Nine Inch Nails, Blink-182, Chili Peppers and More Rock Down Under

Melbourne's Big Day Out brings out the extremes in its American guests

Trent Reznor Credit: Scott Harrison/Liaison

Big Day Out
Melbourne Ras Showgrounds
January 30th, 2000
Melbourne, Australia

The year 2000 arrived in Australia ten hours before it hit the U.S.; similarly, if you wanted the first look at the new tours by Nine Inch Nails, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters, you had to go Down Under, for the six-date Big Day Out tour. This year's Melbourne show lasted eleven hours, drew 42,000 fans, and featured forty-five bands, twenty DJs and two tilt-awhirl rides.

The sun was shining, the crowd was friendly, the girls wore shorts and leg warmers. The only flaw was the main stage's seriously underpowered sound system, which cut out during a set by Perth's Jebediah, leaving them to entertain the crowd with a game of leapfrog. Leading a four-piece band, Beth Orton attempted to flesh out the arrangements of songs such as "She Cries Your Name." Unfortunately, her wistful melodies, while ideal for late-night listening, melted in the summer sun like a scoop of ice cream. Blink-182 fared better with their mix of pop punk and rude onstage banter. "You want to hear a story?" asked bassist Mark Hoppus, ignoring guitarist Tom DeLonge's efforts to start "All the Small Things." Hoppus continued, "It takes about twenty minutes, and at the end, Tom fucks a dog." Blink closed their set with a version of "Dammit" that interpolated TLC's "No Scrubs."

The Foo Fighters acquitted themselves ably, running good-naturedly through their catalog of hits. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros didn't do so well, over-emoting and butchering old Clash tunes like "Rock the Casbah" and "Brand New Cadillac." The Chili Peppers were the crowd favorites, maybe because the show was a homecoming for Australian-born Flea, whose ninety-two-year-old grandmother still lives in Melbourne. The Peppers had all the unstoppable energy of a Roadrunner cartoon, bouncing through their funk oldies from guitarist John Frusciante's earlier tenure with the band, a cover of "Tiny Dancer" and the day's only real singalong, "Under the Bridge."

But Trent Reznor, by sheer force of will, delivered the event's best set. Despite the smoke machines, which looked faintly ludicrous in the light of day, he was musically ferocious and personally magnetic. Nine Inch Nails stalked onstage and opened with "Head Like a Hole" and "Terrible Lie," from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine. They closed with "Closer" and "Hurt," from 1994's The Downward Spiral, and in between they played mostly new material from The Fragile. Reznor grimaced, shook his head and repeatedly dropped to his knees, expressing his despair in a display of emotion as carefully choreographed as a James Brown revue – and every bit as transcendent.

This story is from the March 16th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.