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Live Reviews : Soundwave (Melbourne) – 26/02/2010

By on March 15, 2010

Soundwave Festival

Melbourne – 26/02/2010

For metal heads all around the country, Soundwave has become the only place to go for a reliable source of heavy metal. Only in its sixth year, the festival has evolved greatly from its roots. Starting off in 2004 based mainly in the world of punk, the festival has every year added more big name mainstream acts to the line-ups. This year, the festival entered the big leagues, with a line-up eclipsing almost any in the country with headliners including Faith No More, Placebo, Jane’s Addiction, Jimmy Eat World, Eagles of Death Metal, Paramore and AFI.

Fortunately, these bands are but complementing for us an amazing lineup of heavy metal. HIM, Trivium, Anthrax, Meshuggah, Isis, Anvil, Enter Shikari, White Chapel, Rolo Tomassi, on top of a long list of bands with cross-over appeal, makes the only problem one of time management.

Arriving at the festival at 2, it was clear that this was going to be a well run event. Joining the flow of a full trainload of people, the sole entrance handled the sudden throng with ease, with the queue only a few people long. This was also one of the many benefits that those attending this festival have profited from in capping attendance much lower than the Big Day Out.

But to the music. The first band I wanted to catch, and pulled myself through the scorching sun to see, was American band Isis. Their venue for the day was stage four, which is basically a massive shed and housed most of the day’s metal. Providing shade from the sun was welcome, but it was pretty much a sauna when mixed with the sweat of a few hundred metal heads. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only downside. Whether it’s because of the speakers reverberating the sound off of the metal roof or any other possible explanation, this venue was cursed from start to finish with sub standard sound.

Isis performed a solid set. They pulled a fairly impressive audience given the time of day, and the audience did not seem at all disappointed.  They’re a band which certainly let the music do the talking when they’re on stage, and with the quality of their music it’s not hard to blame them. But with the audio not at its best in the tin shed, their performance was somewhat diminished, and some more action on stage would have been welcome attract our attention away from it.

Next up was Glassjaw outside on stage three. This venue is ideal for the festival setting. Placed in front of stadium seating, the stage is set up like an old amphitheatre, meaning that there is ample space for both standing and to rest one’s weary legs but still be close by.

Unlike in the shed, the sound on stage three was perfect, and Glassjaw were the perfect band to test this out on. Combining progressive melodies with distorted hardcore heaviness, the American four piece entertained the relatively small crowd. Vocalist Daryl Palumbo was the undoubted star of the show, hitting the clean singing pitch perfect and creating chaos in his screams, between engaging the crowd in friendly banter.

The Showgrounds truly is the perfect festival venue. It’s right next to public transport, there’s stadium seating to watch most stages as well as plenty of trees and buildings from which to escape the sun, and all of this in an area compact enough that it’s just a short walk from one venue to the next.

So it was only a minute after Glassjaw were finished that we were on the ground to check out the main stages, and to watch the band that every girl came to see, and each of their boyfriends got dragged along to – Paramore. The scream that went up when singer Hayley Williams came onto the stage only confirmed this, with the noise being comparable only to that of a full cinema at a Twilight premiere. Jumping around like a child on Whiz Fizz, Williams’ enthusiasm was infectious. Standing at the back of a throng of screaming girls, it was still obvious that the sound quality was perfect, with their sound coming across as if it was being played on a CD… like a Twilight soundtrack…

But not a moment too soon it was time to head over to smallest of the venues, with bands alternating on the stages at opposite ends of another shed on stages five and six. The band of interest being English Nintendo-Death band Rolo Tomassi. Having discovered them last year on a CD for review, I was anticipating something between Swedish hardcore band Refused and Kraftwerk. What I was not expecting was a bunch of teenagers, appearing out of place not in their school uniforms. But their youthful appearance only lulled the crowd into a false sense of security, because when they started playing, they did not play like kids.

Precise on their instruments playing some very technical material, these five pocket rockets were as energetic and entertaining as any band on the day. And it wasn’t long before the crowd, made up almost entirely of kids aged 14 to 18, were swinging their arms and trying to bloody one another up, but all in the name of paying homage to the band they came to see.

Both Eva and James Spence were amazing on vocals, capturing the extreme energy of their music on stage. Eva was lively as she danced and head banged her way around stage, whilst James provided one of the more entertaining moments of the day as he was lifted up into the crowd to sing along on one of the tracks. This is definitely a band to keep a lookout for in the future.

A quick trip back to the main stage to see a rather more subdued performance by Placebo was in store next. Despite still being a huge force in the alternative music scene, Placebo was playing far from the headline position. Aided in their performance at the festival was a screen running behind the band flashing pictures and  video of random action, which was a welcome accompaniment to a good performance by the band. Playing their hits both young and old, a large crowd assembled to check out a set starting with the new in For What it’s Worth, as well as a string of older hits including Every You, Every me, Special K, Infra Red, and Taste in Men.

Having had our daily intake of Vitamin D, it was time to get out of the sun and back into the metal shed to see what was expected to be one of the highlights of this year’s metal line-up – Meshuggah. However, as soon as their trademark chugging guitar kicked in it was clear that this would not be their day. From where this reviewer was standing at least, the sound came out as droning  noise, and the bands lack of action on stage made the poor sound all the more obvious. The dedicated didn’t seem to mind too much, but to the casual observer the sound made this set a less than enjoyable experience. Nevertheless, it was still great to have to opportunity to hear modern classics such as Bleed and older ones in Future Breed Machine live.

A band which has no problem with providing the crowd with an entertaining stage show is AFI, who were up next on the main stage.  Running out on stage with all the enthusiasm of the aforementioned Paramore, singer Davey Havok was running left, running right, in between pulling some uber-melodramatic poses. Having the advantage of crystal clear sound, AFI performed an entertaining set, including radio played to death songs such as Miss Murder, and the Leaving Song Pt. 2, and were a nice accompaniment to a midday doze in the sun.

