If there was left field music at the Big Day Out, then Battles
were probably about another 10km left of that. The experimental trio from New York may have lost a member since the last time they were on our shores, but they still drew an inquisitive crowd to the Essential Stage. Battles are a lot of fun to watch live and their setup is unique. The lanky Ian Williams swaps between tapping away on guitar one minute to simultaneously tapping away on two keyboards the next, while drummer John Stanier is positioned at the front of the stage with his comically elevated high-hat. The trio worked closely together to bring to life all the complex experimental rock of their albums Mirrored
and Gloss Drop
. At times it was like watching a headline gig from someone’s backing band because all of the guest vocals were pre-recorded and shown on a screen in the background (Gary Numan or Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino’s head would appear and distract from the rest of the band). Battles didn’t talk to the crowd much either – I’m not sure if they were shy or just drained from the heat – but they were a lot of fun regardless.
Like any music festival, it’s impossible to see everyone - there are always some inevitable clashes in the timetable. So while I really wanted to stay and watch grunge legends Soundgarden
– who sounded amazing with Chris Cornell howling away up front – I was dragged away by my mates only a fraction into their set to go and see Foster the People
instead. Judging by how packed the Green Stage tent was, I was probably not the only person coaxed into watching the American indie pop band. While dancing away like a git to their inoffensive bubblegum pop, I couldn’t help thinking about the difference commercial airplay can make to a band’s career. It was only in February last year that Foster the People had played a show at the intimate Northcote Social Club. Since then they’ve received a flogging on triple j and commercial radio stations alike, which would have certainly helped them attract their packed out Big Day Out crowd. But they seem like nice lads and songs like ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, ‘Helena Beat’ and ‘Call It What You Want’ are catchy little dancefloor ditties that are bound to put a smile on even the most ‘miserable’ emo's face.
Finally the time came for one of the Big Day Out’s most controversial and mainstream headliners in the festival’s 20 years: Kanye West
. The Blue Stage was packed shoulder to shoulder as people filed into the D barrier to secure a view. The crowd was abuzz with excited mumblings and chatter. This would be Mr West’s last Big Day Out performance for the tour. He would have to pull out the big guns, right? As the lights dimmed, the crowd let out an almighty roar. It had begun.
Everything about Kanye’s set was planned to the finest detail. It was like a well-oiled machine that had been tuned to perfection by the megastar. As a flock of ballerinas twirled around the stage in unison, the man himself appeared on a crane in the middle of the crowd and began rhyming to opener ‘Dark Fantasy’. He then descended and walked through the heaving masses via a carefully placed barrier while an enormous bodyguard trailed closely behind and slapped away pesky hands. By the time he made it onto the stage he had the audience eating out of his palm. Never have I seen so many people transfixed by one performer - it was quite amazing.
Kanye – or 'Yeezy’ as he has been affectionately dubbed – divided his set into three separate acts and spread some of his biggest hits throughout. ‘Jesus Walks’, ‘Power’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ were all well-received and got plenty of hands waving in the air. Given the amount of collaborators Kanye records with, samples were frequently used throughout and songs were altered to include only his verses. This meant that one of my personal favourites, ‘Monster’, had to trail off somewhat awkwardly without Nicki Minaj’s verse.
I’ll be honest: I prefer rock to hip-hop. This being said, one of the main things that bugged me about Kanye’s set was just how choreographed it was. One song would finish and lead straight into the next one. There was a little bit of rambling in between but everything flowed a little too smoothly. I didn’t feel like we were watching something spontaneous and honest – it felt like we were watching an elaborate production starring one overly inflated ego. At least at a rock gig things can go wrong, like the guitarist will break a string mid-song or the singer will turned up pissed off his face and forget the lyrics. These are things that give live gigs honesty and charm. It was for this reason that I decided to ditch Mr West and go and check out what was happening on the other stages.
Tucked away on the Essential Stage, Cavalera Conspiracy
closed the night to a small but dedicated crowd who were treated to a couple of Sepultura classics including ‘Attitude’ and thumping closer, ‘Roots’. Frontman Max Cavalera may be older and greyer now but he’s lost none of his passion for heavy music. Meanwhile, Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds
closed the Green Stage with some typically English alternative rock. The former Oasis frontman was in good spirits, jokingly telling the crowd to fuck off when everyone put their hands up and claimed they were from also from Manchester. The headlining honours in the Boiler Room were awarded to Nero
, who looked like something out of Tron with their space age lighting displays and futuristic wraparound glasses. Dubstep can be a little tricky to dance to at the best of times, but their triple j smash ‘Promises’ had the whole tent jumping and singing along.
And that was it. Another Big Day Out done and dusted. Those who sweltered through the blistering heat were rewarded with a diverse mix of sets that highlighted the array of local and international talent around at the moment. Fingers crossed that Big Day Out returns next year so we can do it all again.
For more images and the first half of our review, check out our band gallery.