Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Don't hold back... the time has come to..." - The Chemical Brothers, Rod Laver Arena, 09/03/2011

Before I dive into a review that's going to be undoubtedly filled with many positive adjectives and much praise for the abilities of Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, I should first say that I have ALWAYS been a fan of this band - OK, maybe two guys playing synthesizers and drum machines (if you want to oversimplify it) isn't really a "band", so how about a duo? But nevertheless, my point remains, I've always had a genuine appreciation of The Chemical Brothers. And that appreciation dates back to since I was SEVEN YEARS OLD. And even though most people, when they get to the age of 22, don't listen to a lot of the same music they did when they were 7, I have been simply unable to detach myself from the same positive feelings my younger self had toward such tracks as Setting Sun and Hey Boy, Hey Girl. Simons and Rowlands last toured Australia in 2008, on the back of their sixth album We Are the Night, as part of the Future Music Festival. Despite that particular album being... well, let's not deny it, a lowlight in the Chems' career, the accompanying live show was still a sight to behold, and I thoroughly enjoyed going to their sideshow performance that year. Anyway, this year Mark James and his team at Future have managed to get the British big-beat pioneers to do another lap around this country as part of the Future juggernaut, and of course, fitting in a few of their own arena shows in between festival dates. With cracking latest album Further (their seventh) released last year and considered by most to be a stellar return to form, a live show was something Australian Chemical Heads were craving, and we didn't have to wait long to get it! On a very un-dance-music Wednesday night, it was Melbourne's turn to be wowed by the Chems, with DJ support from fellow Brits James Holroyd (who's been on quite a few of their tours in the past) and Zane Lowe, and a live set from current Aussie hype trio Art vs Science to kick off the evening.

The group I was with got to Rod Laver Arena a little bit late for Art vs Science's opening slot, but when that opening slot starts at 7:15, who can blame us? We quickly made our way into the venue at 7:30, luckily just in time to see them rip through a performance of arguably their most popular single (and recent Hottest 100 #9) Magic Fountain. They're the kind of band that really polarises an audience, but the half-crowd that had turned up to watch them seemed to really be getting into it. The band seemed to be putting a genuine effort into their performance too, with the two synth/vocalists on either side of the stage, Jim Finn and Dan McNamee, jumping around enthusiastically and belting out the lyrics from their upbeat dancy tunes. They followed it up with the delightfully wacky Bumblebee, featuring a pretty cool light display from a laser mounted on drummer Dan Williams' kit. The band delivered a big triple finish in the form of Parlez vous Francais?, Flippers and Hollywood from their self-titled debut EP, and although many might not particularly like Art vs Science's particular brand of electro, those that had turned up looked like they'd enjoyed the show.

Up next, regular Chemicals warmup man James Holroyd and BBC Radio's Zane Lowe took the reins for an hour of DJing, however we escaped the main arena and headed out for a few more quick bevvies, making our way back in just after 9, with the main event due to start around 9:10. And start it did! The lights flickered off gradually, and a column of lights began to descend from the ceiling to hover just above the massive wall of synthesizers that was the middle of the stage. And then that light began spinning around and a familiar "DON'T HOLD BACK!" kicked in over the PA. Yes, it was the track that's opened just about every single one of their live shows since it's been released, Galvanize, and with a banging rendition of that sure-fire crowd favourite, Rowlands and Simons were off! As they're well known for doing, once they started they didn't stop or even really slow down momentum at all - as one track ended, beats and samples for the next tune came in to keep the flow going. Visually, a Chems live show is quite the spectacle and tonight they were not letting anybody down, with the new light column, the odd laser and a seemingly endless wall of blinding strobes adding a nice new dimension to the familiar visuals such as the psychotic clowns mouthing the chorus to Get Yourself High, brilliant paintball bursts of colour accompanying Saturate, and of course, the dot-men having a bit of a boogie to Escape Velocity. For almost two hours, Rowlands and Simons moved around the stage, barely visible at the best of times due to their extravagant setup (do they just bring their entire studio with them?!), mixing up the beats and keeping the crowd moving effortlessly, never getting bored as Do it Again gave way to Horse Power, Saturate moved seamlessly into a rave-tastic Believe, and even some relatively rare tracks got an airing, such as Don't Think (an iTunes bonus track on Further) and an unheard new song which seems to be titled Super Flash! The crowd lapped it up non-stop for almost two hours, but with the double-win of Leave Home and Block Rockin' Beats, it was almost time for the night to draw to a close. After a quick disappearing act, the brothers headed back onstage for the obligatory encore, which was a quick burst of Snow, followed by Surface to Air, a surprise inclusion of Electronic Battle Weapon 6 (the "Hoops" remix), and finally, the song that should always close a Chemical Brothers live show, The Private Psychedelic Reel! Finishing it all off with dizzying blasts of synthesizer feedback, Ed and Tom eventually headed offstage for good, with the light column in the centre of the stage displaying the usual Chemical Brothers message in rotating light form - "LOVE IS ALL". And at the end of the night, there certainly was a lot of love in the room, because we all knew we'd just witnessed something amazing. The Chemical Brothers came to town again, and they delivered the goods as we knew they would. Who knows what they'll do next time? We can only hope we don't have long to wait to find out!

