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.

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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.

Winter Soundwave…
October 2, 2011

‘Goodnight, Springton.  There will be no encore…’
– Spinal Tap – The Simpsons

It would perhaps be to risk committing slander to refer to the organisers of Soundwave Revolution as irresponsible, however, the fact remains that as late as the Monday before the show, statements were still being submitted to the press referring to the replacement Counter Revolution show for Melbourne as taking place at ‘Festival Hall and surrounds.’

Counter Revolution,
Festival Hall, Melbourne, September 30, 2011

I’d been kind of relieved when the originally announced Soundwave Revolution had been cancelled.  Whilst the line up had promised some appealing elements, I was concerned by the casual negligence of the event ads to mention the name of the venue.  When a racetrack in Melton was finally announced, I quickly discovered that Melton appears to have only one motel which was already booked out.  As September dawned, this was downgraded to the Counter Revolution ‘mini-festival’ at Sidney Myer Music Bowl and later to Festival Hall and its alleged surrounds, and was boasting ‘No clashes!’ which should have alerted everyone to the fact that this was no longer a festival at all.

Meanwhile, speculation with friends was rife regarding what these surrounds might be.  There were suggestions of the Carron or Spencer Hotels, and even North Melbourne Station, but I had less optimism.  I suggested that there would be no surrounds included at all.  If the owners of the terrace houses in neighbouring blocks complain to police when noise and activity are confined to within Festival Hall, imagine the outrage if it were to spill into their streets.

Sure enough, as I left the Carron and headed down Rosslyn Street, there was little sign of life other than a guy spray painting promotional stencils onto the street for The Getaway Plan’s new single.

Inside Festival Hall, it was already quite crowded at eleven o’clock.  I was given a cushy job that allowed an unobstructed view of the precedings:  finally making use of my ill-begotten RSA licence and issuing ‘Proof Of Age’ wristbands upon presentation of ID to those who wanted to drink.

The venue seemed to have filled very early for a fourteen hour event – which had apparently caught the cloakroom girls off-guard – but it was still very sparsely populated inside, and peculiarly cold.  The stage had been divided down the middle by a row of Marshalls, so that a band could be performing on one side of the amps whilst the stage was being set up on the other side for the next band.  It meant that there were no breaks between bands which was novel, but also raised some kind of compatibility issue with the lighting set up.  The half-quantity of lights only seemed able to cast the bands in a dim, sporadic glow, so it felt a bit like watching a Nirvana or Prodigy video.  Alesana were the first band anyone seemed interested in watching, and I guess for the people who rushed to the front of the stage the lighting wouldn’t have been such a concern.

My wristbands were a surprisingly sought-after attraction, with the expected allocation being claimed by the end of Alesana’s set.  When the stylish red and white checked design wristbands had run out, somebody quickly replenished my stock with an alternative.  These ones were emblazoned with the advice ‘Drink responsibly’ and a drawing of a Martini.  The combination of elements in the design made me crave a drink, like those television commercials with the Olympian who I went to school with.  Drinking responsibly seemed like a fine idea, but I still had around twelve hours of work ahead of me.

Skull and crossBandsThe efficiency of the stage set up was evident as the vastly superior yet obviously less popular Go Radio started playing Living End-esque riffs immediately as Alesana stepped off stage.  A girl with a Butterfree tattoo stumbled up to me, acting drunker than she really was.  Wordlessly, she presented her wrist to me, and when I asked to see her ID, she laughed maniacally to the point that she fell on the floor, spilling twenty dollar bills everywhere and suddenly becoming more sober.  I collected a few and handed them to her as she stood up, and she laughed some more, and found her licence.  I checked the age and picture and wrapped a wristband on her, and she thanked me with a kiss and stumbled away just as she’d arrived.  Meanwhile, the band’s cover of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep didn’t seem to elicit the response the band had hoped for.

Hellogoodbye – who I had been looking forward to seeing – also didn’t attract the audience that they perhaps deserved.  Their intriguingly-produced bubble-rock translated very well to the live arena, although the signing tables proved a much greater attraction to the bulk of the patrons, despite the apparently not outrageousness of having to purchase an additional ticket to visit, and another for each band.  My viewing of Hellogoodbye’s impressive set was occasionally interrupted by girls crying after their meeting with The Damned Things at the signing table.  I was surprised to see that they were the first of the singing draw card bands, especially since their set which followed wasn’t anything special, though I guess many of those were probably fans of band members’ main projects like Anthrax, or perhaps more likely, Fall Out Boy.

As per usual, I didn’t really get the hype surrounding Funeral For A Friend.  Even though their opening strains had audience members running from the stands and bars to get to the floor, other than some appealing album covers, I just can’t manage to find much of interest in the band’s sound or live shows, even after seeing them play so many times in the past.  They were followed by Set Your Goals, a band I hadn’t heard before.  I quite enjoyed their dual vocal, Good Charlotte sound.  It was during their set that a whole bunch of people decided they needed wristbands and a queue started to form.  I noticed that lots of the wrists were adorned with cuts of various severity.  I had almost identical conversations with several patrons.

