After a tumultuous 2012, in which Big Day Out lost its feet and status as the country’s biggest touring festival, this year was touted as a rebirth.
A new partnership deal with C3 Presents, an image make over, and a promise to make right the mistakes of last year’s wrongs all occurred as promoter Ken West looked set to restore the jewel in the festival’s battered crown.
The Melbourne event began with a minor hiccup, a broken down truck from Adelaide forced local band House Vs Hurricane to forfeit their opening main stage slot for closing the Red stage at 8pm.
Yet all indicators pointed to this year’s event being the best in years. For one, Melbourne was spared the heat conditions that Sydney endured just a week earlier, with the cool breeze and cloud cover ensuring that Melbournians wouldn’t fry under the sun, as they had done so many times before.
Even better for punters was, for the most part, being saved from the inglorious nipple flashing action of the testosterone variety that so often makes one cringe.
The ‘Straya day’ outfits were thankfully in relatively short supply and the early hours of the day were bereft of the bogan culture that so many sight as BDO’s biggest problem.
Kicking off the Green stage to a decent opening crowd were Sydney duo Toucan, lead singer Jess Pollard used her commanding vocals to get the early arrivers’ hands in the air. While Helena’s beats inspired the first crowd surfer of the day over at the Boiler Room.
Back at the main stage another local band, ME, were left with the task of opening. Yet a half an hour delay kept fans waiting to experience material from their well-received debut, Even The Odd Ones Out.
The wait, while frustrating, was quickly forgotten with the band’s rock ‘n’ roll theatrics and Luke Ferris’ soaring vocals finally filling the main area at Flemington with some great live music.
On the Essential Stage both The Medics and Hunting Grounds drew modest gatherings, yet their pulsating styles of rock exhibited the best that young Australian talent has to offer.
Hunting Grounds provided the first highlight of the day with an electric rendition of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’. While Kahl Wallace wore the Indigenous flag proudly on his shirt, during The Medics’ thrilling set.
Another who followed suit by honouring that flag was American guitarist Gary Clark Jr. The soflty spoken musician gave little doubt as to why he has been described as ‘the future of Texas blues,’ holding sway over the audience with almost every stroke of his guitar and croon of his sweet voice.
His generous hour long set drew a sizeable crowd at the Green stage, the title track of his latest LP, ‘Blak and Blu’ rounding out an incredible performance.
Jeff The Brotherhood followed, but unfortunately a similar result couldn’t be replicated. Frontman of the brother duo Jake Orrall, began their set by walking out into the audience, displaying his guitar skills to anyone in the vicinity.
It inspired a mass mobile photography session, but drew little to boost their dismal attendance. Those who did seemed lethargic and uninterested in the pair’s performance, although due to no lack of energy from their thrashy rock songs.
Arriving at the end of Band Of Horses’ set at the main stage, the final song and definitive hit ‘The Funeral’ was received warmly by the masses. The bulk of the day’s festival-goers had arrived and it appeared that most were content with not venturing any further than the Boiler Room.
The clouds gave way for sunshine during Vampire Weekend’s set, and yes, the shirts came off and the alcoholic consumption went up a notch, and just to show that the four piece had swag, A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ soundtracked their entrance to the Orange stage.
Providing one of the day’s most memorable sets, the New Yorkers gave few hints of their highly anticipated third album due out later this year, sticking mostly to songs from their two previous records.
Their set galvanised the audience into mass singing and ‘people on shoulders’ exploits through infectious favourites like ‘Cousins’, ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’.
At the same time Childish Gambino had also provided a talking point for many. With the Essential stage packed, clearly many were fans of Donald Glover’s comedy, acting, or more appropriately his latest album Camp.
Much of Vampire Weekend’s crowd dissipated for Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ turn on the Blue stage. Although it provde to be their loss. The enigmatic Karen O has a stage presence far beyond anyone else performing at this year’s event.
The crowd quickly filled again for the day’s biggest headliners, the sun may have started setting but for many the arrival of The Killers marked the ‘true’ beginning of Melbourne’s Big Day Out.
With a set bookended by their two biggest hits, in ‘Mr. Brightside’ and ‘When We Were Young’, there was barely a moment free of hysteric cheering at the realisation of what the next song was.
The Las Vegas quartet showed just how far they were willing to please with a short performance of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in celebration of Australia Day.
It was during their set that the best of Big Day Out was on display. Thousands of people celebrating their love of a band together in an epic live setting is where the festival’s popularity really comes from. And while that in some sense continued for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was in a different manner.
The band in charge of reinvigorating the festival had the crowd singing louder than any other set of the entire day, although less consistently than The Killers.
The hits provided all that the audience could ask for, but when the Chili Peppers got into a jam, witnessing their talents was nothing short of thrilling.
In their hour and a half long set, the band said little, but played with frenetic energy. Flea paid homage to his birthplace by affording the crowd with the day’s best quote; “I had placenta all over my face in this town.”
While both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Bloody Beetroots drew large crowds at their respective stages, the other headlining acts in Animal Collective and Sleigh Bells saw few punters.
The diversification of a Big Day Out lineup has always been the festival’s biggest challenge and – for the past two years – it’s downfall.
Trying to accommodate for varying types of demographics definitely isn’t easy, but it appears that while in years past indie fans of bands like Animal Collective and Sleigh Bells would have attended, in 2013, they were a no show.
While Ken West had said prior to the event that there was an aim of appealing to an older audience, the average age span of the crowd seemed no different in 2013. Plenty of festival virgins enjoyed their first Big Day Out as has become a tradition for many young Australians.
At it’s worst, the attendees of BDO could be seen urinating in a bottle in the middle of thousands of people, or just getting stark naked. (Because it wouldn’t be fair if the Chili Peppers had all the attention, would it?)
A brawl involving an AFL player all but demonstrates that alcohol had more of an effect than the music. Which is ultimately a sadder evaluation of the crowd, than the bands on show.
The aesthetics may have changed – the addition of Chow Town and the Mexican wrestling bar were worthy new components, and allowing for longer set times was the festival’s best new feature – but undoubtedly, the festival hasn’t quite changed its spots.
Though it delivered on the promise of “high quality musicianship” the poor crowd culture that detracts from Big Day Out’s reputation remained, though focusing on acts with merit has provided hope that the once mighty touring event might just reclaim its gold status yet.
Comments about the festival’s rebranding in the lead-up to its 2013 edition have included promoter Ken West saying, “If we try to do everything in one day it doesn’t quite work.”
He’s right, reversing the festival’s identity in one fell swoop is impossible. But then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.