(Tomorrow Never Knows intro)
Do it Again / Get Yourself High
Horse Power
Chemical Beats
Star Guitar
(Three Little Birdies Down Beats segue)
Hey Boy Hey Girl
Don't Think
Out of Control
Setting Sun
It Doesn't Matter
Escape Velocity (with The Golden Path snippet)
Super Flash / Acid Children
Leave Home
Block Rockin' Beats
Snow / Surface to Air
Electronic Battle Weapon 6
(Dissolve segue)
The Private Psychedelic Reel

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"I wanna be original, I wanna be surrounded by art" - Soundwave Festival 2011, Melbourne Showgrounds, 04/03/11

Well, after a cracking year in 2010 at my first Soundwave Festival, I was definitely looking forward to seeing what AJ Maddah and his team would deliver this year - and when the lineup was released last year, I instantly knew I'd be attending. Soundwave began as a slightly more punk/hardcore/emo oriented festival a few years ago, something I really had no interest in, but in the past few years they've certainly branched out with some great rock and metal acts taking to the festival's many stages (there's now EIGHT of them!). Having Iron Maiden on the bill was a sure-fire way to get me to buy a ticket, even though I didn't actually end up seeing them on the day! Nevertheless, it was still a highly enjoyable day out with several incredible performances.

I wasn't really interested in any of the first couple of acts on any of the stages so I decided not to hurry myself in getting there. When I did, I headed in the direction of the two stage 4s to see Texan stoner metal (a genre that was certainly not in short supply at Soundwave this year) act The Sword. While waiting it out in front of the Stage 4 "annex", Las Vegas's Taking Dawn were doing their thing on the adjacent stage. It comes as no surprise to me while reading up on this band to learn that they've supported Airbourne before, as their music definitely has that old-school revival approach to heavy metal and hard rock. Frontman Chris Babbitt certainly had his 80s frontman showmanship shtick downpat too, as he soloed down on the ground in front of the barrier, climbed up speaker stacks, and even ran over to the annex stage, much to the bemusement of the crowd waiting for The Sword. I never know whether to take bands like this seriously or not, but at least they provided us with some good laughs and good riffs early in the day.

It was perhaps a little early in the day, but there was still a very decent turnout for The Sword, and most of the crowd seemed to be genuine fans; right away, from the opening riffs of Acheron/Unearthing the Orb, long-haired heads began banging and horns were pointed skyward. I'd only listened to one of their albums prior to this set, but Gods of the Earth luckily got a bit of a look-in with the track How Heavy This Axe. Nevertheless, I'm a big fan of the ol' doom-stoner-sludge metal in general, so those low-end heavy riffs coming out of Orange amps (of course) sounded pretty damn awesome - and apparently I wasn't the only one that thought so.
Acheron/Unearthing the Orb
Barael's Blade
Tres Brujas
How Heavy This Axe
Night City
Winter's Wolves
(The Sword score 8/10.)

I then made my way over to a stage I didn't even go near last year, Stage 5, aka the big shed, for a performance from mathy Oxford quartet This Town Needs Guns. They were certainly a bit out of place on the overall lineup of the day, something vocalist Stuart Smith referred to several times throughout the band's set. "We're not anywhere near as punk as that (referring to whatever band had just come off the stage at the other end of the shed) but hopefully you'll still enjoy us", he noted early on. However, it soon became clear that the crowd weren't simply waiting for the next band on that stage, but were actually genuine fans of TTNG. They did have a pretty short set, but it was jam-packed with plenty of goodies off the Animals album, a pair of old favourites from the self-titled EP, and even a new song! They were one of the bands on the lineup I decided to check out only a few weeks ago, and I'm really glad I did, as I enjoyed their set immensely. Hopefully they'll be back in Australia soon, as I'd love to see them at a headline show.
Want to Come Back to My Room and Listen to Some Belle and Sebastian?
Adventure, Stamina and Anger
26 is Dancier Than 4
(This Town Needs Guns score 8.5/10.)

