live review

Big Day Out 2014

Big Day Out 2014

January 17 2014
Western Springs, Auckland

The Big Day Out returned to New Zealand this past past Friday at its new location, in Western Springs, and it was a total success as far as festivals at inaugural locations are concerned. The initial rain and cloud cleared to reveal both a scorching day and the beauty of the new location: walking between and sitting on the grass at each stage was an absolute pleasure (not to mention being able to walk to and from the venue!) with the exception of the R18 area on the hill behind the main stages. Situated above and between the two double stage areas it had headache-inducing sound bleed. This, coupled with what I assume will be everybody's major complaint about this year's Big Day Out, the queues, made it tough for the people (read: everybody) who just wanted to have a beer and watch a band. The inefficiency of service at the bars was inexcusable; the main Heineken bar in the aforementioned area only had a couple of tills with a couple of staff members, who fumbled around trying to do everything sans any support staff whatsoever. It's one thing to be annoyed that a queue for alcohol is long but acknowledge that everything is moving as fast as it can and there are just a lot of customers; it's quite another to wait for over an hour because the organisation of the bar and the staff is totally and incontrovertibly inept (I can still feel the rage of being in that queue). The other bars were reportedly just as bad, while a friend waited 20 minutes for a coffee and was treated to this apology: "sorry, we're not used to doing big events like this". Uh-huh.

Queue's aside, there was very little to complain about. Yes, there were some annoying clashes but most of those can be put down to having to slot three acts into Blur's absence. Speaking of which, there were a couple of moments when the not-hearing of 'Song 2' live bummed myself and the group I was with out, but for the most part the line-up was packed with accomplished acts who delivered big, festival-appropriate sets (which is no mean feat), as our review of each performance, below, confirms.  Courtney Sanders

Beastwars - 12.25pm - Kowhai Stage

Christening the hallowed turf of Western Springs for a new generation of Big Day Out revelry, Beastwars strode first upon the Kowhai stage and promptly banished the morning's cloud and rain away with a blistering half hour of New Zealand's finest sludge metal.

With one of the few P.A.s equal to the size of the music, frontman Matt Hyde and band ripped through a choice selection of tracks from both the eponymous debut and 2013's Blood Becomes Fire records. A small but enthusiastic crowd at first acknowledged the wall of sound with solemn head nodding but it wasn't long before it was a black-clad mosh pit, rather than sprint cars, that were kicking up the speedway dust.

"Isn't it amazing to be at Western Springs?" Hyde panted needlessly in between songs as the set wound down. The crowd were already in agreement and after a long two years away, the Big Day Out was finally back. Paul Larsen

Portugal The Man - 1pm - Tui

The crowd were still filing in properly and what a pleasant way to greet them fresh off Beastwars was Portugal The Man. This quirky Alaskan quartet charmed the assembled with their psychedelic vibes and bittersweet tunes. It was only fitting that as the first international act of the day they should bring a little grandeur with them too. They came out of the gate strong with 'Purple Yellow Red and Blue' and from that moment on we were under their spell. It was hard not to smile at 'Creep in a T-shirt' which has to be one of the least likely sing-alongs of the day. Being that this was their first ever visit to New Zealand, Portugal The Man were out to soak in the fun vibrations of the day. For the people in attendance it was an opportunity to try something a little different in the afternoon sun. And did any other Always Sunny fans hear them play 'Day Man’? Ricardo Kerr

Tame Impala - 1.45pm - Kowhai Stage

Dust, smoke and giant beach balls dominated the airspace above Western Springs' main stage part way through Tame Impala's 50 minute mid-afternoon set. The Perth psych-rocker's spaced out jams and extended solos are a perfect match for a chilled post-lunch gig in the sun and it was a sizeable crowd who swayed, nodded and tapped along to a choice selection of the band's best songs.

Fairly equally divided between Innerspeaker and 2012's lauded Lonerism, the abbreviated but unhurried set list prohibited any extended banter from the band. Although an enthusiastic crowd response to 'Half Full Glass of Wine' from an early self-titled EP drew a delighted quip from frontman, Kevin Parker.

As the dust settled and the last of Parker's reverb-soaked vocals on 'Apocalypse Dreams' drifted up and over the hill, it was a supremely chilled crowd that ambled off to the next band on their hit-list. Paul Larsen

The 1975 – 1.45pm – Aroha

My expectations were nearly nil for this early starter – I knew only that I would likely be twice the age of the assembled crowd. Spot on, as it turns out, which afforded me a nice overview of a cross section of Millenials, that much maligned demographic.

