All posts tagged justin

  • The Vine live review: Soundwave Festival Brisbane, February 2013

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival 2013
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 23 February 2013

    This is the paragraph for the requisite context-setting that precedes every festival review ever. Soundwave is now easily bigger than the Big Day Out. They’ve long since sold out all five shows on this tour. This is where the real money is spent and earned each year as far as the Australian rock festival circuit is concerned. Each year Soundwave drops a line-up that’s more bloated with international talent than the last. Twenty-thirteen is no exception.

    James Hetfield of Metallica at Soundwave Festival Brisbane 2013, reviewed for TheVine.com.au by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    THE LOSERS VS INDIFFERENT VS WINNERS SCORE CARD:

    The Losers 

    Playing their first Australian show in nine years, A Perfect Circle had a fantastic opportunity to crowd-please in a late afternoon slot. They dropped the ball. We got a languid 50 minute set that drew heavily on material from eMOTIVe, their so-so covers album from 2004. Only one track from their 2000 debut, Mer de Noms (‘The Hollow’) – a disorienting remix of ‘3 Libras’ notwithstanding – and two from Thirteenth Step (a great take on ‘Weak and Powerless’, and ‘The Outsider’, wherein the guitars were barely audible).

    They did play a new song, ‘By And Down’, right near the end, but by this point the crowd’s energy had sapped considerably and most people inside the D barrier just stood there, staring, confused as to why they were choosing these songs. Far too earnest for their own good, this was by far the most disappointing set I witnessed all day. I had way more fun at Puscifer the night before – the other other band of APC/Tool singer Maynard James Keenan – despite that group having far fewer great songs than A Perfect Circle. I get it: Maynard doesn’t give a fuck about conventions or expectations. He’s his own man! Isn’t he rebellious? What a guy! But this set sucked, plain and simple.

    Kyuss Lives! were mixed so poorly that I fled after three songs. John Garcia’s vocals twice as loud as any of the instruments on stage? No thanks. These guys were good when they toured last year (review), so I’m not sure what went wrong today. When they first arrived on stage, Garcia’s mic was inaudible; someone at the sound desk massively overcompensated for their fuck-up. Also, no Nick Oliveri?

    Stone Sour are surely the least offensive band on the bill. Despite the grandstanding of Corey Taylor, who is an excellent frontman with one of the best voices in rock, there’s really not much to like about this band. I heard the majority of their set while waiting for Slayer and I couldn’t recall a single hook or melody. Beige.

    Myself, for losing my sunglasses. I can’t blame this on drink, drug, or mosh-pits, either. Just carelessness. Idiot.

    The Indifferent

    Local band The Schoenberg Automaton open main-stage proceedings as gates open on the stroke of eleven. To my ears their sound like generic hardcore with some highly technical guitar and drumwork tacked on. This formula is generally a win at this festival, though. They sound huge through the PA. These are my observations from the shade of a grandstand as the temperature climbs into the low thirties and we all begin losing litres of fluid hourly.

    I don’t find Anthrax to be especially engaging but it feels like I’m in the minority. They unveil flags bearing the visages of Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, which is a nice touch. ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Indians’, ‘I Am The Law’…they cover ‘TNT’ by AC/DC, one of the few heavy bands to not have graced these festival stages (next year?), and it doesn’t scan as a forced attempt at getting us onside — the entire arena already was. “Please remember to always worship music,” says Scott Ian at set’s end. OK.

    Dragonforce play all of the notes there are to play during their opening song, which goes for 10 minutes and contains as many guitar solos. Trying to listen to their newest album yesterday in preparation (while keeping a straight face) was hard work, and so is standing in the scorching sun while they shred. I can only stick it out for a couple of songs. I do like Herman Li’s whammy bar trick though: he holds the guitar aloft while it feeds back, then drops it onto his upper thigh with a flourish and continues playing. Dexterity.

    Shirt slogans spotted throughout the day:

    Tell your boobs to stop staring at me – worn by suss-looking, chubby 20 year old.

    Guns don’t kill people, Ray Lewis kills people.

    We’re just old farts who love music – worn by three 50-plus year-old guys in uniform.

    Fat guy wears Mystic Wolf shirt – worn by same.

    Suck my Richard – worn by tall, pasty redhead.

    It’s all good when you’re the big dude – worn by fat dude struggling to climb stairs.

    A singlet that reads  I’m a Lars Ulrich guy – exact meaning unclear.

    My favourite: You’ve never been drunk till you’ve shit yourself – Fraser Island 2010. Graphic.

    For the full review and photo gallery, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Future Music Festival Brisbane’, March 2012

    A festival review for The Vine, co-reviewed with my editor Marcus Teague. Excerpt below.

    Future Music Festival
    Doomben Racecourse, Brisbane
    Saturday 3 March 2012

    By Marcus Teague and Andrew McMillen

    MT: Being based in Melbourne, I hadn’t been to a festival in Brisbane before today. I have sat outside Ric’s Cafe in the human drain Valley at 5am many times however, marvelling at the annihilated car-wash-of-the-mind humans of all stripes can put themselves through. “A dance festival in Brisbane’s different mate,” said a friend. “You’ll see.”

