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ET's Big Day Out Wrap Up

Friday 20 January 2006

ET's Big Day Out Wrap Up

By Ethan Tucker

Very Friday blogspot

It's lucky that Deja Voodoo don't take themselves too seriously, because their big-guitar pop sound could never be accused of sophistication or nuance. Nuance? Pah! People don't listen to Deja Voodoo for subtlety! Deja Voodoo (who, incidentally, rock more than you do) play big dumb/smart rock, and play it well, with tongue firmly in cheek and beer firmly in hand.

From their debut beer-themed concept album Brown Sabbath flowed glories such as the lively brainlessness of methamphetamine-worshipping and Antony Dixon-referencing song 'P', and the gleeful inanity of the Exponents pastiche Today Tomorrow Timaru (with its unforgettable rock 'n roll clarion call: 'Washdyke! Temuka! Dunsandel!!').

A few new ones were belted out along with the greatest hits package, including their hat-tip to Split Enz, a charming ditty about the repercussions of a girl opening the ‘history’ folder on her boyfriend’s computer. That one’s called History Never Deletes, which just about sums up Deja Voodoo’s knowingly uncomplicated charm.

Ultra-hip Cincinnati trio The Greenhornes rejoice in not one but two points of notability. For starters, they are resolutely the drummers’ band. (Not for them the traditional rock joke: ‘What do you call a guy who hangs round with musicians? The drummer’). Drummer Patrick Keeler holds forth from a raised platform alongside the guitarist and bassist, rather than lurking in the back in a conventional rock setup, and when you see them play live you can understand why. Showing his jazz-blues influences, the drummer keeps unconventional and inventive time, bouncing ideas off his bandmates and keeping the tempo up with rattling attacks on the drum rims.

Their set is uniformly from the blues-rock school, and their sound fits nicely into the delta-drenched snappy guitar pop of the British invasion groups of the 60s – they even threw in a cover of Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand, a well-aged song by The Who. The second key factor in the Greenhornes’ favour is that they are probably just about the best-connected band you’ve never heard of. They could boast of Jack White of the White Stripes’ friendship (if they was boastin’ types), and their collaboration with Holly Golightly, ‘There Is An End’, was the lead track on the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch’s Bill Murray-starring film, ‘Broken Flowers’. Perhaps in a year or so the Greenhornes could be your new favourite American band, particularly if you enjoy sniffing out quality before the rest of the world jumps onto the bandwagon.

Across on the other stage, a band whose members were all born in the 1980s followed up the Greenhornes’ performance with youthful exuberance and crowd-pleasing rock antics.

The young chancers who comprise The Subways hail from Welwyn Garden City (now presumably known as the rock ‘n roll capital of Hertfordshire) and they don’t muck around. Careening straight into a string of catchy punk-pop singles with inconsequential lyrics and a liberal helping of quality entertainment, the band puts on a good show despite their tender years.

And just like Northern Ireland’s own punk-poppers Ash (who sang Girl From Mars), The Subways cottoned on early to one sure way to garner attention – they roped in a pretty girl called Charlotte to play guitar. (Ash’s Charlotte Hatherley has a solo album out now, by the way, and by the sound of the advance tracks it’s pretty good).

Charlotte Subway is particularly noticeable – a tiny rock pixie, she gallops around the stage, dwarfed by her bass guitar, shaking her head as if she’s beset by industrial-strength tinnitus while shimmying like a mad thing. In full flight there’s an unmistakable resemblance to a startled faun being chased by a swarm of angry bumblebees.

But you’re not to look for too long, because she’s young frontman Billy’s fiancé, you know. Sure, their lyrics are a bit of a cliché (the album is called Young For Eternity, and there’s a track called Rock & Roll Queen for chrissakes) – but ask yourself this: how good were the songs you wrote when you were 18? And were they as much honest good fun as those by The Subways?

Sleater-Kinney have been playing stalwart indie rock from the riot grrl school since the early 90s, and have honed their skills recording seven albums, the latest of which was for the influential Sub Pop label. While their piercing guitar sound is perhaps more suited to indoor venues, Sleater-Kinney impressed with their forceful delivery and powerful vocals. While this certainly went down well with loyal fans near the stage and a trio of middle-aged punk guys, perhaps a cloudier day would’ve ensured they would form a greater connection with the Big Day Out crowd – but in the blinding Auckland blue-sky sunshine Sleater-Kinney seemed a little dour. Perhaps someone should’ve dared to shout out ‘play Manic Monday!’ All-girl bands love it when people shout that, right?

