Walking from Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley train station to the RNA Showgrounds before the first installment of 2013’s Soundwave instils a certain feeling in a music fan. Trudging these plain back streets would normally be a non-event, but as the stream of mostly black t-shirt-ed metallers, rock chicks, and the odd shambling drunk winds its way towards the gaping entrance to the festival, a growing sense of anticipation and excitement becomes apparent.
Each of us is swallowed up by the throng of people surging through the entrance barriers, before being delivered deep into the belly of the beast that is the sprawling Soundwave festival. Next comes confusion, as maps are studied in a vain effort to gain a sense of geography, before the line fans out and is absorbed into various crowds. Game on.
Choosing the first band to see solely based on the fact they are (presumably) named after a much-loved coming-of-age TV show you watched at your grandma’s house every Thursday after school may not be the conventional way of doing things, but Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years prove to be a good starting point. Their bouncy brand of pop punk attracts a large crowd, which quickly turns into an energetic, elbow-y circle pit on singer Dan Campbell’s request.
Next up is veteran English hard rock act Orange Goblin over at the secluded stage five. These guys have featured several times in Classic Rock magazine, and for good reason; they rock as hard as anyone on the bill today, and frontman Ben Ward has the everyman appeal that makes you want to be his mate, as he pumps his fist in the air and asks for more from the audience, wearing a t-shirt bearing the faces of his obvious influence, Thin Lizzy. “This is our first ever show in Australia,” he semi-growls, to a rapturous response, as both band and audience seem genuinely grateful to be present. Well played lads.
Flogging Molly have a large, sweaty crowd eating from their Celtic folk-punk hands over at the larger stage two as they run through a set of songs custom-made for a good ol’ festival singsong. Dedications to Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash only increase the fervour as Bridget Regan breaks out her tin whistle and spasmodic faux-Irish dancing breaks out among the boozy audience – ridiculously comical, yet somehow quite perfect.
Over at stage three, Sleeping With Sirens are typical of the type of band on the bill that seem geared towards attracting the teen dollar, and each of their poppy post-hardcore tunes elicits a swell of adolescent screeching in the hot afternoon sun, while back at the main arena, Kyuss Lives! mostly ignore the crowd as they crank out waves of heavy stoner rock across the arena. Any form of Kyuss without Josh Homme or Nick Olivieri on board loses the majority of its appeal, and today’s show reinforces that idea.
Seeing many of the Soundwave bands brings back fond memories to ’90s and early ’00s kids – indeed many of the groups on the bill had their first successes around that time and are now either stalking new territory or living on past glories to various extents. There’s no harm in either of these routes of course, as long as they can be pulled off (seriously, how many people are really here to hear Blink-182 play the B-sides from the latest album?), but Sum-41 can’t really manage either, as their newer songs are average at best and their early material was never really that good in the first place. Add to this frontman Deryck Whibley’s lukewarm attempts at crowd interaction and you get a disinterested ‘meh’.
A quick trip back to stage three (via a brief but savage blast of Slayer) to be subjected to a short burst of All Time Low’s sub-par, teen-baiting dick jokes is followed by the hike back to stage five for Duff McKagan’s Loaded. It’s interesting that each of the ex-members of Guns ‘N’ Roses put their names in their band titles – from Slash’s Snakepit, Adler’s Appetite, and Izzy Stradlin and the JuJu Hounds, and it’s a sign of what sells and why people still want to see them play; because they were in frickin’ Guns ‘N’ Roses. Not needing to trade on past glories, McKagan’s band is tight and melodic, and he is an engaging frontman with a decent voice (as well as being in amazingly good shape for a man of nearly fifty).
Back at the main arena, the time of day when bellies being to rumble and the desire to trade all your worldly belongings for a comfortable chair has arrived. The dull drone of A Perfect Circle booms out across the showgrounds as dusk looms, and after a quick visit to the litter-strewn feasting area, it’s time to check out another band who had their heyday in the ’90s: Garbage.
Guys (and girls) of a certain age will always have a soft spot for Shirley Manson; she was the alternative rock babe of choice for a while back in the day, and tonight she proves she’s still got the pipes and the performance for a big occasion like Soundwave. The stick-thin singer bounds from one side of the stage to the other in an up-tempo and committed performance, as two of the band’s biggest hits, ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Paranoid’ are fired off early in the set like they’re no big deal, earning a huge response from the large crowd.
Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham wastes no time in getting among the sparse but hyped crowd over at stage five. “You could be getting a good spot for Metallica but you came here instead, HA HA HA HA,” the singer yells, before throwing off his shirt and launching his considerable bulk at the front rows. The following couple of minutes is a lesser-known highlight of the entire festival, as the singer mixes it with the fans, invites participation on vocals, loses his microphone cord, and fights off attempts by security to pull him back towards the stage, as the band ploughs faithfully on with looks of “he does this all the time” on their faces and the barrier between band and fan is beautifully and unequivocally shattered. Actually, damn it, it is the highlight of the festival, and the small yet appreciative crowd seems to agree.
And so, the business end of the show is fast approaching as darkness falls over Soundwave. Much has been said and written about timetable clashes and drummers not making the flight blah blah etc, but the truth is that the Soundwave organisers have put together an absolutely stellar line-up for this year’s festival, and the rock-loving people of Brisbane and elsewhere are spoilt for choice, such is the embarrassment of rock ‘n’ roll riches on show here tonight. Two pretty great bands playing at the same time? First world problems, motherfuckers.
As the curtain rises and Blink-182 kick off their set, it occurs to me what a colossal noise they make for a three-piece, and how Brooks Wackerman fits in seamlessly on the skins. By third track ‘Rock Show’ the pumped up audience is so absorbed in the music that Metallica seems like a distant memory. It’s hard to know whether Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge are still the boneheaded, dick-joke cracking frat brats they profess to be, or how much of it is just them doing what’s expected, but god damn do they put on a show.
And so, as the sky lights up, the spaghetti western theme trails off, and Metallica open up with ‘Hit the Lights’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ before closing with an epic ‘Enter Sandman’ in an absolute monster of a show, the Soundwave faithful know they’ve witnessed something special here today. AJ Maddah and co. will surely give themselves a headache trying to better this line-up next year as what just happened was pretty spectacular. Led Zeppelin and a reformed Cream, perhaps? Bring it on.