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Not that long - or was it a lifetime? - ago, this time of year was all about planning for, indulging in and getting through the Big Day Out.

Some of us got 20 years or more of (mostly) cracking and (sometimes) crap music in hot, crowded Moore Park and then even hotter, even more crowded Homebush.

It could be unpleasant but the best bits were pretty wonderful - ask me about 1999 and the Boiler Room and if I can remember, boy have I got some stories I could tell!

Wind Back Wednesday's jaunt back is a mere 10 and 11 years (or, when Wolfmother were not yet a punchline).

Two reviews, more than two bands. Drop that tab ....... now.


Big Day Out

Sydney Showgrounds, January 26

They were line dancing at the Go! Team. Really.

Check location: it's Sydney not Tamworth, right? They're English, not Australian, right? I'm making it up, right? Ah, no. In line, step step, turn, step step.

Good god, what next, John Williamson joining Iggy and the Stooges for a Detroit rock city version of Hey True Blue? Well if Kamahl can be a star turn yet again for an audience who weren't even a twinkle in their father's trousers when the old smoothie first asked "why are people so unkind?" anything is possible.

Indeed it was the unlikely or the unfathomable which marked the Big Day Out this year.

This was the year when the Boiler Room seemed to have doubled in size but halved in audience - an understandable drop-off in interest if you had walked in during the crushingly dull set by M.I.A., who seemed intent on proving that hip-hop shows are almost by definition, duds.

Meanwhile the night ended with a brother and sister/ex-husband and wife two-piece, with a stage look designed by Dr Seuss, made the blues seem as fresh as tomorrow's catch of the day.

It was the year when two Australian acts at opposite ends of the BDO spectrum owned the afternoon and the biggest audience of the day in the main arena.

Wolfmother (the new Buffalo crossed with Pink Floyd? asked some of the older set; what's a Floyd? asked the younger set) and the Hilltop Hoods (hip-hop from the mean streets of Adelaide? you ask sceptically; damn straight, they respond) delivered nearly two hours of stonking fun in the sun.

Less stonking and more stinking, as in to high heaven, was the pummelling stupidities of Mudvayne who are as bovine as can be expected from the double-speed drums/half-speed vocals metal genre but without the cartoon amusement of last year's representatives Slipknot.

Unfortunately, if you had slipped away during this assault to investigate singer/songwriter Josh Pyke playing on the new Local Produce stage (the old amphitheatre home of the Lilypad) you would have found yourself struggling to hear him over the dull, deadly dull, trailing thud from the bursting 'Vayne.

There would have been some temptation to have the metal boys come face-to-face with the Beasts Of Bourbon.

As uncompromising as ever, as swampy and belligerent as ever, the Beasts prowled through dusk. Tex Perkins made his blue singlet look not so much a wife-beater as a whole family-and your-neighbours-beater. Nice.

While Kid Kenobi reinvigorated the Boiler Room after M.I.A., Mr Iggy Pop and his equally near-pensionable compadres the Asheton brothers played hard and anything but loose.

The energy was relentless and impressive, even if the interest in the seriously influential but always limited songs did begin to wane before the reprise of I Wanna Be Your Dog.

And if the fine folk of the Royal Agricultural Society, who run the showgrounds, had any concerns they can now relax in the knowledge that Iggy obeyed the sign posted backstage which insisted "there is to be NO genitalia exposed voluntarily on stage".

Pity they didn't take such a hard line on line dancing.


Big Day Out

Sydney Showgrounds, January 25

Maybe it was the spirit of Roger Waters drifting across the Homebush paving stones from the Acer Arena. Maybe it was that even older rocker Edward Elgar looking down from what Floyd called the great gig in the sky.

Either way, if you were looking for a theme at the Big Day Out this year, it was pomp and circumstance.

It was not true for everyone, and not always successfully assayed truth be told.

However, preening, prancing, adventure bordering on (and sometimes tripping over into) excess and the big gesture, some might even say the florid gesture, could be found under the leaden skies.

Maybe it was entirely appropriate after a week of gesture politics where public figures who wouldn't know a BDO from an AVO were suddenly dropping the name of the 16 year old rock festival into press conferences and stump speeches.

After a suitably explosive show of what organisers called a "flame-firing Hand of God art installation igniting the night sky", the highly theorised, mathematically precise Tool closed the main stage performances with the kind of brain and ear pummelling for which the term hard-rock barely does them justice.

What I wouldn't give for some of Tool's depth to be shared with their fellow Americans, the Killers, an empty coat of a band. Yes, this bright pop coat has pretty epaulettes, shiny buttons and a row of radio approved medals, but there's no soul or guts inside.

Tool were preceded by the never knowingly understated Muse, an English trio for whom one word will never suffice when three are available; for whom a keyboard solo is merely a preamble to an even longer, more extravagant guitar solo; for whom more really is more.

You could call Muse crazily over the top except for the fact that they are musically nimble, impressively clever and offer a thrilling ride. A sexy one too.

Much the same could be said of the Drones, an Australian group whose plainly dressed appearance, comparatively meagre album sales and mid-afternoon appearance on one of the smaller stages, could suggest they have nothing in common with the headlining visitors.

However the sprawling, partly improvised, surge-and-surge-again rock, coupled with Glenn Liddiard's darkly poetic evocation of an Australia and Australians normally confined to dry Year 9 history lessons, was as dramatic as any.

For sheer quality and excitement, this was the best performance of the day.

Perversely perhaps, three other contenders for most enjoyable performance of the day were at the opposite end of the drama scale.

In the Boiler Room Londoner Lily Allen's ska-and-reggae-inflected pop, slight though it may well be, had the giant room dancing, singing and giggling. Several hours later, local jerky pop/dance rock outfit Red Riders had a similar effect at the Local Produce pit.

While Perth's Bob Evans was introduced on to the stage by his keyboard player in theatrical soul legend style, he and his band played the kind of unadorned but pretty pop set which asks only that you lie back, watch dusk settle in and let the music flow over you. A simple thing maybe, but effective.

Still, in between Allen and Evans we got back to the business of the day. Eskimo Joe covered U2 (who know a thing or two about the big gesture) and American provocateur Peaches channelled the jokemeisters of excess Kiss by bringing a full band to her sex-obsessed songs.

Meanwhile, the new darlings of the theatrical rock scene, My Chemical Romance, mixed pomp and camp and a bevy of very good songs which belied their reputation as being suitable only for angsty teenage boys.

At the end of the long day we were left to quote the William Shakespeare who was not a '70s pop idol: "farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump/The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife/The royal banner, and all quality/Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!".

Or, let’s rock.

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