Yes. This year’s was the worst Soundwave ever. But that is when comparing it to some pretty remarkable previous years. And, of course, as far as festivals go, it was still pretty good.
Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, March 4, 2011
Although the sun was visible briefly in the morning for the adventurous still returning from the after-party of Rob Zombie’s sideshow the previous evening, it was clear from early on that Melbourne would not be blessed with the fine warmth of every other Soundwave to date. Soundwave is a festival that works much better without the burden of a jacket, but this time it seemed one would be necessary.
In the lead up to every festival now there is hype about police crack downs on drugs, searches at the gates and sniffer dogs, and I am always disappointed when I don’t see any of those things. This year at the gate, the chain on my wallet was called into question by some concerned looking security guards, but I was able to sidestep them easily, and pass through the entrance without any hassle – without even ever being called upon to present my ticket! Inside, I was impressed to finally see policemen with sniffer dogs, although a little disappointed when the handler told me I couldn’t pose for a picture with his dog.
‘She’s here to do a job,’ he told me sternly. ‘Not to be your tourist attraction.’
Nearby, I saw a lengthy queue, and correctly guessed that it must have been for proof of age wristbands. I bypassed the queue, knowing that there would be more, and usually less populous, ID booths inside. I was correct, and luckily arrived at a timely lull in the queue. By the time I’d showed my ID and had a wristband slapped around me, I turned to see that a long queue had formed, and it was a theme which continued at the bars and food stands throughout the day, something which Soundwaves of yore have generally avoided somehow.
From a distance, Stone Sour looked and sounded good. I don’t know many of their songs, but it seemed like a favourable introduction to the band, and to the fact that Corey Taylor is more than a one trick pony. Once they finished, I headed out of the bar to the other main stage, where a man in a dress shirt and pig mask was preparing some kind of a miniature upright bass. As soon as the opening jabs of Seas Of Cheese rang out of the instrument it became clear, if it wasn’t already, that the man behind the mask was Les Claypool, fronting Primus.
Their usually sparse sound finds an unexpected depth live, but that could just be because it is being played significantly louder than it ever was from my speakers. As expected, the set coincided with the rain I’d been predicting for the entire summer, and the band responded with a rendition of Rain, Rain, Go Away which evolved appropriately into an extended Pudding Time. The set seemed to be over all too soon, although it was good to hear songs from Pork Soda and Sailing The Seas Of Cheese live, and to see such a monumental assortment of truly stylish guitars in such a short set.
I was shocked, after they’d finished, to find myself unexpected trapped behind something resembling the Big Day Out’s infamous D barrier. Although once the crowd thinned it proved not to be as cumbersome as that, it did look like a step in the wrong direction for the festival, which I’ve previously praised as being like the Big Day Out was ten years ago. (That said, it would be ten years now since Jessica Michalik died, which prompted the introduction anyway, so maybe the festival is just catching up.)
It just wouldn’t be Soundwave without last minute cancellations, and this year it was Sum 41’s turn. I eventually found their stage and caught the end of Less Than Jake, who sounded alright. I launched myself into prime position at the front of the stage, and when we expected the band to emerge, an accented voice told us that Sum 41 had had to pull out of the show, and would be replaced, and announced the name of the replacement, which I didn’t catch. It was a bunch of guys in superhero costumes who leapt onto the stage, and I gave them a song of two as a trial before I left to catch the end of Rocket Summer’s set. I found out later that the group is actually a side project of New Found Glory called International Superheroes Of Hardcore, though why they didn’t call themselves The Gloryholes is anyone’s guess.
The line for any of the bars was longer than expected, though photographers from an energy drink company tried to keep people entertained. Another of the festival norms which seems to be creeping into Soundwave, where they have normally not been present. Because of that, I didn’t see much until Coheed And Cambria.
I’d been looking forward to finally seeing Coheed And Cambria live, since this was the first Soundwave they’ve actually made it to, after pulling out in previous years. I’d been warned earlier that the band are just some lameass emo group with a singer with an afro, and boy, did he have an afro!
Whilst the band sounded great, their audience let them down. With a set opening with the epic and sweeping In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth, 3 and closing with the symphonic power of Welcome Home, it was the perfect opportunity for a throng of the like-minded to sway in unison, chanting along with beloved lyrics, jumping together right on cue. Instead, a majority of hopeless metal wannabes ruined a fantastic performance for those who attempted to dance against what became a heaving mass of macho idiots attempting to out-do each others’ desperate attempts to appear hardcore and involved.
On a more positive note, I realised that the line goes ‘Man your own jackhammer,’ and not ‘Manual jackhammer.’
Next on my agenda was Rob Zombie, who lived up to my high expectations, and then some. Rob and his band looked and sounded incredible – despite the complaints I heard of the performance – though they would have been complimented had their set been later in the evening, after nightfall. Backed, unsurprisingly, by scenes spliced together from vintage horror, it was good to hear White Zombie songs and soundtrack songs mixed into a set of classics, though I was hoping to hear something from Hellbilly Deluxe 2. Nevertheless, it was a set deserving of a main stage slot, a fact that didn’t seem lost on Rob Zombie, since he mentioned it somewhat ungraciously.
And so it was time for the headline spot. Somewhere in the distance, Third Eye Blind would be preparing to play a set for what I imagine to be a sparse group of people. I’m sure it would have been a great set, too, but that’s the sad thing about festivals, a great line-up is inevitably rendered less-spectacular once the time table reveals the inevitable clashes. I headed to the main stage for Iron Maiden, where the audience were already packed tightly in front of the main stages. It didn’t take long to get to the front though, and I waited through an overlong introduction musical number before the band appeared on what had become an elaborate stage set up for a festival show, complete with war-themed sets and a dynamic backdrop which changed with each song.
The band opened with that song from their new album with the outer-space video clip that got a lot of attention, and I guess played a few other songs from the new album that I didn’t know, before bringing everyone together with Two Minutes To Midnight. There were a lot of new songs in the set, which was a shame when they came at the expense of songs like Run To The Hills but – for a bunch of old guys – the band looked good on stage, with frontman and pilot Bruce Dickinson in particular not standing still for more than a second, climbing the staging to wave a giant flag.
I was especially excited to see Iron Maiden’s long time mascot Eddie appear on stage to play a guitar solo, towering over the other band members and making his guitar look like a toy. It is always exciting, for me, to see someone I thought was fictitious emerge in reality, particularly when it is only meters away. I think it was an even more exciting moment than when I read those news stories about teenagers being murdered by the killer from Scream.
So, with so many highlights, it could hardly be considered a bad festival, but the cold weather and perhaps changing format of the festival, it just didn’t live up to the memory of previous years’ festivals and my (admittedly high) expectations.