All dressed in black, sporting a floppy Mohawk, singer Matthew Healy looks much like what you’d find asleep on a K-Rd bus bench at 4am, pale and malnourished, one hand still clutching a half drunk Woodstock. The stuff they’re peddling however is big, shiny emotional pop music about lust, girls and recreational pursuits. These Mancunian magpies eschewed their emo beginnings and shopped around a few different styles before releasing their huge self-titled album in 2013, where r&b, synth pop and skuzzy guitar rock make surprisingly easy bedfellows.

It translates better than anticipated to the stage. They’re a band born to play festivals. Choruses have big harmonies, production is tight and baby seal slick. They nail the big emotional synths a la The Naked & Famous, thanks in part I think to Healy’s taciturn charm. He seems happy to be here, even when technical troubles put the show on hold, but the whole production is un-showy enough to keep from looking like they think the suns shines out of the proverbial. The group work through their short but precise back catalogue. Album singles ‘Girl’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’ play out the set on both a literal and figurative high note. Leonie Hayden

Kody Nielson – 1.55pm –  Lakeside

Sharing a time slot with Tame Impala meant that Kody Nielson played tracks from the jazz-infused 2013 album ‘Devils’ to a small yet appreciative crowd. The addition of a horn section to Nielson’s sinister brand of introverted psychedelia was a characteristically bold move for the talented troublemaker; however, it also had the unforeseen effect of acting as a siren call for henna’d hippies looking for some dub to boogie to. Although Nielson and his one-man horn section companion played an extremely accomplished set, a subdued Nielson was much perturbed by the feedback on his mic, while I was similarly perturbed by the assorted extra bodies fossicking around onstage, presumably setting up for SJD. It seemed a little rude, although it certainly added to the confusing atmosphere. Luckily, as this was an instrumental set, said mic was only used for such one-liners as parting shot ‘I wanted to see Tame Impala’. Louisa Kasza

SJD – 2.35pm – Lakeside

SJD was the first artist I ever saw at a Big Day Out ten years ago, so it was a nice nostalgic touch (in a Big Day Out dominated by nostalgia) to see him play in the lovely Lakeside stage. His set was more the acoustic, poppy style of Songs from a Dictaphone, with a focus on melodies, tinkling pianos, and acoustic guitars - rather than the electronic side of his most recent work. This 'poppier' side included his new stuff, but I couldn't tell if that focus was due to the lakeside setting or a marker of the new work. While it was a small crowd (at least until all of the Conchord Dawn fans showed up), SJD and his fine band (including a guest vocal from Julia Deans) were tight and fun. To this Wellingtonian, SJD is one of Auckland's finest products. Brannavan Gnanalingam

The Naked And Famous – 2.35pm - Tui

The Naked and Famous have been away for a while – touring in the States, performing on late night TV, recording in LA – and their New Zealand fans have missed them, judging by the massive midafternoon crowd assembled at the BDO. The band, dressed so well as to resemble an Urban Outfitters ad, opened with A Stillness, an atmospheric, downbeat song from their latest album. This was quickly followed by crowd favourite Punching in a Dream, which showcased lead singer Alisa Xayalith’s crystal clear, shrill-but-pretty voice and above all, gave the audience what they wanted: all of the hooks. The Naked and Famous are great at catchy, raise your hands in the air hooks, and the songs that followed, notably Passive Me, Aggressive You,’ ‘Girls Like You’ and, of course, ‘Young Blood” gave fans a veritable smorgasbord of songs to fist pump to. Hannah Cooke

Toro y Moi – 3.15pm – Aroha

As the strains of a trying-too-hard Grouplove faded back into obscurity, a growing crowd sweated at the peak of a very hot day, waiting to ride the chill-wave with Toro y Moi. We weren’t disappointed. Frontman Chazwick Bradley Bundick and band beat the heat and soothed our sensory overload with a cool dose of nineties disco meets chillwave while drawing in more and more intrigued teenagers by the minute. Bundick was, frankly, adorable: laidback but never lazy, dancing around and hinting at a massive repertoire of sweet moves. Banter was minimal and unpretentious – no ‘COME ON NU ZEALAND!’ here – and Toro y Moi managed the impressive feat of getting a field full of sunburned, dehydrated zombies jiving around like they were at Kim Dotcom-hosted underwater disco without ever making us sit down and stand up again (ahem, The Hives and Major Lazer). Louisa Kasza

