You’re headed for a breakdown.
– Cinnamon Lip – Pollyanna
Before almost every festival I’ve been to, I’ve heard on the news that PAD sniffer dogs will be ‘out in force,’ and I’ve usually been disappointed when I get to the festival and don’t see any.
So I was understandably excited when I disembarked from the Soundwave Special to see the station lined with police officers with blonde, brunette and black police labradors. I headed towards them for a closer look, and delighted in their wagging tails – it is good to see them enjoying their work. I’d smiled as I passed several dogs before I became entangled in the leash of a small black dog which seemed to be enthusiastically trying to get past me. I stepped back with a mind to getting out of the dog’s way and letting it continue its duty unobstructed, and fell into the awaiting arms of a policeman. He turned me to face a further two officers wearing white, and asked if I’d mind stepping towards them.
‘The reason you’ve been sent to us,’ started the male officer, who I noticed was wearing blue rubber gloves in conjunction with his white police polo shirt, matching the attire of his female colleague. ‘Is because the dog has indicated that you may be carring an illegal substance on your person.’
I was obviously surprised, and couldn’t think of anything I might have ever carried that could be classed as an illegal substance, let alone on that particular morning after I’d performed a meticulous stocktake on my usual array of pocket and wallet contents in order to make my traversion from one stage to the next as efficient as possible. This at least made unpacking all of my possesions at the officers’ request quick and easy, though I found it difficult to answer their questions without saying something which might get the dog into trouble. Questions like ‘Are you carrying anything you shouldn’t be?’ were easy enough to answer without thought, but others involving descriptions of how highly trained the dog is, and how it is rarely wrong were more difficult to respond to without making what sounded like accusations. I acknowledged that the dogs were all undoubtedly good at their jobs, and pointed out that few people admire dogs in the workforce more than I do, but suggested that, in this case, this particular dog must have been mistaken.
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, March 1, 2013
By the time I was released from police custody (without incident, obviously,) Billy Talent were concluding their set on one of the middle-sized stages, which were notably surrounded this year by the kind of barrier that normally prove little more than a nuisance at the major stages. Luckily the barriers didn’t get in the way too much, and I was able to make it to the adjoining stage to hear a fun-filled set by Flogging Molly, which had the audience dancing, though my comment that I prefer the music of the Mountains Goats seemed to fall on deaf, confused ears. Flogging Molly were the first of the old guard playing on the minor stages who would be the festival’s saving grace.
After a previous Soundwave cancellation, Sum 41 made it to the stage immediately after Flogging Molly for a set which was on par with the band’s usual standards. Whilst that is a high standard, they didn’t bring a lot that was new for those who have seen the band play before, and continued with their usual insistance that they were ‘bringing the metal’ to the stage. Oddly, the audience became very fashion conscious, even bitchy, when fans were invited on stage with the band. ‘Oh my God!‘ cried one girl. ‘He’s just gone on stage… wearing a Blink 182 t-shirt!’
On my first trek to the main stages, I discovered one of this year’s Soundwave Festival’s main flaws: the discrete change of venue from the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds to Flemington Racecourse prime, best remembered as the venue that Big Day Out sucked at from 2009 onwards, was laid out in such a way that the two main stages, traditionally interconnected, were this year spread far apart, with a different, limited access barrier for each. With drawcard acts like Blink 182 and Metallica set to play these stages, the barriers were sure to fill quickly, with no access to view (or even hear) one stage from the other, and viewing limited without the advantage of the remains of the grandstand at the Showgrounds. I arrived for Blink 182 to a disorganised throng of dense crowd, however my years of festival experience allowed me to slip towards the front of the stage without too much obstruction, despite security contractors’ advice that the barrier section was full. This was true – much like last year’s Soundwave, it did feel a little over-crowded in front of the stage, begging the question of the value of these BDO-style barriers at all. If nothing else, the layout prevented me from enjoying any of the tail end of A Perfect Circle‘s set from the other main stage.
My brother famously said that the only good thing about Blink 182 is their drummer. Whilst his comment is at the extreme end of the scale, he isn’t alone amongst Blink fans and their admiration for the drumming styles of Travis Barker. In the moments before the band’s afternoon set, the murmur through the crowd was doubtful of how the stand-in, Brooks from Bad Religion, would perform. For most, these doubts were quashed as soon as the frantic solo introduction to Feeling This was played to perfection. For the others, who stoicly persisted that ‘It just isn’t the same without Travis,’ I am sure it was merely a matter of principal. It was a set heavy in material from the most recent albums Neighborhoods and the self titled record, which was surprising but not a disappointment, with those albums featuring, in my opinion, the band’s best material. Of course, the set also covered all of the hits and favourites from earlier albums too, and whilst the songs driven by Tom sounded great, Mark seemed to be struggling in the vocal department, perhaps driving some of their song choices (or, more importantly, the choice of songs to be omitted.)
Once again, I caught the end of a band’s set on my way to seeing another. This time it was Cypress Hill, who I was disappointed not to have been able to have seen more of, due to their clash with Blink 182. It sounded like I’d missed a good set, ending well, if predictably, on a rendition of Rock Superstar which would have been better without the pauses in the song to allow for audience participation.
The end of their set left me perfectly positioned to enjoy Garbage, who put on the best performance of the day. Shirley Manson stormed onto the stage, clad all in black, broken only by a different colour of polish on each fingernail, and, as well as performing to the audience, seemed to be putting on a show for her band-mates too, climbing on Butch Vig’s drum kit to pose for his photos at one point. Shirley embodies her songs in the same way that Nick Cave does, taking on the persona of each to keep even the most casual of fan engaged for the whole show, stalking around the stage, snarling songs like Why Don’t You Love Me? as though to the unseen lover to which the song is dedicated. The whole set had the audience singing and swaying along, and was a nice change when compared to some of the past crush-along audiences of Soundwaves past.
Festival headliners Metallica had, by this time, commenced their fairly unprecedented two-and-a-half hour festival set, so I took a look through the vast mass of spectators during my dinner break. They sounded okay, but that was about it. There wasn’t anything particularly engaging, but perhaps that was because I was so far away. Later, during the end of Paramore‘s set, I realised that despite the band’s popularity and alleged commercial radio appeal, I don’t really know any of their songs.
Paramore’s crowd cleared quickly once The Offspring took to the stage, backed by a simple, yet impressive lighting set up: The Offspring skull logo hung behind the group, with dancing lights projected onto it in different colours, to create the impression of the band being backed sometimes by flames, sometimes waves in water, and sometimes weirdly coloured slime. It was surprising to see a strong audience reaction to a lot of the more recent songs, but, as expected, the real highlight is always seeing the middle-aged band rocking through songs about how tough it is being a kid, Noodles with a cigarette hanging from his lips even as he shredded through solos. As always, Want You Bad was a set highlight. Despite appearing this year on a smaller stage than at their last Soundwave appearance in 2008 when they’d headlined the show, the Offspring still put on an enjoyable show.
Leaving the venue, in impressively efficient fashion, Metallica could still be heard droning beyond the advertised 10pm noise cut-off time, with announcements at the train station repeatedly talking over them to request that the implausibly named ‘Delta White, please meet your friends at the city-end of the platform.’ Whilst the usual string of cancellations and last-minute changes have come to be a staple of the Soundwave festival, this year was also hindered by the ugliness of the venue, unlikely stage layout and poor sound for the headliners. With the high price tag, I am again left to say that it would need to be a good line-up for me to consider Soundwave again, but good line-ups are something that Soundwave are known for.