Soundwave 2012 @ Royal Melbourne Showgrounds (02/03/12)

The day of Melbourne Soundwave 2012 breaks to unexpectedly blue skies with great weather leading to great expectations. But with them, also some pertinent questions:

How long will the good weather last?

Will Marilyn Manson be demon or diva (and does anyone care)?

What the heck is a Watain and why is there one occupying top billing on a stage ahead of the likes of Mastodon and Lamb Of God?

With all these tense uncertainties floating around, it’s nice to look over a timetable with a consistently crowd pleasing line up blending the finest of International and local acts into one bubbling hotpot of punk, metal, hardcore and Alter Bridge.

Break Even are one of the lucky Aussie bands on the bill and are luckier still to have the first set audible upon entry to the grounds. Having giddily navigated the ticket and wristband procedure and emerged in the wake of Break Even’s noise emanating from the miniature stage 5 complex it’s a bemused if pleasantly surprised crowd enjoying the fruits of BE’s labour early on. The boys from Perth don’t necessarily bring anything new to their chosen genre of melody inflected hardcore but they certainly have the pep and energy to kick the day off with a bang and it’s a case of ‘first band, first circle pit’ just as the good lord intended.

With the sun refusing to be drawn behind any hovering clouds there is heavy early demand for refreshment and despite a lazy opening, the beer tent staff soon kick into gear and manage to push out VB can after Strongbow cider at a gratifyingly hasty rate for the rest of the day. Chilled libations in hand, along with increasingly unrequired poncho/cardigan combination for many, it’s time for something refreshingly tongue in cheek amidst the sea of serious faces and dark-and-dangerous types.

Steel Panther could never stand accused of being anything but colourful, and with a purple and yellow backdrop depicting all the joys of a faceless woman, the horn dogs from Hollywood have the libido of a teenager and the lyrics to match. ‘It’s way too early for a rock show… but it’s never too early to show your tits!’ exclaims ‘lead singer’ Michael Starr but the expected exposure of mammary en masse is dampened either by a conservative crowd or a snoozing cameraman. That ‘disappointment’ aside, the gathered masses (and there were many) couldn’t have much to complain about following a determined set of heavy metal parody and stand-up comedy.

When not making jibes about the drummer from Def Leppard being able to clap or besting Tommy Lee in a contest to sleep with girls half their age, the band deliver consistently impressive musical tributes to the cock rock of the 80’s. It’s rare to find an artist who can mix humour and musical ability so well, rarer still to have it transposed so well onto the stage but if anything SP are even more hilarious onstage – Fat Girl is both uproarious and brilliant, a welcome addition to any movie soundtrack from Corey Haim to Seth Rogen. From the leopard print headbands to the perfectly executed solos, Steel Panther are the real deal. Melbourne may not enjoy the sight of as many exposed breasts as some of the other cities, but Alter Bridge are up soon if anyone is really desperate to see a bunch of tits.

Surprisingly unaffected by the legions of fans over at cock-rock central, Unwritten Law are greeted by an airplane hanger-esque Stage 3 which is busting at the seams. The band most definitely have the tunes to warrant their spectatorship but it’s a shame that in the lofty building the sound becomes muddled and echoey towards the rear meaning much of the well-constructed melody is lost. Still, there is a large volume of support and with good reason as UL pull one pop-punk gem after another from their swollen bag of tricks. Scott Russo’s voice is easily identifiable and enduring and when Seeing Red makes its way over the airwaves mid set, more than a few teenage emotions are rediscovered in the sweaty community at the foot of the stage. A cover of Grinspoon’s More Than You Are does their standing in Australia no harm and almost all emerge from the building with dumbstruck grins intact.

Hellyeah take to the stage sporting probably the most acclaimed metal credentials, featuring as they do members of Pantera, Mudvayne and Damageplan. Depending on your outlook, they either combine the best or worst of all their forebears but what isn’t up for debate is their ability to pair bottom heavy riffage with potent, muscular drum work from the omnipresent Vinnie Paul. With a short set probably working in their favour, the metal veterans dust off a number of frenetic tracks to a sea of raised fists and metal horns lofted in appreciation. Stampede, You Couldn’t Be and Matter of Time all come in quick succession with Alcohaulin’ Ass providing a welcome break in the pace towards the end. There are probably a few more hands in the air at the sets completion than at its beginning and it would be nice to think Hellyeah have converted a few detractors with their efforts.

Following a theme of rock’n’roll nostalgia that continues throughout the mid part of the day, Coal Chamber take to the stage after a lengthy hiatus and even with new bassist in tow don’t really seem to show any signs of cobwebs in their performance. Admittedly, there are some sluggish moments when the sound becomes somewhat atonal but generally the clicking bass and guitar heavy dynamic shine through, turning numbers like the highly-anticipated Fiend into much appreciated highlights.

It is a wonder if Bush are relevant enough these days for the Festival circuit, but they play to a large enough if relatively immobile crowd. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Bad Religion who probably would have benefitted from playing on one of the smaller stages. For a band so instrumental in the rise and evolution of punk in the latter stages of the 20th century it’s a disappointingly paltry crowd viewing the aging luminaries as the afternoon kicks on. Yes, they may be a little older and slower around the stage but it still seems miserable that they should receive such a lukewarm reception. That being said, Greg Gaffin certainly resembles a harried father more than a Rock’n’Roll dignitary and there is sluggishness about the whole affair. Even hits such as You and The Grey Race are delivered at pedestrian pace and with every break between songs there is a creeping sensation that this might become a swansong for the band as we know it. The set itself is cut short as an unfortunately placed rigging pole gives up the ghost and puts the whole affair to rest.

Luckily there are several options to cheer up after such disappointment s and while it might seem sensible that Limp Bizkit and Mastodon would attract very different crowds, talking to people round the grounds gives the impression that there may be more crossover than first thought. No doubt riding a wave of nostalgia rather than true appreciation, Fred Durst et al find themselves playing to a large and expectant crowd no doubt swelled by recent positive write-ups. Admittedly it does feel good to relive some formative years to the strains of My Generation and the rest but from an objective point of view there’s not a great deal here to entice the casual observer.

Fred Durst looks old, the Boston Celtics jersey and trademark cap unable to mask his advancing years and the band align similarly, executing the music proficiently if not inspiringly. The expected tribute to Jessica Michalik is as poignant a moment as you’ll find at a music festival but the band’s performance subsequent to the dropping of a banner bearing her name seems tired. That being said, the reception to Take A Look Around is genuine and heartfelt and there’s no doubt that LB deserved their place on the bill for a dose of reminiscence if nothing else.

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