I’ve always thought at a Big Day Out that for every three or four bands who were ordinary, indifferent, straight jacketed within their genre or just bloody awful, I’d get one great one. The band or artist that made me want to see them again immediately and certainly buy their album.
Not so last Friday. I thought most of it was dire and predictable.
A couple of quick positives though from someone who has been to them all and a couple in Australia: the whole thing was much better organised and access/egress to the stadium field and more importantly, the Green and Essential stages, was vastly improved. You could just get around a whole lot better.
Moving the Local Produce stage to beyond the Green and Essential stage was also an excellent idea, and if it was a little further to walk and fewer people seemed to know of it that will change over time. The artists there had a better space to play in, and much less bleeding of sound. Great.
The food outlets also seemed much better. All good.
But the music? Hmmm.
I did what I have always done: turn up at the start of a band/artist and give them four songs or about 20 minutes. By then I figure I will have either seen all they can and will do, or I am so impressed that I will stay on longer and watch the arc of their act reveal itself. So what follows isn’t a “review” of the BDO ‘10 but just personal observations.
You are entitled to, and doubtless will in the discussion thread, disagree.
Some people don’t deserve a stadium: Lily Allen was, for my money, bloody hopeless and well out of her depth. Two dull songs in a row then sit down and have a fag for a third? Nonsense. And don’t tell me she improved as time went. It’s real easy to get teenagers to sing “fuck you”. I could do that.
I’d toss her back to clubs where she would have to learn how to engage with an audience and also to get some strength in her vocals. And I don’t mean dance or night clubs, I mean Australian RSL clubs. That would sort her out.
Too far, too fast, on too little talent.
The Checks however certainly did deserve the big stage and were terrific. And so did Muse who I don’t rate at all (“I don’t want to hear Radiohead play Queen,” said my friend Karl with withering accuracy) but they certainly put on a show. And I like a band (like Muse and the Checks) that just kicks from one song into another with no fannying about in between.
Cairo Knife Fight could learn from that. They seemed rather more proud of what they did than they should have been -- and they dicked about. Lads, there are only two of you, just get on with it -- like Shayne Carter and Dimmer did on the same Boiler Room stage two hours later.
The Checks and Dimmer were my two early highlights: Carter and band delivered a blinder of a set which was pure energy and grubby psychedelic rock -- and put young pretenders on notice. Deafening and chest pounding also, my tinnitus has increased. Thanks for that.
Seeing Dimmer only made the bloody awful Eskimo Joe even worse. They are Blooty and the Ho Fish (or whoever they were) for kids who last year loved High School Musical and have now graduated onto what they think is rock music.
Jet shortly after sounded much the same to me. They kicked off with what was their My Sharona as done by Twisted Sister -- but of course dress like indie-rockers (the Libertines etc) so that’s all right then.
They sounded like AC/DC-lite and I was amazed that so many adults in black t-shirts took them seriously. More manufactured rock with a modicum of dissent thrown in for credibility.
In that regard I was massively disappointed in Dead Prez who invited us to put our fists in the air for Haiti (hand in pocket might have been more appropriate) then banged on about power to the people, promised to burn the place down and asked us if we were “ready to go to war?”
Alarmingly people seemed to be, they bayed and pumped fists into the air (which war, against whom, where?) and cheered when they hauled out the tino rangatiratanga flag. I guess that was Dead Prez connecting with what they think the revolution is about in this country? There was a lot of revolution talk but frankly I thought it all cheap sloganeering and posturing -- and appropriating slogans from Black Panther predecessors does not make you “a warrior”.
Am I taking them too seriously? Well, not half as much as they took themselves -- and they wanted to be taken seriously. In that case then we might put them up for close analysis.
The message that was more effective and representative was happening on the Local Produce stage at the same time. House of Shem were bringing their songs of peace, love and cultural understanding (what’s so funny about that?) to a small but receptive audience -- and for me raised a question: if reggae is one of the bloodlines of New Zealand music, why isn’t it represented on the main stage?
I’d rather have seen Katchafire or House of Shem bringing their positive vibes to the morning’s line-up than those Australian amp-standing dullards Karnivool.
