It's almost as if summer had been deliberately hiding, lurking like a ninja, awaiting the Big Day Out to finally reveal itself. The second-degree burns on half of Perth's teenage population say it all; this was the kind of weather foreign bands always expect of Perth. In a fair trade, the bands put on the kind of performances that a festival crowd has come to expect, with just about every punter you'll talk to having a different highlight to rave about. Amidst all of the attractions - musical and festival alike - are the people themselves; the colourful Perth punters who, year after year, go to great lengths to make themselves as much an attraction as any included in the ticket price. Amassing in slightly smaller numbers than in previous years, the crowd seemed somehow more relaxed, more comfortable, and less hurried. It was a sight to behold indeed... that fabled 'laid back' Perth attitude amplified by thousands and thousands of people everywhere you turned. The beautiful weather must have been infectious - its sunniness spreading through the whole of the Claremont Showgrounds, permeating punters, artists, and staff alike. The place was literally glowing.
In spite of receiving rave reviews from all quarters for their second album Skeleton Jar, it appeared that Youth Group couldn't even get arrested in this country, so it was a delight to see them on the bill at this year's Big Day Out - even if their early billing did belie their significantly growing stature overseas. Having been almost constantly touring the United States for the past 12 months, Youth Group were road hardened for a well-oiled performance. Shoddy mixing and technical problems are part and parcel for bands that are thrown to the wolves by playing early on outdoor stages and Youth Group took it all in their stride. Their cover of Alphaville's 1980s classic Forever Young - which has become the signature tune for the latest season of the prime time smash hit and measure of indie chic The OC - was unsurprisingly the crowd favourite. A smattering of their own tunes including Skeleton Jar, Shadowland and Baby Body showing why they are fast becoming Australia's answer to Death Cab For Cutie.
London based three piece The Subways appeared to be enjoying their time in the sun as they worked through tunes from their debut album. Whatever the band lack in out and out talent they more than make up for in youth and enthusiasm. Whilst riding on the crest of the wave of the resurgence of angular pop, unlike many of their peers The Subways do manage to have a stream of tidy riffs and hummable melodies. Churning out one high octane gem after the next (With You, I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say, Mary), The Subways invited the crowd to clap and sing along at any opportunity - to which they gladly obliged. It wouldn't be a festival without a bit of crowd surfing. Front-man Billy Lunn indulged the crowd by diving in for a bit of 'one on one' time during the band's first single Oh Yeah. Despite showing the rigors of the festival and its associated side shows, Lunn dragged out one last effort from his rapidly fading voice to deliver a rousing version of the band's radio hit Rock & Roll Queen before parting the stage.
For the converted Mudvayne's punishing brand must have been like mother's milk, but for the uninitiated, well let's just say the cardigan brigade's happy shiny people vibe must have been put on its arse pretty quickly. The boys wasted no time throwing themselves into Determined and the brutally emotive lines of Forget To Remember. Watching this rhythm section is intimidation defined; McDonough is one of the best melodic-metal skinsmen doing the rounds while his four stringed offsider Ryan Martinie is considered by many to be the genre's premiere talent. Alternatively, after racking up more than a few piss poor vocal performances in very public mediums the ability of Chad Gray to front such an intense outfit was quite fairly in question. Not only did he put any doubts to rest, the man dead set ripped. Polyps be damned, Gray stepped up to the plate and led his brothers through the hits like Death Blooms and set closer Dig before offering a heartfelt farewell to the rapturous delight of a bloody and battered crowd.
Opening with the grandiose imagery of Colossal, Wolfmother's sound was there from the word go. The drums were pounding, the riffage was epic and Andrew Stockdale's ever so endearing nasal twang was, twangin'. Wolfmother are one of those acts that require a few minutes dedicated to decision making early in the set. Do I acknowledge the self indulgent arrangements, the bum notes or the mystical repetition of the material, or, do I embrace the volumes of energy pouring from stage, sing along with the anthemic choruses and rock out with a band I know are going to give me their all? Well, most opted for the latter and with a record-breaking number of songs in this year's Hottest 100, Wolfmother had more than enough material to keep this ravenous mass suckling. The magical meanderings of Dimension and Pyramid allowed Stockdale and co to stretch their legs while the breaking down of White Unicorn gave rare pause building a serene, albeit fleeting moment of introspective disconnection. With the crowd behind them the Sydney spawned trio powered toward the finish line before closing out with Mind's Eye.
