We cover Kanye and Parkway, Battles and Best Coast, Mariachis and Racists, odd Frenzal and Odd Future, and the rest at this year’s Big Day Out.
Of course it was hot. Ken West should somehow exploit his uncanny ability to schedule the Melbourne BDO in stifling heat every year. But, as Matt Caughtran from Mariachi El Bronx reminded us, it was hotter on stage in a black, silver-spangled three-piece suit. Dart to a different sauna every twenty minutes for the complete effect of BDO 2012 (occasionally visiting the piss sauna of the toilets).
We perspired into the grounds for Papa Vs Pretty, guilelessly exposing their influences and age by covering ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, then completing a set of ambitious modern rock with not one of their triplej-flogged singles. Hmmm.
Following Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’ as an intro track, that radio station’s afternoon host Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall cheerily back-announced PvsP before his brat-punk veterans Frenzal Rhomb went along a more characteristic route: slagging everyone/thing through the medium of frantic punk and singer Jay’s intermittent roars. As long as it’s fast and ugly and funny, the fans were happy. It was all three.
More hyperactive kids appeared, actually performing this time, in the lanky form of Kentucky’s Cage The Elephant. The crowd was thick and bustling enough for singer Matt Shultz to surf it, in keeping with the scattershot power-pop energy and sing-along choruses. The levels officially clicked up one notch. More sweat earned.
A different kind of testosterone brewed back on the main stage. Byron’s metalcore megastar bros Parkway Drive called upon years of live experience to somehow make normal the incongruous sight and sound of death-dealing hardcore horror performed by sun-bleached dudes in boardies. Thus, the menacing whirlpool pit they inspired had dual connotations and the beachballs bounding across the crowd were black like their hearts.
The other, lazier sound of summer came from LA’s Best Coast. Those hoping for a haven of cats and bongs and bare feet in the sand might’ve been disappointed, Beth & Co.’s drowsy guitar dreams never really catching on. A good band for the sun, but not under a sweltering tent.
To the next, more cloistered, tent of the Hot Produce stage (Boiled Plums, perhaps?) where local garage-psych crazies King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard hit everything against everything else. They were surprisingly tight for a seven-piece, even if two of those play maracas and harmonica respectively. If they can keep chanelling this chaos, we’re in for much more fun.
Crazy calls shortly, as we prepare for the notoriously notorious Odd Future (feat. Tyler The Controversy Creator). Sadly, their sinister minimalist beats sunk through the bottom of the Boiler Room, leaving a sea of puzzled youngsters having swear words yelled at them by angry boys, while waiting for something notoriously controversial to happen. We got bored waiting. They did Tyler’s ‘Yonkers’, reportedly, and every kid sang every word. Fuckin’ walking paradox.
Now the music critic shame descends: Hilltop Hoods were far more edifying than OFWTFBBQ. The routinely sneered-at but multi-platinum Oz-hoppers had songs with hooks and melodies, performed them with discipline, and pandered successfully with kookaburra sounds, a reggae ‘Hard Road’ intro, and a ‘Fuck you!’ (or some other profanity) chant. They played that ‘Nosebleed Section’ song that everyone can’t help whistling along to. Nuts. Time to hand in my beard and checkered shirts.
Walked past Norway’s Royksopp to be surprised by a mostly live trio (one in a lace balaclava, fearsome metal collar and ludicrous cloak) performing what could be best described as a prospective soundtrack for Night Rider: The Movie. Wow.
“Professional rappers from America playing American rap songs”, Das Racist, were a bizarre treat in the Steamed Peaches tent. They at once mocked and embraced the best and worst of rap clichés: gesticulating wildly (around a netbook), deadpanning surreal lyrics, repeating the line from the top of this paragraph, ending complete songs with airhorns, Heems and Kool miming “hitting it out of the park”, and their DJ rubbing his nipples and posing endlessly. Absolutely fun and odd and on point. I get my beard and checkered shirts back.