The Phoenix Foundation – 4pm – Tamaki

The Phoenix Foundation can sometimes be a little too sloppy live, though their songs and albums can not be doubted. But man, they absolutely killed it at the Big Day Out. They, alongside Arcade Fire, were the absolute highlight of this reviewer's day – which I must confess was not something I was expecting, given I've seen them dozens of times before and I was at an international festival. They sounded stunning (in fact, the sound mixer at their stage did an absolutely brilliant job throughout the day) and their on-stage antics, banter, and interplay was pitch perfect. The focus was the newer stuff (including the excellently named new song Bob Lennon John Dylan), alongside a dash of Buffalo and Happy Ending, as sunny pop merged into hypnotic motorik drumming. A total set of pleasure. Brannavan Gnanalingam

Primus - 3.25pm - Kowhai

Adding to the cohort of 90s grunge this year, Primus were a welcome beginning to many punters’ big day, including my own. Ever talented frontman and bass virtuoso Les Claypool kicked things off,  marching into ‘Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweakers’ before playing a personal favourite, ‘Groundhog Day’.

As became apparent with the mainstages, they often lacked a bit of atmosphere which for Primus meant some of their songs felt slightly more sluggish than their recorded counterparts and extended jam sessions could have left room for a few more favourites like ‘Mr. Know It All’ or ‘Mr. Krinkle’.

Overall though, they came across as fresh sounding as ever playing a strong set which also included classic 'Wynona's Big Brown Beaver' and ‘Jerry Was A Race Car Driver’ - which they apparently 'never ever play' - and before we knew it they said goodbye and departed, leaving our ears sore yet wanting another. Glen Meltzer

The Hives – 4.15pm - Tui

I last saw The Hives at a Big Day Out several years ago. They were very Swedish – good looking, wearing sharp suits, playing tracks off Veni Vidi Vicious with controlled swagger. Not much has changed. The suits are still sharp. Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is still very handsome, (and knows it, asking the crowd “can you see how pretty I am?” at one point during the set). Since then, The Hives have released three more albums, and although they played songs from all of them, the only ones that resonated with me were the classics from Veni Vidi Vicious and Your New Favourite Band – Main Offender, Hate to Say I Told You So, and Die Alright! As for the rest? Riffy fun performed with showmanship and style that had a sweaty crowd moshing in classic BDO style. For better or worse, the Hives still sound like The Hives.  Hannah Cooke

Mac Miller – 4.45pm – Lakeside

Holy shit, I didn't see this coming. It's a sunny afternoon and I'm watching the Rakim of frat rap perform to a huge crowd outdoors. Actually, calling Mac Miller the Rakim of frat rap is probably a little bit too complimentary and insulting at the same damn time. While this American 90s baby's first efforts definitely fell into the "I love college/Dudebro let's throw a keg party" end of the new internet rap spectrum, he's since evolved into an increasingly interesting lyricist with a good ear for beats, and I'm not going to beat around the bush here, one hell of an interactive stage show. During one of the rare moments he didn't have the crowd chanting along or throwing their hands up, he asked if he could sing us a song. Newsflash! He can croon in a hybrid reggae/soul style, and it's kinda okay. Thanks Mac. I had fun. Martyn Pepperell

Beady Eye – 5.15pm – Kowhai

Even as a huge Oasis fan, I couldn’t get a boner for Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye. Liam looking like he’s had a face lift (although he clearly told the surgeon to keep the default ‘fook off’ expression) and a band fleshed out with cookie cutter versions of Noel in a leather jacket. So far, so awkward. I could have sworn the rest of the crowd was as flaccid as I was, but surprisingly a couple of people have told me they enjoyed the set. The Mono-Browed One could have won that crowd over easily with a bit of banter; the majority were just there to rubber neck anyway. His stubborn refusal to do so meant he considers his “band” and self to be of the serious musician variety and that’s the biggest tragedy here. The over-long set of Beady Eye songs were as forgettable as you’d imagine, with a handful of Oasis songs and the worst ‘Gimme Shelter’ cover ever. Ever ever. Mick Jagger would have wept if he hadn’t been so busy bathing in the tears of virgins. Leonie Hayden