I then bolted over to Stage 3 (AKA "the other shed") just in time to catch a stellar performance from seminal UK post-punkers Gang of Four. Certainly another band that was a bit out of place amongst all that noisy metal and hardcore, but it didn't seem to faze them one bit. Frontman Jon King may be 55 years old, but for all the energy he displayed on the day, you could more accurately say 55 years young! Running around onstage like a madman, even doing a somersault at one point, all the while spitting his lyrics out with typical venom, it was really inspiring to watch. Unfortunately for the band, the slightly younger generation of the Soundwave crowd obviously had other interests in bands at that timeslot, and the Stage 3 shed was looking a little sparsely populated. That said, the small crowd was genuinely getting into the sounds of such classics as At Home He's A Tourist and Anthrax, performed with genuine effort and energy despite the age of the musicians in question. Before I went in to check them out I was reminded of a performance by a band from a similar era and style of music, The Fall, who had put on a really bizarre set at Meredith Music Festival at the end of last year. Frontman Mark E Smith evidently decided that he wasn't going to put in much of an effort, and simply stumbled around onstage, yelled his lyrics in an indecipherable manner, and sporadically turned his bandmates' amplifiers down, up, or even completely off. In complete contrast, Gang of Four were still electric on stage, but at least they had the sense to actually perform their music properly - and the crowd loved it.
(pending recording)
(Gang of Four score 9/10.)

I then made my way back to Stage 4 for a performance by Norwegian melodic black metal stalwarts, Dimmu Borgir. As All That Remains vacated the annex, the crowd grew extremely restless, and one inebriated punter yelled to the sky joyously, "DIMMU BORGIR ARE FINALLY IN AUSTRALIA!" It was certainly a fair statement to make - in their career of almost 20 years, the band have never once set foot on our soil until today, and were a highly anticipated act for many. However, as blasts from smoke machines tried in vain to set some sort of atmosphere for the upcoming performance (at 3:25 in the afternoon, the clouds of dry ice simply blew away and dispersed as soon as they appeared), it became clear that the band weren't appearing any time soon. Roadies continued to do their thing onstage for quite a while, at which point I looked at my phone and realised I'd been standing in front of an empty stage for ten minutes. That was enough for me, and I wandered back over to the Main Arena, for one of Soundwave's major drawcards this year, a little Californian band by the name of Primus.

The funky sounds of Here Come the Bastards were extremely pleasing to hear, particularly as I and the rest of the crowd at the band's sideshow the night before had not witnessed the trio playing this particular song live. Following it up with Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers was even more enjoyable! I've only recently started listening to this band properly (I must admit, I bought that sideshow ticket mainly to see Melvins), but they've definitely found a place in my musical heart quite quickly, and how could they not? It's always a bit of a risky decision to see a band play twice in a row, especially if one of those performances is a festival. Will they play different songs? Will the stage antics be the same? Will the crowd like them? Well, there was no need to worry about that first point, as the band's 9-song set only reprised three numbers from the night prior. The delightfully odd frontman/bass GOD Les Claypool was in fine form too, as he spotted a few fans in the front row holding a banner in appreciation of Slash. "I hate to tell you, but Slash is performing on that stage over there!" he said, pointing in the direction of the adjacent stage 1, before suggesting that maybe the security guards would be nice enough to escort them to the other side. However, whether Claypool was joking or whether he was genuinely incorrect, it became apparent to those checking their timetables that he had got it wrong, and Slash was due to play on Stage 2, after Thirty Seconds to Mars on Stage 1. "I'm sorry, I have been misinformed!" Claypool apologised a few songs later, to general laughter. "It just goes to show, never trust the fuckin' bass player!" His antics, and indeed, the eccentric funk stylings of the music, may have gone over the heads of some of the younger members in the crowd, but by the end of the set, most of the audience was smiling and left feeling very satisfied. The set concluded with a very-crowd pleasing double of My Name is Mud, which Claypool introduced as "a Van Halen song, pre-Jump", and the immortal classic Tommy the Cat, introduced as "another Van Halen song, this one from the Sammy Hagar era". My only complaint with this set was it wasn't dark enough, therefore the visuals on the giant inflatable spacemen's helmets were not used like at the sideshow. But a great performance all round!
Seas of Cheese
Here Come the Bastards
Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
Pudding Time
The Eyes of the Squirrel (new song!)
Over the Falls
John the Fisherman
My Name is Mud
Tommy the Cat
(Primus score 10/10!)

