Big Day Out Auckland 2014 [concert review]

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Shiitttt. It’s 2014 already? Time flies when you’re… ..doing nothing.

My first Big Day Out was in 2006, since then I’ve been to four others. 2014 made it my sixth, so it had a whole bunch of other festival memories to compete with. How did the change of location to Western Springs hold up against the tried-and-trusted Mt Smart? Was it still a good day in spite of artist clashes? Would there be teething problems such as really long drink lines?

Well, Western Springs proved a successful replacement for Mt Smart in many ways. One of those ways included the ease that one is now able to move between the two main concert areas, with the main stages (now called Tui and Kowhai) and the other stages (now called Tamaki and Aroha) within but a wee jog of each other. So in spite of the clashes, if you were keen for a mission as I was, you were able to catch a bit of everything with no real problems. Though there were the teething problems I anticipated. In spite of four beer gardens-one for each stage area and one at the Chow Town eatery-the drinks lines were utterly ridiculous. One was forced to wait more than an hour in the spiraling vortex of the queues that forcibly ate up the precious time of anyone who was brave enough to venture within them. I was not willing to spend my festival hours waiting for the chance purchase a maximum of two beers at a time, so a sober Big Day Out it would have to be. (There was also large congestion in the only entrance way to the Lakeside stage, filling the role of what once was the boiler room.) Unless they figure something out for next year, the Western Springs BDO’s will be intoxicated ones only for those with a genuine interest in choosing queues over live entertainment.

David Farrier's swan tweet

Stolen from David Farrier’s twitter

But the live entertainment was plentiful. My buddies and I arrived in time for Portugal. The Man on the main stage, whom played what seemed like a yawn inducing set, although we really only walked past on our way to get wrist bands, check our bags and get orientated. The first band of the day we were to watch in full was Tame Impala, whom eased the crowd into the day with their increasingly popular psychedelic pop jams. Half Full Glass Of Wine was the highlight until Elephant forced everyone to get their jump on. Songwriter/singer of the group Kevin Parker is growing into a pretty awesome frontman, doing all the rock star stuff required with a healthy dose of self-aware humour. Looking upon the front row he said “judging by the good looking faces in the front row, we must be the coolest band here” or something to that effect. I was amused at the time. Though perhaps it’s not that funny in hindsight. Well anyhow, their set was good.

A bit of a wait until Primus on the main stage, so skipping The Naked And Famous, we went for a walk, got a burger and checked out this and that around the venue. This was our first of not many attempts to purchase alcohol, we quickly gave up and took our place within the D-Barrier for Primus. Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and recently returned original drummer Tim Alexander soon appeared, kicking some ass and causing some mayhem. Circle pits emerged as the band opened with Those Damned Blue-Collared Tweakers off Sailing These Of Cheese, continuing with a set of other classics that I didn’t know very well because I’d only just realised how awesome Primus are in the weeks leading up to the festival. Perhaps predictably Jerry Was A Racecar Driver and My Name Is Mud were my highlights of the set with Jerry providing me with my first and only crowd surfing opportunity of the day. The band brought with them two giant astronaut props which was something nice to look at, but the entertainment came largely from gazing in awe at the stunning musicianship of all in the band and marvelling at Claypool’s singular wit and talents. It was almost a bit unfair for a band of Primus‘ status to be playing middle of the day to a probably largely apathetic audience apart from the front-most pile of people. But we can thank the failing of AJ Maddah’s Harvest festival for having Primus instead gracing the Big Day Out bill, and our New Zealand stages.

