Live Review: Big Day Out Festival 2010 – Gold Coast Parklands (17.01.10)


Big Day Out 2010, here we come. In contrast to pleasant cloudy weather at last year’s event, it is so hot today you could practically cook eggs in the sunrays (cue plenty of exposed flesh, Southern Cross tatts, silly sombreros etc in the crowd) by the time we arrive on the Gold Coast – so we slip, slop, slap and adjust our wide-brimmed hats.

Too late for Karnivool and Decoder Ring, we slice through throngs of already-inebriated revelers on our way to the Parklands, Mastodon’s saturated distortion echoing wide around the area. Rich on squealing pinched harmonics and bone-crushing riffage, the US prog-metallers’ first Australian appearance is as impressive as you would expect from a highly technical heavy music unit, however we don’t get to see axeman Brett Hinds demonstrate his entire arsenal as we set on a tough mission to find a shaded spot near the Orange Stage.

!” yells Kasabian’s newly-shorn frontman Tom Meighan to thunderous crowd roar before Leicester’s dance-rockers set about their Madchester-inspired business. The band’s latest opus West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is represented by the fearsome set opener Vlad The Impaler and hits Underdog, Where Did All The Love Go?, Fast Fuse and Fire, all met with massed chants and much pogoing – yet it’s older stompers Shoot The Runner and Empire and bass-driven calling card Club Foot that send everyone apeshit.

At the neighbouring Blue Stage, Fremantle, WA’s pop-rock royalty Eskimo Joe launch straight into what’s essentially a slick greatest hits set. Kav Temperley’s familiar, ever-so-slightly squawky voice doesn’t especially grate as the combo churn out one radio staple after another – From The Sea, Black Fingernails Red Wine, Foreign Land etc – however we decide not to stick around too long seeing as one of last year’s biggest “buzz bands” have already assumed control of the Converse tent.

Bearers of “this year’s MGMT” tag, Bostoners Passion Pit perhaps didn’t realise how popular they’ve become with the Australian youth prior to their BDO showcase. Afro-sporting singer Michael Angelakos appears a tad gobsmacked by the size of the crowd and the reaction the geeky synth-poppers generate, even urging the fiercely dancing fans not to hurt themselves; as a testament to the times, there’s a predictable mass exodus after PP’s big Triple J hit Sleepyhead, however the saucer-eyed indie disco vibe remains intact all the way until the end.

Rather sadly, literate US indie-rock stalwarts The Decemberists are hardly an arena act and can’t boast an audience like the act before them, barely half-filling the Green Stage tent. Check shirt-clad leader Colin Meloy, however, appears undeterred, getting lost in the music and fiercely strumming his acoustic as his band go through the Hazards Of Love highlights – The Rake’s Song getting the warmest reception – and cult favourites like the rousing Alright. There are ample folk and alt-country flourishes throughout and a rollicking, full-pelt sea shanty is pummelled out towards the end, but even then, Meloy’s intricate lyrics and deft melodicism require a closer inspection in a more intimate setting.

Initially a scuzzy goth-garage act when they first came out in 2006, UK’s The Horrors today transcend even their highly successful stylistic reinvention as neo-shogazers with a performance that’s set to go down in the BDO lore as one of the festival’s all-time highlights. Beanpole frontman Faris Badwan leads the charge through the Primary Colours-dominated setlist, his formerly mannered vocals driving on the whooshy Mirror’s Image, Three Decades and New Ice Age and deep on the Cure-ish Scarlet Fields and JAMC-like slowburner I Only Think Of You. Capping off the jaw-droppingly powerful display, soaring singles Who Can Say and Sea Within A Sea raise collective goosebumps with their arresting synth motifs.

Having been blown away by the above quintet’s brilliance, we head back to the central stages for Lily Allen, which means pushing through the wildly stomping Dizzee Rascal crowd and having to endure a legion of sweaty, barely-dressed punters of both sexes go bonkers to the titular song and the Calvin Harris collaboration Dance Wiv Me. Miraculously, we manage to squeeze through the entrance to the Orange Stage area relatively unscathed after being compressed among dozens of tightly crammed bodies – all in time for the pint-sized Londoner to walk on.

Her one-piece attire revealing plenty of posterior, Lily can’t resist having a joke about her pubes being visible – much to the predominantly under-22 audience’s cheers. Endearingly brash and foul-mouthed, she’s a different kind of a pop entertainer than, say, any member of The Pussycat Dolls – unafraid to show that she doesn’t have a perfect body and freely speaking her mind while posessing talent in spades. Among the hits-packed set, staples LDN, Littlest Things and Smile meet an ecstatic response and the attitude-laden Fuck You summons a festival-sized singalong.

The Mars Volta’s complex, intricately-structured compositions are more than a touch incongruous after the previous artist’s giddy pop delights, yet the Texas prog powerhouse roll onto the Blue Stage in fire-breathing juggernaut fashion. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López, both dressed according to ‘70s rock fashion, break out plenty of high-energy moves harking back to their At The Drive-In tenure, the former regularly launching the mic stand into the air and the latter twitching like an electro-shock recipient. The pounding guitar riffs and vice-tight instrumental interplay channel Led Zeppelin and King Crimson in their arena-slaying prime, but the requisite Hendrix-style noodling is kept to a minimum – in order for everyone to savour.

Back at the Converse Stage, we catch the last five minutes of Ladyhawke – which is enough for us to witness a crowd-igniting rendition of her ever-present hit My Delirium – and wait for the gender-bending diva Peaches, who surfaces in a gigantic pubes costume after her backing band assume their positions.

Playing to a full tent and changing her backline dancers and attire several times throughout, the former school teacher preaches her hedonistic message along to the robotic electro-rock grooves. Annoyingly, her strident vocals periodically get drowned out by the punishingly loud bass and we leave before signature ditty Fuck The Pain Away is aired. Comprehensively worn out by now, we stammer into the main area, sit down on the hill and watch the tail-end of Powderfinger, who tonight sound like your favourite pub rock band, in anticipation of this year’s headliners.

True to their form, Matthew Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard – aka neo-stadium rock giants Muse – instantly reignite the mass excitement with a pounding opening treble of Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole and Stockholm Syndrome. The trio’s most unabashedly “pop” number to date, Undisclosed Desires marries Kanye West with Depeche Mode while the overblown United States Of Eurasia allows for a nice stretch & yawn before Wolstenholme signals Hysteria’s crunchy bass riff and the front row re-commences moshing in earnest. The perennial Feeling Good is a treat, as are fan favourites Starlight and Time Is Running Out, yet The Resistance’s somewhat underwhelming title track and New Born rewrite Unnatural Selection fail to take off like the tried-and-tested old barnstormer Plug In Baby. As a grandscale final brush, Muse recite Ennio Morricone’s haunting The Man With The Harmonica before sealing the set and the festival with the humungous Knights Of Cydonia, Bellamy’s operatic vocals summoning Freddie Mercury’s spirit while his sonic-chameleon guitar spouts quasi-spaghetti western twang, ghostly UFO noises and towering Led Zep riffola. “Epic” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Ultimately, all good must end and both energy-depleted yours truly call it a Big Day Out, leaving the garbage-strewn Parklands behind us. No Groove Armada in the simmering-hot Boiler Room for this couple – but decent sleep and fresh memories of great live performances will do for now. Peace out!

Words by Denis Semchenko and Kendall Salzman
Photos by Kendall Salzman