Friday, January 17, 2014

Big Day Out 2014

Yesterday marked the return of the Big Day Out to Auckland, after the 2012 iteration ended in financial disaster for the promoters.  Armed with a few new ideas and (presumably) some new capital, Campbell Smith brought the festival back, this time at the new venue of Western Springs.

Before I get into the bands, the location gets a big thumbs up.  It was easy to get there (free buses ran from Britomart), it was easy to get home (ditto free buses, plus plenty of taxis around), and it was easy to get around inside the venue.  There was a ton of space, which was a welcome change from the logjams that occurred around most of the chokepoints at Mt Smart.  Lots of grassy space to sit on, trees to sit under, and so on.

The food was great too.  Gone are the days when you had the choice of a cold hot dog, greasy cardboard burger, or some soggy chips.  This time there were plenty of great options - "Chow Town" had stalls from popular city spots such as Mexico and Federal Deli, whilst there were tons of other great options from well known and not-so-well-known quality takeaway spots around Auckland - Pita Pit, Fritz's Wieners, Fatimas, and Bird On A Wire.  To be honest, you could probably have had a pretty great day just eating stuff.

There were some issues with the set-up inside the venue though.  The toilets were sparse and there were none anywhere near the Tamaki and Aroha stages.  Consequently the queues were fairly heinous at certain points in the day.  As a bloke, it was survivable.  Can't imagine some of the ladies would've been thrilled though.

At the main bar up on the hill, the sound clash was pretty bad.  At one point I literally could hear Pearl Jam in my right ear, and Snoop Dogg in my left ear, which was a pretty bizarre stereo combination.  This was a bit of a shame because this would've been a great spot to have a drink, chill out, and watch what was going on - but it just wasn't enjoyable when you couldn't hear one band over another.  However once you were down closer to the respective stages, noise pollution wasn't an issue.

The biggest venue issue was undoubtedly the disastrous queues for the bars.  By 5pm in the afternoon, the bar down in the main stage had a 100m plus queue, to the point where it was just not even worth bothering attempting to get a drink.  If you wanted to get a beer (or wine), chill out and listen to bands, expect to queue for 45 minutes plus.  It was farcical.  Mt Smart had a number of issues, but the food and drink queues were always manageable.  I suspect the organisers failed to consider factors such as the capacity and staffing at the bars, as well as the fact that all the punters who previously enjoyed corporate boxes at Mt Smart would now be queueing for their drinks with everyone else at Western Springs.  Having been to a number of festivals in New Zealand and Australia, this was easily the worst set-up in terms of bars.  The organisers need to fix this next time - they were lucky not to have a riot on their hands.

Anyway, the music.

In my opinion BDO's problem has been it's failure to really pick a genre/audience.  It started as essentially an alternative rock festival in the early 1990's, and slowly added electronica and hip-hop to the point where it was essentially trying to be all things to all people.  Which is not a great formula for a festival.

This weird mix was as evident as ever yesterday, but there was probably just enough to keep most of the punters interested.  The indie kids had the Arcade Fire, hip hop fans had Snoop Dogg, and Pearl Jam's appeal is pretty broad.

As someone who mostly listens to hard rock and metal, there was just enough to make it worthwhile (although I'm still ticked off about the Pearl Jam / Deftones clash).  Here's what I caught during the day:

One of the best rock/metal bands to emerge from New Zealand in the past few years, Wellington-based doom/sludge metallers Beastwars played the main stage shortly after the sun rose.  Bit of a shame that these guys got such an early slot, because they demonstrated why they're garnering significant international interest with a full-blooded, powerful set spanning both of their albums.  Personally I thought they sounded even better live than on their records, with the huge riffs and singer Matt Hyde's ferocious vocals seemingly gaining an extra dimension.