    I did. The first hint comes when I’m in a cab on the way to the grounds at 12:30pm, and witness a couple of clearly munted guys hanging off each other while stumbling down the footpath; one of whom is covered in grass as if having earlier fallen over in the light drizzle. “Must be coming home from the night before,” I thought. Twenty metres on there’s a girl passed out in the gutter, head on her hands, pool of vomit between her feet. A friend is pushing a water bottle to her lips while a flock of five stand nearby on their phones. The scene continues, as if I’m being towed past some complex diorama of dilapidated 21st Century Youth Culture: masses of screeching girls with (what seemsurely like) fake boobs; everyone with tatts akimbo; all swinging empty bottles of booze and energy drinks. The deeply oxymoronic scene of hugely-buff, chest-waxed angry bros—wearing nothing but tiny shorts—yelling out “FAGGOT” at kids running past is mind-bending. Closer to the gate, a range of people pose outside stretch hummers. It’s completely awesome — “awe” having once been common shorthand for “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful.” 

    AM: What does the name of this festival mean? The other major Australian festivals are easy enough to grasp: Big Day Out is true-to-name, Laneway originally took place in a series of side-alleys, Splendour In The Grass is named after a film and er, largely takes place on grass (?). Soundwave, admittedly, is a strange one. But this? If the line-up comprised entirely of acts from the future, people wouldn’t be paying $170 at the gate for the pleasure of witnessing acts they’d never heard before. ($210 each for VIP.) Considering one of the headliners is a band formed in 1980, an argument could be made for Past Music Festival. Anyway, nitpicking. A disclaimer worth noting at the outset: this review was written by two sober guys. So why am I here? To see a handful of live performances and otherwise amuse myself among the teeming hordes.

    The first thing I notice upon arriving is that complete lack of sniffer dogs. I accidentally walk past the VIP entry down toward the general admission gates and don’t see any there, either. Perhaps they’re just inside the festival: if so, smart call. But considering that this has the reputation of being the druggiest festival on the annual calendar, I expected a strong presence from our canine friends. This is the first time I’ve been to Future. As I walk inside, I’m reminded that every other day of the year this ground hosts horses and gamblers, not tens of thousands of dance fans and half a dozen stages wielding enormous speaker stacks. Organisers have constructed bridges across the horse-racing track so that the turf remains unabused by human feet. Nice touch.

    MT: I arrive just inside the festival grounds as rain begins sweeping across the land in great bursts. It’s not cold: I’m in a tee shirt and—unlike 99% of punters—jeans; a dress code that’s akin to walking around as Santa Claus in a nudist colony. But it’s still wet enough to stay seated in the great grandstand, comfortably undercover. From there I watch the lower concourse, seeing five muscly guys rip each other’s singlets off, people dancing in the rain while others run for ponchos, and a girl trying to artfully paste her wet hair across the sides of her exposed boobs. A sign in the distance reads “brisbane – australia’s new world city” — the lack of capitals as deeply unnerving as its implication. The EARSTORM stage is quiet. A bird flies past and it’s momentarily stirring to think of nature.

    AM: Future has an interesting stage configuration, in that the four main stages are arranged almost in staggered rows—like consecutive aeroplane seats, say—spread across a couple of hundred metres. None of the stages face each other, though, so there is no sound bleed (but for one memorable occurrence late in the day). Dubbed the Flamingo and Las Venus, both main stages have adjacent VIP areas, meaning I’m up in the bleachers for Gym Class Heroes, who exist somewhere between hip-hop and pop — they boast a capable MC in Travie McCoy and a load of pop-hook choruses. Their on-stage banner shows four guys, yet there’s six here today, including one guy with blue hair who sometimes does back-up vocals but mostly waves a GCH flag, shakes a tambourine, and jumps into the crowd. McCoy pauses for a moment to encourage the huge crowd to hug the stranger to their right, then to their left. Not something you’d see at most hip-hop shows. The crowd particularly enjoys ‘Cupid’s Chokehold’ and ‘Billionaire’. A strange band, but thanks to their confident genre-hopping, easy to see their appeal. They end the set by encouraging the crowd to hold ‘love hearts’ in the air. Most do.

    Immediately afterwards, there’s a mass exodus toward the Las Venus stage. I had planned to stick around here for The Naked & Famous but since they’re running 10 minutes late—allowing for a 15 minute changeover between bands was never, ever going to work—I abandon the unmoving crowd stuck before DJ Ruby Rose and head to Las Venus for Skrillex.

    For the full review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credits: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Soundwave Festival Brisbane’, March 2012

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 25 February 2012

    After taking in last year’s festival, I wrote “The only question for Soundwave is: where to from here? Where do you go once you’ve booked [headliner] Iron Maiden? Metallica? AC/DC?”

    Their answer was evidently ‘none of the above’. But the headliner is many hours away as we file into the Showgrounds just before the clocks strike 11am. The days preceding have seen heavy rain pelt Brisbane for extended periods, so it’s admirable that organisers have managed to greet us upon arrival with what appears to be a smoothly running festival. Ground staff are relying heavily on plastic matting to cover up the muddiest spots, and for the time being, the entire venue is easy to navigate with regular footwear while staying dry.

