I've seen "es gibt" and "da ist/sind" a lot, but I was looking at the lyrics of "99 Luftballons", and it says "Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk". According to the translation, that means "There was a big fireworks display". This is the only time I've ever seen "das gibt" used. Is it just preference or is there a different connotation?
The "das" in the mentioned sentence stands for a result of something.
The firework was the result of the events coming before it and that is why "das" is used instead of "es".
Es gab ein großes Feuerwerk
is absolutely correct as well and simply states:
There was a big firework.
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk
would be better translated as
The result was a big firework
The singer could also have said
Das ergab ein großes Feuerwerk
to stress that meaning even more. But that would not have matched the rhythm of the song (one syllable to much).
Welcome to German SE. For context, this is from the song by Nena, 1983:
Jeder war ein großer Krieger
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk
Keep in mind, that these are song lyrics and you should allow for a certain amount of poetic license and deliberate vagueness.
The das used here is a demonstrative pronoun. There is a collection of these that look like definite articles but they are sometimes used when you want to refer to something previously mentioned. (The choice between er and der is difficult to explain to an English speaker; I've struggled with it myself.) The es is what I call an impersonal pronoun, and it's used as a subject when grammar requires a subject but you don't want to refer to anything in particur. A typical example is Es regnet. The impersonal es is used with several verbs to form somewhat idiomatic expressions: es gibt as you know means "there esists", es geht mir gut/schecht -- "I'm doing well/badly," etc. You might think that these apparently unrelated and incompatible concepts can't be combined, but German has done it somehow and the result is what I call the impersonal demonstrative pronoun. In most cases it's the subject of sein, for example Das ist wunderbar -- "That's wonderful," where the "that" isn't referring to something you can point at, but to the current situation or an event that recently took place. But it can also be used with the verbs that use the impersonal es with a special meaning. So das geht mir gut/schecht is allowed.
I don't think it's possible to translate the difference into English, but I think using impersonal das instead of es gives a feeling that everyone already knows what you're talking about. One way you might interpret it in this case is to insert "of course", or "as you might expect". So here, fighter pilots, thinking themselves great warriors like Capt. Kirk, set off their "fireworks", meaning missiles, at the balloons, as you might expect. At least that's my interpretation.
Others have already said that "das gibt" means a specific condition leads to something and "es gibt" refers to a general situation leading to something. The balloons and a bunch of Kirks are more of a general situation, a picture of confusion and fear of imaginary intruders with bad intentions leading to military starting a preemptive attack ... on balloons.
Nena sang "Es gab ein großes ...", not "das". She just sang fluent every day German, well mostly.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpu5a0Bl8eY at 1:52.
Torsten is right, but the following could be added:
Using „das“ instead of „es“ (in many instances) is very common in colloquial speech in Northern Germany. It could be that some translation services know about this and some don’t.
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk. = That gave a great fireworks display.
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk. = There were a lot of fireworks.