When it came to connecting with the local audience with an honest statement I preferred what Colin Meloy of the Decemberists said, that we have a great maritime museum in Auckland. He’d checked it out obviously. And they delivered an excellent set of faux-Celtic folk-rock and rock’n’roll country-folk. The Rake’s Song is terrific: a murder ballad where the father shows no regret for killing his children: ”it never really bothers me”.
Ladyhawke I kinda liked but got bored quickly by (yep, it’s the 80s fer sure, nostalgia for people who weren’t there) but at least her Haiti gesture was genuine: Sarah Larnach (who did Ladyhawke’s album and single covers) is auctioning off her artwork here.
Larnach and Ladyhawke will sign copies of the art and album.
The Veils were as they always were, excellent, Concord Dawn impressed me for a while, Minuit much less so (boring actually), and Peaches was her usual mouthy, salacious, provocative self and the better for staying true to the course. (She’s a standout and maybe deserved the main stage to command “shake your dick”) And The Mars Volta did everything I expected them to, but louder.
Dizzee Rascal started badly (“Jump! Jump” Think for yourself. Jump! Jump!” Huh?) and invited a lot of arm waving, but by the time I returned he was going off. I maybe should have stayed but was delighted I caught Devendra Banhardt who struck me as much more interesting than his albums.
He dedicated his set to Bobby Charles (the singer in the 60s soul band Checkmates Limited I am guessing and not the golfer) and came off like a much more drug addled but smart Andrew Fagan. His songs wove from folk to doo-wop pop (“who wrote the Book of . . . Job”) and they were quirky, fun -- and they didn’t seem to give a shit. They enjoyed themselves and were a highpoint for me, a guy I’d see again immediately and will now listen to much more interest.
Groove Armada I caught a slab of from just outside the tent in the wings and they were very impressive. I would loved to have seen more, from a better vantage point and closer.
And the Horrors: I really did enjoy their declamatory indie-rock although if Jarvis Cocker thinks they are “the future of British rock” he has (as Gordon Campbell once noted about that similar comment on Springsteen) mistaken what's in the rearview mirror for the road ahead.
The Horrors are Liverpool 1980 -- Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen and Orchestral Manoeuvres in Dark -- all wrapped up in indie-rock anger and finger pointing. I liked it (and I liked the fact they wove in the old She Cried into one of their pieces of moody, broody rock’n’roll.
Them I want to hear more of. But few others.
So I missed as much as I saw (I was disappointed I didn’t get to Gin, and arrived just a fraction too late for Bandicoot at 10.30 - 11am) but the drabness of the manufactured rock and the attitude dance was ameliorated by Head Like a Hole who were stunning. Just like they used to be. Not many acts can pull off an intro like, “this is a song about fucking a horse”.
Regrettably we left to the sound of Fear Factory growling away just like they have always done. More manufactured dissent?
So, few standouts for me among what I saw, little to be enjoyed and much to endured or sceptical, not cynical, about.
And just a thought: in the world of restaurant reviewing there is an observation, often true, that the better the view the worse the food. Might we say of the BDO that as the food has improved the music has got worse?
The lamb burgers this year were excellent.
More Music?: Elsewhere has returned with a vengeance: lots of music reviewed from the hip and happening to the old and crusty; I’m adding more to My Back Pages (reflections and reminiscences on musicians encountered); there are articles about the great Timi Yuro, the tragic story of Badfinger (two suicides, that’s one more than Nirvana!), marijuana, crazy old films and modern westerns, books reviewed. And more. All free (with sound and vision) right here.
And Finally, Your Support Please?: As some of you know my second travel book (see below) has been doing rather well (although hardly rocketing up the charts). Some real nice comments on the stories -- “they are like songs” from a musician, “my mother-in-law loved them” and so on.
The book is a finalist in the Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award and while the category is obviously judged by other writers, there is a Readers’ Choice poll.
Obviously Public Address Books is up against the might and power (and voting block?) of the major publishers but I am told I am allowed to solicit support.
So if you have read and enjoyed The Idiot Boy Who Flew (maybe even if you haven’t, or read and disliked?) then you can simply vote for it here.
Click on the link by my book, send the already-written e-mail -- and you are out of there. Fifteen seconds at a guess. I thank you in anticipation of your generous support.