Tag Archives: soundwave

Interview: Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

FORMED in 1977 at a time of deep political and social turmoil in their hometown of Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers are the original punk-rock mainstays. Known for their energetic live shows and angry lyrics tackling subjects from sectarian violence to teenage boredom, the band will make only their second ever trip to Australia to play Soundwave Festival. I spoke to singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Jake Burns.

Tell me about the recording of your new album, No Going Back. How does it sound so far?

At the moment we’re only getting started; the drum tracks are down and Ali is working on the bass tracks at the moment, and that’s kind of how it works, we build these things up in layers, you know? We all go in together, play all the songs through once and they get recorded, so Steve has a basic skeleton track to work with, and then he does the drums for real. Then Ali goes in and replaces his skeleton bass-lines with the real ones, and so it keeps going. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin on the guitars. We’re actually slightly ahead of the game, which is always a good place to be, as you can never be sure when there’s a nasty little hiccup just around the corner; something which will take a day out of your schedule.

When are you expecting to have it finished?

February 5th is the last day in the studio. Then I get to fly home to Chicago on the 6th. I’ll have about six days to unpack, do my laundry, re-pack, then fly to Auckland. Then, we’re on tour until May. It’s a long time away from home, but it’s what we’ve signed up for.

In terms of lyrical content, could it be called a classic Stiff Little Fingers album?

I’m not going to say it’s a classic; that’s for the audience to decide. There aren’t any “I love her and she loves me” songs on there, because it’s not what I write, you know? I’ve never been able to do that; every time I’ve tried it sounds like bad schoolboy poetry or something. They’re all songs about things that have made me angry. Steve and Ian have both written a song, and they’re all songs about things that have fired us up in one way or another over the last few weeks and months.

You went down the crowd-funding route for this album. Are you surprised at how well it turned out?

I think everybody was. We allowed two months for it, and we reached the target in under twelve hours; it was incredible. I was sitting at home and I knew it had been launched, when my wife came running down into the studio in the basement and asked me if I was watching the pledge figures, and I said no, as it had only been launched that morning. She told me to stop what I was doing and come look, and we sat and watched it. The best description was made by her; she said it’s like election night, and nobody goes to bed until this thing reaches a hundred. Literally, within an hour of saying that, it reached a hundred percent. It was astonishing; I don’t think any of us realised the regard the audience has for us. We always knew we have an incredibly loyal audience, but that was truly – without wanting to sound fake – humbling. And they’re still pledging!

Do you see that as the future for bands making records now? Would you do it again, for example?

I’m sure we would. When the Internet took off in all it’s glory, it was basically the end for traditional record labels. The writing was on the wall when even the likes of Madonna and U2 were doing deals based on touring and merchandise rather than record sales. At that point you think if U2 can’t sell bloody records, what chance has anybody got? When it came up we were hesitant, but then we realised this would make us a proper, independent band again. This takes us right back to where we started, but with thirty-six, thirty-seven years experience behind us. It can only be a good thing, and it’s turned out to be an astonishing thing. It seems like we’re masters of our own destiny, whereas in the past, when you’d go in to make a record you’d have it in your mind that you’re spending EMI’s money. Not that you’d be slapdash and throw it around – at the end of the day it’s your money anyway – but we’d just give the record to EMI and it’d be up to them to go and sell it. Now, it’s the audience’s money, and they’ve already bought the record; that’s effectively what this is. They’re putting a huge amount of trust in us, and what if they all hate it? They’ve all already bought it, pretty much. We feel a huge amount of responsibility – much more so than any record before – because this is our audience we’re genuinely playing for; they’re our bosses this time around. We don’t want to let them down.

You’ll be playing Soundwave Festival very soon. What can fans expect from the show?

We’ve only played in Australia once before, and even then it was only in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a festival setting, and I don’t even know how long of a set we’ll be given. So what we’ll basically try to do is keep the chat to a minimum, play as many songs as possible, and try to cram as much of our career into whatever time we’re given. We’re doing two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, so we can stretch out a bit, but we’ll work on getting the balance of the set right. Sometimes it’s harder to work out what to leave out, rather than put in, you know?

