Well, I’ve been putting off writing about Rage Against The Machine and the Melbourne Big Day Out as a whole, mostly because there’s just so much to write! But now I’m at my parents place with the smallest amount of commitment and a huge amount of spare time, so I knew it was time to write something…
So… to begin with, this year the Melbourne Big Day Out was held at the Flemmington Racecourse… or at least in its gravel car park. There was very little grass or shade, and whenever it got windy dust flew twenty metres in the air, which blinded and choked its victims. Not really the nicest setting.
That said, the Melbourne Big Day Out has always been the little brother to the Sydney Big Day Out. For the past two previous years, it was held at Princes Park, and prior to that it was held at the Flemmington Showgrounds (NOT to be confused with the Flemmington Racecourse!). The Showgrounds were a total dump and again, many of the acts performed in terrible conditions; in a gravel car park or in the “boiler room”, a concrete storage room that had absolutely no ventilation. To put it simply, no Melbourne venue can touch Sydney’s Olympic Park.
So after a bit of a look around at the new settings at the Flemmington Racecourse, it’s fair to say I was pretty pissed off. I was told they’d renovated the place, and there I was in the venue’s car park with dust in my fucking face.
The only thing the Melbourne Big Day Out really had going for it was that Bjork had pulled out of the Sydney Big Day Out.
There was a definite anti-establishment theme at this Big Day Out, which was good to see. Aside from Rage Against The Machine, there were plenty of other activist musicians on the bill like Billy Bragg, the Nightwatchman and Anti-Flag, which I’m sure helped. The number of Che Guevara t-shirts was actually down on I what I had a mental image of. There were these flower gardens with plastic barricades around them to stop people trampling on the flowers. Later in the day I walked a past them again and people were sitting on the barricades with their feet on the flowers, which was pretty funny!
Before Dizzee Rascal played, his DJ mixed up Volume 10’s version of “Pistol Grip Pump”. Dizzee looked pretty happy to be up on stage. He opened with “I Jus A Rascal” and then pulled out all his hits including “Fix Up Look Sharp” and the new track “Sirens”. His voice is so unique. Actually, the first time I heard Dizzee Rascal I didn’t even know he was speaking in English! His hypeman was really good too. He didn’t over-shadow Dizzee at all. I hate it when the backing rapper is more predominant than the one you’ve come to see!
I saw a little bit of Bexta (she’s actually pretty hot!) which would have been a lot better in a club at midnight than a tent at 2 in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, I was too worried about not getting into the D-barrier that I found myself lining up pretty early. When I was in cue, I saw this drunk meathead in a Che Guevara t-shirt. I asked him “You know he executed civilians without trial?” to which he responded, “I don’t give a fuck – he was a REVOLUTIONARY!!”
That was actually kinda scary, because it was a forecast of the sort of people I’d be squished shoulder to should with for the next five hours.
By the time I got in, Grinspoon were still playing. I swear to got all of their good songs are like ten years old – but they’re more popular now than ever…
The Arcade Fire preformed an epic cover of The Clash’s “I’m So Bored With The USA”, which for me was a real highlight. The lead singer also made a sarcastic comment on how fantastic he though our reality TV show “Boarder Control” was… how embarrassing…
As an old school fan of Silverchair who had never seen them live, I was looking forward to seeing them (probably more than I should have). They opened with “Emotion Sickness”, which was awesome. It was also probably the highlight of their set.
While I enjoyed hearing some newer tracks like “All Across The World” and “The Greatest View”, Daniel Johns fucked with “Ana’s Song” to the extent that it was unrecognisable. Even though I know he’s disowned the first two Silverchair albums (what a slap in the face to his fan base), the over-the-top “I don’t care” attitude he displayed while playing “Freak” just got under my skin. Prancing around onstage wearing a wedding garter on one leg and singing in falsetto voice was amusing - but only because he was acting like a spoilt brat.