The 1975
We didn't actually see them, but we could hear them from the shady spot on the hill where we sat around for a while.  God, there's a lot of indie bands dining out on the remnants of early era MGMT.  They weren't even particularly good but they've inspired a wave of clones.  On the basis that a copy can never be as good as the original, and in this case the original wasn't even particularly good, this would explain the very limited talent of this band.

The Naked and Famous
I didn't really watch them, but they did catch my ears at one point when they started playing a song that always make me think about snowboarding because it was always on in the hotel lobby when we went to Sun Peaks a couple of years ago.  I'm not a fan of the band but something about hearing that song (which I've discovered is Young Blood)  always lifts my mood and reminds me of an amazing holiday with my fiancĂ© and awesome days of snowboarding.

While I wouldn't describe myself as a huge fan of Primus, I certainly enjoy a lot of their stuff, and I rate Sailing the Seas of Cheese pretty highly as an album.  I appreciate the way they take a very different tack to the standard rock-band guitar riff-driven approach, and instead use the bass to provide most of the riffage, whilst the guitars add texture around the riff.  Some of Les Claypool's bass theatrics have to be seen live to be appreciated properly too.  With a festival set there was never gonna be enough time for everything but they threw in enough classics like My Name Is Mud, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver, and Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers to make it memorable.  I was really hanging out for John the Fisherman or Sgt Baker though.

For no apparent reason, I remembered a fairly amusing video of Les Claypool talking about the time he auditioned for Metallica after Jason Newsted's departure... which you can check out below.

The Hives
We couldn't leave the main stage area quickly enough after Primus finished.  The Hives only got a 45 minute set when they were at the peak of their success in 2005, so god knows how they wrangled a one hour set now they're basically past it.  They've basically got one song, which they stole from the White Stripes, which they stole from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.  They just change the words and a few notes here and there.  I try not to get shitty thinking about how their set time could've been better spent giving Primus more time, or sticking Deftones on the main stage.

Beady Eye
Just like every Oasis covers band you've heard at the pub, although this one has Liam Gallagher and a few new songs.  They're not even the first Oasis covers band to play a Big Day Out.

Having heard some of their stuff, I liked it enough without actually quite understanding why they get so much hype from venerable magazines like Metal Hammer.  Seeing them on stage explained some of that - they're certainly a band you experience.  Hailing from Sweden, the band comprises 5 Nameless Ghouls (dressed in robes and identical black masks) on the various instruments, and singer Papa Emeritus II, dressed in mock-Catholic robes, a papal hat (or whatever they're called) and creepy face paint. Definitely a spectacle (in fact, one of the security guards was pulling a 'what the fuck is this' face). Solid riffs and some good grooves.

Pearl Jam
The unfortunate clash with Deftones and the fact that I saw Pearl Jam when they were last here meant that we only caught the first half of Pearl Jam's set.  Still sounded amazing though - opening with Release before launching straight into Go and Corduroy.  They're genuinely a captivating live band, in no small part because of Eddie Vedder's lyrical ability and charisma, and Mike McCready's phenomenal guitar abilities.  Even hearing songs that you've heard hundreds of times before sounds special when these guys play them live.  I was stoked to hear them play Brain of J before we disappeared - a personal favourite.  I was gutted when I looked at the setlist the following day and realised I'd missed Save You which is probably one of my 5 favourite Pearl Jam tracks.  First world problems.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day. Sometimes the best sets come from bands who are playing opposite big headliners - like Machine Head's awesome set whilst System of a Down were playing the headline stage at Soundwave 2012. Maybe it's because the crowd are the hard core fans rather than the masses, maybe it's because the band feel they can just let loose, I'm not sure. But Deftones played a punishing set that was greeted with raucous applause and would be right up there with the best BDO sets I've seen (and this was my 11th BDO). Rocket Skates was an early highlight, despite Chino Moreno's mic failing, because the crowd contributed the chorus. There was the classic one-two punch of Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) and My Own Summer (Shove It) before they blew the roof off with some of their newer material, with the industrial grind of Poltergeist sounding particularly fierce. There was a big singalong on Swerve City before a huge old-school closing trio of Change (In the House of Flies), Engine No. 9 (which saw singer Chino Moreno singing whilst crowd surfing) and 7 Words. Exactly the sort of set that leaves you invigorated on the way home despite being totally exhausted, and digging through the band's entire back catalogue the next day. Awesome stuff.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

6 Reasons why the Auckland Big Day Out timetable sucks

I'm generally not inclined to use this blog to whinge, because a) I don't like whinging and b) There's far too much of that on the internet anyway.

