Soundwave At Melbourne Showgrounds.
The atmosphere at this year's sold-out Soundwave Festival was nothing less than overwhelming. Thousands of excited punters flocked towards the gates in anticipation of a colossal day of music. The event could have been mistaken for an alternative fashion show though, with an assortment of fantastically eccentric outfits on display. Every hue under the rainbow was flaunted in hair colour, there were mohawks and liberty spikes tall enough to become tangled in overhead trees, pirate costumes, patch-laden jackets, tartan pants, bright hippie-style attire, creative tattoos and piercings. Just looking upon the crowd and experiencing the palpable excitement was stimulating enough, and all this before even entering the festival site.
Having attended Soundwave in previous years, I was aware of a more diverse lineup and larger crowds than in the past, which also added to the buzz. The weather fluctuated between sunny to spattering rain, warm to freezing, but although it may have been uncomfortable it failed to dampen spirits. First up, I hastened to catch Melbourne locals Anchors on stage three, having fallen in love with their debut album and eager to see them live. Anchors provided an estimable performance for an up-and-coming local band in the big ring. Very reminiscent of Rise Against's sound, especially due to their singer's vocal style, Anchors collectively delivered their set of melodic, fast-paced, hardcore-infused punk. This band sounded fantastic - but while the drummer gave his all and each member of the band mouthed the lyrics, it was singer that carried them as far as performance goes. He flew around the stage as the rest of the band remained, rather awkwardly, in their places.
Next, it was over to the main stages as punk rock funsters MXPX united with The Ataris' lead singer Kris Roe to perform songs selected from both bands' catalogues. As they began with songs by The Ataris, the huge crowd that had gathered was engaged but not all that excited, and it was only when MXPX tunes filled the air that the hands went up and fists began to pump.
Having heard rave reviews of Oxford's This Town Needs Guns, I headed over to discover what all the fuss was about - but I remain to this day oblivious to their allure. While the sizeable crowd appeared to be enjoying themselves, clapping along within seconds of the first song - watching a very properly dressed vocalist wobble around as if he was some kind of dolphin made of jelly and shake a maraca to soft, rather blasé rock material failed to woo me. However, while waiting for them to take the stage, I caught the last few minutes of Bayside's set, which was simply explosive by comparison and was utterly enjoyable.
After determinedly remaining for a few songs before the horrifically loud sound levels of stage five drove me away concerned for my ears, I rushed over to catch alt/rock act Anberlin's performance back on stage three - and I'm glad I did. Anberlin's electrifying live spectacle surprised and delighted me, the band almost destroying the stage with their united energy. Disappointingly, singer Stephen Christian failed to execute the higher notes of their songs, forcing an off key yell as he reached the end of his range. Surprisingly, this didn't detriment their performance much; Christian displayed such showmanship that it made it almost impossible to be critical, thus engaged in watching the band's live antics.
Over at stage six, I briefly checked out metal-core unit 36 Crazy Fists, who can be said to be good at what they do, but didn't dish out any surprises.
Back at stage three, Social Distortion were swaggering onto the stage. Loyal, long-time fans gazed with adoration as Social Distortion recited new songs off of their latest and seventh studio album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, but the audience hadn't yet gotten moving, causing one member of the crowd to wonder "have the zombies forgotten how to dance?" As guitarist Jonny Wickersham pointed his knees inward to adopt an old school punk stance and old numbers were played, however, the crowd seemed to regain life and the mosh went from relatively sedate to wild. Singer and guitarist Mike Ness'
demeanour was fascinating. Closing his eyes during guitar solos and immersing himself in the music, Ness was relaxed and apparently so far past hankering the audience's approval. Declaring complacently "we started this band back when punk rock was dangerous," and provoking an audience member by teasing audaciously "if you want to throw something, baby boy, come up here and do it where I can see you," the frontman was not arrogant but carried the air of casual superiority of a man who had seen it all, done it all and had discovered his place in the world.
Heavy hardcore act Terror was next, slaying me with their brutally heavy breakdowns and aggressive stage performance. Terror was described to me as 'fucking intense,' which proved an apt description. Frontman Scott Vogel threw off his microphone to trash around, diving into the mosh as fans crowd crawled their way over each other to be close to him.
Then, I was skanking to Less Than Jake, who provided the most enjoyable performance of the day as a packed venue of fans traded dancing for circle pits and back again. Introducing themselves with the Warner Bros theme song, Less Than Jake created a palpable joy in a crowd with their comedic banter and their fast ska/punk adorned with horns.
After waiting nearly an hour in an attempt to obtain something to eat (wouldn't you think, more people, more stalls?) I hastened to catch Slash showcase his guitar finesse, supported by a guest band including singer Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) who's rather Axl Rose-esque voice did the Guns & Roses classics Slash played amongst his new solo material justice.
On my way to see The Mad Caddies I stumbled across One Day As A Lion, an experimental and unique and interesting act that didn't always sound that good, and the unbelievably, fantastically bizarre ensemble that is Foxy Shazam. Deeming themselves as "the animal in the zoo most likely to bite your head off without warning," Foxy Shazam was a huge keyboardist with an even huger bead, a slurring trumpeter, grooving drums, rock guitar and an incredibly eccentric, moustached singer with a tendency to suddenly lead onto his guitarist's shoulders during a solo, prompting the keyboardist to follow and leap onto his instrument - just, wow. The Mad Caddies' ska/punk set was one big party; their cheeky, laid-back attitude was infectious and had a merry crowd dancing like mad.
A fan of their new album, I then went to catch Bring Me The Horizon, who blew my mind. Not allowing the crowd to rest for a minute, Oli Skyes demanded circle pits and walls of death as the crowd screamed back their metal-core tracks with emotion. Clothes were removed during the track Fuck, and Skyes had the entire audience sit on the floor before jumping to "try and touch the roof" during Anthem. Continuing to use an old trick he used from his Bleeding Through days, Jona Weinhofen concluded the band's set by playing on top of the stack, and was followed by the rest of the band for the dramatic finale.
Unfortunately, due to a clash, I only managed to catch the end of punk act Pennywise as the "woah, woah-oh-ohhs" of Bro Hymn Tribute echoed around the festival grounds, but if both they and Swedish punks Millencolin delivered half the performance they did at their sideshow earlier in the week, they were sure to have more than satisfied their Soundwave crowd.
Next, I flew over to hardcore punk act The Bronx and ended up supporting singer Matt Caughthran with my head as he surfed over the crowd.
As the festival began to near its end things got hectic, with everyone debating which headliner to see. Witnessing some of hard rock legends Iron Maiden's performance, which was a spectacular stage show decked out with a lighting show and backdrop fit for kings, exemplified just how full the festival grounds were. People seemingly stretched out for miles as the rock gods smashed out their classics.
Running back to stage three, I headed to see Gaslight Anthem as they gave a heartfelt performance of their soaring, melodic rock anthems and punkier tunes to adoring fans. Gracious and appreciative of our attention, singer Brian Fallon smiled his way through their set, concluding what was a tremendous day of live music.
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