It's Sat. morning (Jan. 18) and all of Auckland is
basking in the afterglow of the Big Day Out '97. In fact, this turned out to be
the Biggest Day Out ever with promoters claiming to have crammed over 35,000
"punters" into Ericsson Stadium. Fifty-three bands, including Soundgarden, The
Offspring, Supergrass, The Lemonheads, Shonen Knife and The Prodigy, played on
five stages over 12 hours.
Unlike last year, when I almost drowned during
Elastica's set, the weather was perfect, with sun block essential. The
technical problems that have marred the sound on the main stages in the past
seemed to be worked out this year. Everything ran like clockwork, one band
would finish their set and another started up, within minutes, next
As usual, New Zealand bands were featured heavily during the first
few hours and this year the cream of Kiwi music was here. This year was a
particularly good one for native New Zealand bands and most of them, including
Solid Gold Hell, Garageland, Shihad, Bic Runga, The Dead Flowers and the 3-Ds,
turned in solid sets. The standout was Superette. The three-piece's gentle
dissonance sounded just right in the hot midday sun.
Australia's You Am I
hit the main stage...
Australia's You Am I hit the main stage with their own
brand of Who-inspired '60s R&B. These guys know how to work a crowd, with front
man Tim Rogers establishing a meaningful dialogue by raving about drummer
Russel Hopkinson's recipe for chutney. He also instructed the crowd to "take a
close look at what we're wearing (black 3-piece suits) 'cause you're gonna look
like this next year." They then threatened to blow our minds with a version of
Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It," and almost did.
Supergrass followed with more '60s-style pop. Maybe it was the somewhat muddy
sound mix, but the band seemed to have a hard time making a dent in the growing
crowd. The set included "Caught By The Fuzz," "Going Out," a couple of new
songs, one called "Melanie Davis" and a crowd-pleaser, "Alright." The band was
augmented by a fourth musician who's keyboard filled in their sound
After Supergrass, it was out of the sun and into the tent where The
Lemonheads were due on Stage 3. I've never been a big Evan Dando fan,
especially after reading the knuckle-headed comments from him in various
interviews plugging the group's recent album, Car Button Cloth; but he
and the band played a series of catchy pop tunes, mostly from the new album,
that went down fine.
The snafu came 30 minutes into the set when the band
left Dando stranded on stage, thinking their allotted time was up. Evan carried
on for one more song accompanied only by his guitar and then filled out the
remaining 10 minutes of their set by creating a seemingly random series of
noises on a beat box on the floor. Finally Dando shut off the box and left the
crowd somewhat bewildered.
Shonen Knife were ready to go on the adjacent
Stage 4. The trio were down to two with bassist Michie Nakatani back in Osaka
with appendicitis. They rounded up a last minute replacement (a Japanese male
who was so androgynous looking that he fit right in) with the only sacrifice in
their sound the trademark backing vocals suffering.
Naoko Yamano has a perfectly charming presence and the band displayed their
Ramones-meets-Archies brand of pop with titles such as "Twist Barbie," "Fruits
And Vegetables" and "ESP." This is the only band that can intro a tune by
saying that they are going to play a very heavy song about tomato sauce and
come up with the goods.
After Shonen Knife I needed to make a decision.
Catch The Prodigy up on the main stage or stay where I was and check out
Australia's Beasts Of Bourbon? Although The Prodigy were being hyped as THE act
to see, I'm not a big fan, plus I had a feeling that the Beasts might be worth
hearing. By staying with the Aussies I was rewarded with some down and dirty
rock & roll. The band is fronted by Tex Perkins, who also leads The Cruel Sea,
one of Australia's biggest acts.
The Beasts Of Bourbon have been a side
project for 14 years now. Their sound is a liquor soaked mix of Nick Cave and
early '70s Stones. Tex seems to be driven by the same demons that drove ol'
Jerry Lee to play the devil's music. This was the most intense performance of
the day, with Perkins stalking the stage spitting out songs like "Chase The
Dragon", "I'm A Fake" and a killer version of Neil Young's "Sedan Delivery."
Another highlight was the glare Tex gave to his guitarist when he fluffed the
intro to one of the songs. I haven't seen that kind of affection between band
members since The Kinks last toured.
It was time to head up to the main
stage and catch The Offspring. By this time most of the 35,000 are all in one
place, ready to rock. Unfortunately, The Offspring's brand of punk doesn't
really translate that well to a stadium atmosphere. One problem was the sound
system, it should have been louder. The band was starting to sound like a
generic rock band. Finally, they made an attempt to connect with the audience
by inviting folks on stage to stage-dive. This got a good response and we were
treated to several new songs including the new single, "All I Want." By the
time they got to "Come Out And Play," they had done a decent job overcoming the
size of the venue.
Soundgarden had no such problem. This is a band that was
born to play to huge crowds. Singer Chris Cornell was in excellent voice; his
growl reached every corner of the stadium. Highlights included a solo spot from
Cornell performing "Black Hole Sun" plus full band workouts of "Out Shined,"
"Rusty Cage" (dedicated to Johnny Cash) and Iggy Pop's proto-punk classic,
"Search And Destroy."
The hour long set should have been enough to
satisfied the most dedicated rocker, but for those who wanted more, one last
Kiwi band, Head Like A Hole, were ready to finish things off. The guys wrapped
up the last Big Day Out in New Zealand--promoters have insisted this will be
the traveling festival's last year--with a final act of rock & roll rebellion
by refusing to leave the stage after the 11:15 P.M. noise curfew, causing a
representative of the promoters to come out and talk them into leaving. The
folks who stuck around loved it and everyone went home happy.
The Big Day
Out rolls across the Tasman for five stops in Australia before ending its six