    The sun shines overhead as I take up position before the metal stages, 4a and 4b, in anticipation of Finnish metal act Turisas. It seems they’re late; stagehands continue soundchecking, until twenty past, when they instead hoist the next band’s banner, The Black Dahlia Murder. Hundreds of disappointed people file out; nothing has been communicated to the audience as far as I can tell. (I later learn from a friend that they were moved to a midday slot at another stage.) A rare organisational hiccup, and not a good start to the day.

    The sky breaks for the first time at 11.48am. I’m standing under a tree watching Chimaira, who sound OK. A little keyboard-heavy, which is odd for a metal band. Lots of blast beats and breakdown. There’s a heart-warming singalong to ‘Pure Hatred’ – namely, the chorus of “I hate everyone!” – while I apply my poncho for the first of many times today. The tent before stage 3 sees a sharp increase in visitors seeking shelter. Zebrahead are playing. Eh, pop-punk. The merch tent between the stages features the most impressive wall of shirts I’ve ever seen.

    Out in the main arena, Stage 1 bears a banner that reads Pinkerton. Underneath, a band is playing Weezer’s ‘El Scorcho’. Turns out it’s Saves The Day halfway through playing that album in full. It’s weird, but their version is competent enough and I guess it’s much cheaper than booking Weezer. At stage 6a, CKY draw a couple thousand people before the rain returns at 12.50pm, scattering the casual observers and encouraging the dedicated throng up front to thrash harder. From a distance, it looks and sounds like they’ve got a different singer – his voice seems way off Deron Miller’s on-record delivery – but research afterwards suggests that Miller’s still in place. Just having a bad day, then. Their set is enjoyable enough, but most (all?) of these songs are 10+ years old. I referred to them as “a band seemingly near the end of their tether” in a review of their August 2010 tour, and I feel the same way today. Telling that the quartet don’t even bother with more recent or unreleased material; just the hits, thanks.

    “So many good bands today, oh my god. Cannot believe that!” says the singer of French metal band Gojira from stage 4b. He’s right. It helps that his band kick arse. They’re one of the heaviest acts on the line-up, and one of the most anticipated by the metalheads: this is their first-ever Australian show, and they’ve drawn a big crowd to take in their seriously impressive and brutal sound. Sample song intro: “This song is about whales that fly… into outer space!” *crowd roars, horns raised* Apparently they only play for 20 minutes – four songs’ worth – which is disappointing, but in that short time they stand out as one of the day’s best acts. Friends have been recommending them to me for years, but today is my first exposure to Gojira. I’ll definitely be returning.

    For the full review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Slipknot photo credit above: Justin Edwards. iPhone photo credit: Andrew McMillen.

  • The Vine festival review: ‘Big Day Out Gold Coast’, January 2012

    A festival review for The Vine. The full review appears below.

    Big Day Out 2012
    Gold Coast Parklands
    Sunday 22 January 2012

    Twenty years into this festival’s existence and strangely, the Big Day Out has less cultural relevancy than ever before. Or so you might believe if you paid attention to the Australian music media in the months leading up to the 2012 event. Or the BDO Facebook page. There irate fans compiled a list: the line-up’s shit, all the acts are tired and stale, they booked The Living End for the 18th year in a row, they’ve been beaten to the punch by specialist festivals booking bigger and better acts, Kanye West isn’t a proper headliner – ad nauseum. No wonder festival co-founder Ken West got vocal with frustrations at such concerns.

    So travelling to the Parklands today, I’m half expecting to spend the festival in a relatively empty venue. It’s a pleasant surprise to be completely wrong. This show isn’t sold out – none of the 2012 shows reached capacity, for the first time in a long time – yet it’s hard to discern much of a drop in attendance. Despite the vocal online haters, a summer in Australia without a Big Day Out to look forward to seems a sad prospect. This year’s tour needs to be excellent if the event is to survive, and it needs to start here on the Gold Coast.

    Up first on the Orange Stage is Abbe May and her three offsiders, who play compact, elegant rock songs led by May’s strong voice and commanding stage presence. The Perth-based singer evokes memories of Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen in full-flight; boot resting on the foldback, guitar held aloft. There’s a lot to like here for rock fans, and she seems to impress a lot of newcomers today as her crowd slowly swells past triple figures. Next on the Green Stage are Stonefield, who’re running 15 minutes late due to transport issues. The four Findlay sisters are forced to swallow the embarrassment of soundchecking their own instruments before a nearly full tent. Once they start playing, though, they’re thoroughly impressive. This tour could mark the beginning of their transition into a band who deserve to be taken seriously: strong musicianship, quality songwriting and a formidable frontwoman in drummer Amy Findlay. They cover Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and it slays: the day’s first goosebump-provoking moment. Funnily, Holly – the band’s bassist, and youngest member at 13 – starts windmilling her hair during the drum solo, apropos of nothing. It’s awesome. The crowd goes wild.

    On the Blue Stage, Parkway Drive outline the crossover appeal of their distinctive style of metalcore. By now, they’re essentially a mainstream act, so well-known is their image and presence. In ten years’ time, will we look back on these five Byron boys’ output as one of the defining Australian sounds? I hope so. These songs are etched onto the DNA of a generation of young hardcore fans, and they run through a solid set before a big crowd today. They’re a fine example of a band who clearly enjoy the hell out of their success; there’s nothing but smiles on show today. Singer Winston McCall struggles with the heat but keeps up with his incandescent bandmates; he even manages to catch two airborne water bottles during a single song, ‘Anasasis’. Five huge Parkway Drive-branded beach balls bounce around the D section for the duration of their set, which thoroughly satisfies.

