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I went to my first Big Day Out at Flemington Racecourse on Australia Day. I had high hopes, and although it was an interesting experience I’m not sure that I’ll bother with it again. Let me explain.

After getting the merch hunting out of the way, we headed to the Green Stage and were in time to check out The Temper Trap who came on not long after we found a patch of shade on the side of the hill. I like ‘Sweet Disposition’ and I was interested to see how they perform live. I don’t know if it was because we were so far back, but they sounded pretty ordinary to be honest. The mix seemed off and the vocals were pretty flat, but their large fanbase didn’t seem to care. I, however, remained unmoved.

By 3.30 the largely ‘trendy’ crowd had moved off to make way for the much smaller crew that gathered for upcoming act The Decemberists. I was surprised at how much I was looking forward to checking them out actually – up until a few weeks ago I’d really only ever had a passing interest in these guys but I’d heard that they were a great live act and not to be missed.

The rumours proved to be true. They opened with ‘July July’ and that was all it took – I was hooked. I can’t provide an accurate set list because I’m not familiar enough with their catalogue, but I do know they did ‘The Rake’s Song’, ‘The Engine Driver’, ‘The Crane Wife 1 & 2’ and ‘The Crane Wife 3′ which was my favourite song of the show. Another highlight was ’16 Military Wives’ which involved loads of crowd participation on the ‘la di la di las’. They didn’t do ‘The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid’ which I’d really wanted to see, but I coped!

Colin Meloy, who wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the Aboriginal flag, was full of banter and was really laid back and entertaining between songs. Drummer John Moen was also great to watch, twirling and catching his sticks and joining in the banter with the crowd.

I spent a lot of time checking out Nate Query on the upright bass – he was pretty cool.

Chris Funk delivered on pedal steel (I love pedal steel).

Jenny Conlee was fantastic, playing keyboards, accordian, melodica and drums at various stages throughout.

So yes, The Decemberists were excellent, playing all their catchiest songs and really working the crowd, which started off quite small but gradually got bigger as more and more people were attracted by their great sound. Although I told my friends as we left that I could already go home quite happy, little did I know that I’d just seen my favourite act of the day.

We dagged around for a bit while we waited for Lily Allen who we all had a passing interest in and thought she might be worth checking out. The crowd was already massive when we arrived and we had no great desire to push our way through it so we hung out down the back – hence the sea of people you see in the shot above!

I don’t have a lot to say about Lily Allen. She wore an Australian flag top and told us that she had gastro. Nice. I don’t really get the appeal I have to say. I mean she’s cute and rebellious and whatnot and her songs are kinda catchy but it’s all a bit too fake for me. Take the cigarettes, for example. She kept running off stage to light them, and then proceeded not to smoke them. Posturing, much? Anyway. She was better than Dizzee Rascal, who I was unfortunate enough to catch the end of, I can tell you that much.

Before I leave Lily behind forever, I’d just like to address the two stupid girls who were dancing on the bins right next to me and almost fell on me – you’re both idiots. Because if you can’t say it semi-anonymously on the internet, when can you say it?

I had to sit down at this point. If nothing else, Big Day Out really forced me to face a sad but true fact – I’m getting old. Everything hurt. My legs were sore, my knees were stiff and my back was screaming at me. The good thing about the setup at Flemington is that there’s loads of grass to park on (albeit dry and brown) and lots of shady spots to sit. My bag felt considerably lighter after ate most of the food I’d brought. Sadly this didn’t seem to help my back, it was still screaming abuse at me and continued to for the rest of the night.

We wandered back over to the main stage and started the long wait for headliners Muse. Powderfinger, who I liked back in the days of Oddessey Number Five and Vulture Street, came on at this point and god they were boring. They played four or five songs off the new album which I still maintain is just not something you should do at a festival when your time is limited. You play one or two new songs maybe, but you stick mainly to the crowd favourites because that’s what people are there for. The attempted banter from Bernard Fanning was uninspired and ‘These Days’ which is arguably one of their best songs was given the soft and sensitive treatment when it should’ve been a loud singalong. The only highlight was a quick cover of Mumford & Sons ‘Little Lion Man’. This was only the second time I’d seen them live and it’ll be the last I’m afraid.