However, the Big Day Out timetable for Auckland next Friday, announced today, has given me sufficient cause to indulge in a good old rant.

I've been to 10 or 11 BDO's and generally clashes aren't an issue.  Because BDO tries to appeal to everyone and has a fairly wide breadth of acts (this has basically been its downfall, in my opinion), they've generally been able to run a schedule whereby they can avoid having clashes between bands from similar genres or with similar fans.  In fact, the biggest problem with BDO has traditionally been figuring out how to kill the swathes of time in between the handful of bands I actually wanted to see.

Anyway I missed the last BDO (for the record, I was overseas but would've gone to catch Soundgarden), and had basically concluded the whole thing would die an inevitable and timely death due to its failure to pick a specific genre/audience and go hard to provide something great for that audience like most successful music festivals (Soundwave, Laneways, Parachute, Rhythm and Vines, and so on).

Despite my cynicism when BDO's return to Auckland was announced, I was actually enthused about it solely for the fact that they signed Pearl Jam as one of the headliners, plus Ghost who were probably worth a look too.  They later added some more bands to the bill that I was genuinely keen to check out - Deftones and Primus.

However, the timetable demonstrates that once again, the BDO organisers (AJ Maddah excepted, although I'm not sure he has anything to do with the Auckland show) do not have a clue who their audience is, or how to appeal to that audience.  So here we are, 6 reasons why I think the BDO timetable sucks:

  1. Pearl Jam and Deftones clash.  Of all the bands on the bill, they've picked the two bands with arguably the largest number of common fans AND PUT THEM ON AT THE SAME TIME AS EACH OTHER.  Essentially two 90's alternative bands, and they're on at the same time.  Now, Pearl Jam were always going to headline the main stage, so this one should've been avoidable - give Deftones a slot on the main stage earlier on before Arcade Fire, or an early evening slot on the side stage before Pearl Jam on the basis that the Deftones crowd would probably then head over to catch Pearl Jam.  
  2. Pearl Jam and Snoop Lion/Dogg clash.  OK, maybe not immediately obvious, but those are two of the three headliners.  I'm not a big Snoop fan, but I'm sure there were probably quite a few punters (including some of my friends) who would've been keen to see both on the basis that those are two of the biggest names at BDO this year.
  3. Arcade Fire and Ghost clash (also a small Ghost / Pearl Jam clash).  Look, I can't stand Arcade Fire and I think they're hideously over-rated, but I also know that there will be a significant number of hipsters who would want to see both Arcade Fire and Ghost on the basis that they've both got significant hipster appeal - Arcade Fire being the perennially popular indie band and Ghost being an on-trend metal band that has a lot of people talking (no disrespect to Ghost).
  4. Beastwars and Villainy clash.  Let's put two decent local rock bands against each other - that seems like a great idea.
  5. Beastwars are at the start of the day.  Give these guys some credit, they've produced a couple of great albums and have gotten some serious international appreciation, and they would've killed a late night or evening slot).
  6. The Hives get an hour.  Honestly, they didn't even get an hour when they played BDO in their prime in 2005.  Give Deftones that slot on the main stage.  
I get that there will inevitably be clashes.  But I've had less issues with 4 years of Soundwave timetables where the potential for clashes is rampant and unavoidable than I've got with this year's Big Day Out timetable where there should be enough scope to basically avoid big obvious clashes, and the general prevalence of Dumb Stuff.