Not Drowning, Soundwaving…
March 5, 2013

Cinnamon Lip,
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.

Soundwave,
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.

Advertisements

Final Soundwave…
March 13, 2012

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.

Soundwave 2012,
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.

Meshuggah

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.

Coal Chamber

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.

Limp Bizkit

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.

Marilyn Manson

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.