Big Day Out @ Gold Coast Parklands, 20/01/2008

To check out the photo gallery from the Gold Coast Big Day Out click HERE.

South East Queensland has been enjoying unprecedented rainfall over the past few weeks, and the day of the Gold Coast Big Day Out dawned overcast and humid. Luckily it only rained briefly, certainly not enough to dampen anyone’s spirit. While a large number of acts seemed to have political overtones, this year’s Big Day Out had something for everyone, from the angry rock of Rage Against The Machine and Anti-Flag, the charming pop of Operator Please and Kate Nash, and the mod-rock of Faker and Yves Klein Blue.

8 piece musical collective The Gin Club open the days festivities, having been promoted to the Green Stage after a strong showing on the Local Produce stage last year (or possibly just due to lack of room on the smaller LP stage). Whatever the case, the Gin Club take full advantage, rocking up some of their new alt-country/blues songs to suit the festival vibe. With 8 members (ringleader Ben Salter boasts early on, “I bet we’re the only band at the Big Day Out with five drummers!), they have to change instruments frequently, but practise has made the process as smooth as silk, and they suffer none of the sound problems that can often plague the early bands. Theres a swelling intensity to their set, which bodes well for the rest of the day to come, not to mention the new album Junk, due to drop in March.

Something With Numbers meanwhile are opening the main stages with some more straightforward rock. Jake Grigg is in fine form with his vocals, moving around the stage with vigor, although he picks up an acoustic for some quieter numbers too. However the band is definitely at their best when he is unencumbered by a guitar, and free to move around the stage, drawing energy from the fledgling crowd that has gathered in front of the twin stages. They close with hit single Apple Of The Eye (Lay Me Down), which gets a cheer and some singing along from the crowd.

Operator Please had a massive 2007, with their debut album Yes Yes Vindictive landing on many critics top ten lists. They kick off 2008 in impressive style, opening with Get What You Want as the rain begins to pelt down – diehard fans don’t move, but a fair few people head for the tents. The band flow through their pop-rock tunes with their usual aplomb, until Amandah asks someone to hold up a sign. The rest of us haven’t seen it, but the camera finds it in due course, and its rather harsh message “Operator Please shut the f*** up!” Amandah launches a scathing attack, asking anyone who sees this clown to “twist his nuts”, and she gets a cheer from the crowd. It’s a bizarre moment that recalls the Lisa Simpson quote, “Why would they come to our concert just to boo us?”. Luckily the rest of the set passes without incident, and although the rain has put a dampener on things, the big one-two finish of Just A Song About Ping Pong and Zero Zero send the fans away with some happy memories.

British India, meanwhile, have found themselves in an unusual position. When everyone wanted to get out of the driving rain, the big top on the Green Stage was the first logical place to head. As a result, the tent is full to the rafters for British India, and they reward the random entry of the crowd with a fantastic set of momentum-charged rock songs. Frontman Declan Melia feeds off the energy in the extremely humid tent to deliver his vocals with near-savage verocity. Tie Up My Hands and new radio single Russian Roulette get the whole crowd cheering along, and they finish with breakthrough single Black and White Radio, but not before Melia thanks the crowd for supporting Australian music in an international festival. It’s a heartfelt thanks, and it’s returned in kind.

Punk rock icons Anti-Flag deserved better than their early spot on the main stages, but it doesn’t faze them in the slightest, as they attack their set with ruthless abandon. Bassist Chris Barker (aka Chris #2) does most of the talking between songs, decrying the U.S. government and various other things, while calling for unity from the crowd, who are happy to oblige, provided unity means moshing. The music is straight up angry punk, delivered with authority by the punk veterans, and when Barker calls for a circle pit before I’d Tell You But I’m Dead, he gets it. Turncoat also has the crowd singing along (after being prompted) and it’s a weary mosh pit by the time the set draws to an end. Anti-Flag are the first of many political acts over the course of the day, and they’ve set the bar pretty high.

Faker, meanwhile, are anything but political, bringing their mod-infused rock to the crowd at the main stages. Unfortunately, without the big tops of the other stages, bands have to work that much harder to generate energy, and Faker have trouble connecting to the crowd outside of the centre D. However, it’s impossible to ignore hit singles Quarter To Three and Hurricane, and This Heart Attack sounds even better live, delivered with all the passion Nathan Hudson can muster. He even heads up to the top of the speaker stack, throwing himself off to complete the bridge of Hurricane, and the crowd can’t help but be impressed with his vigor. Faker’s work has found some new fans today.

In solo mode, Josh Pyke’s songs can feel a little samey, but luckily today he’s brought along the full band – another act to take advantage of the festival atmosphere in the Green Stage. It’s his first Gold Coast Big Day Out so he takes a photo in between playing some of the hit singles from his Memories and Dust album such as Lines On Palms and the title track. His guitarist even brings out the violin for Buttons, and after a set this good, even some of the crowd wearing darkest of the dark Rage Against The Machine shirts are tapping their feet and nodding along – Pyke’s positive vibe is just that infectious.

