Another Big Day Out

The Chaplain, the Archivist and myself are veterans of many music festivals, but have rather fallen out of the Big Day Out habit lately. However, with Iggy on the bill, we were at least guaranteed not to be the oldest guys in attendance, so interest was rekindled.

As if to prove ourselves out of the loop, we were caught short by this year’s ticket rush. It seems Alternative is big business nowadays. But ticketing is a black art akin to alchemy at times, so at the last minute tickets appeared as if dropped from the sky. You beaut!

Then we heard it was going to be 40 degrees. We were about to find out if three middle aged white guys could still handle the heat.

At the risk of invoking the wrath of Crio or Harms, I’ve never followed the ponies, so I must confess my only previous Flemington experience is the occasional car park in the days of the BDO’s Showgrounds occupancy. I had dim memories of an arid gravel wasteland. It was a relief to see broad, grassed expanses and plentiful shade upon entering this day. Further into the site, the Flemington roses were in for a torrid afternoon. With the sun already high and fierce, it was time to get to it.

Word had it that England’s Jim Jones Revue were well schooled in the arts of both Rock and Roll, so they were our first port of call. Word proved to be correct, as they spurned the heat and tore into a furious set of old style rock, with a good lashing of Beasts of Bourbon flavouring thrown in. If Jerry Lee Lewis is still in the market for a backing band, I think we have his answer.

Having started at a cracking pace, we took it down a notch. Megan Washington was appearing in the Melbourne metropolitan area without the presence of stalker, sorry, Almanacker, Andrew Fithall- a possible first. With a repertoire of mid-tempo pop and melodious balladry, to go with a fast developing farmer’s tan, this might have been a tricky outdoor festival sell. Never fear, as Ms Washington is not lacking for sass and panache. She soon had the crowd lapping it up.

Despite her efforts, it was hard not to be drawn to the hilarity breaking out on the Green stage, as the Andrew W.K. show got rolling. Resplendent in white tank top and jeans, Mr W.K. attacked his performance with a certain goofball charm, and the presence of his leotard-clad wife leading the communal aerobics was a nice touch. But sadly, it soon transpired that there’s only so many songs with “party” in the title that you can listen to consecutively, so we moved on.

Escaping the main crush, we found ourselves in a canopy and bitumen slaughterhouse answering to the title “Essentials” stage. This hardly seemed a conducive setting for Gareth Liddiard’s drawling, meandering tales of high plains mailmen and strange tourists, but he seemed as undaunted as ever, regaling the crowd of Drones devotees with pungent between song banter . Though not really festival suited, it was good that one of last year’s better albums could get another festival airing.

Wandering across to the Boiler Room, it was blaringly apparent South African rap/rave collective Die Antwoord were holding court. Initially, the eye was drawn to the large, inflatable Casper the Friendly Ghost at stage left. More specifically, the eye focused on the enormous inflatable hard-on that Casper was sporting. Casper’s smile suggested he was very pleased with himself. As you were pondering the significance of this visual treat, it soon registered that the video backdrop seemed to be an XXX-rated version of Where The Wild Things Are. You could never accuse Die Antwoord of being one of those dance acts with nothing visual going on. The overall effect was enhanced by the vocal styling of their female MC, which I could only describe as Riottt Girl Smurf. I couldn’t claim to have a clue what any of the songs were about – except for the one where they just kept shouting “pussy”-  but I was left wondering just what went on at South African dance parties.

It seemed a good time for a drink. Taking in the passing parade, the largely youthful crowd seemed  in fine spirits, much as they ever were. Viv Lees and Ken West have always encouraged tolerance by the eclectic nature of their line-ups. The main visual difference is the amount if ink. Tattoo parlours are no longer the domain of bikers and ex-cons. Now it seems they’re filled with every second suburban boy and girl wanting to stamp their individuality. One for the sociologists perhaps.

Looking to position ourselves for the evening fare, some other bloke called Butler, accompanied by a couple of other guys, was finishing up his set. Personally, I’ve had to endure so many lame jokes on account of this particular Johnny-come-lately, that he would have to part the Red Sea with his guitar before I’d even consider being impressed. Leaving these issues aside, I have to say his particular brand of Byron jam-bandery seemed seriously under-gauged compared to the fire power to follow. But others obviously disagreed.

For those naysayers still doubting that God was a Stooges fan, the cool change blew in right on cue for the arrival of Iggy and crew. Suddenly the crowd took on an older aspect, to match the stage. Pushing 64, James Osterberg Jr – aka Iggy Pop, Iggy Stooge, Little Johnny Jewel and many less polite nom de plumes – is still a miracle of modern pharmacology. It must be noted though, that the ravages of age and lifestyle finally seem to be catching up, even if they’re decades late. The bared torso still seems hewn from a gnarled tree trunk, but Iggy now has a limp that in other Flemington contexts would have the vet screens out. To his other claims, maybe he’s now the Richard III of rock as well.

Not that Iggy appeared to give a f—k. He seemed as up for the joke as ever. Hell, the band’s called the Stooges after all. The biggest laugh of all is that this particular world’s forgotten boy kept on reminding us, and now gets to tap into the baby boomer nostalgia cash- as a decided alternative to the Eagles- whilst still playing to their grand-kids.

The Archivist had ventured inside the D barrier, and as the opening chords of Search and Destroy fired up, I could swear I saw him levitate above the scrum. I suspect he then joined Iggy with his own version of dancing in tongues. Though he’s old enough to be their grandad, the Iggster can still chew up and spit out most modern front men. A recommendation for ageing disgracefully.

