"Big Day Out"
Princes Park, Melbourne
Sunday, Thursday, January 29, 2006

WORDS & PHOTOS: Patrick Emery
CARTOON: Rick Chesshire

My first Big Day Out was the first national one in January 1993 (the original BDO in Sydney in '92 was nothing more than a well stocked, distant event with little practical relevance to my fellow music watchers in Adelaide).  The 1993 included such notable artists as the Exploding White Mice, Lizard Train, You Am I (before Triple J destroyed their edge), the Beasts of Bourbon (the ‘classic’ early 1990s line-up with Kim Salmon on guitar and Tony Pola before he was detained at the Governor’s pleasure), Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Iggy Pop (I think it was his ‘Raw Power’ branded tour).  The event itself was held at Adelaide University, a surprising but ultimately excellent choice of venue – unfortunately the destruction of a heritage listed wall by a flat-bed truck meant the venue was shifted to the Wayville Showgrounds, a larger but poorer quality venue. 

I went to the Big Days Out in 1994 (OK), 1995 (disappointing) and 1996 (in Sydney – OK line-up, too many people and extremely poor quality sound for Radio Birdman’s appearance).  After the overpriced beers, and the presence of so many people in such a confined space I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably never again attend another Big Day Out – and I wasn’t the only one who made such a prediction.

Yet like so many contemporaries two words made the difference this year to cause a radical change of opinion.  The Stooges.  Sure, it’s almost 40 years since they first started pushing the envelope of punk rock in Detroit, Michigan but this is The Stooges, and that’s all that needs to be said (and anything else of relevance, importance or significance has been said already by The Barman).  All reports – international, national and from the few local punters I know lucky enough to have seen the band overseas (including the recent UK performance of the entire Funhouse album) have been admiring, to say the least.

The week leading up to the event dragged on ... and on ... and on.  The reports of the Sydney show – including The Barman’s unbridled and wildly enthusiastic initial commentary – didn’t help the waiting game.  Saturday night was an unusually quiet night, as most of us had limited social activity in expectation of the day ahead.  My oldest friend and gig watcher, now living and working in Sydney, had flown down the day before and were primed for the Stooges experience.  Sunday morning began with some unavoidable domestic duties – taking my children to a birthday party in Balwyn (where no-one seemed aware of Iggy Pop, let alone The Stooges) – and an initially frustrated quest to secure some VIP passes.

This year’s Melbourne leg of the Big Day Out was held in Princes Park, normally the province of dog walkers, runners, cyclists and the recreational grounds for the gentrified population of North Carlton.  Thankfully it’s walking distance from my place so most of us chose to take on the afternoon sun and walk to the grounds.  The sound was travelling far and wide – I heard most of Magic Dirt’s set while walking to the event (and my wife told me later that she listened to The Stooges’ entire set from our backyard). 

First step was to get an ID band, something I found flattering given my post-30 age bracket (though my attempts at joking about this to the 21-year-old security guard fell on deaf ears).  Then off to get a VIP band (my attempts at getting backstage were wholly unsuccessful, though I didn’t hold out great hopes) and then three quick cans in five minutes (followed by a nasty feeling in my gut as a realised the heavy dose of carbonated liquid was taking a while to settle).  Far from being the key to up close and personal contact with any of the bands on the bill, the VIP access was simply a means to access overpriced beers (and food) at cheaper prices. 

First band was Sleater-Kinney – I’ve been a fan for many years (even before Janet Weiss joined) and saw them on their first ‘real’ Australian tour (as opposed to the pseudo tour they did years ago before they were anyone other than unknown Pacific North-West punk types).  This set was conducted on one of the two adjacent undercover stages, making it a good location (free from the interrogatory rays of the afternoon sun).  It was all too short but sufficiently entertaining (though I’m looking forward to the band’s sideshow in the next couple of days as a better illustration of the band’s abilities).

Next stop was at the back of a squillion punters to hear a bit of Wolfmother.  I don’t mind Wolfmother – I choose to take them with a large dose of irony – but this wasn’t the best forum to see them (I could barely even recognise the images on the video screen).  By this stage I’d lost part of my posse so I wandered off to see Bumhead Orchestra engaging in some chaotic, cacophonic noise – Tex clad in tails conducting a band comprising, inter alia, Brian Hooper, Joel Sibersher, Charlie Owen and Dave Larkin.  Amusing, to say the least – this was the wild card that I’d hoped the day would throw up.

Another beer and some food and it was off to see the last half of The Casanovas on the local produce stage.  My appreciation for the Casanovas has dropped over the last 18 months, but they’re still good at what they do (though one can now use the “it’s not the real Casanovas without Jimmy Heat” dismissing comment).  You can’t help but feeling that deep down they’re probably very pissed off at Airbourne for stealing their Acca Dacca sponsored thunder.

