TIM G recites his itinerary of bands at Auckland’s Big Day Out, 2008.

Cut Off Your Hands: Cut Off Your Hands were awarded a main stage billing and they proved to be a sensation. I was apprehensive as to how these indie rock cats would convert to a large outdoor stage but they played as if they owned it. Their singer pranced the stage boldly while the band belted out gem’s like ‘Oh girl,’ ‘Closed eyes’ and a fantastic ‘Still Fond.’ Great way to kill the morning slumber, they sounded fantastic.

Anti Flag: This crew of black clad pop-political punkers bounded onto stage for the day’s first international act. They were an energized and enthused band playing to an equally excitable crowd. Bouncing, moshing fans knew all the words to such songs as ‘One Trillion Dollars’ and ‘Die for your government.’ The band were the first of the day’s overtly political bands and their well intentioned but over sincere rants were slightly irritable. They were playing and preaching to the converted, but somehow I don’t know if they would have won over many new fans.

Kate Nash: A perfect afternoon surprise. Stumbling upon Kate Nash was like getting to the end of the eternal watermelon line behind the green stage and sinking your teeth deep in – cool, refreshing, and oh-so-sweet. A total energy boost in the flailing heat, Nash really blew me away. She cutely bopped along behind her keyboard with an ear-to-ear grin that was mirrored by the excited crowd. Typical BDO sound hitches failed to hinder Nash and her band in entertaining and captivating; they were tight and talented. Shrieks from the crowd were loud and jubilant as she played ‘Foundations’ and ‘Pumpkin soup.’ A great upper for the impending evening.

Spoon: I had heard a lot of hype surrounding Spoon; everyone in the know seemed to be urging me to see them. This Texan band had forged an illustrious underground career and one of last year’s best albums. Their inclusion on main stage was a curious one, yet deserved, and totally didn’t disappoint either. Their mix of cool keys, indie rock and sixties style was a winner. Front man Britt Daniel was ultra cool and his singing powerful. Songs like ‘The Ghost of Lingers’ and ‘The Underdog’ were fantastic. I loved it, but they seemed a bit lost on the crowd – being jammed between a rock and hard place in the forms of Grinspoon and the Bleeders perhaps had something to do with it. A green stage placement would have been much more appropriate, though I have to say they really were the highlight of the main stage in the afternoon.

Billy Bragg: The godfather on unionist leftist battle songs flew his flag high this afternoon. Bragg, armed only with guitar and that Essex ramble, captivated the crowd in a way only he could. His folk tunes were all lined up and fired with passion. ‘There is Power in a Union’ and ‘A Clash Fan’ spelt out Bragg’s staunch leanings, so too did he expound on George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard. Every song lapped up by the crowd who were cognisant with his music. This was apparent as the crowd’s backing vocals buoyed Billy’s own singing in what was the best sing along crowd of the day. He included a reworded crowd interactive ‘One Love’ and triumphantly concluded with ‘New England’ that was stirring and moving. One of the legends of out time, Bragg truly showed he was.

Arcade Fire: The biggest dilemma of Big Day Out 2008 came for many as six o’clock approached. The indie kids and music connoisseurs alike grew nervous and a tough decision had to be made whether to see Battles and their maths rock wizardry, or be wowed by the majestic force, which is the Arcade Fire. I swallowed this bitter pill and opted for Montreal’s finest and I’m bloody grateful that I did.
Arcade Fire came out looking like a 1920’s band of travelling minstrels. Each band member switching instruments mid-song and with ease to create something enormous. Each masterpiece was wonderful and overawing. Songs such as ‘No Cars Go,’ ‘Neon Bible’ and ‘Neighbourhood #1’ astounded the crowd. The organ heavy ‘Intervention’ was a particularly moving, almost epiphany like experience. Win Butler commanded the show powerfully while Regine Chassagne was also amazing, as were the entire band. This band’s talent and quality performance provided what would be one of the most triumphant spectacles to grace a BDO stage. Ever.

Shihad: Shihad are now almost a Big Day Out house band. No other band has the certainty of the coveted 7pm spot on main stage. Many a BDO evening has been blasted with their distinctive heavy rock anthems. Few bands are as adored by the Auckland BDO crowd either. A faithfully boisterous crowd saw Shihad as one of the only preludes to Rage Against the Machine that appealed to their heavy tastes. This showed as their set was repeatedly stopped due to over zealous mosh pit antics.
Perhaps the 15-year-old in me has grown up and become cynical, but I felt slightly awkward during their set. Jon and the boys played with every ounce of intensity they’ve ever put in, yet it didn’t have the punch it once did. The band blistered with energy through many songs off their latest album, which were good but overall lacked something. ‘Home again’ ‘The General Electric’ and ‘Screwtop’ typically flooded Mt Smart with that warm familiar blanket, until Toogood announced of the former “that song is 18-years-old.” I think that really killed it for me. I love them, for all the great moments, but perhaps Jon summed it up in that line.

Rage Against the Machine: The young teenage boys have grown up, some still have their dyed blonde dreads, some with tribal tattoos to match, others have long since shed their teenage steeze. Yet it was evident as the crowd gathered in front of the blue stage that there were still legions with a passion for the intensity that is Rage Against the Machine. Fans rejoiced as the band came out of what seemed like a permanent hiatus to unleash their guerrilla attack on the world. They hadn’t been seen on our shores in over 12 years, so the chance to hear their militant poetry again was almost too good to be true.
After a tooth gritting wait the four members of Rage emerged. They launched into ‘Testify’ and from that moment the attack was relentless. The enormity of ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘People of the sun’ fell on the crowd with unrelenting impact. Zach De La Rocha’s vocals sounded as fresh as they had on their 1992 debut as he spat his venom at insistent pace. The band gnashed their teeth devastatingly, there were a few timing hick ups, but it mattered little. Tom Morello and Tim Commerford hunch over determined whilst Zach bounced in between the two firing his political rhymes into Mt Smart stadium like an aural AK47. Every time Morello pulled out a trademark intergalactic solo, some of which would sound at home inside a pinball machine, the crowd let their pleasure known.
The impact was still overwhelming. Every time De La Rocha paused the lyrics were spat back at him. ‘Bullet in the Head,’ Know your enemy’ and ‘Tire Me’ turned the crowd into a sea of thrashing serpents, baited by De La Rocha. During ‘Wake Up’ he even provoked the crowd with a typically confrontational rant that only he could have conjured up. He then proceeded to call for the heads of the Bush administration and the isolation of America.
Then to bring it all crashing down, the intro riff for ‘Killing in the name of’ provided the biggest cheer of the day. The entire crowd had middle finger firmly head high as the 14-year-olds in us chanted, “fuck you I wont do what you tell me” and it felt great. Then it was over. We could all return to who we were, but for those 90 minutes, it felt like being young again. It was dangerous and confrontational and it seemed as fresh as it had in 1992, and perhaps even more poignant in a way. “What better place than here? What better time than now?” There is none.