In fact I think it’s fair to say that Daniel Johns is the Macaulay Culkin of Australian rock and roll. Having been rich since a teenager, fame and money has done nothing but fuck with this man’s mind. He has some major insecurities that an adult should have grown out of, and he really needs to address them. Shouting out “I’m not gay!” to the audience when they’re taunting you, then saying “Give us a sexually frustrated ‘YEAH’!” later in the set isn’t exactly going to clear any doubt in their minds. I wouldn’t care if Daniel Johns was gay, he’s made some really good music, but I do care that he’s acting like a total pig.
I think the real problem is he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants to be. In retrospect, he has gone through a different persona on every Silverchair album… On Frogstomp he was an angry grunge kid, on Freak Show he was isolated and depressed and on Neon Ballroom he was getting over anorexia! On Diorama, he appeared to be on the mend – but then was struck down with a rare sort of arthritis! I think he could be schizophrenic with all these multiple personalities, or at least a keen desire to stay in the media spotlight.
Anyway… I seem to have wondered…
I don’t know very many of Bjork’s songs, so when she open with “Earth Intruders” I was stoaked that I knew not only the song - but some of the words too! After a very bassy set (which included this cool new electronic instrument called a ‘reactable’) she closed with “Declare Independence”. She made some strange comparison of the Japanese whalers to reconciling with the Aboriginal population, if memory serves me correctly. I remember thinking it was a little off of her at the time, but the way Bjork gave a little “Thank you!” after every other track she played was pretty cute. So it makes up for it.
I was able to shuffle into a pretty good spot for Rage Against The Machine. I saw this bloke with the Renegades album cover tattooed on the back of his neck, and another guy with the grenade microphone (with the “Evil Empire” banner wrapped around it) on his upper arm. Suddenly… I was not the biggest Rage Against The Machine fan I knew. It was a nice thought.
The Lords Of Lightening never happened. Or if it did it didn’t happen on the main stages because it was just quiet for about five minutes or so.
Then, the Soviet anthem came on and I knew that Rage Against The Machine were about to come on stage. The first member I saw was Tim Commerford. He is more staunch than I ever imagined, but his buff and overly tattooed appearance was soon humanised when he comically poked out his tongue and waved to the audience. Zack and Tom, the immortals of Rage, looked very happy. When Zack said, “Good evening, we’re Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California” it was like a bomb went off in my mind.
Then the bomb went off around me: the wave of bodies jumping around me during the opening seconds of “Testify” made me think, “Shit, maybe I should bail. I think I could actually die in here in the most stays this vicious!”
When they broke into “Bulls On Parade”, I was so fucking amped I was jumping about like a madman. Then, in the last minute of the song, someone pulls on the back of my shirt, and there’s this guy that had fallen down behind me. I try pulling him up and realise that he was as stiff as a board – he was having a seizure. Some other blokes were all ready trying to pull him up at this point and I helped. He crowd surfed out, and I read in the paper that he was okay – but that will remain as being my most scary concert experience ever.
After “Bulls On Parade” the mosh quietened down a bit. They went through “People Of The Sun” and “Bombtrack”, and then they played “Down Rodeo” – which was THE song I wanted to hear that night. Zack made arm movements like he was loading and aiming a shotgun during the chorus; “Now I’m rollin’ down Rodeo with a shotgun / These people ain’t seen a brown skinned man since their grandparents bought one!”
It was awesome.
When they played “Bullet In The Head” next, it reminded me how much flow and style Zack has as a rapper. He has a very unique voice. He through in some evil sounding chuckles over Tom’s solo, which made me laugh.
Then came “Know Your Enemy”, and another surprise of the night. When they begun playing “Tire Me” I was shocked. I mean, I felt like I was seeing them in 1996 on the “Evil Empire” tour! Here in Australia there’s a pop radio host called Jackie O (I believe she’s set to host the reality TV show Big Brother later this year). So for people who weren’t familiar with the song or the dead president’s dead wife, I get the feeling a lot of people found new relevance in that song for the conservative radio host here in Australia. At least, with people shouting unintelligent things around me like “Jackie’s a slut”, I can’t think of who else they’d be referring to.
