Big Day Out @ Gold Coast Parklands, 23.01.2011: Part 4

Originally I had no plans to go and see Wolfmother, but as there’s a small gap in my schedule before I need to head off to Iggy & The Stooges, the band I most want to photograph today, I decide to take a detour via the Green Stage. As I’m sure I’ve written several times before, I first saw Wolfmother the fourth time they played, when they opened for Vanlustbader at the Hopetoun. I didn’t think much of them but fell for the hype when their debut album was released although I probably haven’t listened to it more than a handful of times and probably not since the month it was released. Down the years I’ve seen them at just about every festival I’ve gone to, including their final show as the original three-piece at Splendour, as well as the show they played at GoMA for the closing night of the Andy Warhol exhibition. I’ve seen them more times than I’d care to and even after all that I’m still completely unconvinced by their merits. Tonight is the first time I’ve seen them as the v2.0 four-piece and it definitely makes a huge difference to the fullness of their sound, even if the song remains the same and they just play the same songs they’ve been playing for the last seven years. Having co-opted 1970s classic rock, Andrew Stockdale, in his tassle-fringed jacket, has obviously decided to base his look tonight on Roger Daltrey circa 1970. As ever, the songs go on forever, despite only having an hour slot, and needing to get to the main stage I only end up seeing two songs.

With this being the first time in seven attempts at getting a photo pass for the Big Day Out, there’s been a fair few bands down the years that I’ve been really disappointed in missing out at getting to photograph;The Stooges in 2006 being just about top of the list. It’s also sad given the death of Ron Asheton in 2009, that I never got the change to photo him. Traditionally, when it came to photo release contracts, festivals were a lot more easy going than the shows that the individual bands might have played. However, in the last couple of years there’s been further evidence of the encroachment of contracts, with bands sending their photo contracts via the festival’s media team, to be added to the festival’s own photo release. Today is the largest number of contracts I’ve been given to sign in all the time I’ve been photographing; the standard release for the festival plus further forms for Tool, Rammstein, Grinderman and Iggy & The Stooges. The Stooges’ one is ok though, no copyright grab although it tells us we’re only getting the first two songs to photograph; two songs is never going to be anywhere near enough when you’ve got someone like Iggy Pop on stage and this is proved to be true as ‘Raw Power’ and ‘Search & Destroy’ go in a flash. Obviously most of the short time available is spent with the camera focused on Iggy, trying to get as many good shots of him as possible. It’s not hard for him to be the focus of all the attention; although everyone has seem him plenty of times in photos and on the tv, it doesn’t do justice to how he looks in real life when you’re really up close. After the two songs I hang around the main stage and watch the rest of the show, although it’s disappointing to be honest. The third song, ‘Gimme Danger’, is when Iggy invites everyone up on stage, obviously so scripted that it’s the real reason the photographers were only allowed two songs in the photo pit. The reason for the disappointment is that the sound is awful. On the right hand side it’s muddy, all bass and no guitar and after a song or two I decide to see if it’s better anywhere else. It’s no better near the sound desk, where you’d expect it to be at its best and over the far side of the mixing desk there’s so much guitar in the mix that you can barely make out the vocals. Overall it comes nowhere close to the 2006 Big Day Out performance, which was one of the standout shows of the year.

Rammstein are next on the main stage. Although I’m not a fan I did want to photograph them as it looked like it should be an interesting experience. However, Rammstein had a nasty photo contract. A few days before the festival, the festival’s media people had sent out the contracts that we would have to sign and so I went through them all, crossed out the clauses I disagreed with, signed them and had them ready to be handed over when needed. However, the PR people made everyone fill out fresh photo releases. I cross out the terms I disagree with again, hand the contract in but have it instantly given back to and told that no changes are allowed. So instead I go and see Primal Scream.

Last time I’d seen Primal Scream it was at the MBV-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties weekend at Butlins Minehead in December 2009 and they weren’t very good. They obviously wanted to fit in with the rest of the bands playing that weekend so their set was mostly songs from their Krautrock-influenced albums, and although some of these are really good, the performance was very workmanlike, not helped by the poor Pavilion stage sound, nothing really shone or stood out and it was all fairly boring, with the allure of Yo La Tengo playing on the Centre Stage proving a much more attractive alternative for a large proportion of the punters as their set went on. As is the way in recent years, the band are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Screamadelica and touring by playing the album in its entirety. I admit to having mixed feeling about this, more so from what it would sound like played live 20 years on, how they would do it and whether it would sound really dated. Also, although the memory is a little hazy, I’m guessing that they played a large chunk of it the first time I saw them, when they headlined the second (NME) stage at Glastonbury (playing after Curve) in 1992. 1992 is easily one of my very favourite Glastonburys in the 11 or 12 that I’ve been to. Much to my surprise and delight, the band sound fantastic, even if they are playing in the dark and annoying me as I try to get some good photos of them. I stay around and watch more of their set and it’s a revelation; they’ve always had a reputation of being a very hit and miss band when it comes to playing live, with their last visit to Brisbane a couple of years ago garnering some really poor reviews but tonight they are superb.