Mudhoney – 5.30pm – Tamaki

While most of the BDO crowd was there for a particular set of Seattle stalwarts, a fairly large crowd witnessed another longtime Seattle band also show the benefits of decades playing together. Mudhoney played a fair blistering set in the late afternoon sun. It was fairly samey and rather macho, but it did the trick. Starting with Slipping Away from 2013's Vanishing Point, the band simply did not let up with virtuoso playing, furious solos, and relentless rhythms. A mid-set highlight was In'n'out of Grace. The drumming of the legendary Dan Peters in particular was impressive, and he carried that song away. The BDO this year featured bands who knew exactly what they were doing live - and Mudhoney were at the forefront of that. Brannavan Gnanalingam

CSS – 5.45pm – Lakeside

I was excited to see CSS playing the Lakeside stage, an idyllic setting for a band I had enjoyed seeing at San Fran Bathhouse a few years ago. I soon realised that no matter how pretty the setting, CSS needs to perform inside. Outside, lead singer Lovefoxxx’s voice was blown about by the wind, sounding pitchy and, to be honest, pretty hard to get enthusiastic about. There were moments where CSS were great, like in the swinging, playful “Hits Me Like A Rock”, but the inconsistency took its toll. Perhaps this is where having a Boiler Room tent comes in handy – for fun club bands that need walls for sound to bounce off of. Of course, it just took a fantastic song like “Lets Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” to get the crowd dancing, which is, incidentally, a song that doesn’t really involve any singing. Hannah Cooke

Arcade Fire - 6.15pm - Tui Stage

With the sun slowly setting over Western Spring's main stages, the first festival gig of Arcade Fire's Reflektor tour kicked off against a resplendent stage resembling a twisted monochromatic carnival. There was an air of expectation amongst the large crowd which had poured into the main arena and after a raucous 'Ready to Start' kicked off proceedings, it was all on.

Dressed in all manner of costumed finery, the plentiful band members pin-balled between instruments amid songs as they raced through a varied hour and a half of favourites from past records as well as last year's Reflektor. Singer, Win Butler was eager to highlight the band's affinity with New Zealand (being Canadian and all) and even dedicated 'Afterlife' to our own Lorde, who could be spotted dancing away in the wings.

Highlights included the driving urgency of 'Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)' which coupled neatly with the stadium sized 'Joan of Arc' while later in the set, Reflektor's 'Normal Person' finally got the stadium audience it's chorus deserves. As time ran out, a shower of glitter accompanied the timely 'Here Comes the Night Time' before 'Wake Up' closed the curtain on a spectacular show. Paul Larsen

Ghost - 7.15pm - Tamaki

Picture the scene. The sun is setting and the dark clouds are rolling in. You hear the demonic chorus, pumping out at a mighty volume. Then the Nameless Ghouls arrive – five men dressed head to toe in black robes and masks, manning instruments. Then He walks out onto the stage; singer, Papa Emeritus. How do you react to a man in full Satanic Pope regalia? You raise your hands in the air and you soak it all in. What New Zealand witnessed for the very first time was Ghost, a Swedish metal act with a cult following in every meaning of the word. The band brought many of their heaviest hitters from last year's hit album Infestissumam including the infectious 'Year Zero'. In spite of their fearsome presence and occult rock anthems Emeritus was a gracious guest, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd throughout. Evil was out to seduce at Big Day Out 2014 and there seemed to be a lot of new converts about by the time the sun had set.  Ricardo Kerr

Pearl Jam - 7.45pm - Kowhai

At one point this weekend, after the Big Day Out, I became engrossed in a conversation with someone who argued that he had fallen out of love with some songs after hearing them being re-appropriated, sports anthem-style, down at a pub (“they just don’t understand their original meaning!”). I contested that there was something quite magical about a song’s ability to unite (and something less magical about the singing abilities of pub groups) people across social divisions; my argument spurred on by noting that singing every word to “Betterman” alongside thousands of others, while Eddie Vedder simply provided encouraging hand-claps, felt incredibly profound.

As an unashamed fan of Pearl Jam I’ll admit that I probably would have enjoyed the set if Vedder had simply provided encouraging hand-claps for two hours, but instead the band delivered a set of interesting greatest hits from across their back catalogue, with the kind of unassuming ease that comes from 20+ years playing live (and being a big, festival band for most of that time), which was further complimented by an impressive lighting rig that delivered both stadium-rock flare and rose-hued intimacy when required.