‘You’re asking me for ID?  I’m, like, the oldest person here!’

After a brief and uninteresting debate, they would present their ID, which invariably showed a birth-year of 1992 0r 1993, and be given a wristband.  A couple of people felt like arguing because they had not brought ID, and made various demands which I did not meet, since I didn’t consider them important.  As an all-ages show, they were already inside and welcome to stay.  As far as I was concerned their ability to drink was entirely unimportant.

This Providence arrived and threatened to steal the show.  With a faintly Japanese sound and a flamboyant front man, their live sound would probably best slot in somewhere between My Chemical Romance and Yves Klein Blue, but with soft songs that proved reminiscent of Coheed And Cambria.  Although I hadn’t heard This Providence’s music before, their powerful set has inspired me to ensure that I listen to more of it in future.  Although the audience seemed to enjoy their set, it was clear most of them were just filling the time until Story Of The Year came on.  Never have I seen as many t-shirts that read ‘Blitz Kids Never Die’ as I did during Story Of They Year’s set which was fine, but nothing really revolutionary or otherwise memorable.

A pleasant surprise, though not of particular interest to the majority of the audience, were Face To Face in what I guess is their first Australian tour since their reformation.  Their somehow more serious sounding punk rock, drawing close to ska sounds, were amongst the best musical moments of the whole day, though few in the audience seemed to notice, I guess due to a lack of on-stage gimmicks, and a solid looking guy approached me, bringing his wrist slowly up towards me, and peering at me from beneath the brim if his hat.

‘Have you got some ID to show me?’ I asked him, meeting his gaze sideways.

He continued to glare at me from beneath the hat and slowly shook his head, the edges of his lips turning up in a vicious looking scowl.

‘Then you can’t have a wristband.’

Still wordlessly, he finally looked away, as though trying to barely contain some incredible rage, and finally flipped a drivers licence to me.  His age checked out and I gave him a wristband and he left without a sound.

Yellowcard were next up, and effortlessly drew the largest audience of the day, despite my consideration of the group as little more than a support act.  I guess that’s just because my previous experience of the band has been at such.  From the moment the trademark violin appeared on stage, the screaming was constant, and I have to admit that the band seems to have improved with age.  A rendition of Five Becomes Four was particularly enjoyable, and I caught myself singing along before it was through.  The peculiarly highly billed Young Guns followed, but their performance was largely ignored with the intermittent view of Brendon Urie as movement at the signing table caused the surrounding curtains to part slightly proving too big an attraction to ignore for the many who had missed out on the tickets for Panic! At The Disco’s signing, which was sold out by the time I arrived.  A few people asked me where to buy tickets, but by that point, the promoters in charge of the signing had left.

Meanwhile another of the event organisers was appalled when I refused to give a wristband to a pair of guys allegedly involved in the show in some way.  After a brief argument he told me to fuck off, before himself leaving, allowing me free time to watch a set which proved to be overly expletive-laden by All Time Low.  I was certain that at one point the band referred to the audience as ‘Sydney,’ and after the song, Alex Gaskarth, his band-mates laughing behind him, apologised for calling the crowd ‘Brisbane.’  I wondered if this was some kind of joke.  When they were playing, the group sounded okay – particularly a song towards the end that opened with drum machine that caught me off guard, like when I’m Your Daddy comes on during the first listen to Weezer’s Raditude, and you wonder if the sound is a joke or parody, but then it gets bumped up a notch on Can’t Stop Partying and everyone knew it was serious, but I liked it – but they just spent too much time on banter and innuendo.  Late in the set the band seemed to be joking amongst themselves when they proclaimed ‘Craig from D.R.U.G.S. is backstage fellashying himself.’  Presumably he meant ‘fellating.’

Whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be true, because D.R.U.G.S. themselves appeared impatiently waiting on the opposite side of the stage for All Time Low to finish what turned out to be the only set to run overtime in an otherwise impeccably maintained schedule.  D.R.U.G.S. brought a darker and more layered sound to the day, which was a nice change, and it was good to see keyboards on stage, and more were being set up on the opposite side in preparation for Panic! At The Disco.  When Panic! finally emerged after D.R.U.G.S., it was perhaps to a smaller than expected audience.  It seemed that around half of the audience of the peak of the day had already filtered out after Yellowcard finished, but they missed a fine set from Panic!, who played hit after hit and sounded pitch-perfect, deviating from the formula only for a Darkness cover.

My suspicions turned out to be wrong.  I’d thought that after the initially appealing Soundwave Revolution line up, the Counter Revolution bill read like a series of side-stages.  Even though the show could hardly be called a festival, it was still a good day of music, and ran surprisingly smoothly.  Were it not for the public scandal that came before, Counter Revolution could have existed as a stand-alone rock show.  As it is, I think it provided what it set out to, and can be proud of that.

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.