Hard News by Russell Brown


I was a Big Day Out medical statistic. At about 6pm, I was having a rest in the bar and I remarked to my buddy John Russell that I had developed a little headache in the course of the past five hours, and I hoped it wouldn't get any worse.

"Go to St John's," he advised. "I just did. They'll give you a couple of Panadol."

So, on the way down to see Polyphonic Spree, I stopped off to see the medics. I had to wait a few minutes while a crew charged out the door of the caravan to where someone had apparently fallen, while a girl with a cut foot was discharged, and another bug-eyed girl departed after having apparently had a sit down, but I got my Panadol. But before I could depart, I had to provide details for the register.

Sex? Male, obviously. "Name?" Brown. "Age?" Er, 42 … Medical issue? "Headache."

"Good on yer, mate …"

Er, yeah. So, enter the Boiler Room. The 27-piece set-up for the Spree was running behind schedule, so we got about 20 minutes more Concord Dawn than expected - and they weren't half bad. Less of a bleeding cacophony than last year, more of a groove.

Eventually, it was time for the Polyphonic Spree. I liked the idea of some goofy choral groove following the drum 'n' bass attack, and I expected to enjoy it. But … I didn't. Perhaps I found the hands-in-the-air religious revival schtick off-putting, but I'm afraid I just didn't buy any of it.

So I convinced my companion to depart with me. We took in a little Shihad in the stadium: definitely Shihad again, and no longer Pacifier, but I couldn't escape the feeling that I'd seen it before. So up the steps and over to the alternative stages, where The Streets had a big and very up-for-it crowd - and didn't really take them anywhere. I love both the Streets albums, and I really rate Mike Skinner as a writer of words, but the live show was basically half-arsed and messy, and the stage patter wasn't funny.

So the big 7pm-8pm logjam had not, for me anyway, produced any real delights. There had been earlier highlights: I arrived earlier in the day just in time for Deja Voodo's set, where a notably large crowd was ironically throwing up the goat 30 rows back. Of note: Deja Voodoo now have a marijuana song ('Weed on Green Man, Weed on Green Woman') to go with their very popular songs about beer ('Beers') and P ('P'), and the words are very funny.

We skipped some earnest American punk rock band in favour of a sit-down in the bar, and got back for Phoenix Foundation, who, by their standards, fully rocked out. Not bad. But then, on the adjacent stage, Le Tigre: wow! The little girls in the crowd screamed and three New York riot girrrls played their enormously engaging feminist disco-punk, tossing in their crowd-pleasing cover of the Pointer Sisters' 'I'm So Excited'. It was funny and simple and uplifting. Instant highlight.

Back at the main stand, I briefly visited my kind corporate hosts, Ericsson, before popping down to the FMR box, where Paul was sitting, having scammed his way into a government box, which was playing host to a posse of Labour MPs. Steve Maharey, apparently, got down amongst the people for The Hives, and I saw Tim Barnett, in a lurid red shirt, handing out cheesy 'Labour Loves New Zealand Music' stickers to giggling teenage girls. Didn't see Katherine Rich or that young chap from New Zealand First. Perhaps they were having it large in the Boiler Room.

We caught the D4, who didn't seem quite as firing as last year, before heading over for the MintChicks, who were dressed in full-length plastic gold suits and leapt about manically, as it their wont. A place circled overhead with a banner advertising their new single, 'Fuck the Golden Youth'.

Anyway, Matt and I decided to wait out The Streets in the adjacent open-air bar, so as to be close for Trinity Roots, who, playing their second-last gig ever, poured out a kind of beautiful psychedelic reggae. One of them called his pregnant wife on his mobile phone and got the crowd to shout out hello to her, which was nice.

By now, the strain of a day in the blazing sun was starting to show. Middle-aged couples started muttering to each other about how long they'd be able to stick it, and some of the brainless youths who had turned up without even a hat or sunglasses were starting to look fairly peaky on it. One or two of them looked severely sunburned.

