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.

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.


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.

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.