully appreciated during their live performances with each member artfully complementing their respective bandmates. I did notice a keyboardist in the background which is a newish addition and perhaps replaces much of the computer generated riffs and samples which used to pace their shows. The dynamic live set was accompanied by a scintillating light and laser show which served to elevate the audiences out-of-body experiences as they sung along to the limits of their lung capacity.

The set list was perfect sampling extensively from each of their last four albums. Highlights were the soaring galactic heights of Starlight (Im always amazed how crowds are able to clap along to its complicated beat) and the exhilarating, energising Time Is Running Out. Returning for an encore, the concert was brought to a grandiose end by the stonking Knights of Cydonia. "You and I must fight for our rights, you and I must fight to survive." Amen to that.


Set list : Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole, New Born, Undisclosed Desires, Hysteria, Apocalypse Please, Stockholm Syndrome, United States of Eurasia, The Resistance, Starlight, Time Is Running Out, Unnatural Selection, Encore: Plug In Baby, Knights of Cydonia.

Best Track : Starlight

Opener : Uprising

New Born

And the finale : Knights of Cydonia

All in all a pretty good day. I didnt get to see as many bands as previous years but of the six shows I saw in their entirety, four were absolutely outstanding.

And now to the Awards

Best moment : My Delirium - Ladyhawke
Best track : Knights of Cydonia - Muse
Best crowd reaction : Bonkers - Dizzie Rascal
Biggest Disappointment - Lily Allen
Biggest Surprise - The Decemberists somehow getting the entire crowd to lie on the ground