Soundgarden Triumph At Opening Of Big Day Out Festival

Pure Pop from Mr. Dando, seen performing at yesterday's Big Day Out fest. . Photo by Kira Duda.

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

door.

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.

England's

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

nicely.

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.

Guitarist/vocalist

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

year run.