Soundwave @ Melbourne Showgrounds – 2nd March 2012 | Festival Review

Review by Billy Geary

As the black clad army of fans bustled through the gates at the Melbourne Showgrounds, there was a genuine excitement in the air for what was the largest Soundwave ever in terms of the sheer number of bands on the bill. Not only had Soundwave delivered an exceptional number of bands, they’d also brought back a plethora of old favourites, as well as numerous outstanding up and comers. It was going to be very hard to not have a good time with what was on offer.

Upon arrival, we made a beeline straight for Stage 7 to see American art rock band dredg. Their set on Friday only furthered the reputation they’ve been getting on the Soundwave circuit as one of the must see bands, despite them being slightly different musically to the majority of bands on the bill. ‘Bug Eyes,’ ‘Ode to the Sun’ and ‘Pariah’ all got an airing, but as with their sideshow, it was the incredible ‘The Canyon Behind Her’ that drew the greatest response from the sparse crowd gathered. Vocalist Gavin Hayes was sublime throughout, his tranquil vocals intertwining with Mark Engles’ jangly guitar captivating the crowd for their short set.

After a sprint all the way to the other side of the showgrounds, we were able to catch the last half of French experimental metallers Gojira. Boasting just four members, they created an intense atmosphere that went unparalleled for nearly the whole day. ‘Toxic Garbage Island’ and ‘Flying Whales’ were definite highlights, showcasing both the bands environmentally conscious lyrics and excellence in the live arena, their sound decidedly monolithic as it reverberated around the Stage 4 area.

Over on the main stage, Welsh hard rockers Lostprophets were tearing through a great set. Front man Ian Watkins had a large crowd in the palm of his hand, encouraging them to jump and sing a long. Predictably, the greatest response came from the band’s biggest hit in ‘Rooftops’ with punters literally screaming their hearts out in the chorus (pardon the pun). ‘A Town Called Hypocrisy’ and ‘Shinobi Vs. Dragon Ninja’ also got great response from a very satisfied crowd.

A quick food break saw us returning to the main stage to catch the back end of Alter Bridge’s set, with ‘Rise Today’ seeing the slightly small crowd find their voice in the chorus. However, right next to them on the other main-stage, a huge crowd quickly assembled for what are easily one of the more popular bands on the line up in A Day To Remember. For the entirety of their set ADTR had the seemingly younger crowd, going completely nuts as the band raced through a selection of their biggest hits. ‘All I Want,’ ‘2nd Sucks’ and ‘The Downfall of Us All’ had the kids going completely nuts. Furthering the chaos was a sea of beach balls, toilet paper streamers, and confetti cannons. Whilst the most spectacular moment came when vocalist Jeremy McKinnon requested fans literally surf other crowd surfers, with plenty of them succeeding. Kudos to ADTR for putting on one of the most fun sets of the day, putting on a set deserving of a much higher position on the bill.

Old timers Bad Religion raced through their set with a bucket load of energy, making it hard to believe the punk rockers have been doing it for 30 years. The only real issue of the day came when, 2/3rd ‘s of the way through their set, part of the stage looked like it was going to fall into the crowd due to the strong wind, cutting the band’s set short. To Soundwaves credit, despite it being a preventable issue, it was dealt with swiftly and the crowd complied with every request and no other bands had their sets affected. It was a disappointing end to what was a great set from Bad Religion, leaving plenty of people annoyed.

As this was occurring, what seemed like the majority of people in attendance at Soundwave were gathering at the other main-stage for one of the most anticipated sets of the day, featuring the infamous Limp Bizkit. Going in with minimal expectations, the band proceeded to completely surprise with how tight they were. All of their biggest hits were played, from ‘Rollin’ to ‘My Generation’ and ‘My Way’ sending the huge crowd mental. However, one of the best moments of the day came when vocalist Fred Durst payed a touching tribute to Jessica Michalik, dedicating ‘Take a Look Around’ to her and revealing a giant banner dedicated to her, inciting the crowd to chant her name, which clearly moved the five musicians on stage. Closing with ‘Break Stuff,’ Limp Bizkit had, despite their plethora of naysayers, delivered what was an outstanding set.

Since the Brisbane Soundwave, there’s been mumblings that have been growing louder and louder almost daily regarding the poor quality of Marilyn Manson’s efforts at both Soundwave and his sideshows. Sadly, Melbourne was no different, with the once superstar being a shadow of his former self. The first few songs were a wash of half-hearted vocals and walls of distortion, including almost unrecognisable versions of ‘Antichrist Superstar’ and ‘Disposable Teens.’ Finishing over ten minutes early with ‘The Beautiful People’, it was clear that Manson just didn’t really care about his performance, leaving a bad taste in plenty of punters’ mouths.

On the other end of the spectrum, Slipknot affirmed their status as second headliners with an outstanding set. Their performance was worthy of a giant arena, complete with fireworks, flamethrowers and their typically impressive stage presence. Favourites including ‘Wait and Bleed’ and ‘Pulse of the Maggots’ were given excellent renditions, whilst ‘Before I Forget’ really got fans moving. Vocalist Corey Taylor was in command from start to finish, with the crowd complying with his every request to jump or scream. During ‘Spit It Out,’ as is tradition with Slipknot, Taylor instructed the entire band to sit down midway through the song before being instructed to ‘get the fuck up’ and proceeding to go completely nuts for the remainder of the song. Other highlights included ‘Psychosocial’ and ‘Duality,’ with the latter getting the biggest response of the set. Closing with ‘People = Shit’ and ‘Surfacing’ gave punters every reason to mosh as hard as they could, then stand in awe as Joey Jordison’s drum kit was lifted on its side and spun around, whilst he was completing an impressive drum solo. It capped off a truly excellent set, with Slipknot showing exactly why they are one of the biggest heavy bands in the world.

Finally, with what would have been close to everyone in attendance on Friday packing into the main-stage area, the long awaited return of System of a Down was met with a rapturous response. In contrast to the theatrics of Slipknot, System of a Down kept it simple with just a banner and the four musicians on stage. It was clear that age had been kind to them, evidently loosing none of their touch during their hiatus. An early rendition of ‘BYOB’ followed by ‘Revenga’ gave the fans plenty of reasons to stretch their vocal chords. However, later on in the set it was a truly awe inspiring moment witnessing tens of thousands of people scream out the chorus of ‘Chop Suey’ in unison, completely drowning out vocalist Serj Tankian. While Tankian’s performance throughout was flawless, mention must be made of guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian for his charismatic performance, particularly tracks such as ‘Lonely Day’ where he took the lead vocals. With the quartet performing over 25 songs, they tore through hit after hit after hit, with the set reaching its peak during ‘Toxicity.’ Finishing off with a commanding performance of ‘Sugar,’ System of a Down showed exactly why they are so revered in heavy music, confirming their headlining status.

By then it was time for the long, exhausted trudge back across the Showgrounds towards the exits, giving plenty of time to reflect on the day’s proceedings. If Soundwave continues to deliver days like they did on Friday, then the festival will only keep getting bigger and bigger, which is a scary thought given this year it took the mantle of Australia’s biggest touring festival. There was plenty of reasons to be happy with such an outstanding day of heavy music occurring, here’s hoping next year will be just as good.

Review by Billy Geary

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** Live Review: Devin Townsend Project, Meshuggah and Dredg @ The Forum Theatre, Melbourne – 29 February 2012