It was now 5pm and the spectre of The Stooges was started to loom large in the distance.  Our posse had now miraculously reformed – without the use of the mobile phone (which I’d decided to bring against my better judgement, although I won’t make that mistake again – technology is occasionally, but not always, your friend).  Back up the hill for more beer and a chance encounter with former Died Pretty front man (and current Darling Downs crooner) Ron Peno – another in a long line of punters claiming to only be present “for The Stooges”.  A drunken friend of mine spent five minutes trying to convince Ron to let him play drums in Ron’s next outing with Brett Myers, but to no avail.

Across the park to see the end of Rollins – more grey than black these days, but still quite amusing.  He told us John Howard was an undesirable personality but we all knew that anyway.  Rollins is funnier than Jello Biafra, and not as paranoid – but I only enjoy him in small doses.

Beasts of Bourbon pictures by Tom Jovanovic

The Beasts sauntered on stage at about 6.15pm and tore straight into "Chase the Dragon".  The Beast is a more defined creature these days – without Kim Salmon it doesn’t vary too much in its attack – but just as threatening.  Brian Hooper didn’t seem as unsteady as my last sighting and Tex’s stage persona walked the fine line between credible and parody (though his kicking style – a number of water bottles went sailing into the crowd – was unmistakeably from north of the Barassi line). 

Now it was a crucial time – was there enough time to get another beer?  Yep, definitely – and thankfully we had enough deep pockets to smuggle beers into the ‘dry’ area.  We pushed our way into the crowd as far as we felt comfortable (causing some ire to fellow punters, for which we apologised and then pursued an alternative route).  No chance of getting up close to the stage – and judging by the line into the ‘moshing’ area there were many who also didn’t make it.  Franz Ferdinand played some Celtic lounge pop (or that’s what it sounded like) while we waited in eager expectation.  Finally there was movement at the station and the band appeared – no fanfare, just raw class.  Ron in the camouflage jacket (which I hope does actually get washed from gig to gig), Scott Asheton with cap and sunnies, Mike Watt with a handlebar moustache (there’s an exception to every rule). 

Stoogestage picture by Richard Sharman

And Iggy ... what can be said about this man?  He should be dead – in fact, he probably has died a few times – he’s 58 and he looks a model of fitness.  The limp is pronounced – but like a stammerer who can sing perfectly Iggy is graceful when moving quickly around the stage.  His moves are recognisable, almost passé – humping the stage, leering at young ladies, but he’s Iggy, and that’s all the counts.  Does he use Botox to stay fit?  Who knows – either that, or he’s the one in a million example of bad living = longevity that makes doctors shake their heads (I was in the crowd next to a friend of mine who’s now a qualified anaesthetist – he agreed that Iggy’s current physical state does tend to undermine the anti-physical abuse rhetoric that doctors are necessarily compelled to provide).

"Loose" is first up. The Velvet Underground’s "Heroin" is regarded widely as the classic smack song, but the Stooges make the opiate seem as enticing as a glass of red cordial.  (The Barman tells me song is unlikely to refer to drugs, more likely sex, given the band was not plagued by rampant smack usage at the time the song was recorded; a contrary suggestion was made by a friend of mine a few years ago, though he was possibly foregoing chronology for lyrical mythology).  The set becomes a tale of life on the streets in the 1960s – "Down on the Street", "Dirt" (try playing that in a self-help class and see what the results are), "1970" (giving us all the chance to scream "Radio Birdman" at the top of our lungs), "No Fun", "1969", "I Wanna Be Your Dog", "Not Right" and the newer stuff (OK, so I didn’t pay much attention – but it seemed OK). 

The late 1960s in LA was plagued by sunny prophecies of peace and personal freedom, while in New York the Factory community bunkered down and swallowed and shot-up to fulfil their artistic desires.  But in Detroit life was ugly, dangerous and rough – and The Stooges represented the juvenile delinquents’ celebration of that evil side of life.

The personal highlight of the gig ... "Funhouse".  The combination of Rock Action’s syncopated beats and Steve Mackay’s sax sent us into a world of unparalleled enjoyment.  It was a moment that we all wanted to continue forever.  A reprise of I Wanna Be Your Dog with Mackay’s sax augmentation.  It had to finish eventually, and so it did – but fuck, what a set.

The White Stripes came on next.  I’m sure they were OK but how could you possibly follow The Stooges?  If it weren’t for the Stooges there wouldn’t have been any other bands on the bill, period.  All genealogical roads in rock’n’roll lead to the Stooges.  I doubt we’ll see Iggy perform again in Australia after this tour, and I certainly don’t expect to see The Stooges again in Australia.  But this was a moment in time worth waiting for.  What a fucking show.

I woke up the next day without any voice – a casualty of my attempts at singing during the Beasts and The Stooges.  My four-year-old daughter said “Daddy, why did you shout at the rock concert yesterday”, to which I replied “Because it was The Stooges, dear”.  One day she’ll understand.