Last year I proclaimed Soundwave 2011 to have been the worst Soundwave ever, and whilst I felt that this year’s festival was an improvement, it would take a powerful line-up to see me return to the event in the future. What was once an event that fans looked forward to as a chance to relive the vibe that popularised the term ‘a festival atmosphere’ in the 1990s has now become encumbered by the same clichés that are the reason so many people now prefer to attend a string of side-shows rather than the artists’ originating festivals. Obviously, where Soundwave is concerned, we have come to expect last minute cancellations, but this year pre-planning became moot when a completely revised timetable was distributed upon entry to the event, and this was only the first, and least surprising, of the examples of mismanagement.
Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, March 2, 2012
Arriving early this year, I was surprised, and a little concerned, to see long queues just to have tickets checked at the Showgrounds station gates. It turned out that ID was being checked for proof-of-age wristband distribution from the beginning of the day, rather than queuing later to pick up the credentials. Luckily, queues inside the venue for food, drink tickets, and then the drinks themselves, although appearing very long, moved impressively quickly. Once I realised that the bar staff all seemed to be giving unadvertised two-for-one deals on the drinks, the prices didn’t even seem so excessive, although it did mean that I’d either purchased too many drink tickets, or would be going home drunk. This was one aspect of Soundwave that was run very well – no queues (after the initial entrance.)
And then it was on to the main stage, for my first band, Saves The Day. Like Good Charlotte before them, Saves The Day were also covering a Weezer album in full. Their version of the songs from Pinkerton were played faithfully, but without any real flair or enthusiasm of their own included. That stated, the crowd were more receptive of the Weezer covers than when Good Charlotte attempted Weezer. I don’t know where this current trend of covering Weezer has come from, but Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba would end up playing a fantastic acoustic rendition of El Scorcho at the Stage 3 Annex later in the day that would prove the day’s finest Weezer cover.
After a brief search, the shed housing Stage 7 was eventually discovered where a larger than expected audience for early in the day were waiting eagerly as the members of Dredg tuned their instruments on stage. Once they switched on and started playing, they managed a superb set, easily overcoming the hindrance of the stage’s less-than-ideal sound. (The lightest tap of a drumstick or bass strum resulted in the stage’s entire shed vibrating noisily.) It was a set which would have seemed welcome on a more major stage and later in the day.
I arrived at the Stage 3 shed just in time to hear Unwritten Law break out an energetic and welcome cover of Grinspoon’s More Than You Are, and became aware of the fact that the timetable I’d brought from the streetpress was now useless, as it had Unwritten Law scheduled to play in the evening. I ended up only being able to catch a couple of their songs before The Ready Set took over on the Annex stage with an intriguing set of slightly electro punk rock, followed by You Me At Six.
I’ve heard a lot about You Me At Six – plenty of rave reviews – but all I knew about them was that they supported Paramore at a show I worked at once, though I don’t remember anything about them. The second The Ready Set showed signs of wrapping up, and the ‘You Me At Six’ standees were set up next to the drum kits on the main Stage 3, a swarm of teenage girls appeared, screaming at the slightest movement. When the band themselves finally appeared, it was to only slightly more screaming approval. And while the band seem suitably charismatic as they bounded around the stage, their pitch-perfect songs were a little bland and didn’t really offer much of interest.
So I headed over to stages 4A and 4B, where Meshuggah were playing a set I couldn’t really get into, so I broke for lunch on the sidelines as Coal Chamber took the stage. From my vantage point in the bleachers, I noted how absurd it seemed to have a D-Barrier set up for the minor stages – it made the whole area look too cramped, and from the outside gave the appearance that only a small amount of people had flocked to each stage.
Then it was time to see Bush on one of the main stages, and a large crowd had turned out, surprisingly populated by a similar screaming demographic to that of You Me At Six’s set. Opening with Machinehead, the band sensibly stuck to songs from their widely owned Sixteen Stone album. Gavin Rossdale looked absurd in his barely-there singlet, and their posturing on stage was ten years out of date, but it didn’t matter, because they sounded so good and played all the right songs – including a well crafted cover of the Beatles’ Come Together. Nevertheless, it was clear that the bulk of the audience only wanted to hear Glycerine and move along, with plenty of people heard assuring their friends that ‘They still have their other song to go!’ once they’d played their biggest hit.
After a quick stop at the bar, it was time for Bad Religion to start on the other main stage. I noticed immediately how much older the band looked in the light of day than they did a couple of years ago on the Festival Hall stage. They powered from one hit to the next, with a broad cross-section out to enjoy songs like 21st Century Digital Boy, before the set was abruptly halted after less than 20 minutes. Some New Breed staff were shouting something at us from behind the barrier in front of the stage, but I couldn’t hear what. After a while, word spread that some aspect of the stage had come lose, and the whole thing threatened to collapse. Disaster was evidently averted, but not before an announcement was made by a stage-hand or someone that ‘The band have now finished their set.’ After only a brief chant, people moved away, with a surprisingly large throng already waiting at the other main stage for Limp Bizkit. I realised that this gave me the opportunity to see Dashboard Confessional, who played a nice chill-out set including the aforementioned superior Weezer cover, and also a little of Trivium, who were not as impressive as they have been in the past.
