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Live Reviews : Soundwave Festival @ Flemington Raceway, Melbourne 01/03/2013

By on March 2, 2013

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Click here to view the full Melbourne Soundwave Festival gallery.

It’s official: Soundwave has arrived. Every year of Soundwave’s existence has been a little step towards the big time. You can visualise the trajectory of Soundwave when you consider their headliners throughout the years: Deftones ’07, the Offspring ’08, Nine Inch Nails ’09, Faith No More ’10, Iron Maiden ’11, System of a Down and Slipknot ’12, and now, Metallica 2013. From media attention to public interest and attendance, to just general hype, Soundwave has finally joined the top echelon of Australian Music Festival, and has arguably surpassed the Big Day Out in many respects (and not just from a Metal Fan’s point of view).

Along with this step up, and no doubt as a result of the huge bills that a headliner like Metallica attracts, Soundwave have followed the  Big Day Out’s lead and moved the few hundred meters from the Royal Showgrounds to Flemington Racecourse. This was always going to be a big test for Soundwave, after the BDO suffered awful feedback following their 2008 Festival, their first at the same location. Five years later and the Big Day Out has finally tamed the new environment, but would Soundwave take as long to get it right?

Well maybe not quite a long, but they could still learn a few lessons from them. The open expanses of Flemington Racecourse are ideal for people to get between venues and have a clear line of sight to stages, however shade is restricted to the few small trees or sitting along the fence lines. Thankfully, the weather gods smiled on the venue this year, and the weather was a lovely mid 20s, meaning that the crowd didn’t melt or the earth turn to dust.

Tomahawk followed up from their recent sold out show at Billboards with a spot on the main stage. Just like at their sidewave, the band sounded great, and kept the early-afternoon crowd entertained through their eclectic sound. Mike Patton had a little hissy fit ten minutes in and kicked the video photographers off the stage, which started with the crowd cheering with him, and ended with everyone wondering who was going to offer him a box of tissues.

Slayer have toured Australia now enough times that no-one should be surprised by their show: they just stand and deliver. If you like them, (and by the look of the crowd, most did) you’re treated to  an aggressive burst of metal, with Tom Araya’s shouted lyrics and Kerry King’s thrashing riffs (minus the absent Dave Lombardo drumming) turning the mosh pit into a frenzy. If you don’t, you were probably queuing for Paramore….

A Perfect Circle made their first appearance in Melbourne since 2004, and haven’t been very active since their last visit. But neither they nor their music has been forgotten, as a massive crowd turned out to sing and dance along to their material. Singer Maynard James Keenan isn’t the most open of frontmen, and was up the back left of the stage, hiding away in a wig. Despite this, his voice is a joy to listen to, and their material hasn’t aged at all.

The one band who looked more out of place than any other was Cypress Hill. Their big entrance into the metal scene was their 2000 double album Skull and Bones Album, which included a suite of metal guest appearances, and their hit single Rock Superstar. Having said that, they fit in pretty well. A substantial crowd of white trash turned up to hear ‘Hit from the Bong’, ‘Insane in the Brain’ and of course, ‘Rock Superstar’. They even got a mosh pit going.

Garbage, making their return to music after a short hiatus, hit the stage next, and again highlighted the diversity of this year’s festival. Shirley Manson is an energetic frontwoman, and the band sounded tight, but their new material didn’t create much of a buzz.

Meanwhile, Linkin Park were over at the main stage and drew a massive crowd, even when you take into account all the fans lining up early for Metallica, and demonstrated how far Soundwave has come that a band that only recently sold out two Rod Laver Arenas is only playing second fiddle. Their set had the crowd moving like few bands throughout the day had managed, but the oldies were still the besties, with ‘One Step Closer’ and ‘Faint’ finishing off the set.

Finally, the reason for the venue change, and the reason why most people were at this year’s event: Metallica. Metal Obsession was at the Sydney Soundwave the week before, and reported that the ANZ Stadium was full during Metallica’s performance, and might have had as many as 50,000 people inside. Given the never ending crowd on this night, there couldn’t have been too many fewer seeing them in Melbourne.

Their setup looked pretty minimalist, but when the hit the stage, the entire backdrop lit up to reveal that it was in fact a giant screen, showing the Bay Area band in 100 ft glory. Who said they had massive egos?

They may be getting on in age, but Lars, James, Kirk and the younger Robert are absolute first class entertainers, and even the crowd far into the distance felt involved in their set.

It was a ‘best of’ show, as Metallica has come fully circle in the last few tours and recognise that their best may be behind them.    Master of Puppets, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), and Fade to Black had the crowd pleased with themselves before the fireworks began to introduce ‘One’. Instantly, a few hundred phones were lifted into the air for everyone to record their own little piece of history. ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ followed, and the steep pricetag of this year’s Soundwave felt immediately justified. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ finished off the set, before James Hetfield returned to the stage to tease the crowd into an Encore.

It was a fitting end to Soundwave 2013, with one of – if not the – biggest metal band in the world blowing people’s minds, and finishing off what was an almost perfect festival. One downside was the relative weakness of the ‘metal stages’ this year, and the reduced emphasis on European metal and metal in general, which AJ has apparently indicated will be rectified in next year’s line up.

So it was another step in the right direction for Soundwave this year, with a line up bigger than ever. The next challenge will be, where can they go from here?

Review by Matthew Dworak

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Scott is one of the fine co-owners of this establishment, handling the live content side of the site. Since 2008 he has been supplying the site with finely crafted photos. Check out his other work at scottboelsen.com, or boost his ego on facebook