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Festival Review: Big Day Out - Arena Joondalup, Perth (02.02.14)

Big Day Out and Perth have had a pretty strained relationship in recent years, with venue changes, reduced line-ups and poor ticket sales. This year was no different, with Blur dropping out, and continued tensions between organisers and local councils prompting a last minute change in venues and the announcement by AJ Maddah that it would be the last time the event would come to Perth.

If this really was to be the last BDO, it’s safe to say ticket wise, it didn’t really go out with a bang, with an estimated crowd of only 15-16,000 making the trek to Arena Joondalup; a significant drop in attendance from its heyday. Despite that, this year’s event had its own fair share of highlights and talking points, with some great performances throughout the day.

After a longer than expected train journey (who knew Joondalup was so far away), I eventually kick started this year's festival with Melbourne indie rockers Loon Lake who eased me into the day with some great no frills, upbeat guitar rock, and certainly made me want to get down and finally listen to their album.

Portugal. The Man were an early highlight for me. I’m a big fan of their album In The Mountain In The Cloud, so it was great to finally get a chance to see them live. Given their early timeslot they didn’t draw the biggest crowd, but that certainly seem to put a damper on their performance. The set was dominated mostly by tracks from their most recent album ‘Evil Friends’ though they did manage to slip in a pretty awesome cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall pt.2’ by way of an intro into closing song ‘Purple Yellow Red and Blue’.

The low attendance was perhaps made most obvious when I made it across to the Red Stage to see The Drones. This was a band I’d heard a lot about, and expected to have to fight my way to get close. Unfortunately for them fellow WA band Tame Impala were playing at the same time. Even a day or so on, I’m still not completely sure what to make of their set, I enjoyed it, but I can’t really tell you why. It was raucous, wonderfully dissonant and once or twice Liddiard was incomprehensible, but utterly captivating as a performer.

LA’s Grouplove injected some much-needed adrenaline into the early afternoon with an upbeat and energetic set, far too energetic for a 30+ day – with old favourites ‘Itching on a Photograph’ and ‘Tongue Tied’ nestled amongst tracks from their most recent album (which I somehow missed) whilst ‘Colours’ closed out the set. The band have a great dynamic on stage and have definitely grown more confident on stage in the three years it’s been since I last saw them at Glastonbury.

The Lumineers despite delivering a great performance highlighted for me some of the negatives that come with festivals. It may have just been the part of the crowd I was stood in, but it seemed like too many people were there for one song, ‘Ho Hey’, and seemed happy to spend the rest of the set, taking ridiculous selfies, or just screaming over the music to each other, ignoring the band they have spent money in part to come and see.

The band themselves put in a great performance, playing through the favourites from their debut, including ‘Submarines’ and ‘Classy Girls’, plus not to mention road testing a new song, and playing a great cover of Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. The decision to play a couple of songs in the midst of the crowd was a nice touch, though it was a little lost on some, with one guy behind me excitedly videoing the stage during ‘Ho Hey’ oblivious to the fact most of the band were about 100m to the left of him.

Co-headliners Arcade Fire were always going to be the main draw card for me this year, even more so with the departure of Blur from the line-up in December. Arriving on stage, replete with oversized head masks, the band quickly launched into the powerful opening salvo of ‘Reflektor’ and ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’, perfectly setting the mood and tempo for the rest of the set.

It was an interesting set with a few songs from most recent album Reflektor interspersed between old favourites, and even an ABBA cover. There were plenty of songs I’d have liked to have heard, but in that setting I’m not sure it would have worked as well. This was a performance geared towards a festival crowd, upbeat, fun and with plenty of opportunities for the crowd to join in. ‘Wake Up’ brought the whole thing to a joyous exuberant close. Sometimes there’s nothing better than standing in a crowd screaming your heart out, just like everyone else around you.

The release of reduced price tickets after 6 ensured that headliners Pearl Jam were greeted by a sizeable crowd when they stepped out to close the festival. I don't consider myself to be the biggest Pearl Jam fan, and only had chance to stay for a portion of their set before making my way back home, but there's no denying both their skill as performers or the passion of their fans.

Time will tell if this was Perth's last Big Day Out (it certainly looks this way for now...). But whilst this may not have been the Perth installment's finest hour, it was not without it's highlights. It would be naive to assume that the problem lies simply with the local councils (as suggested by many a message board poster), it would seem that there are larger trends to take into account. But it will be a shame to lose the festival from the state's music calendar, as this year, and every year before it, has always been a day not just to enjoy, but to look forward to.