Do you still feel that songs like ‘Alternative Ulster’ are relevant today?

That song was never specifically written about Northern Ireland. Yes, there are R.U.C. references in there, but it was basically a song about being young and having nothing to do. It was set in Northern Ireland, which of course just meant having even fucking less to do than if you’d been somewhere else. But, it’s just a fairly universal song about being a teenager, which I was when I wrote it. Sadly, that’s still the case with teenagers today. Those who were living in what was basically a war-zone in Belfast at the time; I could see why they were bored. It always used to annoy me when bands from London would say they were bored and had nothing to do. Are you kidding me? Hadn’t they seen the back page of the NME? There were always about ten gigs I’d kill to go and see and they were all on that night!

Can you tell me a little bit about how Ali (McMordie, founding bass guitarist) came back into the band?

When Bruce (Foxton, bass guitarist 1991-2006) said he wanted to go, we had a long talk about it. Those were a big pair of boots to fill. Bruce was a big name, and he is a fantastic bass player and singer. We tossed a few names around, and realised that auditioning people probably wasn’t going to work. After a while we thought about asking Ali if he was interested in coming back. I’d kept in touch with Ali over the years; if he ever passed through Chicago we’d go for a beer or whatever, and he’d come to see the band and stuff. But I hadn’t really spoken to him for a while, and I wasn’t even sure if he still had a guitar and was still playing, but eventually I gave him a call and left a message saying that he might be able to do me a favour. He returned the call, and as luck would have it he was due to come through Chicago in a few days time, so we met up and discussed it. Initially I asked him to only do the one tour to see how it went. He’d been doing tour managing very successfully, but he came back, seemed to have a ball and I don’t think we ever asked him to stay, but he’s still here (laughs).

And finally, I told my brother I was interviewing you and he wanted to ask you a question, so here it is. Why did Jim Reilly (drummer, 1979-81) leave the band? Was it because he’s a complete tit?

(Laughs). Umm… no! Jim just didn’t like the new songs I was writing and I think by that stage we had toured America a couple of times, and Jim had one eye on wanting to try his luck there, and that’s exactly what he did. He jumped ship and moved to San Francisco, and ended up in a band called Red Rockers, who got themselves signed to C.B.S.. They had a little bit of success with a top-forty hit and toured with the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, so he had a half decent run. Last I heard, he was back in Belfast.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS PLAY SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL BEGINNING SATURDAY 22nd FEBRUARY IN BRISBANE. TICKETS FROM http://soundwavefestival.com/tickets

Live review: Marilyn Manson + Apocalyptica + Deathstars – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 27/2/15

marilyn manson brisbane

BY NOW you’ve seen all the headlines, heard the gossip and checked out the grainy Instagram footage.

So let’s cut to the chase here: this gig will forever be remembered as the one in which Johnny Depp popped his pirate-y headband around the curtain and joined Marilyn Manson for his Sidewave encore.

The 51 year-old – in the country to shoot the fifth instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series – already made an appearance at this week’s Foo Fighters gig, and while he may have given a Brisbane audience much more than they could have hoped for, it’s shock rocker Manson who should be most grateful to the actor for putting some much needed shine on an otherwise lethargic and forgetful performance.

After a short opening set from Swedish rockers Deathstars and an impressive flurry of intricate, classical-tinged metal tracks from Finnish cello-toting titans Apocalyptica – the latter earning huge cheers from a pumped audience – the lights dim and dark rumblings get the hardcore at front-and-centre excited.

Manson skulks onto the stage with hair looking like he’s been bombing his car down the freeway with his head out the window, as his band open with recent single ‘Deep Six’. While a slow opening building to some sort of release might be expected from Manson, all we mostly get are mumbled vocals and the view of the Pale Emperor’s back throughout ‘Disposable Teens’ and ‘mOBSCENE’, as the exalted one seems happy to let his band do most of the work, while he sits back and presumably saves himself for the main event at Soundwave. When he does find it appropriate to put some effort into his vocals he sounds great, but these moments are unfortunately few and far between. Muttering ‘Brisbane, Brisbane, Brisbane’ and pausing like you’re trying to think of something to say about the city between songs isn’t that cool either. Marilyn, we don’t expect some anecdote about how you love the beach at Southbank; we just want to see you play like you mean it, man.

