Waking up for my first Big Day Out was a thrill. Having not been to a music festival since Laneway in 2011, I was craving the collective enthusiasm that a festival crowd personifies. Heading into Flemington, I reflected on my expectations. Vampire Weekend would be amazing; Foals would blow the roof off; The Peppers would be sensational and Karen O’s vocals would be unrivalled. In retrospect, I was spot on about the first three.
Upon entering the racecourse at approximately 3pm, we were given our mandatory decorative wrist bands, a right arm accessory that pissed off my friend because she said it clashed with her bracelets. With a tradition of holding onto festival memorabilia, I made a mental note to prevent throwing it away at the end of the night. Our first artist was Grinspoon, a band I wasn’t too familiar with. They sounded great, a perfect prelude to what was to come.
Personal highlights of the afternoon were Band of Horses and Vampire Weekend. As a fan of the former’s first two albums, I was grateful when their set mostly consisted of their earlier stuff. Favourites included ‘The Funeral’, ‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’ and ‘The Great Salt Lake’. However, at times the band’s volume tended to override singer Ben Bridwell’s vocals; a disappointing outcome, as Bridwell’s high pitch and purity is what gives the band its unique sound. Vampire Weekend, the enigmatic New York band whose sound personifies the genre of indie-rock, were another personal highlight that afternoon. The band was flawless, their catchy tunes never failing to energize the crowd.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the unforeseen disappointment of the day. Karen O’s sensual vocals were tainted by her shrill screams which made for an irritating performance. The live show sounded nothing like what we hear on the records. It was inconsistent and embarrassing. Their set consisted mostly of unfamiliar songs, their more popular repertoire only appearing a few times. Their most famous tune, ‘Heads will roll’ was annihilated by Karen O’s weak vocals and manic shrieks. As a devoted fan, I was very upset. But for some illogical reason, I’m still looking forward to the release of their fourth album this year. Listen to their records, maybe, but I’ll never pay for a live performance again.
As the afternoon turned into evening, it became too cold to lounge around and rest on the grass, so my friends and I continued dancing and exploring. I was desperate to see Foals, so at 7pm we entered the large tent surrounding the Green Stage. Having seen them at Laneway in 2011, I was prepared for a dynamic show. They outdid themselves, with the scaffold-climbing Yannis giving an even more eccentric performance then I remembered. They played old favourites including ‘Balloons’, ‘Blue Blood’ and ‘Miami’, however it was their new single ‘My Number’ that really captured the crowd, a song that blends the archetypal sounds of both Antidotes and Total Life Forever.
For the crowd, The Killers’ performance on the main stage appeared to be a favourite, with Brandon Flowers constantly holding the microphone out and encouraging his fans to sing along. Although Flowers’ voice sounded great, The Killers have always bored me for some reason. I find them too monotonous and mainstream, which is a shame because their first record Hot Fuss showed real potential in the indie rock persuasion. I found it cute, yet quite embarrassing when Flowers’ started singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in tribute to Australia Day, as he appeared to be the only one confident with the lyrics. As an American, it was quite ironic and sad that he knew all the lyrics to the iconic Australian tune and yet the crowd either didn’t know or didn’t care. By the time ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was over, the crowd was more than ready for the next international act.
The night concluded with Red Hot Chili Peppers, the biggest headliner for the festival. After finally pushing our way through a wall of sweaty and smelly fans, we managed to get a decent position in front of the stage. The Peppers were great, a lot better than I thought, as they never get a good live review. Highlights included ‘Under the Bridge’, ‘Californication’, ‘Otherside’ and ‘By the Way’. The collective adoration for the band was palpable, as everyone knew every lyric to every song. The only thing that perturbed me was the band’s decision to play shirtless. It’s not a good look to be shirtless on stage when you’re twenty, let alone fifty. That was definitely a poor and wanky decision on the band’s behalf. However, their performance was amazing and they were forgiven.
Putting aside the awful performance by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the painful pushing and shoving of the crowd, my first Big Day Out was a success. Sharing the atmosphere and music with an Australian crowd was the perfect way to spend and honour Australia Day.