Because I grew up on pop music (Beatles, Motown et al), I still have an unashamed love of it -- which perhaps explains why I enjoyed Bionic Pixie, Sneaky Sound System, the Ting Tings and so on at the Big Day Out more than some of the main-stage monsters.
Sure there were other delights (more of them in a minute) but I kinda liked the joyous danceable quality of these acts (and Lupe Fiasco, Hot Chip) and their utter lack of pretension.
While crashing bores like Bullet for My Valentine tried to elevate their mediocrity to an art form, the pop acts just got on with making me (and many others) smile. And I quite like that.
We arrived right on start time as always and I headed straight off to see Bionic Pixie -- whom I have subsequently learned is Zoe Fluery and the daughter of Chapman Stick player Johnny Fluery who gave a couple of my kids guitar lessons many years back. He’s a talented guy and a lot of it has rubbed off on his cute kid whom I read about in, of all places, the Herald’s Viva section.
Normally I wouldn’t let a fashion writer point me to music, but Bionic Pixie did sound interesting and she didn’t disappoint. I think she’s already got two good singles in her (probably amalgams of what she did on the day) and her infectious enthusiasm was winning.
If she designed the costumes for her drummer and synth player they might want to have a wee word with her though, but when she strapped on a heart-shaped guitar for a bit of T.Rex-influenced pop-rock at the end I was completely won over. She also needed the guitar as a useful prop to give her something to do other than dance. It’s a lonely and empty stage when it’s just you.
Australia’s Sneaky Sound System also did the trick and -- despite sound problems which meant they had to quit the stage for a while -- they convinced me and a number of others. I quite like being able to remember every song a band sings at the end of their set and these people had memorable hooks, choruses and catchy lyrics -- and I’d never heard a note they played before seeing them. Verse-chorus, verse-chorus is still a sound formula.
The Ting Tings were equally delightful and fun -- and as the crowd was going off around me a thought occurred: we actually like this pop music stuff, but not so much when our own artists do it.
Our default position in this country is to alt.pop or alt.rock and if someone gets up -- as Bionic Pixie did -- and just makes something pure and fun-filled then there is a weird critical consensus formed which says they can’t be taken seriously. Yet we take the Ting Tings pretty seriously. I saw a couple of very hip critics there beaming along.
Of course I enjoyed Neil Young too (what wasn’t to like, he seemed utterly committed, it was greatest hits set -- without Hurricane however -- and he played typically bludgeoning guitar).
I have never got the appeal of his folksy songs (“I’ve been to Hollywood, I’ve been to Redwood” etc) and I am old enough to remember that stuff when it came out: I thought then he just sounded like whinger so I’ve never enjoyed that stuff, but when he racked up Cortez the Killer I was real happy. I like chintzy pop, but I also like raucous rock’n’roll.
I’ve seen Young a couple of times before -- notably at that notorious Supertop concert where some clown threw a coin and it hit him in the head during his acoustic set. Aussie promoter Michael Chugg came on and unleashed a torrent of abuse and obscenities at a crowd which actually felt really scared by his bellicose and menacing manner. Weird.
This BDO had Young at his best: fired up and not once coasting on material which could have sounded threadbare.
As with Russell and many others of more senior years, I was astonished at the size of crowd Pendulum pulled, and how they totally possessed that audience. I‘d never heard of them before -- I must have been asleep last year -- and my comment to Russell which he mentioned in his posting perhaps needs some explanation.
They did sound like pumping exercise/gymnasium music of the kind which pounds out of the fitness centre near my place -- except this was for people on P working out. Their front man even had a whole gym instructor attitude down pat, getting the crowd jumping and moving, as much as singing. Thomp-thomp-thomp: seems to work too.
I liked them a lot, although I wouldn’t buy an album.
In the flip-side of that, I thought the Tiki album of last year was hugely over-rated but thoroughly enjoyed what I saw of his set, and although I missed Prodigy I was real glad to have seen An Emerald City again, a local band who have a kind of Middle Eastern prog-rock thing going (with mini electric sitar and percussion). I think when they learn to use space as much as sound they will be world beaters and I’m told they are off to live in Berlin.
That would be smart, they’ll hear a lot more North African/Middle Eastern music in the streets and clubs, and so will have a greater well of ideas to draw on. I can’t wait for their album.
Some bands just couldn’t make the leap to the big stage: the great TV on the Radio whose albums I like were woefully out of their depth and you had to conclude they are a fine New York/art/album band but not made for unforgivingly large arenas. People fled, me among them.
The Arctic Monkeys suffered the same fate: they are, at present, a band built for a clubs not fields.
I thought Luger Boa started well but increasingly became their influences: and when Jimmy Christmas so tentatively climbed on an amp and looked very unhappy up there, then jumped off and fell over, it just looked a bit silly. Not devil-may-care rock’n’roll. I think you either commit to personal damage or not do it at all.
Of the others I saw Bang! Bang! Eche! and the Mots seemed to know exactly what they were doing, Black Kids were professional and enjoyable, Clap Clap Riot didn’t do it for me (it’s all personal folks) and I just didn’t get My Morning Jacket at all.
I heard their last album and thought it fairly standard rock, but then I kept reading about them and they were described as alt.country. Curious. I gave them three songs which were utterly underwhelming so I quit -- and am reliably informed that their final half dozen songs made sense and they were very convincing. Ah well, I missed that.
And that’s the thing about the Big Day Out, it’s like going on an overseas trip: you see what you see and other people will doubtless see something different -- and you can see exactly what others do and come away with a completely different opinion.
As always, the best band on the day was the one you liked the most.
Serj Tankian? Dunno. I wait to hear what the jury of public opinion says.
I wanted World War IV to be better, and wished I’d seen more of Hot Chip and Luke Fiasco, but something else beckoned. I wished I’d seen a lot less of The Living End who were so bad as to be insulting. Two thumbs down on them.
But thumbs up to combined weight of The Horseman Family though, they deserved a much bigger audience than they got -- but the BDO has always been fairly unforgiving to hip-hop.
But for me, pop music was the winner on the day.
And a final observation: without wishing to sound the whole Sideswipe . . . To the boorish, nuggetty drunk with a physique like a body-builder who bashed his way through the Ting Tings crowd pushing little girls and me aside. Mate, you might have got a better view, but you still woke up the next day with the Limp Bizkit tattoo.
Righto, your comments on my comments appreciated. And if you are looking for other music . . . I have posted some new albums at Elsewhere as well as a noisy Essential Elsewhere album by Blue Cheer which I love at full volume but may well be one of the very worst ever recorded in the ears of others.
Have a listen and make up your own mind: that’s what you do with music.
PS: Some of you will be amused to know I took a cellphone and sometimes used it to text. That's an in-joke for regular readers, right?