The Big Day Out Revival


Snoop Dogg plays the Big Day Out Auckland.

I awoke this morning too tired to move, calf muscles aching with music ringing in my ears and immediately a massive grin made its way across my face.

Big Day Out NZ is back, and back with a vengeance.

I headed along to Western Springs in Auckland yesterday to check out the festivals return after a year off. It felt like a new event. A change in venue should have happened years ago, it was the perfect move to breath new life into New Zealand’s longest and biggest running music festival. The plush green grass at the lakeside venue made for a welcome change to the concrete steps one used to have to elbow their way up at Mt Smart Stadium. There were trees for shade – a welcome addition in the hot summers day. Transitioning between stages was fast, free flowing and easy. The only downside was the long queues for toilets and drinks. After one 45-minute wait to get a beer on the scorching hot day only to be told I had to drink it in the fenced off bar area I wasn’t too happy. But the one thing you know will always be great at Big Day Out – the music, quickly redeemed this slight downer on my mood. And boy-oh-boy – there was a HEAP of good music.

The day started out strongly with Alaskan rock band Portugal. The Man. The psychedelic group was quick to impress what was a big crowd for a 1pm performance.  Then I was off to see the 1975, an electronica-rock band from Manchester who’re taking Britain by storm at the moment. What an experience. These newcomers are going to be massive, they put on an electric, fun and fast paced performance which had fans dancing with ridiculous enthusiasm, me included. But it wasn’t a show only for fans, I’d say a large number of the crowd unfamiliar with them would have walked away from the gig ready to go home and buy their album.

Then came US indie band Grouplove. What charisma! They were such an amusing act to watch, it would have been impossible not to enjoy. They were dynamic and unique and stood out as a highlight of the day for many. A few times during their show I was reminded of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sound and stage presence with singer Hannah Hooper regularly reflecting a young Karen O. Their biggest hit Tongue Tied went down as you’d imagine, with the crowd leaping high in the air, mouths open screaming along in excitement.  Grouplove are another band to watch closely.

The next few hours saw a split in crowds to a number of acts who prove the diversity of artists at Big Day Out. Fans spread out to see Kiwi favourites the Naked and Famous, rock out in style as usual. Toro Y Moi –the brainchild of American writer and producer Chazwick Bundick was a hit with its use of heavy synthesizers, looping and filtered vocals. Hardcore rockers Primus drew a big crowd while local DJ P Money caused a stir for so early in the afternoon. Swedish rock band the Hives were a popular replacement for Blur, who pulled out of the festival just a month out from touring. I am kicking myself for missing them because everyone who saw them was fizzing afterwards calling it an obvious highlight of the day.  Mean time, I decided to check out American rapper Mac Miller who was the only disappointment of the day. He failed to really perform leaving the whole show feeling dull and lifeless.

Then came the highlight. I’d waited years to see Montreal indie rockers Arcade Fire play again. I first discovered them at the 2008 Big Day Out so the excitement this time round was hard for me to contain. Turns out now I’ve seen them play again there’s no chance of holding it in. What a show! Kicking off the hour and a half set, the 10-piece-band opened with Ready to Start, a big hit off their 2010 album The Suburbs. The pace and energy started huge and it stayed there the whole gig. The rockers leapt around the stage with enormous liveliness playing a great mix of old favourites and bringing to life the songs from their newly released album Reflektor which has received a lot of criticism. The Haiti inspired tracks were electric live. Front man Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne have few rivals when it comes to the worlds best performers as they have a crack at every instrument on stage, sing with steady brilliance and genuinely look like they’re having the time of their lives. As the set finished with a vibrant Wake Up the massive crowd of fans who had flocked to see them couldn’t have looked happier. For me, no other act in the day could top it.

After that we trudged to see the eclectic Snoop Dogg. This act was easily one of the most entertaining performances you can find. The crowd was made up of the most interesting combination of people I’ve ever come across in my concert going. He read his crowd brilliantly. Snoop knew exactly when they needed a pick up and he knew exactly how to do it. “When I say sticky, you say icky!” is just one example of his bizarre creativity inspiring the masses watching on. Old favourites like Drop it like it’s Hot were just what everyone came to see and he made sure they got exactly that.

Then it was off to catch one of the biggest rock bands this planet has to offer, Pearl Jam. What a loyal crowd. They were amazing to watch from the edge of the stadium grounds as they were trusted by lead singer Eddie Vedder to sing the words to the most renowned songs. They moshed hard and listened intently to the incredible guitar solos. A proud Kiwi Big Day Out moment emerged as Vedder welcomed Liam Finn up on stage to “sing the shit out of” Habit. And he did just that. All sang the favourites everyone knows like Daughter and Better Man loudly. It was a show to cater for all levels of Pearl Jam fans from the people like me who prefer the more mellow jams to the diehard fans.

With a clashing timetable I was saddened to miss popular 2013 folk-rock newcomers the Lumineers, and Tame Impala who’re known for their energetic live act. But overlapping events is something you have to accept at an event of this size, especially when it had a line up of such caliber.

I’m pleased to see Big Day Out back to its former glory if not better, this festival is a part of New Zealand’s music culture and the 45,000 people who turned up yesterday proved we’re keen for it to stay. Bring on next year.