The capital of Western Australia, the most isolated mainland city on earth, played host to the final leg of the annual touring extravaganza that is the Big Day Out.
While England was huddled into scarves and winter coats, musicOMH stood topless among 40,000 sweating punters slowly roasting in 35 degree heat to catch as many of the 58 acts as we could over this truly eclectic twelve hour programme.
As their name suggests, these guys are angry, vehemently against their nation’s foreign policy and have many an expletive filled melody with which to convey such sentiments. Die For Your Government sets off the first proper pit of the day, as the attentive (and ultra crowd friendly) security workers begin hosing down the steaming mass of sweaty individuals. Their message may be somewhat repetitive, but it is certainly consistent; and with fellow activist types like Billy Bragg and The Nightwatchman on the bill, unity and resistance will turn out to be key themes today.
Inside an industrial cow shed on the other side of the site, younger attendees of the festival are busy building human pyramids in the Enter Shikari mosh pit, under the watchful eye of adolescent frontman Rou Reynolds while over on the boiler room stage, Dizzie Rascal is rocking out with Fix Up Look Sharp instigating mass midday revelry. Recent single Pussy’ole sets the already packed area bouncing, and Flex leaves the punters gasping to replace lost liquids.
In the late afternoon sun, as sleeping drunks lay beneath heaving ferris wheels and spinning rides,Arcade Fire take to the stage and proceed to make music for the more discerning, educated listener. Providing strings, brass, percussion and other instruments I couldn’t name if I tried, the Canadian collective blast out numbers like Wake Up and Windowsill with calculated precision, but I can’t help but think that to appreciate this band at their best a dimly lit cafe venue would be preferable to the overheated funfair of the Claremont Showground.
Meanwhile, the Converse stage has swapped the youthful fervour of post-hardcore for the reflective passion of a more seasoned audience, who are here to digest the cockney wisdom of Billy Bragg. They listen intently to the Bard of Barking’s politically progressive solo set despite a guitar that is far too loud with tones that resemble a distorted violin. Mr Bragg pours scorn on the cynics, sings Woody Guthrie‘s praises and even finds time for a well received cover with Kate Nash. Keeping the acoustic flavours roasting away on the essential stage, The Nightwatchman takes to the stage armed with a pair of reflector glasses and a classical guitar. The gritty blues of his Dylan influenced One Man Revolution makes for enchanting listening, but a cattle shed hardly seems to do the vulnerability of his music justice. Nevertheless, whatever is lacking in ambiance is made up for with a brilliant reworking of AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in tribute to George W. and his oil craving cabinet.
Given the track record of Mr Bush’s foreign policy it’s easy to see why the world is angry at him, but the question I’m left to ponder as Silverchair take to the stage is when did Daniel Johns steal David Hick’s title of Australia’s most hated man? Ok, so the three piece have softened and broadened their musical approach over the past six years, but the level of sheer contempt from profane homemade t-shirts to relentless heckling is nothing short of cruel and unjustified. Israel’s son and Freak do permit the bleach-blonde frontman to claw some iota of credibility back with his ‘haters’, but neither side seems to leave the set fulfilled, with Daniel closing by informing us this will be their ‘last gig in a very, very long time.’ Could this signal the end of the road for the trio?
Björk is weird. Not bad weird, like Michael Jackson, but weird nevertheless. She provides a dazzling stage show complete with all female brass section and multiple electronic knob twiddlers. Lasers and lights dance across the sky as old hits intertwine with newer songs like Earth Intruders, and the diminutive Icelandic chick is seems genuinely appreciative of all the applause she receives. Closing with an extended version of the electronic anthem Declare Independence, the last song is perhaps an ideologically appropriate introduction to tonight’s wildly anticipated headliners, Rage Against The Machine.
The lights go up, the roars of expectance are deafening, and then it happens, Morello’s high strung guitar squeals the intro to Testify and bedlam is unleashed. Before even the first chorus, the PA is blown and those front of stage are treated to a vocal only reprise conducted by Zack, while the sound issues are quickly fixed and Bulls On Parade sends any who forgot to leave the pit after Björk scurrying for their lives.
They might have had seven years off, but Bullet In The Head, Vietnow, and Bombtrack are played with the vitality, raw power and intensity of a band reborn and revived. The fact that Zack barely utters a word between songs only heightens the intensity of the enraged dissidence of his lyrics. Sleep Now In The Fire is conducted with sarcastic smiles all round, and the gut wrenching Freedom leaves the pit in tatters before the mandatory closing number sees 40,000 raised middle fingers stuck into the night sky, while the other hand holds fingers crossed in the hope that this brief glimpse of RATM reunited will stretch beyond a single greatest hits tour. Here’s to hoping.
Big Day Out 2008 @ Claremont Showground, Perth, Australia