Arcade Fire are another band I’ve just never really understood. I’ve said it before but there’s just something about them that really reminds me of The Waterboys so I’ve always struggled to comprehend how they’ve managed to become so feted. Tonight they play a first song with additional musicians before going down an 8 or 9 piece for the next few songs but at no point does it sound like there’s that many musicians playing. Although (surely) the whole MO of Arcade Fire is this “big” sound, it might as well be half the number of people as are on stage. It’s all a bit try hard to impress.
With no Pearl Jam to photograph, there’s a big gap in the schedule until the next acts on the Red and JBL Essential stages. I didn’t make it to the Boiler Room at all this year, whereas in previous years I’ve spent plenty of time in there. The difference is that in previous years there was always plenty of interesting live acts whereas this year the organisers have just gone for dull-to-photograph but so much cheaper option of a bunch of laptop DJs.
Annoyingly both Ghost BC and Snoop Dogg are scheduled to start at the same time, 9pm. On the plus side, the two tents are next to each other and so my plan of attack has me starting with Ghost for a song before moving over to Snoop for a song. I decide on Ghost BC first based on the assumption that no hip hop gig ever starts on time. Ghost BC doesn’t help the cause by playing an instrumental to start with before Papa Emeritus II comes out onto stage which makes it the best part of two songs before the run over to the Red stage where Snoop has already started. The pit is packed and as a latecomer I’m way out to the side, unsure of how many songs have been played and not really wanting to push through the crowd to photograph from different angles. All the photos are taken from roughly the same spot, which in hindsight is a shame. It just felt like a rushed job to get a few quick shots in the time I had available although I do manage to take a few non-digital shots to finish up the roll of Tri-X in my film camera.
Although still really disappointed at not being allowed to photograph the festival’s headline act, I go and spent about 40 minutes watching Pearl Jam and take a few photos from way back in the crowd, outside the D-barrier. I first saw Pearl Jam towards the start of 1992 in a small 500 person venue in Newcastle and it still remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. It was pre-Ten although ‘Alive’ had been released and made it to something like Number 29 with a bullet in the Top 40. The show cost 4 pounds (50p more expensive than Smashing Pumpkins who I think also played that month in the same venue) and was sold out. Despite only knowing one song, everything they played sounded like a classic and when Ten did eventually come out, I could recognise songs like ‘Black’ and ‘Jeremy’ from when the band had played them. The one visual takeaway from the night was Eddie Vedder using the square lighting rig above the ‘dancefloor’ as monkey bars and making his way around the front of the crowd (while a load of women he passed over had a good grope). It’s funny listening to Ten and Versus now as they just sound so MOR classic rock and although I only see 40 minutes of their BDO set, it’s very much the same sound. In those 40 minutes I think they only play 5 or 6 songs and each one seems to disappear into some never-ending Neil Young-like guitar solo jam. I like Neil Young and seeing him play with Crazy Horse at Phoenix festival in 1996 is one of my all-time favourite festival sets. (I also saw him the following year when he played at Reading with Pearl Jam as his backing band) but Pearl Jam aren’t Neil Young and just sound very ordinary, which is disappointing.
Originally I wasn’t going to see Deftones but I’d seen enough of Pearl Jam after 40 minutes. Why they’ve become a band who’d decided to play 2.5 hour sets, I don’t know. There are very few acts that can pull it off and I don’t think Pearl Jam are one of them. I’d seen Deftones a couple of years ago at Soundwave and they were fun to photograph for a few songs so cut my losses at the main stage and wandered across to the JBL Essential Stage. It’s a very similar to Soundwave (I’ve been told they pretty much played the same set), the only real difference being that last time they played in the middle of the afternoon, this time under lights and with a lot of strobing and backlighting making it harder to photograph. Deftones, Beady Eye and The Hives may have been brought in to make up for the loss of Blur from the line-up, but I would have much rather seen and photographed Blur.
I can safely say that I saw some of the worst bands in musical history at this year’s Big Day Out so it’s apt that my night ends with Major Lazer. There are times when you feel that there’s a real generation gap and that you’re just too old for modern music and this is one of those times. The tent is packed to capacity and overflowing well outside the tent and yet it’s for some awful, clichéd dance music that’s got a really dated sound much like a cross between Jive Bunny and 2Unlimited. To quote Lorde, I guess I’m tired of being told to throw my hands up in the air. I quit the photo pit after a couple of songs so miss the big flag and the Flaming Lips-style-ball-into-the crowd. I don’t know how the other photographers could endure it so long.
Having caught the bus back to the train station, I find I’ve missed the train back to Brisbane by 3 minutes and so have a 57 minute wait ahead of me. It’s a good job I brought my notebook as I can get started on the photos while I wait and on the train back. Although I get back just before midnight, I’m up until almost 5am editing the photos to get them sent off and feel suitably wrecked for the next few days as a result.
Despite everything I’d feared about the move away from the Gold Coast Parklands, having the festival at Metricon was a good move. I expected the worst from the venue but it makes sense having a festival at a stadium, as so much of the infrastructure is already there, although in an ideal world it shouldn’t be down on the Gold Coast.
Most of the lead up to this year’s Big Day Out was about the behind the scene changes and poor ticket sales. If I hadn’t have been photographing, I would have had no interest in going to this year’s Big Day Out; there was nothing on the line-up that would have enticed me to pay the best part of $200 for the day. I say that as someone who has previously bought tickets for the Big Day Out as it took me seven attempts to get finally get someone to arrange photo accreditation for me. It’s frustrating that having finally been rewarded with accreditation over the last few years that the line-up hasn’t been as good, or at least there haven’t been as many bands that I’ve really wanted to photograph, as it was back in the mid-2000s.
This year far more column inches have been devoted to the behind-the-scenes issues, with reports on the changes in management, poor tickets sales, and all the back-and-forth accusations after Blur pulled out at the last minute. With festivals being cancelled or ditched left, right and centre, who knows where the Big Day Out goes from here. It needs a better line-up, but as I’ve written previously, the lack of ‘white whales’ in the modern world makes the long-term viability of these sort of one-day, big main stage, big-name headliner festivals unlikely.