Soundwave Festival @ RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane (23/2/2013)

This Tenacious D lyric keeps getting stuck in my head: “Punk rock tried to destroy the metal/but metal was much too strong.” Attempting to squeeze as much out of Soundwave as possible it keeps coming down to decisions between punk bands and metal bands, and several times it’s the metal bands that win. That’s my way of warning you that if you’re expecting a review of Blink-182 and The Offspring you’ll be disappointed. I spent those two hours at Metallica instead and they were worth every second.

It’s already bakingly hot just after noon when I make it through the gates of the RNA Showgrounds. That’s not bothering Dragonforce, who play their fantasy metal with the speed and dexterity that makes their videos impressive and their appearances in Guitar Hero frustrating. When they play ‘Cry Thunder’ a timely breeze blows through their manes, but there won’t be any thunder or rain today – just the baleful gaze of the daystar. The three guys who’ve passed on wearing black to dress in tennis whites probably have the right idea.

Anthrax may be getting older and losing band members at a rate that’s starting to seem less like misfortune and more like carelessness, but that doesn’t stop them from tearing up Stage 1A. Joey Belladonna swings the mic around like it’s a ball and chain, and they rip through a cover of ‘T.N.T.’ That’s one of many concessions to the Australian audience today, which eventually begin to seem like over-egging – sucking-up that’s not really necessary. But Anthrax are unfailingly polite no matter how loud and violent their songs are, Belladonna saying “Thank you for a wonderful afternoon” and “God bless you” to us while throwing the horns. The whole band link arms to do a respectful Beatles-bow as they finish.

Meanwhile, over on Stage 2A punk/industrial/hip-hop/electronic band Mindless Self Indulgence present the day’s most unpredictable set. Alongside songs like ‘Stupid MF’, which mainly consists of shouting “You stupid motherfucker!”, singer Jimmy Urine harangues the crowd. “You’re early for that show, motherfuckers!” he shouts at the people waiting for The Vandals over on 2B, before launching into rants about the lack of Australian bands on the bill (“Did you people just give up after Michael Hutchence blew his brains out because you can’t top that?”) and Blood On the Dancefloor pulling out of the festival (“Now we are officially the gayest band here!”) The rest of the bands pander to us and tell us how amazing our country is, but out of all this music your parents should hate Mindless Self Indulgence are the one band who feel dangerous, with the edge that comes from a show where everything could collapse at any second.

In the indoor auditorium Gallows Wade MacNeil is a sleeveless barbarian, leading the crowd in a call-and-response of howls. Even though they’re playing a small room, songs like ‘Outsider Art’ are received as boisterously as anything on the main stages. Liam “Scrappy” Cormier from Cancer Bats joins them for a song that they follow with ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ and a guy fleeing with his bruised head in his hands becomes the first casualty I see today.

Sleeping With Sirens finish a set of post-hardcore songs with a couple of what they call their “slow jams”, including a song from their acoustic EP If You Were a Movie This Would Be Your Soundtrack in which Kellin Quinn shows off his ability to beatbox. That would be weird enough to hear coming from a flop-fringe punk brat, but is even weirder to hear on one of their melancholy songs. If beatbox could ever sound heart-breaking, this is it.

There are plenty of bands at Soundwave who have been around as long as Kyuss, and longer, but Kyuss Lives are the one who feel like they’re going through the motions. It’s great to hear ‘One Inch Man’ again but there’s a definite contrast when Stone Sour start playing after Kyuss Lives on the stage beside them. They both formed over 20 years ago, but Stone Sour don’t seem to have lost any of their passion. Corey Taylor says he’s impressed by our volume, but he’s not so bad himself.

On the subject of volume, Slayer remain as loud as ever. They’re also as fast, not having been slowed down by age or being one of the many bands playing with a new drummer today. You’ll have to forgive me for leaving part-way through their set, because while they’re on 1B Cypress Hill are on 2B. We have to encourage rock festivals to keep putting putting hip-hop acts in the mix otherwise we’ll have to start going to dance festivals to see them.

Getting through the tunnel that separates the two main stages is a challenge. The crowds are dense for most of the day – it’s a catch-22 that to get a line-up this massive there needs to be this many people crammed in to see them and popular acts have to clash, otherwise we’d all be parked in front of the same stage making this problem even worse than it is. Fortunately, people start leaving halfway through Cypress Hill, thinking that they’ve heard all of the classics once B-Real says they’re going to play a song off the dubstep EP they recorded with Rusko. All those suckers miss out on ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That’, because Cypress Hill are canny enough to mix things up. Their newer songs, including ‘Rise Up’, are actually pretty good too.