They opened with 'Release' from Ten, followed by ‘Don’t Go’ (Vs.) and ‘Corduroy’ (Vitalogy) which was pretty indicative of the album split throughout their set. ‘Even Flow’, ‘Daughter’ and ‘Black’ all featured as did Liam Finn (who provided vocals on ‘Habit’) which - alongside monologues from Vedder about his love for the wider Finn family, Piha’s surf and his gifting of red wine to the occupants of the houses that backed onto Western Springs (it’s cool EV: I’ll assume that my bottle for this glowing review is in the post) - went a long way to the crowd adopting Pearl Jam as honourary New Zealanders. They finished their set with (slightly) lesser known singles ‘State of Love and Trust’, ‘Porch’ and a cover of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ (something they do quite often), while Vedder ended his set by swinging from a light, finishing his (gigantic) bottle of wine, and taking his overshirt off (thank you); all of those felt like pretty appropriate actions to close one's Big Day Out experience. Courtney Sanders

Snoop Dogg – 8pm – Aroha

Between his reality shows, ridiculous acting appearances in movies (Soul Plane anyone?) and this recent Snoop Lion malarkey, it's easy to forget how much of a legend Snoop Dogg is. With twenty two years of hit records behind him, Snoop Dog took to the stage backed up by a live band and brought along his homies Tha Dogg Pound for added impact. It was a festival party set, and he took the good times very seriously. While weed smoke drifted through the air left, right and centre, Big Snoop treated us to such anthems as 'Ups & Downs', 'Still Dre', 'Signs', 'P.I.M.P', 'Nothing But A G Thang', 'Gin & Juice' and, 'Drop It Like It's Hot' and 'Sexual Seduction' as well as paying tribute to Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and Kriss Kross. Thanking New Zealand for supporting him over his entire career, his DJ threw on 'Jammin' by Bob Marley, closing off the set fittingly. Martyn Pepperell

Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams – 8.20pm – Metro Cube

Lyttleton Records-signed duo Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams won the ‘Best NZ Country album of the year’ Tui award last year with album ‘Sad But True’. Both accomplished musicians in their own right, the gravelly, Nick-Cave-meets-the-devil persona of Davidson and yodelling, buttoned-up good ole boy Williams perfectly complement each other, and you can tell they know they’re on to a good thing. Confident but never arrogant, the pair took all in their stride as they set up in front of an exhausted audience while the tiny Metrocube reverberated to Snoop Dogg’s set, joking that this must be what Snoop had meant when he had promised to join them for a song. Far from begrudging the small space, the two were in their element and played an intimate, engrossing set. Masters of narrative, Davidson and William had us all spellbound with tales of murder and regret, told with humour and warmth. Louisa Kasza

Deftones - 9pm - Tamaki

Deftones have been fairly regular visitors to Big Day Out in the past so it is apt that they should close out a stage on the 2014 reboot. They ripped through fan favourites 'Rocket Skates', 'My Own Summer (Shove It)', and 'Swerve City', riding an amazing wave of energy. The highly animated Chino Moreno is a giving front man and his very presence incites the people to throw down like there is no tomorrow. After all, the band made their name with power house live performances and this night was to be no exception. A couple of slower numbers let things simmer down a little and take in the atmosphere. Moreno donned a guitar to guide us through 'RX Queen' and 'Change (in the House of Flies)'. The set closed out with a raging performance of '7 Words' – a reminder of the days when most of the band and a good portion of the audience had dreadlocks. If the show had a roof it would have been well and truly torn off. Ricardo Kerr

Major Lazer – 10pm – Aroha

Confetti fireworks. Twerking. Lazers, lots and lots of lazers. Lorde dancing on stage. Mac Miller dancing on stage. Diplo and the team playing records and hyping up the already extremely hype, and extremely large crowd. Stage-diving. Fearless fearless stage-diving. Diplo classics. Major Lazer standards like 'Pon De Floor' and 'Get Free'. A remix of 'Royals', which of course got a huge reaction, but let's be real, the whole set got a huge reaction. People really like Diplo, and people really like Major Lazer. In terms of sound, branding, visuals and attitude, the project ticks all the right boxes. It's maximal to the point where it actually couldn't get any more maximal, and makes something close to a fine art out of overstimulation. Alongside this though, the whole thing is just really fun, and it's afraid to have a sense of humour. An intense end to what was all in all, a pretty damn good day. Martyn Pepperell

The End.

Feel free to post about your highlights below and be sure to check out our Big Day Out photos.

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