I was next wisked to The Hives, playing straight after Primus in the main arena, whom provided perhaps my favourite set of the day. I had a phase of listening to the guys back in 2004/05, so it brought me some nostalgic vibes to hear songs such as Walk Idiot Walk, Main Offender and Hate To Say I Told You So live. Most recent album Lex Hives was strongly represented in the setlist, and this wasn’t a bad thing – the sing along of Wait A Minute went down well as did Ramones style crunch of Take Out The Toys. Their stage presense is just so good – the band was fully dedicated to providing an kick ass experience, decking themselves out in Mariachi gear and even dressed their stage hands up as ninjas. Lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is an incredibly entertaining front man-dishing out one hilarious concert monologue after another, jumping around and frequently throwing himself into the audience. He quickly had the crowd in the palm of his hand and while it’s easy to be cynical towards rock show cliches, when you’re in the moshpit, there’s nothing more fun than being encouraged to jump in time with twenty thousand others of your peers. The set ended with Tick Tick Boom, and Pelle Almqvist forcing the entire field to sit down, with most people obliging, giving a moment of rest before exploding into one last mosh (Major Lazer later repeated this trick).

A note here about the main stage moshpits – they quickly turn into a dustbowl with all the trampling and stamping feet. The amount of dust thrown into the air got worse as the day progressed and the dry earth fragments caked my throat, beginning with The Hives. Perhaps next year they could chuck some sort of temporary flooring in the moshpit to avoid this slightly irritating feature of Western Springs.

The next hour or so is a blur (the only blur of the day sadly) as I checked out a little of ‘this’ and a little of ‘that’. The ‘this’ was Mudhoney, who sounded nice a grungy and had attracted a large crowd that looked straight out of 1991. The ‘that’ was CSS, whose second announcement addition to the bill finally provided me with a chance to jump around to their 2006 hit Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above. And boy did I jump. So much so that my cellphone flew out of my pocket for the second time that day. If you ain’t loosing belongings, you ain’t moshing right.

Now without the ability to be contacted, I walked on over to Arcade Fire, having missed their first two songs searching the Lakeside dance pit for my phone. But I soon forgot about that, probably about the time Win Bulter and company busted out Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) . This is their year (or perhaps it was 2010 and I’m just catching up now) and the rest of the globe has got some good festival sets to look forward to judging by this performance. I do particularly like the Reflektor tracks live; Here Comes The Night Time with its frantic calypso beats and tempo changes had the dance floor going nuts (surprising all with an explosion of silver confetti in the final section of the song). Through-out the set the band are continually swapping instruments, with two drum-kits on stage, multiple keyboards and odd shaped guitars. They are clearly one of the most musical bands on the line-up, and they have the songs to pull it off as well. Win Bulter proved to be a great frontman as well, not above throwing himself into the crowd, and standing on top of the monitors project his already huge presence out even further. The older songs were great as well, ending with the huge singalong of Wake Up, but it felt as if they were just warming up and it was already time for them to leave.

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I was so satisfied after Arcade Fire, I probably could have ended the day there. Yet I still had ahead of me enjoyable sets from Ghost, Pearl Jam, Deftones, Snoop and Major Lazer. Not to mention some delicious baby back pork ribs prepared by Nic Watt of TV show Tasting the Menu bought from his Masu stand up at the brand new eatery installation, Chow Town. Followed by an NY cheesecake also from Chow Town, which I ate while watching part of Eddy Veddar and co.’s headlining set. After finishing my cheesecake and having one last look at the Deftones set, I rejoined the main stage D-barrier for Pearl Jam‘s encore. They energetically ended with a cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley, after a two-and-a-half hour set of hits, guest appearances (Liam Finn), giant swinging lights and a flapping industrial bird, leaving the many Pearl Jam fans wanting more.

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Major Lazer finished up on the Aroha stage with a crowd so packed it was nearly impossible to get more than half-way to the front. I danced, and kind of wished it was Blur, but then didn’t really because The Hives and other such bands had been so good. Plus Major Lazer had giant streamers, twerking dancers, Lorde and an MC that managed to get a large percentage of the crowd naked.

A successful day I would say, perhaps the only disappointments being the forced sobriety and the fact that all the Big Day Out bucket hat’s sold out before I could buy one. A sober Big Day Out is not necessarily a bad Big Day Out, and my head probably looks better without a bucket hat. So bring on next year I say!

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