We took another quick rest stop back at the stadium, where Slipknot were still scaring their fans to bits. The Slipknot fans (or "maggots" as they prefer to be called) were amazing: at least two of them got through the heat of the day in tight-fitting leather gimp masks. They were throwing up the goat non-ironically.

Eventually it was time to head back over the way to see Dimmer, who, to a relatively small crowd, hauled out their space-rock festival set, and were, along with Le Tigre, my highlight for the day.

I missed the Beastie Boys (who played a very jolly greatest hits set apparently) entirely, largely as a result of my ill-fated decision to pop in and see if the Chemical Brothers were any good. Carl Cox was still playing (and actually sounding pretty good), and by the time he'd finished, some predictably ominous introductory music had played, and the Chemicals had knocked out 'Hey Boys, Hey Girls' and their new single, 'Galvanise', I had decided that no, I still didn't like them. Too much block-rockin', not enough groove. Time to go.

Problem: if getting in to the Boiler Room had been a squeeze, getting out was nigh impossible. There was a little room in the centre of the tent, but all the exits were rammed with people coming in. I briefly found being crushed up with literally thousands of very-out-of-it people quite unpleasant and just had to stand still and wait for a while.

And so, not being a fan of the John Spencer Blues Explosion, it was pretty much Big Day Over. Verdict? Not as good a lineup as last year, and the hip-hop stage is still a real problem. With Shapeshifter banging away in the tent next door, Tha Feelstyle (read Grant Smithies' excellent profile from yesterday's Star Times) could barely draw a crowd, which was a real shame, because he was great. Ditto for the visiting hip-hop DJs, including Money Mark, although The Fast Crew did demonstrate that the local pop-rap pulls the punters.

There were two ambulance cases as a result of party pill overdoses (Can we please stop calling them "herbal"? Because they aren't) : I guess our binge culture is still with us. Not even the hint of any kind of violence, that I saw. And a remarkably widespread ignorance of how to avoid having one's brain boiled and skin burned when spending hours in the blazing sun.

So Paul and I pulled out into the departing throng, and began the long drive back to our side of town. On the way, we stopped at a wedding reception: that of Big Ross and Amber. I've known Big Ross for a long time, and in the mid-80s, when he was a member of Bird Nest Roys, I used to see a lot of him and the crowd that surrounded the band - a bunch of lovely oddballs who had come out of West Auckland. They always had a powerful sense of family around them - extending even to their own special jargon - and, unsurprisingly, there was plenty of that in the wedding party. People were drunk, happy and emotional.

It was fitting, then, that Ross chose to mark the music that had brought them altogether and defined them for so long. His old friends got up with him and played two sets as Bird Nest Roys, and one as the post-BNR band, The Tufnels. I caught the second BNR set and nearly wept. Older and greyer, but still one with the music they'd made, they filled the room with a joyous noise.

The guests danced manically as they played 'Jaffa Boy', at the conclusion of which Little Ross invited to the stage the "little kid, with orange lips/and chocolate on his mind" about whom the song was written all those years ago. He's 18 now. They also played their covers of the Hollies' 'Bus Stop' and Magazine's 'Shot By Both Sides' (done as straight rock 'n' roll) and finished with Little Ross' song about wooing his own wife, 'Bided My Time'.

When it was over, Big Ross fell off the stage into the arms of his own lovely wife, and then several of his mates just came up and hugged him. (To see what a lovely man Ross is, check out the way he announced the happy news to his friends.) It was loving and special and a testament to the power of music to bring people together. As celebration-through-music it was beautiful and authentic in a way that the day's loved-up dance music and the Polyphonic Spree had not been.

In charge of a car, and too tired anyway, I did not further avail myself of the extremely generous bar, and headed for home. Trundling down an empty Premier Ave, I swerved just in time to avoid killing a hedgehog. Back home, I got a glass of wine and just sat out on the deck for a while, in the quiet. The Milky Way soared across the top of the sky, and the moon peeked over the trees, casting a silvery halo. It was really quite beautiful. It had not, I decided, been too bad a day.