I witnessed a little of the tail end of Limp Bizkit’s set, and found it a little difficult to enjoy. Not only does Fred Durst look old, even playing after Bad Religion, but I don’t remember there ever being a clown in the band before now. Against a backdrop of ‘Jessica,’ Fred went on an uncomfortably long tribute speech about how upset he was at the death of Jessica Michalik after the 2001 Big Day Out, as though anyone has forgotten, and spent the remainder of the set either running around the audience, or playing a peculiar mash-up of clips of both their own and other artists songs. It all seemed very strange. I wondered if the addition of the D-Barrier this year was only for the benefit of appeasing Fred Durst, who had been vocal about festival safety measures in the weeks leading up to the festival.
There was a lot of anticipation below the main stage in the moments before Marilyn Manson‘s arrival. Although I have heard nothing but negative reviews of the performance since the show, I didn’t think it was all that bad. This certainly wasn’t Manson at his best, but keep in mind that this was a festival show. He didn’t have the benefit of a bizarre league of backing cheerleaders to chant with the band for mObscene, or his usual theatrics and costume change breaks. Much has been said of Marilyn’s appearance, and, given that I’ve seen classic Marilyn, Fat Marilyn, I thought he was looking pretty good this time around, clad entirely in black complimented by Rob Zombie-esque make-up. It was a set that kept me suitably entertained for the duration, and that was enough. On the other hand, Slipknot, of whom I have never been much of a fan, really put on a stand-out show. Looking typically spectacular in their trademark masks, they leaped around the stage, climbing up structures and over amps, and adopted a more industrial sound than on their records which worked well. A heartfelt tribute to those suffering from eating disorders seemed somehow more tolerable than Fred Durst’s attempt at sentiment. Pyrotechnics didn’t seem out of place or lame for Slipknot, even at a festival show before the sun had completely set.
Meanwhile, I made the arduous journey to the back of the D-Barrier to the other side (yes, there was a dividing barrier down the middle too…) to take up prime position for System Of A Down to close the day. It was already crowded, and after an unexpectedly prolonged break between Slipknot’s set and System Of A Down starting, it became only more-so, to the point of discomfort. People around me were routinely collapsing, complaining of being unable to breath, and screaming to the New Breed staff to bring them water urgently – even though they were already running from one end of the barrier to the other distributing water. All this, before the band had even started playing. I wondered what the purpose of using a D-Barrier this year was if it was going to be overcrowded anyway. I’m no concert or festival amateur, but I have never been in at a stage so packed as this one. Even previous big name Soundwave headliners like Faith No More and Iron Maiden didn’t prompt such a crush, and the only thing that seems to have changed this year is the implementation of the D-Barrier, as opposed to the variation on it with open ends which has been used previous years. Although there was probably a crowd turn out just as big, if not bigger, in previous years, this was the first time it has felt uncomfortable, and it was to the point where I considered leaving, and that lives may have been in danger.
Never the less, once System Of A Down emerged on stage, that crowd quickly thinned. People continued to leave, either because they thought the crowding was too much for them, or because they were on the verge of fainting and needed to be lifted over railings to safety. It was lucky that it was such a co-operative and respectful crowd, because the scene could quickly have turned bad. This was the ideal crowd, especially for a progressive band of this kind, swaying, jumping, and pounding the air at all the right times. Playing their opening song in silhouette behind a white screen, System Of A Down didn’t rely on a lot of other gimmicks sometimes offered to headliners. Once the screen dropped, the band broke into more from the Hypnotize/Mezmorize set with B.Y.O.B., allowing the crowd opportunity to alternate between jumping around and grooving to the beats. And so it continued, with Serge looking alternatively supremely passionate and maniacal, no more than when tackling Bounce. It was a fantastic set that couldn’t even be deterred by the overcrowding, or the light rain, that almost seemed to fall on cue as the band gestured into the sky during Aerials.
It was a suitably big close to a big day. There were lots of complaints during the herding of the crowd to the train, but as always it was fairly efficient. Despite enjoying the day more than last year, it seemed tarnished by the addition of such a restrictive barrier to the main stages, and even to minor stages, to the point where it encroached upon the enjoyment of the music. It was just lucky for Soundwave that there were so many performances to save the day. With this in mind, it would take a very strong line-up to entice me to a future Soundwave, and that is something that’s sad to say.