Review: Auckland Big Day Out ’09 by underground

A notably smaller crowd filed its way around Mt Smart Stadium on Friday January 16 for Australasia’s premier music festival. Headlining this year was veteran rocker Neil Young, a surprise choice which aimed to pull older music fans, but risked deterring younger fans. As it turned out, Young was one of few highlights as unenthusiastic bands struggled to impress an uninterested crowd. Well that was my take anyway!

Most the early bands were unremarkable, although Clap Clap Riot were an early highlight, with catchy upbeat songs. The Naked and the Famous were the first of many indie bands to disappointed, particular as the sound was so poor. For many bands of this genre the bassist had an awful distortion effect on their set up, while the guitarists abused a lineup of pedals. Either that or the sound guy hates indie bands. What might work on a studio recording doesn’t necessarily sound good live.

Not just awful on the radio, the Ting Tings were best avoided live. With few options we headed to the main stage to check out Welsh metallers Bullet for my Valentine. An unexpected breath of fresh air, Bullet for my Valentine offered a reprieve from the uninspiring indie bands that dominated the event’s bill. The sane were safely tucked away in the stands, far from the mayhem in front of the stage. As if possibly the largest circle pit ever wasn’t dangerous enough, for the final song the vocalist asked the crowd to part through the middle, before giving the word for the insane to close the gap in a hail of fists and feet.

The boiler room leaked onto the main stage with Pendulum reminding non-ravers that drum and bass hasn’t changed much in the past decade. The fluro-clad masses were pleased nonetheless, with a huge hands-in-the-air crowd filling most of the football field getting their groove on.

TV on the Radio was the epitome of what was wrong with this year’s event. Like so many in their genre, TVOTR lacked energy, enthusiasm, and sounded poor. The vocalist was the only band member with any stage presence, the guitarist spending most the time with his back to the crowd. It took several songs for the band to really get going and the crowd, apart from a few die hards, hardly got into it. As an up-and-coming band TVOTR disappointed many fans who had come to the event to see them, playing almost only their new album.

Next year I’m bringing my own food. Following my $3.50 slither of watermelon, I splashed out on a $6.50 “lamb” burger. I should really contact the consumer complaints people, because there was definitely no lamb in the sausage tasting patty slapped between a slice of tomato, beetroot and buns. Needed to be washed down with beer. The beer was good though.

Showing all before him how it is done, Serj Tankian put on a true performance. Having seen System of a Down twice before I had high expectations, although was not too sure what to expect. Like most in the crowd I didn’t know any of the songs, but was absorbed by Tankian’s theatrics and phenomenal voice nonetheless. Two days later, I bought the CD. Brilliant. Would love to see what the Lebanese-born American-Armenian Piha-resident has planned with the Auckland Philharmonic Orhestra in the near future.

The Living End played the “Shihad slot”, performing a typically impressive and entertaining set. Unfortunetly the D-barrier requires fans get in early to see a big band before the enclosed area is closed off, meaning the crowd in front of the Living End were mainly Arctic Monkey fans. Chris Cheney’s attempts to get the crowd involved fell flat on its face with only sections of the crowd singing along. Still the Aussie trio gave their all, not letting an unenthusiastic crowd dampen their spirits.

Those who squeezed past my during the Living End to see the Arctic Monkeys must have been disappointed by their performance or have never witnessed a decent band play. Perhaps because the only song I know is upbeat and danceable, I expected a fast and exciting set, but instead the Arctic Monkeys were laboured and boring. Knowing where to find a real live show, I left early to see the Dropkick Murphys.

All the reviews I have read so far have failed to mention the Dropkick Murphys, which is a shame because the Boston punk band put on one hell of a show. Even if you are not into punk, these guys are worth checking out, as they are arguably the best dance act of the event’s bill. Playing with the passion lacking from most bands’ sets, the celtic-influenced Dropkicks had the considerable crowd on their feet with their folk-punk ditties. I never thought so much Irish jigging was possible until I saw the Dropkick Murphys. Superlatives fail. Extra credit for the lead vocalist’s Tino Rangatiratanga t-shirt!

Back to the main stage for the headlining act Neil Young who, as many have already said, showed many of the preceding bands half his age how to perform. I’m not a fan, but I can appreciate and respect the talent of the man. However good Neil Young was though, he clearly wasn’t the crowd puller organisers had thought, with the field and the stands only half full and the D barrier area still open. A year ago Rage Against the Machine had the whole stadium packed and singing (screaming) along to every word. Young simply isn’t most young fans’ cup of tea, and perhaps Young fans weren’t keen on mixing it with young fans.