    The same can’t be said for OFWGKTA, the Los Angeles hip-hop collective. Today is the day that the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All bubble bursts. They sound like shit live. I wrote otherwise when they visited Australia for the first time last June, but today’s performance is truly horrendous. It’s not a matter of how the show’s mixed, either: the problem can be isolated to five dudes holding microphones and using them incessantly, rather than sparingly. Each line is barked by the rappers, not rapped. As a result, the sonic nuance that the group exhibit on record is non-existent today; instead, a hodge-podge of disparate, aggressive voices over a backbeat. The crowd at the Boiler Room is huge, and they explode with joy once the five rappers and one DJ – singer Frank Ocean nowhere to be seen, apparently – show their faces. After 15 minutes of watching and attempting to listen to their set, it becomes funny to think about how bad they sound. On record, impressive. Here? Appalling. At times it sounds like they’re just rapping over an mp3; during the Tyler, The Creator track ‘Transylvania’, the group’s original lines can be clearly heard underneath their live raps. 35 minutes in, ‘Yonkers’ could be the set’s only saviour, yet it too disappoints. Tyler barely raps a word; the crowd does it for him. When he does use the mic, he’s drowned out by his bandmates barking his best lines. In a short, it’s a bomb. Which ruins the last chance that this set had of redeeming itself. The crowd leaves en masse at song’s end and I wonder why I’m still standing here.

    Before the Orange Stage, Australian hip-hop heroes Hilltop Hoods are welcomed by a huge crowd. Featuring live keyboards and drums (the latter via Plutonic Lab, half of the duo Muph & Plutonic), DJ Debris and the two MCs stoke excitement in the crowd. I take it in while standing nearby the free Slurpee tent and admiring the extraordinary amount of waste caused by thousands of straws, cups and straw wrappers. The Hoods’ new stuff is not particularly remarkable – one chorus consists of “I’m no good” over and over – and when they threaten to play more, I shoot through. It’s been a disappointing couple of hours. I need to see something inspiring.

    Norwegian electronic act Royksopp fills that gap perfectly. Their hour-long set at the Boiler Room is commanding: it’s their first time in the country, and they’ve evidently brought a trunk full of props to mark the occasion. Flanked by a guitarist and bassist clad in capes and face-masks, the core duo of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland adorn themselves with a range of costumes and enormous light-emitting helmets (a la Deadmaus, Daft Punk) as they work through tracks from their four albums. From the opener, ‘Alpha Male’, the quartet is outstanding: the sound booms loud and clear, and they’re met with a tent full of dancing bodies. After ‘Happy Up Here’, ‘Eple’ and ‘Remind Me’, an unintroduced blonde female singer emerges and faithfully reprises Robyn’s vocal part during ‘Girl And The Robot’, while acting alongside one of the duo (wearing a huge robot helmet with red and green lights, natch). She reappears for a slowed-down version of ‘What Else Is There?’, an achingly beautiful track from 2005’s The Understanding that was originally sung by The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. Incredibly, the singer captures Karin’s idiosyncratic vocal style in whole, while wearing a Knife-inspired bird mask. They air ‘Poor Leno’ then discover that they’ve got time for one more, so the girl reappears to again reprise the role of Karin for ‘This Must Be It’. It’s hard to imagine walking away disappointed from the Boiler Room after Royksopp: intense, compelling and not boring for even a second, it’s the best set I’ll witness today.

    It begins to rain during Battles’ set under the tent at the Essential Stage. The New York City-based quartet became a trio last year; having them seen them dominate with four members, I’m interested to see whether the same is still true with one fewer musician. The answer is ‘mostly yes’. There’s an incredible amount of tension during the first few minutes of ‘Africastle’, before John Stanier starts drumming. Ian Williams and Dave Konopka wind their way through snaking guitar lines and teasing keyboard phrases that build up to Stanier’s first drumbeats. His kit has been mic’d incredibly well: the snare is so punchy that it sounds like a whipcrack each time he smacks it. Stanier is a demon behind the kit, and he pulls focus throughout their 50 minute set. To compensate for the lack of vocalists, they’ve wedged two LCD screens on either side of the kit, which display HD footage of Kazu Makino (‘Sweetie & Shag’), Matias Aguayo (‘Ice Cream’) and Gary Numan (‘My Machines’) singing along to the songs. (A huge, high definition Gary Numan glaring at you for a few minutes is quite an imposing sight.) The trio have worked out how to do tracks from their debut album, Mirrored, without singer/guitarist Tyondai Braxton; they play a sample of a children’s choir singing the nonsensical lyrical hooks of ‘Atlas’, and it works well despite a couple of miscues from Williams. That track is excellent today; so too ‘Tonto’ from the same album, though it’s a curtailed version. Things fall apart during ‘Wall Street’ midway through the set, though: one of Williams’ keyboards fails, and Stainer and Konopka spend a few minutes in a holding pattern, playing the same short phrase, before eventually ending the track. Frustration abounds on stage; such is the lot of a band so reliant on technology and carefully daisy-chained connections to make their music. They never quite regain their momentum after this technical problem, so it remains a good set, but not a great one.