As recently as August 2005, a foolish Top Of The Pops introducer had sealed the fate of the next band by making a snide reference to their collective weight – The Magic Numbers duly stormed out, and Britain clasped them to its bosom. These are no prima donnas though – rest assured that if anyone had been rude enough to shout ‘play Manic Monday!’ during the Magic Numbers’ performance, there’s a fair likelihood that they would’ve happily reorganised their set to accommodate it.

The Magic Numbers, you see, are splendid folk. Comprising two sets of dark-haired brothers and sisters, the Stodarts and the Gannons hail from leafy Ealing in West London, where presumably their parents raised them on a strict diet of easy-on-the-ear folk-pop and country-rock. It’s also fortunate that they play like they’ve spent their whole lives practicing for that one gig, and they sing like silken-voiced understudies for Crosby, Stills and Nash or the Mamas and the Papas. Plus Angela Gannon plays a melodica, which is one of those little keyboards that you blow into – now that’s cool.

Quickly wooing the crowd with chiming chords and winsome three-part harmonies, the band upped the volume on their self-titled debut album, and unleashed a battery of glowing good-time pop songs as the crowd bounced along, relishing that rarest of things in the rock world: a band that genuinely feels like it’s having a good time on stage. By the end of their all-too-brief set, which finished with a glorious country boogie that had the crowd cheering and doing that arms-aloft applause thing that shows that they really mean it, the Magic Numbers had truly won over the Big Day Out crowd. Here’s hoping they return soon.

The Go! Team are a multi-talented bunch from London and Brighton, with a bit of Japan thrown in for good measure. Their debut album Thunder, Lightning, Strike is an eclectic mix of 60s guitar sounds melded with double-dutch girl rap vocals and catchy dance samples that has gone down a storm with the café-going set. The Go! Team is a sizeable crew, boasting plenty of horns and drummers (including Japanese girl Chi Fukami Taylor, who later won warm-hearted cheers when she apologised for dropping her drumsticks during the set).

While lead vocalist Ninja impressed with her bountiful energy and sassy pink P.E. gear outfit, the band’s keenly-anticipated set was marred by sound problems, including regular feedback on the main vocal microphone. After the sports-theme-sampling mash-up of Bottle Rocket, only their closing track, the supremely hook-laden single ‘Ladyflash’, managed to transcend the technical difficulties. Given the complexity of the Go! Team’s sound, perhaps the album is the best way to enjoy their bubbly charms.

As devoted students of the sweet-toothed bubblegum pop of Phil Spector and the louche drawl of Lee Hazlewood, Aucklanders The Brunettes should have been perfect for a gorgeous summer’s day. But it seemed that the Go! Team’s sound problems had migrated to the Brunettes’ stage, which is no surprise when there were 19 band-members on stage (at last count). Perhaps inspired by 2005’s BDO performance by Tim DeLaughter’s 25-strong hippie orchestra The Polyphonic Spree, the Brunettes brought along the Lil’ Chief Pop Orchestrette, which included a full horn section, two or three drummers, a xylophone or two, and a sitarist. All this complexity brought major sound problems, and after their third track (the usually catchy Loopy Love) the Brunettes’ Big Day Out set should probably have been chalked up to experience. Next time, keep it simple, right?

Having missed most of the raw Southern rock of the Kings of Leon, the next outing was crowd-pleasing home-grown hard rock courtesy of The Artists Formerly Known as Pacifier, a.k.a. Shihad. The familiar chords of their most popular songs, including the metal power-ballad Pacifier, sent both male and female fans skipping their way through massed crowds of revelers to get closer to their guitar heroes, as singer Jon Toogood showed off an impressive head of metal-guru hair to good effect. Certainly it seemed to be working for the guy in the middle of the crowd wearing just a pair of green speedos. Glancing at the schedule, it was interesting to note that Shihad received 4th billing in Auckland, but will be headlining most of the Big Day Out’s rock stages in Australia. A case of cultural cringe, or perhaps changing musical tastes now that the band is based in Melbourne.