‘Sweet Dreams’ sounds great because it’s simply a damn great song and it’d take someone even more apathetic than Manson to stuff it up, while laidback newer track ‘Third Day of a Seven Day Binge’ at least takes less effort to sound like it’s meant to. An encore – featuring the aforementioned pirate-y one – of ‘The Beautiful People’ is enough to finally get the audience excited as every camera phone in the room suddenly makes an elevated appearance, and while it’s this little episode that will make history, it doesn’t tell the true story of this gig. Manson used to look and sound dangerous, but now he’s just another bored middle-aged guy at a rock concert, albeit one who happens to be holding the microphone.

For Scenestr

Scott Owen of The Living End: “I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other”

living end

THE LIVING END have just played five Soundwave shows and will headline The Big Pineapple Music Festival next month; not bad for a band technically on a break. Upright bass player Scott Owen explains why the Melbourne trio doesn’t sit still for long.

“Soundwave was fantastic,” he says. “We didn’t know what to expect as it was all very last-minute; we only got added to the bill two weeks before the festival. It was unexpected, but you can’t complain about getting up in front of audiences like that. Everyone seemed to file in there early and there was a really respectable amount of people there. [Short notice] can work either way for us; sometimes we rehearse our arses off before a show and for one reason or another it’s difficult to pull it together, and then sometimes you just have to jump into the deep end without a chance to rehearse, and they can be the best gigs. We went for the middle ground and only had a couple of rehearsals in the week leading up to it, and left it at that; just enough to dust out the cobwebs a little bit, but not overthink it.”

The band will be the top-billed rock act at next month’s second Big Pineapple Music Festival, which also features Dead Letter Circus and Spiderbait.

“Because we’re at a stage right now where we don’t have a new record out, we’re just kind of getting up and trying to tailor our set – and this probably sounds wanky – to please everyone,” Owen says. “We figure with festivals you’re there for a good time, not a long time, so we just try to play things that we think people are going to know and things people can sing along to; I think that’s our job at a festival. We didn’t really think of doing [AC/DC’s] ‘Jailbreak’ until the day of the gig at Soundwave in Brisbane, but every now and then we’ll pull out a cover and it’s normally something that’s planned. We’ve got six albums, so there’s a lot of catalogue to choose from and it can be difficult to try to think of what will please everyone, but that’s why we tend to rely on the songs most people are going to know. It’s not our own show; people are there to see a bunch of bands, so we just try to offer a good time.”

This year marks two decades since the band formed in Melbourne, but Owen isn’t keen to make a fuss of the anniversary.

“We did a retrospective tour the year before last, where we went out and played all of our albums for seven nights in each city, and that was a good way to look back over everything,” he says. “I think we’re more into looking forward than looking back now, although the plan is to do nothing for pretty much the rest of the year, apart from a few gigs here and there, and then sometime next year we’ll get together again and start thinking about the next record. This is the first time we’ve all not lived in Melbourne. Over the last couple of years we’ve all moved in different directions; Chris [Cheney, singer-guitarist] is over in America, I live in Byron and Andy [Strachan, drums] is down the coast in Victoria. There’s a bit of a distance between us and we figured it’s a good opportunity to just chill out for a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately we’ve never had any major difficulties with each other and we’ve been lucky to continue to get people to want to watch us play. I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other, and just enjoy getting up onstage and playing together. I really don’t know how to read it any more deeply than that.”

The band’s sound includes elements of rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and punk; a formula that has worked well for the trio, although Owen’s ‘bass stunts’ – primarily standing on his instrument mid-performance – wasn’t always the polished party-piece it is today.