    The rain has ruined the potential to witness Tony Hawk skateboarding on the vert ramp near the main stages. Despite the efforts of a crew who optimistically mop up the wet while the legend walks around the halfpipe, posing for photos, his intended 6.30pm start has been thrown way out. Still, a crowd of hundreds hang around, hoping to witness the man in full flight; the sport’s only true ‘rock star’. A drunk guy near me yells, “Skate or die, Tony!”. Hours later, while standing inside the D barrier, I look over my shoulder and see dozens of skaters lining the top of the ramp while a single figure cuts a path inside. Perhaps the Birdman finally flew, some two hours after his scheduled time. On the Blue Stage, British act Kasabian are performing, but not inspiring. They’re being watched by a few thousand people but they’re decidedly vanilla. It’s only for the closing pair, ‘Vlad The Impaler’ and ‘Fire’ – the latter custom-made for licensing to late night sports shows, it seems – that they raise the bar slightly.

    Two acts to go. On the Orange Stage, Seattle grunge act Soundgarden sound really fucking good, and all four of them are all the way into it. This isn’t a half-arsed reformation. The worst thing that a reformed band can do is either perform without heart (The Pixies, I’m looking at you) or fail to match their on-record sound. Soundgarden pass both of these tests, and ensure that no-one’s fond memories are tarnished tonight. The opening trio (‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’, ‘Spoonman’ and ‘Let Me Drown’) is impressive, and from here the band only get better. Rain begins bucketing down, and sticks around for a few songs. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Loud Love’ and ‘My Wave’ are highlights, so too singer Chris Cornell’s stage banter. “Steal all the records!” he says after telling us about the band’s intention to release a new album this year. “You might as well, otherwise you’ll have to hear them on a CD, which sounds like shit anyway.” While they play, a dude is bucketing water off the top of the side-of-stage sound tent, directly down onto the stage area between Orange and Blue. It doesn’t seem like a particularly smart or safe decision. Cornell makes a weird announcement toward the end of their 75 minute set: “This is the last Big Day Out ever. I mean, right now. Get out!” he yells. Nobody knows how to react. “Not really,” he clarifies soon afterwards. “Maybe they’ll do it again next year. I don’t know.”

    During Soundgarden’s set, the Blue Stage has become an all-white affair for the headliner. Several stagehands are prowling the stage, very carefully observing the speakers at the front of stage. The same men are still doing this ten minutes after Kanye West was due on stage. Like there aren’t tens of thousands of people watching and waiting. A pretty funny situation, at first. 16 minutes late. and the men are pointing at a spot near the front of stage. (I bet they wish they brought a big black curtain with them, like Rammstein did last year, so we couldn’t see what they were doing.) This is excruciating and embarrassing. And nobody’s talking to the audience, telling us why we’re waiting. The Chemical Brothers’ 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole is playing over the PA. The stage manager keeps testing the wireless mic across the length of the stage, before the foldback speakers. He doesn’t look pleased. Backstage, the entire crew must be tearing their hair out. The headliner is 20 minutes late.

    At this point the D barrier opens up again – presumably due to punters attempting to find musical entertainment elsewhere – so I venture back inside. Stagehands are scuttling across the front of stage, running cords, replacing and reconnecting foldback speakers at the insistence of the stage manager. I keep thinking to myself: Kanye’s going to cancel, and shit is going to hit the fan. 9pm comes around; the headliner is half an hour late, and still nobody is communicating anything to the audience. Dig Your Own Hole plays on (good album, that). Bottles are being thrown. Stagehands dart out to retrieve the missiles. The stage manager looks ready to strangle someone. What a fucking nightmare. Someone is losing their job over this shit. Many people, perhaps.

    After 35 minutes, the crowd starts a “bullshit” chant which is quickly adopted by thousands. Sensing a near-riot on his hands, one of the stagehands grabs a microphone and belatedly explains, “The rain fucked with a lot of things. One minute wait for Kanye,” he promises, holding up his index finger. The crowd begins counting down from 60. It seems like a very Australian thing to do. I smile at this, and at the stupidity of the sound guy for promising something that clearly won’t be fulfilled. Around 30 seconds after that minute has passed, Kanye arrives! Clad in a white suit! Except it’s not him, it’s his DJ. Who stands behind his decks and laptop for a while, studying his fingernails, saying nothing. A few minutes later he steps down from his podium and retreats backstage again. It’s been 41 minutes since the headliner was due. Again, no communication. Lots of boos; people leaving; more missiles.

    After 43 minutes, a crew of people is led through the photo pit in front of the Orange Stage, including what appears to be a couple of members of Odd Future. Right on 9.15pm – 45 minutes late – the show starts. Operatic vocals are broadcast through the PA at enormous volume. Dozens of skinny female ballet dancers flood onto the red-lit stage. The music is from ‘H.A.M.’, a track from Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne. Then the vocal sample from the beginning of ‘Dark Fantasy’ is broadcast. The rapper isn’t on stage. People begin to look over their shoulders, searching for the man. A scissor lift clothed in black fabric has been erected directly in line with the stage that Soundgarden began performing on two hours ago. A spotlight is flicked onto the top of the lift, where Kanye stands, mic in hand, telling us to get our hands in the air. The beat drops. The crowd goes bananas. In an instant, we’re all transformed from pissed and impatient to ebullient. It’s a showman’s entrance, and it totally rules. Kanye, how can we stay mad at you?

