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Report: Soundwave, Brisbane 2013

Report: Soundwave, Brisbane 2013

Soundwave Festival 2013
RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
Saturday 23 February 2013

 

This is the paragraph for the requisite context-setting that precedes every festival review ever. Soundwave is now easily bigger than the Big Day Out. They’ve long since sold out all five shows on this tour. This is where the real money is spent and earned each year as far as the Australian rock festival circuit is concerned. Each year Soundwave drops a line-up that’s more bloated with international talent than the last. Twenty-thirteen is no exception.

THE LOSERS VS INDIFFERENT VS WINNERS SCORE CARD:

The Losers

Playing their first Australian show in nine years, A Perfect Circle had a fantastic opportunity to crowd-please in a late afternoon slot. They dropped the ball. We got a languid 50 minute set that drew heavily on material from eMOTIVe, their so-so covers album from 2004. Only one track from their 2000 debut, Mer de Noms (‘The Hollow’) – a disorienting remix of ‘3 Libras’ notwithstanding – and two from Thirteenth Step (a great take on ‘Weak and Powerless’, and ‘The Outsider’, wherein the guitars were barely audible).

They did play a new song, ‘By And Down’, right near the end, but by this point the crowd’s energy had sapped considerably and most people inside the D barrier just stood there, staring, confused as to why they were choosing these songs. Far too earnest for their own good, this was by far the most disappointing set I witnessed all day. I had way more fun at Puscifer the night before – the other other band of APC/Tool singer Maynard James Keenan – despite that group having far fewer great songs than A Perfect Circle. I get it: Maynard doesn’t give a fuck about conventions or expectations. He’s his own man! Isn’t he rebellious? What a guy! But this set sucked, plain and simple.

Kyuss Lives! were mixed so poorly that I fled after three songs. John Garcia’s vocals twice as loud as any of the instruments on stage? No thanks. These guys were good when they toured last year (review), so I’m not sure what went wrong today. When they first arrived on stage, Garcia’s mic was inaudible; someone at the sound desk massively overcompensated for their fuck-up. Also, no Nick Oliveri?

Kyuss Lives

Stone Sour are surely the least offensive band on the bill. Despite the grandstanding of Corey Taylor, who is an excellent frontman with one of the best voices in rock, there’s really not much to like about this band. I heard the majority of their set while waiting for Slayer and I couldn’t recall a single hook or melody. Beige.

Myself, for losing my sunglasses. I can’t blame this on drink, drug, or mosh-pits, either. Just carelessness. Idiot.

The Indifferent

Local band The Schoenberg Automaton open main-stage proceedings as gates open on the stroke of eleven. To my ears their sound like generic hardcore with some highly technical guitar and drumwork tacked on. This formula is generally a win at this festival, though. They sound huge through the PA. These are my observations from the shade of a grandstand as the temperature climbs into the low thirties and we all begin losing litres of fluid hourly.

Anthrax

I don't find Anthrax to be especially engaging but it feels like I'm in the minority. They unveil flags bearing the visages of Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, which is a nice touch. ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Indians’, ‘I Am The Law’...they cover ‘TNT’ by AC/DC, one of the few heavy bands to not have graced these festival stages (next year?), and it doesn’t scan as a forced attempt at getting us onside -- the entire arena already was. “Please remember to always worship music,” says Scott Ian at set’s end. OK.

Dragonforce play all of the notes there are to play during their opening song, which goes for 10 minutes and contains as many guitar solos. Trying to listen to their newest album yesterday in preparation (while keeping a straight face) was hard work, and so is standing in the scorching sun while they shred. I can only stick it out for a couple of songs. I do like Herman Li's whammy bar trick though: he holds the guitar aloft while it feeds back, then drops it onto his upper thigh with a flourish and continues playing. Dexterity.

Shirt slogans spotted throughout the day:

Tell your boobs to stop staring at me - worn by suss-looking, chubby 20 year old.

Guns don’t kill people, Ray Lewis kills people.

We’re just old farts who love music - worn by three 50-plus year-old guys in uniform.

Fat guy wears Mystic Wolf shirt - worn by same.

Suck my Richard - worn by tall, pasty redhead.

It’s all good when you’re the big dude - worn by fat dude struggling to climb stairs.

A singlet that reads  I’m a Lars Ulrich guy - exact meaning unclear.

My favourite: You’ve never been drunk till you’ve shit yourself – Fraser Island 2010. Graphic.

 

The Winners

Red Fang, a hard rock band from Portland, Oregon. All I knew about them before today was that I learned how to play one of their songs in the guitar videogame Rocksmith, but they’re an early highlight on stage 5, which is tucked away at the arse-end of the festival behind a pile of shipping containers. They’re an unassuming four-piece who play stoner rock intersected by blistering guitar solos. By set’s end they’ve induced the day’s first Guitar Hero moment, wherein hundreds of people spontaneously raise their devil horns and wave them toward the band. Singer/bassist: “Make sure you stay hydrated with lots of beer…” Guy in crowd yells: “FUCK YEAH!” “…and some water.”