“When Chris and I were in high school we were only interested in’50s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly,” he says. “Getting up on the bass was always part of the act; it was happening from day one. The funniest time was when Chris and I started playing; we were only about 16 or 17 years old when we started playing pubs around Melbourne. One of the very first times we played a proper pub – and we were still just doing rockabilly covers at the time – Chris climbed up on my bass to play a guitar solo and it all went horribly wrong and we ended up in a pile on the floor. It was devastating; we were thinking we could never get up onstage and show our faces again after such an epic fail. But we got over the hurdle. Luckily it hasn’t happened in front of an enormous audience.”

THE LIVING END PLAY THE BIG PINEAPPLE MUSIC FESTIVAL SATURDAY MAY 17.

Live review: Soundwave Festival – RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane – 22/2/14

Mastodon Soundwave Brisbane

HOW QUICKLY another Soundwave comes around. It doesn’t seem like a month has passed since Metallica, The Offspring and Blink-182 were topping the bill in 2013, but here we are again with a new crop of bands, another fantastic line-up, and a new set of timetable clashes to ponder. First world problems aside, this year’s timetable looks healthy and enticing across the board, and with the standard cancellations and what festival promoter AJ Maddah referred to as “pissing contests” between bands in the past and a weather report mostly free of rain, it’s game on at Fortitude Valley’s RNA Showgrounds.

One thing is clear from the off: Soundwave fans can agree on very little. From as early as 1pm there are friendly debates raging across the venue; the vast majority of which revolve around which bands to see next. Luckily the choices are vast, and equally luckily is the fact that Florida’s Alter Bridge are putting on a fine show of classic rock on Stage 2. Frontman Myles Kennedy is perhaps best known for his work with Slash, but his own band – in existence since 2004 – are great in their own right and his is the first of several outstanding rock voices on show today.

Over at Stage 5b Less Than Jake are rattling off the ska-punk tunes with a ferocity not often seen at 12:40 in the afternoon, and are clearly ecstatic to be here despite the early time slot. Upon singer Chris DeMakes’ instruction a circle pit is formed, and as shoes go flying skywards and several people retire to the sidelines shaken and bruised, the band kick on with ‘Plastic Cup Politics’.

Richie Sambora fills another early slot at 1:15 on Stage 1, and plays songs he trialled at his Sidewave show at The Tivoli two days previously. ‘Burn The Candle Down’, ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, ‘Every Road Leads Home To You’ and ‘Learning To Fly With A Broken Wing’ precede the big close of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ mashed-up with ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ in a strong set. South-Australian guitarist Orianthi – a former member of Michael Jackson’s touring band – is once again outstanding on lead.

Directly after Sambora on Stage 2 is last-minute additions The Living End, and they pull the biggest crowd so far. The level of devotion among their fans is evident as every note and word that emanates from Chris Cheney, Andy Strachan and Scott Owen is met with screaming, dancing and fist-pumping from a diverse audience. ‘Second Solution’, ‘End Of The World’, and ‘Roll On’ are early highlights, and a later cover of AC/DC’s ‘Jailbreak’ is a nice touch.

It’s always satisfying to discover something new and interesting by accident, and it comes in the form of English alt-rockers Pulled Apart By Horses, who are making a hell of a racket at the covered Stage 5a. Having been swapped with Crosses so Chino Moreno’s group could have the later slot, the Leeds quartet set about their business with the right amounts of style, ferocity and humility. “We’re feel like we’re in some kind of dream. And we’re shitting our pants,” their guitarist says, which only makes them more likeable.

Costumed thrash-metallers Gwar, on the other hand, don’t seem the most likeable of chaps, and while it’s fun for some audience members to be squirted with fake blood and listen to indistinguishable lyrics being screamed by a bunch of fat guys in rubber suits, it doesn’t make for a particularly tuneful set. Nevertheless, it goes down well with a number of people, despite the blasé attitude to beginning their set on time.

Soundwave Brisbane 2014

Back at Stage 1, Placebo are running through a greatest hits set but with a few glaring exceptions, starting with ‘Post Blue’ and including ‘Every You Every Me’, but leaving out perhaps their most well-known hits from their ’90s beginnings, while Norwegians Satyricon are bringing the black metal at Stage 7b with a pitchfork microphone stand and the likes of ‘K.I.N.G.’, ‘The Pentagram Burns’ and ‘Our World, It Rumbles Tonight’. Meanwhile, Black Veil Brides are repeatedly shouting “wake up motherfuckers!” to their audience and Filter get a big response from a decent number of hardcore fans despite the set being cut short.