Kate Nash may come across as a pop princess in her music videos, but one look at her behind the piano (not to mention the occasionaly coarse language) is enough to convince anyone that she has some musical talent going on. She just happens to like playing pop songs. Nash has an undeniably cute charm about her, even as she pounds the keys, especially on her last two songs – Foundations gets a huge cheer, and new single Pumpkin Soup has been rocked up a little, once again to suit the festival atmosphere. The bridge from Pumpkin Soup even has large sections of the crowd bouncing, to Nash’s great delight, and she rounds out the number by thrashing up and down the length of her piano.

Gyroscope become the fourth act in a row to put on an absolutely tops set under the big top at the Green Stage. It doesn’t hurt that their big singles combine fast, heavy rock with some punchy riffs. Beware Wolf and Fast Girl are great openers for the set, and get a huge mosh pit going. The guitar levels are a little off, but that doesn’t stop the crowd from rocking out. Like the Gin Club, these Perth rockers have a new album due in March, and they follow up new song 1981 with Dream Vs Scream, and then Safe Forever, which gets a huge cheer, as well as some singing along. The new songs sound fairly similar to the classic Gyroscope we’ve come to know and love, which is good news for fans. Frontman Daniel Sanders gets wrapped up in the music, hurling himself around the stage, but drummer Rob Nassif keeps the whole thing together, driving forward the songs at high speed. Doctor Doctor gets another huge cheer, and by this stage, everything the boys do is gold, and, closing the set with Snakeskin, Gyroscope have cemented themselves a spot in the top acts of the day.

Regurgitator make the best fashion choice of the day, with all the members decked out in white (although the big sunglasses suggest they might be making a jab at pop culture too.) Early numbers Blood and Spunk and My Friend The Robot capture the attention of the crowd, but old songs Everyday Formula and Track One don’t have the same punch that they used to. It feels wrong to say it, but Regurgitator packed more of a punch when they were just a two piece, with drums by the computers. Still, rocked out versions of I Will Lick Your Asshole and Polyester Girl hit the mark, while Quan Yeomans segues from the ending of Black Bugs into the familiar opening riff of Sweet Child Of Mine. Kung Foo Sing and FSO are great trips down memory lane for us mid-90s rock fans (and lets face it, with Rage Against The Machine headlining, there’s plenty of us to go around)

Spoon take on the now fabled Green Stage, and unfortunately the magic can’t quite carry them all the way. Their set focuses mainly on more recent material, especially from the critically acclaimed Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but over the course of the set, a lot of the songs start to sound too similar. Stay Don’t Go is a highlight, as is Don’t Make Me A Target, and although Britt Daniel is a charismatic frontman, there’s just not enough energy coming off the stage.

Yves Klein Blue sieze their opportunity on the Local Produce stage, in front of an impressive-sized crowd. Frontman Michael Tomlinson is drenched in sweat, with the humid conditions really showing. Still, he and the rest of the band get the crowd moving with their dancey-rock. It’s the lead guitarist who shines over the course of the set, with excellent work on both guitar and piano bolstering the set. Polka song gets even the most recalcitrant audience member tapping their toes in time.

Tom Morello released a solo album as his side project Nightwatchman last year, and he jumped at the opportunity to strut his stuff on the Big Day Out tour. Morello might not have the greatest voice, and his lyrics have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but his strident personal views shine forward with every perfectly plucked note. He has a superstar quality that draws attention to him, and it never feels like preaching when he tells stories about political inequality and protest in between songs. He finishes with The Road I Must Travel, a road song of the highest order, and he whips up a passion in the crowd so that even singing along feels like an act of protest.

Nearly one year ago to the day Augie March’s One Crowded Hour won them Triple J’s Hottest 100, but their live show hasn’t changed one bit – Glenn Richards is still an absolute perfectionist. Just Passing Through and a rocked up version of Cold Acre set the set on it’s way, before Richards launches straight into One Crowded Hour, sans opening riff. Fairweather fans flood into the middle, sing along, and then stream straight out again at the end. Richards introduces Baron Of Sentiment by talking about it being a Neil-Young-influenced song – “It’s almost as good as one of his really shit songs.” – but the long term fans are used to this self-deprecation, and give him a cheer anyway. Maroondah Reservior doesn’t sound quite right (which Richards acknowledges after it’s finished) but the usual high speed rendition of This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers to close is note perfect, and gets much of the crowd dancing.

At Local Produce Brisbane indie darlings Iron On loose barbed asides at Southern Cross-wearing bogans, fluoro-wearing pill freaks and those pretentious scenesters who wear their pants at half-mast. Luckily, the band’s small but friendly crowd includes none of the above, meaning they escape lynching long enough to deliver a delightful set laced with tracks from new EP The Verse. Showing Signs is an early standout, while Terrible Year sounds even more fuzzy and distorted live. One Man Band is a touch choppy, but the foursome pull it all back into shape at the end with a fine rendition of much-loved oldie More Than Tape complete with impressive rock-out leaps from Ross Hope and Kate Cooper.

