Big Day Out 2014 – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne 24/01/14

Tame Impala‘s Kevin Parker was actively channeling the cosmic spirits of the patron saints of frontmen, some alive, some dead. Guys with names like Morrison and Tyler and Osbourne, and Vedder, who was backstage some place, preparing for the night’s revelry.

Parker had evolved from the timid, barefooted longhair that crowds gazed upon during the band’s Innerspeaker tour, wondering how he knew so much about their own adolescence.

Some of that placental shyness still remained. For as Parker motioned to the crowd in that way that is understood to mean “Go fucking crazy,” he maintained his composure.

To those at the front he was a warm, flattered smile and a concentrated stare, to those at the back, a skinny figure jumping side-to-side, like a boxer before a fight, bringing Elephant to its conclusion.

Soon after, the clouds began to dissipate over a soggy Melbourne that had been pounded with rain for much of the morning. The sun reared its welcome visage into the sky, proving for many that meteorology is not an exact science.

Two men dressed in head-to-toe body paint, milk maid outfits, and Goldilocks wigs nonchalantly sauntered into the Red Stage area to catch the closing notes of Grouplove‘s I’m With You.

The lively California five-piece were performing with an awe-striking chutzpah that was washing over the crowd and compelling them into spastic dances.

Somewhere nearer to the food stalls, twentysomethings with clipboards maneuvered through crowds itching to gorge themselves on wood fired pizza, hot dogs with the lot, Greek wraps, and lamb burgers.

They were offering tote bags of water, lollypops, condoms, and pamphlets with numbers to call, if you were game enough to fill out a two-page questionnaire on your sexual history. Most were too busy making their way over to Mudhoney or Primus.

Those heading towards the latter witnessed Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde positioned underneath red parasols and flanked by inflatable astronauts, as they worked their way through the rolling rhythms and infinite-sounding echoes of Jilly’s on Smack.

Without warning, the performance took a left turn into the Oompa Loompas’ lament for Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. “I know what you’re thinking. Why the hell did they play the Oompa Loompas song from Willy Wonka? What was that supposed to be? Some kind of head-fuck?” said Claypool, offering no further comment.

Meanwhile, The Hives‘ lone stage piece was being erected on the adjacent Orange Stage. It was a towering depiction of frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist staring down at the crowd maniacally, hands raised and puppet strings tied around each crooked finger.

It would serve as the backdrop for an hour of pulverising garage rock with a Scandinavian accent, compounded by Almqvist’s wry asides: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are Blur. We’re sorry we couldn’t be here today. I guess you’ll just have to make do with a better band!”

Despite the pool of English expatriates nodding their hands to the beat of Walk Idiot Walk, a contingent of angry Beady Eye fans, most of whom were dressed in Oasis t-shirts, were beseeching the Orange Stage crowd to “shank the prick!” as Almqvist climbed into the audience.

They settled down once the calming effect of Liam Gallagher’s nasally tones on Flick of the Finger took hold. The band closed their set with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. The younger Gallagher was finally at the helm of the psych-infused punk band he always wanted front.

As Pearl Jam t-shirts edged closer towards the Blue Stage, Arcade Fire came in from the flank with white-suited, mirror-covered, conga-playing bombast, carrying oversized paper mache heads on their shoulders, before being ushered away by the actual Arcade Fire.

Frontman Win Butler had opted for the less ostentatious costume choice of a mirrored cowl. Having told the imposters to “fuck off,” the propulsive polyrhythms of Reflektor sparked a wave of motion in the audience.

The band played mostly tracks from their recent album, with songs from their previous three records augmented and accented with congas, cowbells, maracas, and steel drums, provided by the new percussionists in the touring band.

An extended rendition of Here Comes The Night Time came to a wild, effervescent close as the sun prepared to set on Flemington Racecourse.

Butler’s sweat-drenched cage of a body climbed out of the crowd and back onto the stage, offering a warm thanks to the people in attendance at “one of the finest festivals in the world to play.”

There was a short and electrified pause before Matt Cameron approached the drum kit to the sound of thundering celebration. One by one, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder took their positions before Cameron brought them to life with the opening beat of Why Go.

They corralled Do The Evolution and Save You into a surging block of distorted, uplifting power. Classics were rounded off like a buckshot as Vedder studied the audience with a warm smile, clutching a bottle of wine.

Songs were bookended by the frontman’s mumbled, seemingly stream-of-consciousness pep talks. First a dissection of the honour the band feels playing a lineup that features brothers-in-arms Mudhoney and the Cosmic Psychos.

Snoop Dogg began leading stupefied punters in a chorus of “So what we get drunk? / So what we smoke weed? / We’re just having fun / We don’t care who sees” over on the Red Stage, prompting Vedder to invite the rapper join the band in Seattle, where marijuana was recently legalised.

Vedder then began peppering the set with heartfelt tributes to his fellow bandmates. After the campfire had been well and truly lit, overjoyed punters were ready for the inevitable Better Man singalong.

One encore later, the band was chasing Porch with a cover of the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, featuring Mudhoney’s Mark Arm on vocals. The mighty group’s set closed with the career-defining Alive.

As McCready channelled his inimitable talent through a ragged Stratocaster, Vedder balanced a bottle of Corona atop his head — a fitting metaphor for the struggle involved in putting on a music festival.

A struggle it’s safe to say the organisers of Big Day Out 2014 had auspiciously overcome.

Photos by Anwar Rizk

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