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.

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The Worst Soundwave Ever…
March 9, 2011

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.

Soundwave,
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.