    I’m in line with the scissor lift and I study the dozen security guards stationed at its base, and the two enormous black men who are evidently the rapper’s bodyguards. As ‘Dark Fantasy’ winds down, it becomes apparent that he’s going to have to walk through the Orange Stage side of the D barrier to rejoin the Blue Stage. The crowd realises, a few beats too late, that they have a chance of mobbing their hero. As the scissor lift descends, a few dozen fans tentatively move toward the star. The security bristles, forming a guard of honour as moments later, hundreds of fans – mostly young girls – flood toward the star, who steps onto the grass and begins dodging trash in his probably-expensive shoes. Kanye does not run, of course. He strides confidently, face impassive, flanked by strong men; he rounds the corner of the photo pit and deals out the occasional high-five to fans crowding the front barrier. Kanye, you glorious bastard! Even having seen a much more impressive version of this entrance at Splendour In The Grass 2011 – the star atop a ten-metre high, smoke-clad tower – it’s still an incredible sight; suspense, misdirection, surprise and joy, all within a couple of minutes, while ‘Dark Fantasy’ plays in the background. Given the ridiculous 45 minute wait and how quickly the crowd’s emotions were turned, I’m convinced that this is one of the funniest, most brilliant things I’ve ever seen. (I also love the idea of a random tradesman using that same scissor lift for a routine job tomorrow, completely unaware that it was used to hoist one of the world’s biggest rappers over the heads of tens of thousands of fans the night before.)

    From here, the set treads a well-worn path: it’s much the same one that he’s been doing since Coachella last year, and the very same set that 30,000 people saw at Splendour 2011. But it makes sense that he’s touring it again on the Big Day Out, to ensure it’s seen by a wide Australian audience before he retires it and starts afresh for the next album cycle. Six songs in, after a curtailed version of ‘Monster’, the rapper apologises for his late start. The crowd cheers. He explains: “Water got in the [front of house sound] boards, and fucked up the whole system. I don’t have in-ears [monitors], so I can’t even hear myself. But I’m sure the newspapers won’t run that tomorrow, because they always find other shit to write about me.” (He was right, of course).

    Note: Here’s the shit thing about the entire situation: it wasn’t Kanye’s fault that he was late on stage, but the entire crowd probably assumed it was. Yet nobody from the stage crew – or even his manager, or DJ – addressed the crowd at any point to inform us of the real reason: technical failure caused by the rain. (Which raises many, many more questions of the organisers. Here’s a few to begin: why was this allowed to happen? Why weren’t the foldback speakers covered at the first sight of rain? Why did they allow tens of thousands of dollars of equipment to be (likely) destroyed by water? Haven’t they been doing festivals at this same venue since 1994? Why did it take 35 minutes for someone to accept responsibility for communicating to the crowd?) And so his reputation will suffer in Australia, and none of it will have been his fault.

    Once the set’s underway, very little goes wrong for the headliner. The ballet dancers are particularly impressive during ‘Love Lockdown’; that aside, the 808s and Heartbreak bracket is still a yawn-fest, and the crowd leaves in droves. He messes up the lyrics in ‘All Falls Down’, despite earlier saying that it’s one of his “absolute favourites”, and immediately has his DJ start it again. He does a cool little a cappella verse and chorus during ‘Touch The Sky’. He restarts ‘All Of The Lights’ because we don’t respond to his line “MJ gone” with the required “Our nigga dead!” at an appropriate volume. “I want you to remember this moment for the rest of your lives!” he commands as the track starts up again. Indeed.

    His take on ‘Runaway’ near set’s end is excruciatingly long. During an extended outro, the rapper ruminates on his heartbreak, his regrets, how “assholes deserve to be lonely” and how if we love somebody tonight, we should hold them tight. This goes on for what seems like ten minutes, while a sole dancer runs through an improvised routine at his feet, twirling and stretching while he drags the song out way longer than expected. The set ends with ‘Hey Mama’ at 11.08pm, nearly two hours after he began. In an apparent effort to redeem himself for the late start, he’s far surpassed his allotted 90 minutes. Kanye, his band, and his dancers take a group bow and leave the stage. While it hasn’t been the best ever Big Day Out, it’s certainly among the most memorable. Til next year. Hopefully.

    For the archived version of the review and many more photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine story: The Flaming Lips ‘Zaireeka’ iPhone experiment at 4ZZZ Brisbane, November 2011

    A live review-of-sorts for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka iPhone Experiment
    4ZZZ Studios, Brisbane
    Sunday November 20 2011

    “There’s a lot of things where, when you think about them, you think they could work. But it’s different when you do them.” Wayne Coyne, singer and songwriter of The Flaming Lips, is sitting before a microphone at Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ. It’s 12.50am. Four hours earlier, Coyne and his band headlined the Windmill Stage at Harvest Festival. Now, at Triple Zed, he’s here to lead something that’s never been done before: an attempt to simultaneously play all four albums of the Lips’ 1997 album, Zaireeka, live on the radio, in sync, via 160 iPhones split into four groups of 40 fans.