Fast becoming experts in the art of essaying the snappiest and most danceable pop songs, Glaswegian quartet Franz Ferdinand were one of the most eagerly anticipated acts of the Big Day Out. Following the simple goal of playing guitar music to make girls dance, Franz Ferdinand combine the clever lyrics of early Roxy Music with the pace and rhythm of The Jam at their peak, to rival anything their American counterparts The Strokes can come up with. Songs without a mile-wide hook need not apply, and if crowd satisfaction can be measured by the number of girlfriends hoisted onto shoulders, then Franz Ferdinand surely won the day.

With an hour-long set built around the foot-stomping revelry of Take Me Out and Do You Want To, Franz Ferdinand showed the way to perform to a big crowd without pummeling the audience with organ-shattering bass and reverb, and left the crowd with a grin wider than any band whose songs reference Terry Wogan should rightly expect.

Vintage wine both improves with age, and also becomes inexorably rarer. Much the same is true of a set from Iggy and the Stooges, who have a collective age of approximately six thousand. Eschewing the traditional tactic of resorting to a best-of parade, Iggy Pop and his crew wisely stretched out their stage show to make the most of the rock ‘n roll spectacle.

This makes sense, given that most of the audience was born at least 10 years after his creative peak. What the audience really wanted was the physical manifestation of a rubbery Satan wearing astonishingly low-cut jeans, flinging himself about the stage and into the crowd like someone four decades younger. Not bothering with 70s crowd-pleasers like Lust For Life or The Passenger, the band played immense heavy jams while Iggy did what he does best, which is royally acting the goat.

Inviting about 20 audience members onto the stage for a bop proved popular, particularly with one Chinese girl in green, who looked like she was having the time of her life. It was probably less fun for the microphone stand roadie though – whenever Iggy snatched the mic from the stand and sent it flying, the roadie would dutifully erect the stand again centre-stage, by which time the whirling Pop dervish would swing back and send it flying again.

Iggy also managed to scone the poor roadie with a full-speed microphone cord twirl a-la Roger Daltrey (but without the fringed jacket). So, Iggy and the Stooges gained stacks of new converts and probably got more than a few callow youths intrigued by the prospect of exploring some of their great early albums. But the most memorable feature of an Iggy concert will always be the sight of that torso, that posture, that attitude – surely Iggy Pop is still the rockstar your parents love to hate. Even if he is older than them now, and probably has the same pension plan.

How quickly have The White Stripes become world-straddling colossi? It seems like only a few years ago that they were playing tiny venues in New Zealand. Mainly because it was only a few years ago that they were playing tiny venues in New Zealand. Since then the indie world was swiftly conquered, and then even the mainstream music business succumbed to the quirky blandishments of two oddballs who play sleazy blues stomps with Jack’s nasty guitars and Meg’s enthusiastic drumming. Who could fail to love the jaunty helter-skelter ride of Hotel Yorba, the frenetic indie squawk of Fell In Love With A Girl (memorably covered in a sultry fashion by English soulstrel Joss Stone), or the towering pounding rumble of Seven Nation Army?

Opting for an inventive (a.k.a. idiosyncratic, a.k.a. ‘a bit weird’) setlisting, the White Stripes treated an enthusiastic but probably bemused Mt Smart audience to a lengthy xylophone duel, a 5-minute ‘encore break’ soundtracked by pulsing guitar feedback, and a two-part stab at their angst-drenched live favourite, Dolly Parton’s Jolene.

Give them credit, the White Stripes didn’t take the easy options – but at least it seems they noticed the relative paucity of well-known hits from the previous set, because they also launched into a cover of Iggy Pop's I'm Bored(1979) - (“I’m bored. I’m the chairman of the bored!”).

All that remained was to spend a moment to lament the bands missed due to the dictates of inconvenient timing clashes. Sorry, Pluto, Elemeno P, Kings of Leon, The Mars Volta, Henry Rollins, Soulwax and The Bats! After that, all that was required was a steady pace to avoid bootleg t-shirt merchants, as the happy concert-goers strolled home in the balmy summer night air.


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