Billy Bragg shows that he’s The Nightwatchman’s soulmate with an equally brilliant and politically intense display. Armed only with an electric guitar and his delicious, ever-so-distinctive English accent, he holds a large crowd spellbound with his forthright between-song advocacy and numbers such as I Keep Faith and solidarity poster-song There Is Power In A Union. Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key and Accident Waiting To Happen also help loosen the crowd, and by the time Bragg gets round to his uniquely redrafted version of the Marley classic One Love, the audience is well-primed to help out with the lyrics. He closes out with New England – the slight messiness of it all excused by the crowd’s endearingly enthusiastic theft of the chorus.

In theory, Gin Club should have easily won the “Most Number of Bandmembers” award, but Arcade Fire have them beat with eight regular members as well as two piece brass section and two violin players. Arcade Fire use their numbers to create stunning soundscapes, while the guitar members keep the music firmly tethered to the rock genre. The songs where Win Butler sings are definitely stronger than the ones sung by Régine Chassagne, but each one is still a stunner, especially the brilliant No Cars Go. They even get in on the political action, commenting on American politics. But it’s the music which speaks for itself; Arcade Fire are evidence of chaos theory in music – there’s so much going on at once, it’s hard to pinpoint who is controlling what, but the end result is superb.

Arcade Fire aren’t the only ones dealing in soundscapes – New York experimental buzz-band Battles live up to their billing with one of the performances of the day, fusing the digital precision of electronic music with the analogue messiness of old-fashioned rock in stunning fashion. The quartet construct each song from the ground up, multiple loops of guitars, bass, keys and other electric doo-hickies adding and overlapping with the metronomic drums of John Stanier and the unearthly sing-song pitch bent vocals of Tyondai Braxton. The whole proves far, far greater than the sum of the individual parts, and the crowd just about goes into meltdown as they construct, destruct and reassemble Tonto, Race In and, of course, Atlas from recent release Mirrored. The set feels dreadfully short though – just a taster. Huzzah for sideshows.

Silverchair, on the other hand, have a little trouble holding it together. Songs from their Young Modern album, such as Reflections Of A Sound and Mindreader crackle and pop, but for an unknown reason, Ana’s Song (Open Fire) is drawn out to unnecessary length, and lacks energy. Once it gets dark, they utilise the full light show, but that doesn’t stop If You Keep Losing Sleep devolving into call-and-response for no particular reason. Daniel Johns puts on a fey accent, once again for no discernible reason, and when they close with Freak, it feels like a calculated ploy to appease older fans. It doesn’t help that the originals chunky riffs are lost to feedback.

Brand New’s regular lineup might only feature four members, but that doesn’t stop them bringing out a fifth and sixth touring member on stage to beef up their live sound, most notably in the form of a second drummer. Opening with Sowing Season (Yeah), the U.S. power punk band pack a visceral punch, with front man Jesse Lacey delivering his vocals with intensity. Luca is stunning, as it begins with just Lacey on accoustic, and explodes into it’s five-guitar-propelled finish. The all-too-short set wraps up with a mammoth version of You Won’t Know, which ends with Lacey standing on stage, roaring the title of the song over and over again – a fitting end to a memorable set.

It’s been a long day, but the headliner act is about to make the wait worthwhile. For some of us, the wait hass been even longer, and Rage Against The Machine have a lifetime of expectations to live up to. But, like any legendary band, the main attraction of the day doesn’t just live up to the hype, they smash through it with a raised fist.

They open with the 1-2 punch of Testify and Bulls On Parade. A sea of people is in front of the stage, and the emotion levels are high, with everyone dancing and singing along to almost every word, especially the better-known catch phrases from People Of The Sun and Vietnow. Zach De La Rocha is his usual firey self, while Tom Morello’s guitar work replicating those famous riffs is dazzling. It would be easy to get lost behind those two powerhouses, but drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford are fantastic, leaving their own musical signatures on classic tracks like Bombtrack and Bullet In The Head. The chemistry between the four members is seamless, all evidence of past friction gone, and between Morello’s badged safari-style shirt and peaked cap, and Commerfords unique tattooed look, it’s like these guys never left at all.

Sleep Now In The Fire is delivered as a sermon by Rocha, and he changes the last chorus to “Don’t sleep now in the fire!” as a plea to the crowd, before finishing the main set with War Within A Breath. After a far too long break, they return to play older songs Township Rebellion and Freedom. De La Rocha is covered in sweat, and looks physically exhausted, but he’s still slinging his lines like the veteran that he is. Morello blasts the opening riff from classic Killing In The Name, and from the roar, it’s the song that everyone’s been waiting for. Every word of the iconic song is sung word for word by the crowd, which surely numbers above 20 000 at this stage alone. De La Rocha is able to use the crowd to harmonise in the second chorus, and when they reach the famous ending, all 20 000 people scream out, thrash and dance for one last time. It’s a fevered and passionate way to the end an extremely political Big Day Out, with Rage Against The Machine proving no matter how long you might have been waiting for their return, it’s been worth it.

By Liam McGinniss aka gumbuoy and Stephen Goodwin aka dsthenes

Check out the Gold Coast Big Day Out pics HERE!