    “It’s tough to get this many people together, and to be doing it live on the air, and not knowing whether it’s going to work,” Coyne says. “But you seem to be open to the idea of experimentation, and I think your audience will be forgiving enough if it’s not perfect. Everybody out here is having a good time, so that seems to count for something.” He’s right. The station’s three floors and car park are buzzing with the excitement of iPhone-wielding fans, harried-looking Zed staff, and plenty of hangers-on who’ve snuck in via the back entrance just to be a part of it all. Judging by the sunburns, most spent their day at Harvest. Many are in altered states.

    The singer is being interviewed on air by Zed presenter Brad Armstrong, who began petitioning his ‘Bring The Lips to Zed’ campaign in late August. Armstrong eventually got through to Coyne’s camp, and the two have been in touch for weeks leading up to his arrival tonight. “In the end, you and me were texting back and forth,” Coyne says to the 23 year-old presenter. “There was a couple of times you were calling, and we were just getting ready to walk on stage. I was like, ‘Hey Brad, I can’t talk to you…’” The pair laugh. Armstrong is nervous; his mind repeatedly blanks during the interview. “But persistence is a good quality, for sure,” the singer smiles. “You seemed like you were interesting to work with. Now I’m at the mercy of your organisational skills.”

    Though Armstrong is clearly enjoying himself in the booth, he’s shot himself in the foot somewhat. He’s the default mastermind of this whole operation. While he eats up airtime, a handful of Zed staff flit between the groups, trying to make sense of it all. Guest ‘conductors’ include Richard Pike from PVT, a dude from The Holidays, and local punk duo DZ Deathrays. None of them have any idea what they’re doing. Someone forgot the seemingly obvious step of supplying radios for the four groups; these are eventually put in place, while Armstrong attempts to lead a test run. In the preceding week, the 160 iPhone holders were instructed to download the Atomic Clock app and transfer one of Zaireeka’s four discs to their phone, plus a test track. Eventually Armstrong communicates that everyone should set the test track as an alarm for 1.32am, and then hold up their phones so that microphones can pick up the sound. Zed staff then run throughout the building, yelling out the same message. Watching all of this unfold is exhausting.

    For the full story, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos taken by Justin Edwards, including the image used above.

  • The Vine festival review: Harvest Brisbane, November 2011

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Harvest Festival
    Riverstage and Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Harvest Festival is not above flattery. “Congratulations on your good taste and adventurous spirit,” reads the first line of the 36 page colour program I’m handed upon entry. This psychological ploy makes me smile. Which music fan, anywhere in the world, does not believe that they have the finest music taste? To argue otherwise suggests a lack of self-belief, or false modesty. And the rest of us? Our taste is fantastic. The best. Thanks for asking, Harvest. For AJ Maddah to align his festival with that sort of stroked-ego sycophancy exemplifies tact, and more than a little self-belief of his own. After all, he booked the bands.

    “You are about to witness an amazing collection of great artists and memorable performances.” No minced words there. He then bangs on for a few short paragraphs about a vaudeville tent named Le Boudoir, a Secret Garden full of “world renowned DJs” and “specially designed seating”, and the festival’s Australian art installations and “troupe performances popping up from nowhere”. (Maddah’s emphasis on the nationality of the art is interesting, given that of the five Australian acts on the main stages, just one (Gung Ho) is not from Sydney and all are confined to the smallest one – The Big Red Tractor Stage. His other festival, Soundwave, traditionally has but a couple of Australian artists each year.) AJ’s program spiel ends with the line, “We know that you have come for the bands but hope you will return year after year for the experience!”

    In the lead-up to the event, an emphasis was placed on how Harvest is “a feeling, not just a festival”. That’s a fairly airy-fairy thing to say while attempting to make a mark in an already crowded festival market; let alone in the notoriously cutthroat live music industry. What could this statement mean, exactly? Clearly, Harvest is pitched slightly left-of-centre. It is, apparently, for the more discerning punter. More mature, perhaps; not just in age, but probably in terms of “good taste”, too. I think about this statement all day. Though it’s probably marketing-speak not worth the scrap of paper it was scrawled on, perhaps there is some truth to AJ’s spin.

    Those words flit across my mind while I watch Portishead. What feeling might they embody, then? I think ‘isolation’, then ‘boredom’. Cruel, perhaps. After an hour drinking in their enormous sound, though, I settle upon ‘empathy’. You’d have to be a hard bastard to not believe that Beth Gibbons was in a dark place, hurting, when she wrote these songs all those years ago. Even if she’s putting on a mask, 17 years later – who could sustain real sadness and hurt for so long, and still function as a performer at this level? – it’s a very convincing act. I fall for it, time and again. Right up until she thanks the crowd, and then lets out a nervous little laugh, just before the encore break. The spell is broken then and there, but I like her – and her band – a lot more after that tiny reveal of real human emotion. Earlier, I was put in mind of Interpol’s headline performance on this same stage in January. That, like this, was technically brilliant but delivered from a position of icy disaffection. The overwhelming enormity of a song like ‘Glory Box’ reduces these kinds of complaints to cinders, though, thanks particularly to its cutting, perfect guitar solo. During the encore break, two of the band members return to stage to thank AJ by name. “It’s tough doing festivals at the moment,” one says, “but I think this has got a really good vibe.”

    For the full review, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos by the always excellent Justin Edwards. He took the photo used above, too.

