If the lunchtime overlapping of Cage The Elephant, Parkway Drive, Best Coast and Dune Rats was an annoyance, the worst clash of the whole day has to be the one between Mariachi El Bronx on the Hot Produce stage and Battles on the Essential Stage, with only five minutes between the start times for the two acts. Given that Mariachi El Bronx start first and Battles’ songs generally last a while, starting at the Hot Produce stage is the obvious choice. Throughout the day the Hot Produce stage has been a bit of an oddity in that it’s a tiny stage, tucked away in the far corner of the Parklands with a mix of Australian and overseas acts. You can’t help but wonder how it must feel to be in a band that’s come all the way to Australia only to find themselves playing to a tiny crowd from a tiny stage. As Mariachi El Bronx set up and soundcheck, lead singer Matt Caughthran quotes Wayne’s World 2 with “If you build it, they will come” as he surveys the handful of people gathered in front of the stage. Thankfully a larger crowd does come after the band finish their soundcheck and leave to change into their mariachi outfits. They sound good, obviously a whole lot different to The Bronx but I see less than two songs as I really want to go and photograph a bit of Battles.
Going to see Battles is the right decision as they turn out to be pretty much band of the day and are stunning. The two previous times I’ve seen the band, at The Zoo and at ATP in Minehead were both with the original four-piece line-up. Seeing them as a three-piece for the first time I had some misgivings as to whether they would be as good without Tyondai Braxton but his loss hasn’t impacted on the band anywhere near as much as I had expected. Ian Williams plays with two keyboards set up on either side of him, playing each with one hand but, as ever, drummer John Stanier is the main point of focus. Having photographed them at their sold out Zoo show from way back in the crowd (as there’s no photo pit) and watched them from afar at ATP, this is the closest I’ve been to him since he played another Zoo show with Mark of Cain back in 2007. It’s amazing to be able to get so close to him, his drum kit set up at the front and in the middle of the stage, and watch him play. The effort he puts in is astounding and he’s about as good as they get. The next day I go out and buy a copy of Gloss Drop, which I hadn’t gotten around to getting. I love it when you see a band and have to go straight out the very next day and buy some of their stuff. Although I go and photograph Kasabian in the middle of Battles’ set, I make sure to get the photos I need and get back to see the rest of their set as quickly as I can.
It’s been a hot and sunny day but it quickly clouds open and the heavens open within seconds of Kasabian starting. Some might say that it’s devine retribution. They might be one of the UK’s current biggest acts (somehow) but the majority of photographers decide that it’s just not worth the effort and take shelter as much as they can underneath the stage. Those who decide that the band are worth photographing grab anything they have to hand to wrap around their camera and give them some protection from the torrential rain. Having been mightily unimpressed by Kasabian when I saw them at the Riverside, they’re just as empty and soulless as they were last time, although the weather doesn’t hep their cause. It’s a good excuse to get back to the shelter of the Essential Stage tent and the rest of Battles.
Having missed Kitty, Daisy & Lewis when they played the first day of last year’s Sunset Sounds (when I was still en route back from the UK), this time around I only get to see two songs of theirs before I need to leave for Soundgarden. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis look good, sound good and I really would have liked to have stayed to see and photograph more of them.
The first (and possibly only time I think) I saw Soundgarden was when they played at Gateshead Stadium, opening for Guns n’ Roses on their Use Your Illusion Tour in 1992 along with Faith No More. Before they played they did a signing in Volume Records and I got some stuff signed including my 12″ picture disc of Jesus Christ Pose. The back cover is divided up into four, with a photo of each member of the band in each quarter. Chris Cornell ‘managed’ to sign the wrong photo meaning that Matt Cameron then had to sign the photo of Chris Cornell. I don’t think Kim Thayil had any problems recognising his own image… As might have been expected on that tour, both Soundgarden and Faith No Nore were better than Guns n’ Roses. Almost twenty years on, I’d summarise that Soundgarden are good but not great. When I saw them at Gateshead they finished with Jesus Christ Pose, Cornell sliding the microphone stand under the strings and holding the instrumental crucifix aloft at the end of the set. Tonight they play the song really early on (the fourth song) but Cornell’s voice just sounds shredded and without being able to hit those high notes as clearly as he once could, they don’t do justice to it. He mentions that it’s the last Big Day Out, which at the time seems unlikely, especially given the recent sell-out to C3 but possibly more likely given some of the post-festival fallout and comments. Maybe next year there’ll be a complete makeover and a change of name? He also says that next time they come to Australia they’ll be here with a new album. I guess I hadn’t really paid much attention to the reformation and had just assumed it was the typical money-grab get together for all times sake. Although he says that tonight is just a ‘greatest hits’ set from the band.
The official start time for Kanye West comes and goes. About 20 minutes after he was due to start, the road crew start putting a line of foldback speakers across the front of the stage. I didn’t notice any being there prior to this so am calling BS on the excuses being given after the festival about the speakers getting wet in the rain and needing to be replaced. At the time I thought that the delay must be something to do with in ear monitors, which would make more sense. When they start putting the foldback speakers I estimate that it’s going to be at least another 15 minutes until the show starts and consider that I should go and photograph Noel Gallagher and then come back to see if anything has started on the main stage. The only thing that puts me off doing this is that Gallagher is playing on the Green Stage, the furthest walk from the main stage and as it’s directly behind the main stages, you’re not going to hear if anything has started there until you come back around into the main arena. In the end, West starts 45 minutes late. After the long wait, it’s exactly the same set as he played at Splendour. All the photographers at sat watching the stage for something to happen and it’s only when I notice the same elevated platform rising above the stage that he used at Splendour and start taking photos that some of the other photographers near me realise that it’s started.
There is a photo contract for Kanye West that we get ambushed with prior to being allowed into the photo pit, and which I don’t think there was six months ago at Splendour, but it’s not too bad as far as photo contracts go, and weirdly even specifies that the copyright for the photos resides with the photographer. Unlike Splendour, we’re only allowed to photograph from one side of the stage, which means the photos have little chance of being as good as they were at Woodfordia. With the full length of the pit available to us then, as well as the space that went out into the audience for elevated platform, photographing on the Friday at last year’s Splendour was a delightful experience. It was a shame when they returned the barrier to it’s normal position on the Saturday. The downside of only being able to photograph from one side is that all the photographers have to squeeze into a small space. I get annoyed when see a photographer holding a Point & Shoot in the air in one hand while holding a drink in the other but then realise it’s Tyler The Creator from Odd Future. On closer inspection, I notice a few more of the band in the photo pit and also that the guy right in front of me is one of Das Racist. Looking up at the stage, there’s no side of stage area like there is at Splendour and so the VIPs are all in with us if they want to have the best seat in the house to watch the show. As the set is so late running, I don’t stay after the first three songs and head straight for the exit. He was one of the highlights of last year’s Splendour but a really late start when you’re relying on public transport to get back home doesn’t tempt me to see anymore. After all, I saw it all not even six months ago. Instead I’m straight onto a bus back and on my way back to the train station within minutes.
I don’t get to see any of Noel Gallagher but read reviews the following week saying that when he started playing, the audience wasn’t even in triple figures. Given that he’s played to crowds that would probably be greater than the total of the whole year’s combined Big Day Out audience, it’s a pretty embarrassing return if that’s true. I also read that he kept Oasis songs to a minimum but looking at his setlist for the day, half of the fourteen songs he played were by his previous band. You’d almost think the reviewer either didn’t know many Oasis songs or had made an early exit and made up the review…