Tom put a little too much feedback on the intro of “Guerrilla Radio”, but it was still a killer performance. Although this song gets a lot of criticism for not being very musically challenging – the way Tom, Zack and even Tim were jumping about on stage made me realise that this is a track for moshing. And it was. There was several circle pits at this point in the show. It sounds weird but throwing yourself against sweat soaked bodies for a while can actually cool you down! It was also at around this point I realised how much dust had been thrown into the air. For a while, I was having difficulty breathing. It was annoying because I really wanted to shout the lyrics!
The bass on “Calm Like A Bomb” was fucking tight. Man, Timmy C plays so well. The solo sounded like Tom was pouring a jar of acid on a terradactyl… not that I know what that would sound like, I just think it’s a good analogy.
After that came “Sleep Now In The Fire”. Zack through in some extra lines; “Cause you know what they say… and you know what they really think about you” before he listed Columbus’ vessels and went into the chorus.
I think hearing “Wake Up” was a relief because it meant that the odds of Zack making a speech were a lot higher. And while the song sounded okay live, the power in that track came from Zack’s speech;
“Let me just say quickly, I just wanna say I’d like to reach out my hand and give a bow to everyone that took action to try and prevent this unnecessary and bloody war in Iraq. I can’t tell you what it meant for us, to watch first the people of Spain decide against keeping troops in Iraq and deciding against their government and taking into the streets to kick them out of power. And then to stand here in front of you knowing… knowing that fucking John Howard was a bootlicking Bush lover – you got rid of him and we thank you! But sometimes we gotta ask ourselves some really fucking deep questions… because I believe that what we’re up against is not just a handful of right-hand politicians making a few bad decisions. We’re not just up against one war, we’re up against a system that produces war… and we’ve gotta wrap our hands around that question… It’s a system that has become so rotten and cruel that in order for nations to remain competitive on the international market they’ve gotta destroy entire countries. In order to profit from that destruction. In order to survive. And that’s what we have to start to question… Wake up… Wake up…”
Yeah I didn’t remember all that, I just wrote it down while listening to the bootleg over and over. It’s because of bootlegs actually, that when Rage left the stage I was pretty confident that they’d come back on for the encore. Besides, I knew they couldn’t finish up without playing “Killing In The Name” (come on, it’s their “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). It just wouldn’t happen.
Then some bloke comes out and tells the crowd to get these guys off some structure and to get out of the trees. He made the mistake of saying “You guys need to turn around and tell those people to get down!” because that poor bloke in the tree copped it! He had a crowd of 40,000 people chanting “You are a wanker” at him, which is so loud you can hear it on the bootleg. He got thongs and bottles thown at him, someone had broken off a tree branch and was poking him with it, and someone even fired a small firecracker (or a flare) at him! It was very intense. I feel for the man. When he did eventually get down, I’m more than sure he would have got beaten up.
I was angry with him too though, because if Rage didn’t come back on the stage and we missed out on the encore because of this dickhead, I’d become psychotic.
So when he got down, Rage Against The Machine returned and played “Freedom”. They added the ending segment of “Township Rebellion” to it, which was sweet because in the 90’s they only did it on special occasions. To top it off, they did the most tight transition into “Killing In The Name”. It was awesome. I was expecting it, but fuck it was awesome.
When the band finished playing the brightest fucking lights came on, blinding the audience. The band held their arms up, holding each other’s hands. It seemed to symbolise that Rage Against The Machine were indeed, back together.
After that, I spent hours learning to breathe again and clear the dust from my nostrils.
But I’ve got to say, Rage Against The Machine were probably the best band I’ve ever seen live. Probably an overstatement, but while I’m writing this - I think I mean it.