After the necessary food-and-R 'n' R break, it was back to Stage 4 for a performance from thrash metal royalty. It's almost become something of a festival tradition to have a really terrible band play right before Slayer; all one need to do is look at YouTube to see loads of hilarious footage of such "bands" as My Chemical Romance having stuff thrown at them. And today the unfortunate band was Ill Nino. It was quite amusing to watch the end of their set, by which point the Slayer fans were no longing patiently waiting, and were throwing bottles, cans, middle fingers and a continuous chant involving a less-polite way of saying "Please leave the stage now, thank you." Poor old Ill Nino vocalist (I'm not even going to do him the honour of looking his name up on Wikipedia, they really were quite terrible) tried his best to be brave in the face of adversity, directly addressing the opposing crowd with "We won today Melbourne, and you lost", before leaving the stage quickly. And then the chaos began. A wall of no less than 36 Marshall cabs filled the stage - it could be no other band than Slayer. With an offstage intro booming out of the PA, the four thrash metal titans soon made their way onstage to blast their way through the title track to their 2009 release World Painted Blood. "Thank you for showing up today!" vocalist/bassist Tom Araya exclaimed early in the set. His choice of words were certainly deliberate, as some of the crowd shouted similar sentiments back to him. "I guess you're all glad that I showed up today," he continued, referring to his hospitalisation in Sydney that resulted in the last-minute cancellation of the Slayer set. The band ripped their way through a slew of new material and old favourites alike; unsurprisingly it was the latter that evoked the biggest crowd response. However, I'm not sure whether it was because I was pretty far back in the crowd or for some other reason, but this performance just didn't seem to live up to my expectations. The sound seemed a little off at times, which is something that, even though it's not usually the band's fault, can really detract from a performance. Also, I was a little miffed that the band didn't even finish Raining Blood, cutting the song off just before the thrashing madness of the guitar solo and finale. Speaking of guitars though, the other big news of this tour was the absence of Jeff Hanneman, who has contracted a very metal-sounding flesh-eating disease that has rendered him unable to play guitar. His replacement for the time being is Exodus axeman Gary Holt, who certainly put in a very capable performance on the day. However, in the end Slayer just weren't delivering as much as I thought they would; nonetheless it was still good to see an enormously influential heavy metal band playing in Australia yet again. Maybe a "Big 4" tour could happen soon? I live in hope...
World Painted Blood
Hate Worldwide
War Ensemble
Hallowed Point
Mandatory Suicide
South of Heaven
Raining Blood
Black Magic
Angel of Death
(Slayer score 8/10.)

"Guess what I came here to do today!" proclaimed Josh Homme, frontman of the inimitable Queens of the Stone Age, as he took a healthy swig from a bottle of what appeared to be vodka, and his bandmates kicked into the familiar opening of Feel Good Hit of the Summer. With this particular choice of opening song, the crowd was instantly in Homme's pocket, as they enthusiastically helped him out on those very simple yet very fun lyrics! Straight away, Homme and bandmates followed it up with other Rated R fave The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret, and the pace was set early for what would turn out to be a really good set from the riff-driven five piece. In celebration of the recent reissue of their self-titled debut album, the band have stated that they will play it in its entirety at many of their shows throughout this year, and indeed did at their Soundwave sideshows. However, today not even one song made it into the set, as the band opted instead for a "greatest hits" package of sorts, featuring a wide variety of material from across their career, except for that first album. Queens have always been one of those bands I've sort of "casually loved" - never got "extremely" into them, but certainly haven't hated them either - and I was quite glad to see them perform on this occasion. I didn't really have any complaints with the setlist either - it was especially pleasing to hear I Think I Lost My Headache live, something I didn't expect them to play at all. I thought I'd better leave a bit early to make sure I was back at Stage 4 in time for Melvins; apparently I missed a guy in a wheelchair crowdsurfing during No One Knows! Ah well. Great set!
Feel Good Hit of the Summer
The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret
3's & 7's
Sick, Sick, Sick
Misfit Love
Monsters in the Parasol
Burn the Witch
Little Sister
I Think I Lost My Headache
Go With the Flow
No One Knows
A Song for the Dead
(QOTSA score 10/10!)