The next happy accident comes in the form of Clutch and frontman Neil Fallon, who – along with his harmonica and cowbell – puts in one of the most visually arresting performances of the day. The band go through a series of jams in front of a fairly aggressive audience, with a highlight being ‘Once More Unto The Breach’ as a toilet roll flies across the audience members’ heads. A long, bluesy jam follows; providing a free-flowing highlight not often seen in shortened festival sets.

Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s side-project Crosses is a bit of change for him, but it’s one that works well. When he sings “I’m so excited I can hardly take it” on ‘This Is A Trick’ it’s a nice interlude to all the hard-riffing that has been happening so far today.

Alice In Chains provide a poignant moment back at Stage 1. “There have been six guys in this band,” says guitarist Jerry Cantrell. “This song is for the other two.” Acoustic number ‘Nutshell’ is of coursed dedicated to deceased former members Layne Staley and Mike Starr, while William DuVall’s vocal performance throughout the rest of the set is nothing short of epic.

Belfast punk legends Stiff Little Fingers make an old crowd happy as dusk sets in with a twelve-song set of stone-cold classic numbers, including ‘Suspect Device’, ‘Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae’, ‘Nobody’s Hero’, ‘Barbed Wire Love’, ‘Strummerville’, ‘Tin Soldiers’ and their signature tune ‘Alternative Ulster’ just as a Soundwave official tries to usher their set to a close. A new tune entitled ‘When We Were Young’ fits in nicely among the older material, and the small crowd who turn up for “the band playing next to the hot chip van”, as frontman Jake Burns puts it, witness SLF’s first ever appearance in Brisbane in a near 40-year career.

And so: the head-liners for this evening. Timetable clashes become a major headache at this point, and it’s hard to know whether to stick with one or at most two bands, or try to jump between them and risk getting caught in the human traffic jam under the rail bridge.

Green Day Soundwave Brisbane

Green Day burst onto the stage at 7pm amid a retina-searing array of lights, and the quartet start strongly with ’99 Revolutions’, ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ‘East Jesus Nowhere’. It’s clear from the off that Billie Joe Armstrong is in good form and putting his all into it; he runs across the stage and flings his guitar around with all the vigour he displayed in the ’90s, and even gets political with a call to the audience to be more aware of situations in Thailand, the Ukraine, and in Russia in reference to Pussy Riot, before reminding the crowd of how lucky we are to be together. A series of American Idiot tracks follows; ‘Letterbomb’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ and ‘Wake Me Up Before September Ends’ before a series of Dookie tracks in ‘Burnout’, ‘Chump’, ‘Longview’, ‘When I Come Around’ and ‘Welcome To Paradise’ provide the nostalgic highlight. ‘Basket Case’ and ‘She’ are played pleasingly in order and a mash-up of songs including ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’, ‘Shout’ and ‘Hey Jude’ bring the pace down before a big finish including ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’.

It’s all over at 9:40pm, but after a long day of bands, beer and bleeding ears it’s a satisfying feeling to head for the gates and home. Highlights for the day include Less Than Jake, Pulled Apart By Horses, Clutch, Stiff Little Fingers and Green Day, but it’s the scale and variety of Soundwave acts that is most impressive. Same time next year, everyone?

Interview: Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake

Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.
Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.

SKA-PUNK legends Less Than Jake will head to Australia in 2014 to play Soundwave Festival, bringing with them over twenty years of finely-honed gigging experience. Drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello tells me why the Gainesville, Florida band’s hunger for making music and performing is stronger than ever.

Hi Vinnie, what’s been happening in the Less Than Jake camp of late?

We were just on the Fat Wreck Chords tour around the United States; that was a five-week tour with Anti-Flag and a few other bands. A few weeks back we released our ninth studio record called See The Light, and that was on Fat Wreck Chords. Generally speaking reviews have been good, and we had a great time writing and recording it, and there you go; you’re caught up, man.

