While the Skoda Stadium was still mostly empty by the time Bluejuice opened the day on the Blue Stage, the local heroes didn’t seem to mind at all. Borat-lookalikes Jake Stone and Stavros Yiannoukas are outrageous performers, and after just a few songs, both frontmen were wearing nothing more than bright pink speedos.

In addition to their outlandish presentation, this Sydney formation delivered the most perfect catchy pop tunes, which begs the question – why was this class live act not higher up on the bill?

The young blooded Kiwis from The Naked And Famous effectively resurrected ‘80s synthesiser pop, a genre that ruled the charts before any of them were born. In presentation, singer Alisa Xayalith echoed ‘80s electro pop; the frontwoman’s Annie Lennox hair and Dave Stewart sunnies made her look like both halves of the Eurythmics. The band’s hit song ‘Punching In A Dream’ was the first to get the crowd charging their fists in the air.

The psychedelic rockers from Tame Impala took the crowd on a trip even further back in time to the late 60s & early 70s. The sound of the West Australians echoed Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma/Meddle era – to the extent where they could rename themselves ‘Perth Floyd’. The retro feel was further enhanced by Beatles-esque melodies combined with some (Deep) Purple and Black (Sabbath) grooves that added to the already vivid palette of musical colours.

Primus frontman Les Claypool is best known for his appearance in the theme for South Park, but with his hillbilly moustache and hat, the quirky bass virtuoso looked like he’d come straight out of Deadwood. After a promising start, the band soon began to stretch their songs with lengthy solos. This was great news for the bass players in the crowd, but a band that lets dragged out experimental jams get in the way of good songs might be misplaced this high up on the bill.

After the long jams of Tame Impala and Primus, it was a relief to hear The Hives rock out to their three chord, three minute songs. In the words of the hysterically hyperactive Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, whose delightful banter proved that even the corniest of jokes can sound funny if you present them with sufficient cocky bravura, his band plays two types of music: rock and roll.

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Musically, these Swedish garage rockers might draw heavily from the sounds of the Ramones or Iggy & The Stooges, but it is their sheer, over-the-top presentation that makes them a spectacular live act. The band members adorned themselves with shiny black & white bullfighter suits and, most importantly, they played as if their lives depended on it.

The organisers of the Big Day Out have a great sense of humour. When Blur pulled out last minute, the festival replaced them not only with The Hives, whose best known song, ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ is suspiciously similar to Blur’s best known track ‘Song 2’, but they also got Beady Eye, the new incarnation of Blur’s arch-rivals, Oasis.

Back when Beady Eye were still called Oasis, singer Liam Gallagher was infamous for his lethargic live performance, moaning his lines into the microphone with both hands behind his back.  The band name might have changed after his older brother Noel’s departure, but Gallagher still looked bored stiff out of his mind.

Sandwiched between top-notch live acts like The Hives and Arcade Fire, Beady Eye had a great spot on the bill. However, the fact that most people appeared to be there just to get a good spot for Pearl Jam didn’t add to the atmosphere, although ‘Rock N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Morning Glory’, the two Oasis songs in the set, did get a good response, as did the Rolling Stones cover ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Some might consider Arcade Fire to be pretentious, but there is nothing wrong with having pretentions if you have the talent, the musicality, and the confidence to back it up. Win Butler and his merry band of multi-instrumentalists have all of those in spades. After a comic opening – where a fake band with the same big heads from the band’s music videos played a crappy version of Blur’s ‘Song 2’, a reference to the band that couldn’t make it – the Quebecois collective burst straight into stadium-sized rocker ‘Normal Person’.

‘Rebellion’ proved a fitting song for Butler to tear down the “Moshing, Crowd Surfing and Stage Diving Prohibited” sign. Fan favourites ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Keep The Car Running’ followed, making one wonder if the group would run out of steam by playing so many big songs too early in the set. It turns out the group have enough hits up their sleeve to fill a 90 minute performance, with new tracks such as ‘Afterlife’ and ‘Reflektor’ along with their classics ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ and ‘No Cars Go’. During the closing song ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, white confetti was blasted into the air.

Headliners Pearl Jam didn’t need confetti, and instead delivered fireworks from the very first song. The legendary rockers launched straight into a salvo of six up-tempo rockers. Only during the verses for the title track of their latest album Lightning Bolt did the crowd get a moment to catch their breath.

With a flaming, passionate set that was almost three hours long and went beyond the 10.30pm curfew by almost 20 minutes, the godfathers of grunge proved once again why they are always at the top of the list, alongside Springsteen and U2, as ‘musicians to see before you die’.

Lead Guitarist Mike McCready and bass player Jeff Ament jumped around in circles with the same boyish enthusiasm and frenetic energy as they have done for over 20 years, and a slightly tipsy Eddie Vedder was obviously deeply humbled to be headlining Big Day Out on Australia Day. The friendly singer loves this country and was taken by the idea of Aussie flags everywhere and Aussie stubby holders, which he managed to stretch around his bottle of wine.

Regardless of the suggestion that the Big Day Out crowd has changed over the years – steering further away from the devout music fans that rallied for the event back in the day – Pearl Jam gave the festival the most spectacular ending anyone could hope for.

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