In the end, despite a handful of special performances the overwhelming mediocrity of many bands ensured this wasn’t the best Big Day Out.


14 Comments so far
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How can you mention dropkick murphys who’s pop punk set was average at best and not bother to mention Fantomas?

Comment by Tam

Fantomas is the another band I have read nothing about in any reviews. Mine included because I did not see them. By the sounds of things it appears I missed a good performance, although I think they clashed with young, which might explain why many missed them. Still, Dropkick Murphys are definitly not “pop-punk” and their set was definitely not average, but each to their own I suppose!

Comment by underground

I’ve read some one line reviews of Fantomas’ BDO performances so far. All positive. Somebody said it was the best thing they’d seen in a long, long time.

Comment by Sara

We have quite different reviews – I love that so many reviews of the same stuff can come off so different! :) Nice work Paulio

Comment by Amberleigh

I can’t wait to read your take on things! Perhaps because you had to stay at the one stage you had a different perspective to me. When is your review published?

Comment by underground

Feb … Just had different views on Ting Tings and Dropkicks! And … I think that’s about it – haha

Comment by Amberleigh

Really, the Ting Tings? I wasn’t impressed, although I didn’t expect to be. I was glad I went down to Bullet for my Valentine. What was wrong with the Dropkicks? After all the average performances from other bands I thought they were good, although I am sure they would be better at their own gig.

Comment by underground

The sound screwed it for them really. Caseys vocals were shot for like … half the set … then they sorted that and the sound was all over the place. During one entire song (can’t even remember what) it was obviously they couldn’t ear either. The set list was average too I thought.

Ting Tings were bloody good I thought. Tight as hell – easily one of the most professional sets of the day. Everyone knows what their sound is like … so it’s hard to bag the single you can’t stand … but as far as crowd appreciation, tight set, upbeat energetic as anything and basically having the power to pull off live what they do with studio help – it was impressive.

That was my take anyway :)

Clap Clap Riot were awesome too. My new favourite little band.

Comment by Amberleigh

Fair enough. The sound was shit for a lot of the bands, but I thought DM sounded better than most, I just love that Celtic shit! I did like the setlist too, I was happy I knew all the songs!
I saw only two Ting tings songs, it was enough for me. Perhaps they got better.
Agree entirely on Clap Clap Riot!

Comment by underground

“Pendulum reminding non-ravers that drum and bass hasn’t changed much in the past decade.”

Just wanted to let you know that pendulum is hardly a good representation of today’s drum and bass culture. Basing your judgement of drum and bass on pendulum would be like saying Fall Out Boy is good represntation of all rock. Drum and bass has evolved a great deal in the past decade.

The new material from pendulum, in fact most stuff from pendulum is produced for the masses. Check out any decent drum and bass night in Auckland and it would be very rare to hear any of the new pendulum material or see the crowd you saw at the BDO.

I suggest if you want to see how drum and bass has changed and is constantly changing check out artists such as calibre, lynx, Marcus Intalex. Its not all big synth bass lines and lame vocals.

Comment by Ben

Fair enough Ben, but the masses seemed to enjoy it! To me every song sounded like that song from Derude(?), I was surprised that music I thought was a fade and was long since gone was still popular. Pendulum got one of the largest crowds on the day, so clearly that’s what the punters like.
My post is a little bit tongue in check, with a few comments to stir up reaction. I was thinking of you and Ange when I wrote that line! :)

Comment by underground

Hi there, great blog, thanks! So – You like pendulum? That mosh pit sounds a bit crazy, its not been like that when ive seen them before! You shoudl try their the game! http://www.pendulum.com/games. i’m addicted – I love pendulum!

Comment by jesspassiton

But it’s also factually incorrect.

Comment by Ben

Ah, that is the beauty of a review, it is simply opinion. To my untrained ears I hear little difference between Pendulum and other DnB musicians, just as many mightn’t differentiate between Fall Out boy and Bad Religion, for example. And although I could argue compellingly how different the two bands are, to others they may sound the same. That is someone’s perception. They may be wrong to me, but it is how it appears to them. It’s all simply subjective. It really does all sound the same to me!

Comment by underground

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