At which point it was time to endure another average band running their set overtime at the expense of a much better band to come - this time it was Rob Zombie and his band that were torturing the poor fans of the next band, who in this case was Melvins. Could someone please buy this guy a watch? Despite the apparent fact to everyone in the crowd that their set should have been wrapping up, Zombie and his band dragged it out as long as possible, including throwing in the biggest metal-cliche cover that any band can ever do - Metallica's Master of Puppets. Ugh. They finally finished with Dragula (of course) before getting the crowd to chant "ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE!" one last time - naturally, the other crowd gave it their best "MELVINS! MELVINS!" to try and point out to this dickhead that he'd clearly overstayed his welcome.

Melvins, to their credit, didn't resort to tearing Zombie a new one, either literally or through their microphones, but simply stood onstage with their instruments - clearly frustrated and well ready to play - and waited until Zombie finished, before blasting into The Water Glass, with bass player Jared Warren chanting "WOO! WOO!" sarcastically at the crowd. The setlist was pretty similar to the previous night's sideshow, of course with a few omissions due to the reduced set time, but still highly enjoyed by the crowd, naturally considerably smaller now that a certain British classic metal band were doing their thing on the main stage. The band themselves didn't really mess around with any live schtick, although they were wearing some interesting costumes, but just delivered a solid no-frills set of mostly tracks from their most recent three albums - unfortunately, not albums I'm very familiar with. Nevertheless, it's always a good night when these gents are on the stage!
The Water Glass
Evil New War God
The Talking Horse
The Bloated Pope
The Kicking Machine
Billy Fish
Electric Flower
Civilized Worm
(Melvins score 9/10)

The crowd was slowly dwindling, but the couple of hundred people that were left were extremely keen to see another smashing live performance from "motherfuckin' Los Angeles" punk heavyweights The Bronx. One can't accuse them of not being kind to their Australian fans (of which there are plenty!), with this visit technically being the band's fourth in just over two years (if you include their brief visit last year under their Mariachi El Bronx incarnation). However, the crowd still lapped up the incredible energy coming from the stage, ensuring that vocalist Matt Caughthran's usual commands for moshing, circle pits and "chaos" were obeyed with great enthusiasm. Playing in front a giant gorilla backdrop with flashing red eyes and the slogan "THE BEAT THAT KILLS", The Bronx tore their way through a great set of songs from their eponymous three albums, and even threw in one brand new song! Eventually Caughthran did what we knew he would do, and leapt into the pit during everyone's favourite, Heart Attack American, more than happy to share his microphone with the adoring crowd. As the band drew their set to a close with History's Stranglers, the crowd were all a bit worse for wear, but at Caughthran's insistence, thought they'd better drift over to the annex to catch the next band!
Rape Zombie
Shitty Future
White Tar
Under the Rabbit (new song)
Six Days a Week
Strobe Life
Around the Horn
Heart Attack American
History's Stranglers
(The Bronx score 10/10!)

Like The Bronx, Fucked Up delivered a stellar set of vicious hardcore punk with all the fury and intensity they could muster, which as it turns out was quite a lot! Vocalist Damian Abraham was also up for some in-the-crowd fun, in fact, he walked onstage, ripped his shirt off, smashed a beer can on his head, and then off he went, into the crowd where he spent the entirety of the set. The band onstage (talented as they are!) were mostly ignored as the crowd attempted to get their piece of Abraham, whether it be singing furiously into his microphone, giving him a high-five or a backslap, or even jumping on his shoulders and riding him around, as one punter managed! After a long day, everyone was a little bit wearied but a band like Fucked Up ensured that everyone tapped into their reserves to summon one last burst of energy. It all ended way too soon, as both Abraham and his new friends looked optimistically toward the stage in the hope of getting one last song. But it was not to be, and as the band walked offstage, Abraham stayed in the pit to thank each and every member of the crowd personally. A truly inspiring thing to watch.
Son the Father
David Comes to Life
Black Albino Bones
I Hate Summer
The Other Shoe
Baiting the Public
(Fucked Up score 10/10!)

Well, it seems that once again, Soundwave Festival brought a truly diverse lineup to celebrate the hard rock/punk/metal counter-culture that's usually pretty much ignored by the mainstream festivals out there. For a festival that only became truly national in 2008, Maddah's Soundwave brand has certainly been embraced with great enthusiasm, and with the acts he's bringing out, it's easy to see why. Fingers crossed that this "Soundwave Revolution" will be something quite exciting!