Sadly, a bottleneck of the best acts meant we had to be dragged away from the utterly adorably joyful Mariachi El Bronx, the muy caliente version of LA’s punk rock punishers. The Bronx, plus a cadre of Latin masters, produced swooning, danceable, romantic and tragic tunes that had a packed Stewed Kiwifruit stage beaming and dancing like carefree guests at the end of a Mexican wedding. The band were humbled, but probably only because they were the best.
In fact, they should’ve swapped stages with New York musical engineers Battles. The audience was sparse and noticeably aged, but were treated to a militaristic exercise in exhilaration. These three men are experts. An almost-wholly Gloss Drop set was meticulously constructed with John Stanier’s jaw-dropping drum drills, Ian Williams’ tilted keyboards-and-guitar (played concurrently, somehow) battle station and Dave Konopka’s bass and guitar reloading, with vocalists Gary Newman and Matias Aguayo guesting on the screens. It even inspired awkward jerky dancing. From me. It’s still boiling but we’re back.
Speaking of… Girl Talk’s spectacle at the Boiler Room – helium balloon explosions, spark showers, crowds-on-stage, confetti cannons and the most beach balls yet – almost elevated Greg Gillis’ current status as “world’s greatest wedding DJ” to something more. Almost.
Kanye West. The walking id. Sex and religion. Pride and shame. Wild ambition. Two hours of his psyche laid bare to an ocean of occasionally baffled punters. Opening with spine-chilling operatic swell and a flock of ballet dancers, Mr West was raised on a scissor lift to ‘Dark Fantasy’s’ “Can we get much higher” refrain. At a stormy dusk, often perched on the precipice of the stage, Yeezy flailed through his God-goading epics ‘Power’, ‘Jesus Walks’, ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’, ‘Hell Of A Life’, and ‘Monster’, mostly edited down to his verses only. After ‘Flashing Lights’ and ‘Good Life’ he departed the stage and “Act 2” flashed up over the monolithic backdrop of Renaissance angels. Whoa. We’re just getting started.
Shed a tear for 808s time. Through a seething ‘Love Lockdown’, ‘Say You Will’ and ‘Heartless’, Kanye cursed those soul-stealing vixens who won’t respond to his dick pics. Then we get a medley of Rihanna’s ‘Run This Town’, ‘Through The Wire’, ‘All Falls Down’, ‘American Boy’ and ‘Touch The Sky’. Then the biggest and/or most-fragile ego in hip-hop proclaimed the intro over. The 16-song intro.
“She takes my money, when I’m in need” and Kanye wallops the crowd with three massive hits. He had a bit of playful fun with a gargantuan ‘All Of The Lights’, dropping the music right as the throngs sang “Our nigga dead!”, then halting the show to give us whiteys a hood-pass just for this song, and starting again from the beginning. Act 2 finished with a bristling ‘Stronger’.
“Act 3”? This is when some crowd-members started milling about and leaking out during a shimmering white sheet set change, having already heard that Ray Charles/Daft Punk song they were waiting for. Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire theme opens to Kanye on a white podium in MJ (or young Eddie Murphy) red leather in front of a keyboard, so ‘Runaway’. It drags, as quite a few of this arch-narcissist’s tunes do, and ‘Lost In The World’ ends with an extended, uncomfortable autobiographical soliloquy delivered by Kanye flat on his back.
We’re at two hours now in this spectacular. It soon winds up with a surprisingly affecting ‘Hey Mama’ and a long theatrical bow from his two musicians and the fleet of dancers. The post-adrenaline rush of seeing one of the most ambitious musicians of our time in full flight is dizzying, despite the understandable lack of Watch The Throne songs and a soft ending.
As the trains shuttle away and we look back at Flemington, thousands have stayed for Nero, whose thudding EDM might even feel like a warm-down from ‘Ye. Utterly worth it, through the heat, for the “worst BDO line-up in years”. Impeccably handled once again.