Tell me a bit about See The Light. How does it sound compared to your previous material?

Well, I think it’s most definitely the sum of all its parts. We took our time in writing and crafting the songs, and it progressed naturally as we let it kind of percolate at its own pace. We wrote and recorded it at our bass player’s studio in Gainesville, and from that point we had friends of ours mix it, and frankly, because of those parts it sounds like Less Than Jake, or a very refined version of the band that people have come to know for the last twenty years. There’s parts of very gruff point rock, there’s some minor punk in there, there’s classic ska-punk, and there’s some third wave ska. It’s very much influenced by ourselves and only by ourselves. It’s a very weird and crazy thing to be able to say that, but it’s true.

How much do you enjoy the recording process? Some bands find it a chore.

Not to fuck around, but there’s been times in the studio when it’s been a chore, and times when it’s been way too dramatic or silly. This time around we did it in Gainesville, and it was a very relaxed atmosphere and fun. It was cool to do it where I could go home at night as well.

I saw an interview you did a couple of years ago in which you said the album format is dead. Why change your mind now?

For the last five years we’ve mainly been doing EPs, and firmly I think that the album format is limping along. In the case of our album, when we started writing songs, we wanted a collection of songs that were similar thematically, and not only musically but lyrically too. You can’t really get that with EPs, so we went back to the full-length format. When we started to write it it fell together naturally and it was cool.

Do you still think albums have a future?

I guess it depends on the genre. I mean, the album format for pop music is already dead. If you take Katy Perry; she can sell one million singles, but only 100,000 copies of her album, and while those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, they are definitely not what they were three, five, eight, ten years ago. It’s insane how much it’s down. Punk rock has never been about the single, it’s been much more about the album format, and I think that might be the last stand, so to speak, for the album format. I had a great time doing the EPs, and I think it’s good for fans to be able to get music every eight or nine months instead of waiting three years.

What have you got planned for Soundwave Festival?

I think we’re prepared to have a good time like we always are. We’re going to show up, we’re going to play some songs, take some requests, rile the crowd, and have fun playing. It’s twenty-one years in, man, and if you’re not having fun being in a band and playing live there’s a serious issue, so we’re going to do what we do best; have fun and make the crowd have fun with us.

An outdoor gig in Australian summer. How do you deal with the heat?

Dude, I’m from Florida, and Australian summer has nothing on Florida. So to answer your question, I’m going to feel exactly like I feel when I’m at home, so therefore it’s going to feel good. It’s funny that you should mention it, because every time we’ve been in Australia prior to this, it’s always been Australia summer, it’s always been a great time, and it always feels like Florida to me. When I’m there it always feels like home, so it’s a great place to be. The crowds always love music and are always there to have a good time. They’re always passionate about the music they’re paying to see, and that’s exciting for anyone in a band, and certainly exciting to me.

Is there ever any trepidation playing new material live?

There’s always nerves. We sort of had a trial by fire this tour just finished. We would come straight out and do a new song, and people would look at us like they had no idea what it was. Later, when the record came out, you could see the slow surge of people knowing the songs.

What are your plans for 2014?

We’re just back from tour four days ago, so we’re off for a few weeks. Starting next year, we have an eighteen-date tour in the U.K.. Then we have three days off, then we come over for Soundwave Festival, then we come home. I can’t say what tour it is, but we just confirmed a summer tour for the United States, so we’re just working for the rest of the year. I’m sure there’ll be Europe in there for late 2014, and there’ll be South America in there somewhere. We have a new record out, so we have to put our feet as many places as possible.

SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL DATES & VENUES – FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014

SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY – BRISBANE, RNA SHOWGROUNDS
SUNDAY 23 FEBRUARY – SYDNEY, OLYMPIC PARK
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY – MELBOURNE, FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE
SATURDAY 1 MARCH – ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK
MONDAY 3 MARCH – PERTH, CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS

TICKETS ON SALE NOW: http://soundwavefestival.com/

Live review: Soundwave Festival, Brisbane – March 2013

Duff McKagan
Duff McKagan

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.

Orange Goblin
Orange Goblin

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.

Blink-182
Blink-182

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.