How to follow that up? The Chaplain, rather disquietingly, was fired up for the Rammstein spectacular. But I maintain that if you’ve seen one pyrotechnic, sadomasochistic, high camp German metal band, you’ve seen them all. So I went wandering. Primal Scream were delivering a particularly languid rendering of their Screamadelica album, but the Nuevo New York dance beats of LCD Soundsystem offered a more energising alternative.

Soon enough, it was back to catch the highly theatrical dénouement to Rammstein’s set. The way the music biz is nowadays, expect the musical to be playing the Regent in a couple of years.

And so to the night’s main stage headliners. There are plenty of reasons I shouldn’t like Tool. They seem to take themselves more seriously than Jim Morrison on a bad day. And any discussion of their music couldn’t completely ignore the dreaded phrases Prog and Art Rock. Unlike ol’ Dionysius pants, Tool front man Maynard will never grace a T-shirt or feature in an Ollie Stone bio pic. Despite all of this, I find them compelling enough that I pass up the opportunity to join the Chaplain in watching St Nick do his Grinderman thing.

In an age when it’s easy to suspect the game is rigged, and when we can’t bring ourselves to seriously face large and looming questions, the ominous rumble that underpins Tool’s sound seems all too apt. Their disturbing, sometimes nightmarish videos complement the music as well as any band’s ever have, whilst band members themselves try to disappear on stage, immersed in the wash of sight and sound, the building and release of tension. If the Apocalypse should eventuate, Tool seem as likely a candidate as any to provide the soundtrack. Available, no doubt, on iTunes.

On that cheerful note, it seems a good time to end these ramblings. The Big Day Out continues the noble quest of presenting diversity in an increasingly pigeon-holed music scene. Unlike some other big name promoters, Lees and West take the trouble and expense to look after the punters with decent facilities and chilled out security. As a result, 52,000 (mainly) young people congregated in extreme heat with nary an unpleasant incident reported. Not that you’d read about that on the front page of the Herald Sun.

And three middle aged clowns lived to fight another day.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.


  1. Andrew Fithall says:

    Great effort JB. I am not even offended by your reference. And if people would like some evidence “that the ravages of age and lifestyle finally seem to be catching up” to Iggy Pop, they can go to for a whole lot of BDO photos by Carbie Warbie. Be warned: plenty of skin.

    As we discussed, I happened across a couple of tickets to BDO but passed them on to my 16 year old who took a mate. The heat got the better of them. Helen and I went along to Laneway on Saturday. It was a very pleasant day, and surprisingly, without a drop of rain. While I was pleased with the performances, on reflection, nothing stood out. Deerhunter would have been great except for their last 15 mintes. Beach House were very good but not the best venue for them. They would have been excellent at the Rooftop a couple of Mondays ago. I had seen Holy F#@k on Thursday at The HI Fi and am seeing Jenny and Johnny on Wednesday so bypassed both their performances. Apparently they were very good.

    A couple of observations about the Footscray Laneway venue: the River Stage is one of the best places to see bands. A well grassed hill leading down to the stage with the Maribyrnong right behind. The main stage on the other hand, with no gradient, is not well set up for the vertically challenged.

    Looking forward to a couple more festivals (Golden Plains and then Apollo Bay – where I believe Washington might even be playng!!!) before the music season is out.

  2. John Butler says:

    I’m sure Megan will be delighted to see you AF. Enthusiastic fans are always welcome. Ignore my attempts at humour.

    Laneway has survived a couple of chequered years. Did things run more smoothly this year?

  3. Andrew Fithall says:

    JB. This was my second Laneway. The report of last year’s can be found at This year Laneway was again a well-run festival. I had the early word via twitter that Rat vs Possum had been cancelled because they were repairing the River stage and it wouldn’t be completed on time. That was a disappointment. I believe thay have been promised a spot next year. Some of the scheduling was a problem – for me. Cut Copy I don’t believe justify the last slot on the main stage. Crowd behavior was generally good, which given my intolerance (over-exuberant dancing is enough to destroy the moment for me – and don’t even think about singing along)is an achievement. The following is from a review on “A funny thing happens to Laneway once the lights go down and the big names begin to appear. The wide-eyed, fashionably dressed “hipsters” (aka Young People That Everyone <30 is Bitching About) go to the alt-headliners' stages or internet messageboards or disappear completely, and a previously unseen swarm of drunken guys and dolls on pills sprout from the ground near the largest stage."

    Helen and I didn't have a drink all day – didn't like the beer choices, and I am not nearly hip enough to try cider. Food catering looked to have been improved on last year.

    Helen has said she probably won't go next year. I will wait to see the line-up. We didn't have as many friends in attendance this year. Ken was a late scratching because of potential water damage to his house in Bendigo. Having people to meet up with and compare notes with is one of the attractions of these multi-stage festivals.

    Summary – Laneway organisers have done another good job. I enjoyed, without being in raptures about, the music. And I like the venue other than the main stage viewing as mentioned in comment #1. And Big Day Out – again future attendance will be governed by line-ups. To compare the two, I would certainly prefer Laneway over BDO.

  4. Rick Kane says:

    Thanks for the write up on BDO JB. There really wasn’t much on the BDO ticket to sell it for me. But I do want to catch Rammstein one day. I have been told by one whose music opinion I regard highly that Rammstein is the only band Springsteen couldn’t follow. That I have to see.

    And AF, you’re selling me on Laneway, particularly with your point about the River Stage.


  5. John Butler says:

    RK, I think Rammstein are one of those bands you need to see once, which I have done before.

    I felt a law of diminishing returns setting in after that. But the beauty of music is that many others obviously disagree. Given the number who watched them this time, compared to what else was on, their popularity grows.

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