All female three-piece Sleater-Kinney are another of the impressive outfits to come out of Portland, Oregon - surely one of the music 'hotspots' in the world today. Having put out albums for over a decade, the band have somewhat unfairly been written as just one of the remaining riot grrrl acts - but as their Big Day Out performance illustrated, they have always been a far more formidable unit than that. The band's intense sound and strong feminist ethos means that there are probably very few 'one day at band camp' stories between them. The Fox and Jumpers showcasing the powerhouse drumming of Janet Weiss as well as the twin guitar attack of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker - the dynamic singer whose voice could strip paint. Despite showing plenty of angst and gusto, Sleater-Kinney are able to tone it down and shake it with the best of them. Modern Girl with its sweet refrain - 'my whole life is like a picture of a sunny day' and harmonica track served as a welcome break from the bluster of the remainder of the set. Sleater-Kinney added the line-up plenty of much appreciated bark and bite.
"It's pretty bright, I can't really see, but you guys smell real nice," declared the Tennessee four piece as they ran through a white hot version of The Bucket. Clad in singlets and tight jeans, Kings Of Leon had the luxury of a much bigger stage than their 2004 Big Day Out debut. However, considering the southern garage rockers tend to stand fairly motionless when they play, it soon became obvious that a smaller stage would have suited the band much better. Frontman Caleb Followill insisted he was dying on stage due to the heat, which may have been a reason for an overall lack of on-stage energy. The band of three brothers and one cousin ran through both of their albums with excellent musicianship. However, they let themselves down by playing a set of songs that were all too similar and it was the few slower numbers which the crowd seemed to appreciate more than the rock posing and smoking on stage.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this year's Big Day Out line-up was how the heck were the Go! Team going to translate their cut and paste epic Thunder, Lightning, Strike into the live arena. Those who had any doubts had their fears allayed early as the band breezed through a faultless rendition of Panther Dash, which set the scene for what was to be the most ambitious, and a most out-fucking-standing performance! Not only were the tunes top shelf, but all members of the band appeared to be enjoying playing them as much as the rapturous crowd appeared to be receiving them. Working through Huddle Formation, Junior Kickstart, Bottle Rocke and Everyone's A V.I.P To Someone the band regularly jumped from one instrument to another at times incorporating banjo, harmonica, glockenspiel, two drummers and on Get It Together a resplendent recorder solo. Without a doubt, the Go! Team put on a performance that had to be seen to be believed.
A lot of people were wondering just how Henry Rollins' spoken word performance was going to go down with a festival crowd, though no one need have worried. Uncle Hank - albeit nervously at first - took to the stage and launched into his trademark raconteur role with vigour. One of the indisputable highlights of the day for sheer uniqueness alone, Rollins' performance was a splendid barrel of laughs, spiked occasionally with a more 'serious' message. At first the crowd politely and quietly watched on in curious awe, though by the first time Hank made a point of criticising either his government or ours, the crowd responded with raucous approval. True enough, getting people to cheer at 'fuck John Howard' is like shooting finless fish in a tea cup, but part of Rollins' schtick as the perpetual angry teenager is to rally people like the Pied Piper Of Hamlin. He's concentrated equally hard on being the 'angry guy' as he has the 'positive guy' and although he harps on too much about being both, there's no denying that Rollins is a born entertainer, and a more than worthy inclusion on the Big Day Out lineup.
The timing for Franz Ferdinand's set couldn't have been better. The lads entered the stage wearing shades and left as the sun had well and truly gone down. Once the bass riff for Jacqueline kicked in, a massive display for the band's latest album You Could Have It So Much Better was visible from behind the curtains, much to the audience's enjoyment. As expected, it was an incredibly high energy show, with the majority of the songs being played faster than the originals. Do You Want To was an undeniable highlight, as the boys (minus drummer Paul Thomson and extremely reserved bassist Bob Hardy) moved around as much as possible, throwing in the occasional high kick. An extra musician took up the keyboards during This Boy and eventually shared the drums with another mystery character, simultaneously pounding the kit while standing over Paul Thomson. Frontman Alex Kapranos was on top theatrical form, pretending to shoot audience members with his fingers, introducing bassist Bob Hardy by 'moving inside us all', while guitarist Nick McCarthy introduced Kapranos by saying 'he could break anyone's heart tonight'.
The last time The Mars Volta played Big Day Out they disappointed many people by being little more than a prog rock jam band, though this time around their approach was far more focused. Playing twice as many songs as they did in their Big Day Out debut (so six songs, basically) the band seemed to have found a nice compromise between playing a straight-up set list, and being a free form wank fest. The middle they have drawn is absolutely stunning to say the least. Picking and mixing between their two albums, as well as extending and improvising within their own songs, The Mars Volta took the concept of musicianship to very left-field and exciting places. Energetic, virtuosic, mesmerising, and totally off the hook, the band's set drifted from Pink Floyd-esque delay journeys, to punishing punk rock thrash, with neither (nor anything in between) seeming at all out of place. It's quite tragic that the band aren't just a tiny bit more commercially viable, as it would have been brilliant to have seen them on one of the bigger stages, but seeing them at all is enough of a treat... especially seeing them like this... at their best.