However, when it gets to the pointy end of the festival, the big names on the upper end of the timetable start to clash and the second half of Primal Scream’s set is clashing with the first half of LCD Soundsystem’s set at the Boiler Room. I’ve only been a recent convert to LCD; having seen a bit of them at last year’s Splendour In The Grass, I was interested in finding out a bit more about them, picked up their last album, This Is Happening, for $10 at Dirt Cheap CDs when I was down in Melbourne for work and instantly fell in love with it. As a huge Bowie fan I like just how shamelessly Bowie it is, with the Berlin period and Scary Monsters being obvious influences. During the three weeks I was down in Melbourne I picked up the rest of their/his studio albums for $10 a piece, although none of them come close to matching This Is Happening. Reading up about the band I also really liked how they didn’t break until James Murphy was into well his 30s; it’s such a rare thing for a musician to get press/radio/tv support once their out of their early/mid 20s. He further endeared himself to me when I read an interview with him and he was exalting 1970s Prog Rock and what a big fan he was of Yes’s Fragile. Despite so much of that early 1970s Prog being a major influence on so many modern acts, it’s a period and type of music that’s so uncool that I think people are embarrassed to admit to liking it or it being as big influence on their music.

With the end of the band already having been announced sometime ago (I think maybe even before last year’s Splendour), this would be the last time that I get to see them play live.  Although I would have liked to have stayed and seen the rest of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica set, in the end it was an easy decision to walk up to the Boiler Room and catch as much of LCD as I could.

In the end it was worth leaving Primal Scream; James Murphy has put together a large group of players in an effort to replicate the studios recordings as closely as possible and the reliance on actual musicians playing, rather than extended use of pre-recorded loops and backing tracks, makes the live LCD System experience something really special, something a lot more akin to seeing a rock band than your average dance band. This Is Happening makes up the bulk of the songs I get to see and they sound massive when played by the band. It’s nothing much to photograph though, with the stage mostly shrouded in darkness as well as the large band and all their equipment taking up a huge space on the stage meaning that half the band is hidden at the back. James Murphy endears himself to me even further by being such an unassuming front man. Playing in a genre renown for its flamboyancy, instead he looks like someone that’s come straight from a job in an IT call centre.

Tool are the Big Day Out headliners this year but Tool have also brought with them a nasty photo release contract. So instead I give them a wide berth (I remember first seeing Tool support Rage Against the Machine at The Mayfair in Newcastle in 1993 and they didn’t do anything for me then and haven’t done anything since) and go and see Grinderman instead.

Grinderman have also brought a contract with them although it’s a fairly standard one, other than telling us that we only get one song in the photo pit. Having photographed them and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds before I already knew that it would only be a one song shoot. Although Nick Cave is well known for hating photographers and having his photo taken he really does ham it up in that one song we get – Grinderman 2’s ‘Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man’ – as he runs around the stage and teeters on the very edge of the stage. He seems to really be enjoying the freedom to do this with a guitar rather than being tied to a keyboard for much of the time as he is with The Bad Seeds. As it’s the last band of the day I stay and watch maybe half their set. They might be on last, they might be among the elder statesmen of this year’s Big Day Out bill but it’s obscenely loud; maybe they finally sorted out the stage’s sound or maybe the headliners just get to have better sound than all the preceding bands.
My first time photographing the Big Day Out and I had a great day. What can I say, I just love taken photos of stuff. I largely managed to avoid the bogan masses and just concentrated on the bands, making the most of finally having a photo pass after all this time. Obviously it wouldn’t be an Australian music festival without having been shouted out to take someone’s photo and the worst it gets is when it happens as I’m running between stages to get to the next stage at the start of my three song allowance and it gets accompanied by empty cans being thrown in my direction, although not with any great accuracy.

Highlights of the day were definitely the line-ups elder statesmen; Iggy & The Stooges (although the sound was awful), Primal Scream, LCD Soundsystem and Grinderman. Lowlights, as increasingly being seen at festivals, were the photo release forms, especially the rights grabbing ones from Tool and Rammstein. Still, what do you expect if photographers keep signing them. I would have really liked to experienced photographing Rammstein from the photo pit but I’m not giving away photos to them for free, especially not when they’re probably getting paid a pretty penny for being the penultimate band of the day on the main stage. If they want my photos they can pay for them. Disappointing, but I have no regrets in not signing.

Of the rest, little stood out though. Jim Jones Revue were good but that was about it. And Crystal Castles were fun but a lot of that had to do with photographing from the stage; I don’t know what it sounded like from the audience but from up there it just sounded like Alice Glass shouting really badly and really out of tune.

It might have been my first time in seven attempts but I’m keen for a quick return to the Big Day Out next year.

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