A Not-So Big Day Out
DARREN LEVIN reports from a surprisingly low-key Big Day Out where Australian bands dominated proceedings. Photos by KRISTY MILLIKEN.
There was nothing big about this day out. Rumours were swirling that the Melbourne leg of the event was undersold by 10,000 tickets – that’s the entire Meredith Music Festival. And while it was probably a little less than that – an estimated 40,000 down from 46,000 in 2008 – this year’s event really does reflect the uphill battle promoters face in getting cash-strapped punters through the turnstiles in 2009.
For those who braved the Flemington dustbowl, there were shorter queues for piss of both varieties, fewer flag-sporting dickheads and more wide open space to swing your arms. Reflecting perhaps the current economic plight – the exchange rate is making it a nightmare to lure overseas acts to our shores – this year’s line-up featured a heavy local contingent.
Sydney’s Sparkadia opened proceedings on the main stage to a small, but devoted following. They obligatorily thanked people for showing up early and played a brand of emotive indie-rock – delayed guitars and soaring falsetto – indicative of their hometown. Fellow Sydneysiders Youth Group and Expatriate have done it before, and better.
Speaking of Youth Group, the one-time darlings of Australian alterna-pop were relegated to a side stage next to train tracks. The timetable was kinder to Children Collide from “Melbourne!” (in case you didn’t know), who certainly didn’t look out of place on their maiden main stage berth. With guitar histrionics and dumb lyrics, they seem purpose-built for arena rock.
Spare a thought though for perennial underdogs The Vandas, who were cooped up inside the V Energy Hot Produce stage (singer Chris Altmann wore aviators and a tie-dye T-shirt to no avail). They played an impressive set drawn heavily from last year’s Slow Burn LP to an audience that barely outnumbered the security guards. The stage’s dark surrounds were better suited to Mercy Arms and their atmospheric, Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired wall of noise. They were let down though by a guitar-heavy mix – or maybe that’s just how they like to roll?
My Disco were another act on the wrong end of the timetable. Their slot, also on the Hot Produce stage, clashed with popular Brooklyn outfit TV on the Radio. Still, their tight art-punk got a decent workout ahead of some upcoming overseas shows.
The recently reformed Died Pretty got off to a slow start, butchering ‘Blue Sky Day’ from their watershed 1986 release Free Dirt. They weren’t helped by an initially poor turnout that prompted diminutive frontman Ron Peno to declare this their “intimate show”. But the band found their feet as the crowd started to build. A mid-set trio of songs – ‘D.C’, ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Godbless’ – from 1991’s Doughboy Hollow was the clincher. The defining moment was a perfectly placed drum fill, about halfway through ‘Sweetheart’, that took this performance from good to extraordinary.
As some old guy said later that night, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.