Similarly, Texan quartet The Sword, who play on the same stage a few hours later to a slightly bigger crowd. It’s one of the purest, least pretentious sets I see all day. Four dudes who have mastered their instruments, who can write great metal songs, and who can play them perfectly live. Fantastic.

Flogging Molly. This was the first time I’ve consciously engaged with their music, and I’m glad I did. I found plenty of half-cut dudes faux-Riverdancing to the fiddle, the tin whistle, the banjo, et cetera. Celtic punk rock. It’s a good time. I watch them after eating a BBQ bacon and cheese burger in the shade of a tin shed – delicious – which features pop-punk act The Wonder Years on stage in the middle, and a bar directly behind. It sounds utterly awful in here: nothing but a disorienting, ugly wash of cymbals and the crowd chanting “whoa-oh-oh” every couple of minutes. This must be a special kind of torture for the bar and security staff stationed here all day.

Tomahawk

The weirdest music heard on the main stage all day belonged to Tomahawk, the Mike Patton-led experimental metal quartet. They play many of their best songs – ‘God Hates A Coward’, ‘Flashback’, ‘Rape This Day’, ‘101 North’ – as well as some songs from their new album, Oddfellows. It’s a good set that’s carried by Patton’s charisma and a typically punishing performance by John Stanier, one of the world’s best living rock drummers...but it doesn’t connect well with the audience. I’m sitting in a grandstand while they play, and it seems that a good chunk of the crowd are either indifferent to the band, or a little freaked-out. This is fine; it’s good to be challenged and confronted at a music festival. I doubt whether they’ve won many fans by set’s end, though.

Slayer are an hour-long blur of noise. That’s a compliment. All four members seem to be wearing their own band merch, including the work experience drummer, who’s filling in for band co-founder Dave Lombardo on this tour (against his wishes). It’s quite a sight to see Kerry King, the bald, tattooed behemoth of thrash metal, scowling and chugging away in the afternoon sunlight. I stand outside of the D barrier for the first half of their set and I’m enthralled by the circle pit that opens in front of me, peopled by shirtless strongmen competing with one another to control the spot of turf. One guy is knocked out by a vicious shoulder-barge, and helped shakily to his feet by a few kind souls; that gesture aside, there’s nothing but aggression on display. Fascinating behaviour. The band’s closing bracket is the most vicious heard today: ‘Angel Of Death’, a strange encore break where the band temporarily vacate the stage, ‘South of Heaven’, and then – of course – a punishing read of ‘Raining Blood’. Frontman Tom Araya asks us to thank Jon Dette for filling in on drums, and we do: he’s a machine, no doubt. No mention of Lombardo, though. 

Garbage

The most surprising set of the day belongs to Garbage. I see them mainly to avoid Linkin Park on the main stage, but also to use my remaining drink tickets, eat dinner (the questionably-named ‘Fisherman’s Cone’), and lose my sunglasses, as it plays out. The Wisconsin quartet are really impressive live: the sound is excellent, and for the rock trainspotters in attendance, ex-Jane’s Addiction bassist Eric Avery is playing four strings at the back of stage, next to the drumkit. Frontwoman Shirley Manson gives a mid-set soliloquy about how some of the bands on this line-up convinced her many years ago that she could be a musician, and do something with her life, rather than being objectified simply for being a woman. She urges any girls in the audience thinking of joining a band to do so, because you’ll get the chance to have a great life. My paraphrasing is a poor substitute for her actual words, which prompt a huge cheer from the crowd – male and female – and give me goosebumps. It’s the most empowering message that I hear today. Their set is a lean 50 minutes of their best material, including most of their singles; ‘Push It’ runs through my head for the whole of the next day. Quality.

Finally: how long do you think it’s been since Metallica played a bad show? It just doesn't seem possible. These four men are so exact, so demanding of themselves and so committed to throwing their all into each set that they have the unexpected (and perhaps unintended) consequence of putting every other band today to shame. It’s not the stimulus overload of their headline set that leads me to that conclusion – though all of that certainly helps them get the message across. (An enormous, stage-spanning LED screen projecting live images of the band; a two-level stage with built-in flamethrowers on the second level; fireworks rigged to explode at key moments.) It’s more to do with the depth of material that they mine, and the sheer perfectionism on display. [Read our recent behind-the-scenes with the band in our 'Week With Metallica' piece - Ed.]Theirs is a show, in the true theatrical sense; most other bands today simply played their songs for the allotted time, then fucked off. A two-hour set atop a festival bill packed with some of the world’s greatest heavy bands is a luxury afforded to few, yet there’s no question that Metallica make the most of it.