Which brings us to Muse. I don’t have a lot to say about them either really. One of our party had abandoned us hours earlier to stake out a spot in the pit and she had an awesome time, coming out a bit battered and bruised and all kinds of euphoric, but I was pretty over things by the time they were on. I spent half the time trying to see past the giants surrounding me and being shoved by idiots who couldn’t just find a spot and bloody well stay in it. God I sound old, don’t I? It’s really quite sad. Everyone else seemed to be having, like, a totally radical time though.

Some people even climbed trees to get a better view. And then others threw things at them.

Muse did all the songs you’d expect, opening with ‘Uprising’ and moving through ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, ‘Time Is Running Out’, ‘Starlight’, ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ and a whole heap more that I should remember but don’t. I seriously couldn’t see anything apart from a glimpse of the screens every now and then (my camera was way above my head to take that stage shot above) so I can’t tell you anything about any onstage antics or whatnot, but I think they just did their usual show and all was well.

Getting out of there was a whole other adventure. For some reason there was only one exit through a gate about two metres wide. Funnelling tens of thousands of people through a two metre gap? Yeah, not pretty. After about an hour of crowd crush, which was bloody awful, the security guys finally figured out that hey! It was a double gate! And that they could open the other side! Idiots.

So yes. I think the main thing I learned from my experience was that I should’ve gone to see The Decemberists when they did their sideshow in Melbourne, bypassed Big Day Out completely and saved myself 140 bucks.

Also, I’m old.

July, July – The Decemberists

The Crane Wife 3 – The Decemberists

Head to Under The Counter for a review of the first Sydney show.

Lastly, I really don’t understand the cruelty and stupidity of some people. What possible cause was served by gatecrashing Flemington Racecourse and releasing 20-odd racehorses, two of whom were seriously injured and will never race again?

***Update***

I quite liked Stephanie Le’s review in SoundProof Magazine too:

There’s much to be said about the audacity of people who try and perform Aussie hip hop or “Skip Hop”; it usually sounds disjointed, harsh and extremely wannabe. Case in point: The Hilltop Hoods, Australia’s horrible attempt at commercial hip hop. I’m Australian and even I have to put on accent to match the harshness of their’s.

And a review from The Age:

While it was arguably the organisers’ least adventurous festival, and those seeking unexpected gems had to dig a little harder, there were still pockets of surprise. Local Afro-beat collective the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra kicked off the day with a high energy set of Nigerian-inspired dance music. Atlanta-based metal band Mastodon got the crowd head-banging and kicking up a dust storm early and alt-country band the Decemberists impressed many with their wistful tunes.

I also came across The Vine’s review of last year’s BDO, an excellent piece which discusses, among other things, the over-the-top patriotism that seems to be the main focus for many Big Day Out attendees:

What runs through peoples heads I wonder? As they collect their change for the train, Big Day Out ticket, Australian flag cape, fake Australian flag tattoos, southern cross boob tubes and shorts?

“I am Australian. I will wear my flag. I will let people know I am Australian. You could be too but…I’m just letting you know. Today. Who I be.”

Somewhere in between the Cronulla riots and the ensuing controversy surrounding the banning of the Australian flag at the 2007 Big Day Out, wearing our nation’s colours at music festivals became something different. Ugly. Jingoist. Stupid. And not because it used to mean much of anything in particular, but because before the riots…no one really did it. Meaning that those who take up the attire now, do so knowing – presumably – of its by-product relationship to the block-headed patriotism, racist overtones and connotations of violence that currently accompany it. At some point the flag needs to revert back to its original intention surely, but until then those that shout about it in public (“Australian and proud of it mate”) and wear the flag like a badge of honour (always in packs, always accessorised with matching tatts, flags, hats, sunnies, thongs, shorts, etc) stand as some blurry grey statement of one nation in solidarity. Against, presumably, those who aren’t.

The Vine’s article from last year is in two parts – Go here for Part 1 and here for Part 2

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