A Perfect Circle are as loud as ever but seem very sedate. Their setlist is heavy with their cover versions and while Maynard Keenan sings ‘Imagine’ I realise I’m reading the label on my water bottle, which isn’t a good sign. Where Mindless Self Indulgence were gleefully dismissive, A Perfect Circle seem distant and uninterested. Knowing who’ll be on their stage later Keenan says “Metallica!” sarcastically, but the crowd’s cheer is earnest. If they’d played ‘Judith’ maybe I’d change my tune, but this is one of a couple of letdowns today.

Thank God for Garbage, who remain as dynamic as they were when they played Brisbane all the way back in 2005. Well-dressed guitarist Duke Erikson is a master of classic rock moves, but Shirley Manson is obviously the centre of attention. She vamps across the stage, falls down like James Brown in the middle of ‘Why Do You Love Me’ and basically struts up a storm. They’re professional enough to not even be distracted when a train pulling into the showground station starts blasting its horn during ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’. The train driver’s probably in love with Manson as much as we are.

It’s not a massive crowd for Garbage because so many people are squeezing into good spots for the headliners. There’s a wall of people from the stage to the top of the seats in front of 1A where Metallica will be playing, and almost as many people beside them in front of 1B where Linkin Park are. I’m no fan of Linkin Park but the bombastic force of their show gets my head nodding anyway – I’m betrayed by my own neck muscles. Chester Bennington has fun with the people in front of the other stage, waving over at them and then ducking across mid-song to keep them company. The band do have some technical difficulties, but it’s one of the few times that happens today. The sound quality has been stellar by any standards, not just the lowered ones we adopt for festivals.

Earlier in the day Bullet For My Valentine finished their set with the riff from ‘Enter Sandman’. They were one of plenty of bands who mentioned being honoured to share a bill with Metallica, sounding as much like fans as the fans who cheer as Ennio Morricone’s music from The Good, the Bad & the Ugly heralds Metallica’s arrival. Seeing them on a stage is so mind-boggling at first it’s too much. I know they played ‘Hit the Lights’ first but have no actual memories of the event until they play ‘Master of Puppets’, which is obviously incredible.

They barrel through a strong opening including ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ before James Hetfield pauses to have a talk with the crowd. He calls us “Brissie” and things get a bit folksy – he’s asking the people at the front whether they had to stand there all night and if they went to the toilet and, if so, whether they’re wearing diapers. This chatty interlude is a trick. He’s lulling us with his rockstar charm, so that what happens next has the maximum impact. “GIVE ME FUEL GIVE ME FIRE/GIVE ME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!” he shouts at full speed as flames spout around him and fireworks erupt over the top of the stage, popping as we “ooh” and “ah” like delighted children. The pyrotechnics continue throughout their show, warm gusts of orange enveloping the stage, and they absolutely murder this song while they’re at it.

Camera operators scurry around, their footage filling multiple screens. Bassist Robert Trujillo rarely seems to show up on-screen – maybe he’s camera-shy or maybe they’re less interested in him because he’s the newest member, which would be a shame because he’s excellent to watch. He pulls faces, bends his knees and goes down into rock squats and sends his fingers flying up and down the instrument like they’re disconnected from his hands. I’d rather see that than another shot of Lars Ulrich’s bald spot.

‘Sad But True’ provides a loud singalong, but the reaction to ‘One’ is monstrous. The stage goes dark and more fireworks fly up, their smoke hit by spotlights while the crack of explosions on stage give the impression it’s being raked by gunfire. Suddenly, we’re in a war zone. This is why I stay at Metallica for over two hours no matter who else is playing: I might miss more explosions.

After ‘One’ Hetfield asks if we’ve got any energy left. They’ve been on stage for an hour and a half and the close-ups show them shiny with sweat – especially Ulrich, but also guitarist Kirk Hammett in solo after solo – but Hetfield wants to know if we’ve got energy left. If we didn’t, hearing them start to play ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ would definitely energise us. There’s finally a slow moment when they play their manifesto, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, Hetfield bringing out the acoustic. As the song ends the camera zooms in on his plectrum, which he flips to reveal the words METALLICA 2013 on an Australian flag.

That kind of pandering makes me cringe a little, just like it did when Cypress Hill finished their set by leading a chant of “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie” or when every band with musicians under 30 in it told us what a privilege it was that they were on stage instead of somebody else. Power to the people is great and democratic and all that, but we the people are fickle and the bands know it. They’ve learned to kiss arse beyond the occasional “Are you ready to rock, (Insert Name Here)?” I miss rock & roll arrogance and I miss when bands who play angry music would sometimes turn that anger on us.

But being old enough to remember that means I’m also old enough to flip out when Metallica play ‘Enter Sandman’ with a false ending before stretching it out into the kind of epic it always should have been. Another round of explosions that’s impossibly somehow even bigger than before goes off, and the sky blows up and everything blows up except for the metal, because the metal was much too strong.