Being such a colossal punk and garage rock icon, it was no surprise that Iggy swaggered on stage in his familiar attire of light blue jeans, rough stubble and a leathery bronzed complexion. The rest of The Stooges clearly hadn't aged as well as Mr Pop and didn't look at all rock 'n' roll even with their instruments slung around their necks. However, when launching into a blistering version of Loose, it became apparent that founding member Ron Asheton, was still the fierce guitar player he was back in 1970. New boy Mike Watt seemed the perfect fit for the band as he took up bass duties, although original saxophonist Steve McKay was, for the most part, drowned out completely. Watching from the wings was none other than Henry Rollins, who had performed earlier that day. Famed for being a huge Stooges fan, the head-banging Rollins was almost as energetic as Iggy, who at this point had climbed a stack of amps and was violently beating his bare chest. The expected set list of favourites soon followed, including TV Eye, I Wanna Be Your Dog and Dirt. Iggy lived up to his wild onstage persona, swinging his microphone around helicopter fashion until it eventually tied him up. He then brought roughly 30 audience members from the front row onto the stage for a stomping rendition of No Fun. It seemed the band had clearly decided to play vintage Stooges material only, as Iggy Pop solo hits such as Nightclubbing and Lust For Life never surfaced. Strangely enough, Stooges favourites such as Gimme Danger and Search And Destroy were also missing.
Determined to meet their West Australian hoodoo head on, Sydneysiders Cog schooled the humble crowd in true grit and contemporary Australian heavy. These guys have had so many unfortunate occurrences befall them during their trips west you knew tonight they would lie down for no man, and from the opening passages of Anarchy OK it was a dead set fist fight. As F Gower's guitar feed began to falter he shot his amp one of those looks you never want to be on the end of before it heeled steadfast; and when Borich had a stick go southward mid track, he simply snatched another on the upswing before thrashing his toms as an example to all the other sticks. And that's how a good half of the set played out before the unstoppable drive of The Spine broke the hoodoo's back once and for all. Settling into the home stretch the band's performance was hindered by a somewhat lazy mix preventing the night from being a true win for the trio, but crowd favourites like the Leftfield cover Open Up and My Enemy rounded out a characteristically gutsy performance.
Perhaps to make up for the fact there were only two people on a massive stage, The White Stripes lavish set design was easily the most extensive of the day, including palm trees and a regal-looking apple plastered on a backdrop. Jack White's latest uniform of a white suit and black hat was on full display, though obviously he had decided to lose the spindly moustache. Their mandatory renditions of Jolene, Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground and My Door Bell were undoubtedly the highlights of an intense set. Still looking slightly nervous after all these years, Meg left her apple skin design drum kit for the spotlight to perform Cold Cold Night. Possibly inspired by Joss Stone's version, Fell In Love With A Girl was slowed right down, featuring Jack on piano. However, the audience favourite was cut short to make room for a sweltering version of Hardest Button To Button. Jack, being humble, commented on just how hard it was to follow Iggy And The Stooges, though it must be said, The White Stripes make a lot of noise for just two people.
Exploding with Empty Shell and a mix that put the big stages to shame Shihad were simply sensational. Front man and part time rake Jon Toogood's skinny white man bravado was in career best form scaling anything remotely scalable while the bass lines expelled from Karl Kippenberger's roid fuelled rig threatened complete and crowd wide rectal prolapse. These guys have such an amazing back catalogue now a hit-laden run home was never in doubt and sure enough the crowd were treated to smoking renditions of classic tracks like My Mind's Sedate, Pacifier, Run, Wait And See and the manic ferocity of Alive. The final band slot of 2006 could not have been delegated any better and as the lads tied it off with the angst soaked Day Will Come the curtain was lowered on one of the highlights of the festival; not a bad way to finish your Big Day Out by any stretch.
As the thousands of punters exited the ground, with the echoes of the day's music ringing in their ears, there was a sense of accomplishment shared by many. The accomplishment of a great day. Not to detract from the artists, whose efforts and talents can be applauded in every which way, but it is the punters who make or break a festival. Even in such large numbers, the Perth crowd treated this year's Big Day Out like a gathering of friends, rather than of strangers, and no matter which way you look at it, that is something truly magical.
CHRIS HAVERCROFT, GRANT McCULLOCH, ROBERT PENNEY & MIKE WAFER