Anthrax were the next lucky band to be hosted on the metal stage, and it was pretty surprising to see the massive turnout they got, considering the average age of soundwave attendees. Back with former singer John Bush, the thrash metal legends overcame the noise issues inside the shed, and with their enthusiasm made it easy to forget that the sound wasn’t perfect. The highlight of the set had to be the unexpected cover of the hardcore classic New Noise by Refused, which I never thought could be done so well by a bunch of old thrashers, and got the crowd going crazy. Ending the set with their major mainstream hit Bring the Noise, Anthrax showed the rest of the bands how to play when the conditions aren’t great.

Staying firmly in the early nineties but a few hundred metres over to the main stages, and it was time to catch a classic band of the alternative music scene in Jane’s Addiction. Like Anthrax, Jane’s managed to pull a relatively large crowd, and played a set consisting mainly of the pre-reformation classics, such as Jane Says, Mountain Song, Been Caught Stealing and Stop. Playing the old classics was a sure way to keep the fans satisfied, but it all seemed a little boring after some truly entertaining sets by other bands, with some of the stage theatrics of lead singer Perry Farrell such as during Whores being just bizarre.

Thankfully though, we were soon heading back to the metal stage for one of the best performances of the day. Trivium was guaranteed a good turnout, being one of the biggest metal acts announced for this year’s festival, and on making our way to the stage there wasn’t any disappointment. As was the case with Anthrax, Trivium showed the early bands how to play when the conditions are against you. It probably doesn’t hurt either when your style of music isn’t dependent on the finer details, but Trivium’s stage presence and crowd interaction had the entire venue involved in the music.

Trivium played a solid fifty minutes of their finest thrash, including all of the usual suspects such as Anthem, Down from the Sky, Like Light to the Flies, and finishing with crowd favourite Pull Harder on the Strings of your Matyr, and were for me a fitting farewell to the metal stage for another year.

It was time now to return to the main stage to wait for the biggest thing to happen for me in music since the formation of Faith No More – the re-formation of Faith No More! Firstly though there was the obligatory wait through the band that probably shouldn’t have been on so late, Jimmy Eat World. Called in as a late replacement for My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World played a mild set of soft rock, culminating in two good songs – Bleed American and The Middle. While it may not have been worth the wait to see those songs, it was definitely worth the wait to see Faith No More…

By the time Faith No More came out on stage, all dressed in matching suit and ties, it seemed that everybody who was at Soundwave was watching them. Thankfully, tonight’s show wasn’t preceded by the comedian who rambled on for a solid twenty minutes at their show the night before, and instead they kicked straight into a rendition of – wait for it – Crowded House classic Don’t Cream it’s Over. If this seemed like an unusual choice of opener, the crowd certainly didn’t mind, as they sang and danced along.

The band played sing-along classics such as From Out of Nowhere, Be Aggressive, as well  as the heavier Land of Sunshine, and from the start the crowd was going crazy, some a little too crazy with the fights starting as people began pushing to the front.

Being Faith No More, it’s not enough just to put on a good show – there’s always something more. Tonight it was Chat Roulette. After the first few songs, Keyboardist Roddy Bottum explained that the images displayed on the giant screen next to the stage were from the website Chat Roulette. To the uninitiated, this is a website where you chat randomly to other people with a webcam, and tonight Faith No More were hooked up and live. However, for the most part this just involved people appearing on the screen, looking generally confused at when they were looking at, and then closing the window, and repeat.

But back to the music. After keeping it mellow with the casual Evidence from the King for a Day album, the lads took things a bit heavier with Last Cup of Sorrow, and the Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and then to the weird and wonderful with Cuckoo for Caca. Lighters were in the air and the crowd were singing along up next with Easy, while on the screen things were getting more interesting. By now some people realised what they were looking at, and a father and son were swaying to the music in their living room and trying to do the devil horns, and some weirdo was sitting in front of his computer with a motor bike helmet. And then the inevitable happened – the screen goes to black, and the next thing to appear is a man lying naked on his back, with his penis in a pump (yes, just like that one on Austin Powers) swinging his bits from sides to side. About ten minutes later, and it’s the same thing, only without the pump, and more use of the hand… and while this may now sound weird, and even somewhat disgusting, at the time it had the crowd in stitches, and it was exactly what you expect from the masters of entertainment – an experience. Every show these guys do is unique, unlike so many other bands that have their set lines to say night after night. The night before Mr Patton was somersaulting into the crowd, and a few nights after in Brisbane he was taking control of the video cameras and showing the crowd his penis.

Towards the end of the set, the crowd was treated to their rendition of the Bees Gees cover I Started a Joke, before Digging the Grave, King for a Day and Epic lifted the crowd again into action and singing, dancing, headbanging and moshing gave the festival area the intensity of a club show, which was finished off with the oh so epic Just a Man.

After thanking and then leaving the audience, the band returned for the obligatory encore, playing the made-for-FNM cover of the Sparks song This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us. Finally, they played the oldest song of the night, the classic We Care A Lot, and the set was over.

Despite all of their antics, this was just a sideshow to what was a flawless musical performance by a truly amazing group of musicians. Patton’s voice was perfect throughout, with the Faith No More material being like a walk in the park compared to that of his other projects. And their humorous banter and presence on stage truly rounded of the perfect performance.

Compliments must go out again for the organisers for such a great festival. Whilst the audio on the Metal Stage continues to be an annoyance, especially to those who were glued there for the entire day, the rest of the festival ran as well as a festival possibly can, and ensured that again, Soundwave was a success.

Review: Mathew Boelsen
Photo: Scott Boelsen