  • Mess+Noise live review: Splendour In The Grass, August 2011

    A three-part live review of the music festival Splendour In The Grass 2011 for Mess+Noise. Excerpts from each day are included below. The photos used in this blog post were taken by Justin Edwards, who shot the event on behalf of M+N. His photo galleries are linked from my reviews.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 1

    Woodfordia is a really good venue, Gotye will top the Hottest 100, showers are best taken in the day and Kanye West apparently likes fish sticks – things learned on day one of Splendour In The Grass 2011 by ANDREW MCMILLEN.

    In the lead-up to Splendour In The Grass 2011, it felt like the first year where the honeymoon could be over for Australia’s largest music festival. Most notably, this is the first Splendour in recent memory that failed to sell out. Days away from gates opening, promoters even decided to offer tickets to each of the three days at a heavily discounted price. Compare this to last year’s event – the first time the festival had been staged at Woodford in Queensland, and also the first time it stretched across three days – which sold out in around five hours. Evidently, an $80 price hike while offering what’s arguably an inferior line-up appeared like a mistake, but once on site, all the bad press in the lead-up to the festival all but slips away.

    Organisers even seem to have sorted out a better entrance process this year. Rather than hours spent sitting in slow-moving traffic kilometres away from the gates, those who arrive after midday on Thursday are impressed by how smoothly it all runs. Perhaps the speedy entrance can be attributed to the lax security when it comes to searching vehicles for alcohol. The tray of the M+N ute could’ve been filled with bottles of spirits – and we’d have gotten away with it. Maybe they were relying on last year’s scare tactics to discourage BYO booze? It didn’t seem to work. On a cold Thursday night, a man next to me at the urinal exclaims, “There’s fucking steam coming off my fucking piss!”

    Day One: July 29

    We learned last year that Woodfordia is a very good venue for accommodating 30,000 music fans for a weekend. This rings true today. Very little has been changed as far as the layout is concerned. The majority of the musical action occurs at three stages. Mix Up and the G.W. McLennan are housed under tents in the centre of the festival grounds, while the Amphitheatre – the main stage – is located at the far end. It’s a huge bowl that’s entered by taking either the high road – which is quite a steep climb – or the lower path, which funnels into the “D” section in front of stage. The first Amphitheatre performance of the festival is scheduled to start at 11am, yet the gates remain closed until 11.10am for no apparent reason.

    Once inside, Brisbane act Millions are playing to a crowd that seems to consist largely of triple j staff, including music director Richard Kingsmill. The quartet won an Unearthed competition to play today. They play catchy indie pop built around confident songwriting and a laidback delivery. This slot may well give their profile a nice boost. The band who played at this time last year, Jinja Safari, take the same stage at 1pm today to what I assume is a far bigger crowd than their first time around.

    For the full report on day one, visit Mess+Noise.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 2

    Perfect 10 performances from Gareth Liddiard and The Grates, strange timetabling decisions and disappointing sets from Mona and The Mars Volta – ANDREW MCMILLEN reports on a musically inconsistent day two of Splendour In The Grass in Woodfordia, Queensland. But, hey, at least the weather was good.

    All weekend, the weather is a dream. It couldn’t be better. It’s so good that you tend not to notice the clear skies, and instead take it for granted. There isn’t a moment of rain, which makes for happy camping.

    First on the Mix Up stage are Ghoul, who admit to not having played a show in six months but prove to be captivating. Evidently I’m not the only one who’s fond of Ivan Vizintin’s distinctive voice. By the end of their 45 minutes there’s a few hundred heads facing the stage. At the Amphitheatre, it’s a tough day to be a Cut Off Your Hands fan. Their set is bland and uninspiring, but this could well be the Kiwi quartet playing at their best. It’s indie pop that you can dance to, but the absence of hooks leaves the crowd cold. They lean heavily on material from new release Hollow. Fifty minutes of Nick Johnston’s voice becomes grating. They save their best for last, when Johnston ditches his guitar and wails along to early singles ‘Still Fond’ and ‘Expectations’.

    “If I was booking a festival, the first thing I’d do is not book me,” says a typically self-deprecating Gareth Liddiard. He attracts a few hundred punters to the McLennan tent at 1.30pm just to hear his voice, acoustic guitar and between-song gags. He tells us about the inspiration for writing ‘Highplains Mailman’ and ‘Strange Tourist’. He refuses ‘Khe Sahn’ requests as he says he’s got his own; in ‘Shark Fin Blues’, presumably, which he plays without fuss. He mocks the techno bumping from Mix Up, and reflects on how people tend to romanticise the decade in which they were raised. He bemoans the current fascination with the ’80s. “Joy Division and The Birthday Party aside – what the fuck?” A stagehand gestures at him. He replies, “Is that 10 minutes left? Or 10 out of 10, Gareth?”, before finishing with ‘Jezebel’. The latter, Gareth.

    Looking down on the Amphitheatre at 2.20pm from the top of the hill is hilarious. “We’re Mona from Nashville, Tennessee,” one of the tiny figures on stage says into a microphone. “Let’s bump up the party!” There are perhaps three dozen people in the D-section at this point. The entire crowd here wouldn’t fill The Tote. It’s mind-boggling to look down at the mostly empty hill and recall that last night, every square inch was packed during Kanye West. “Never trust anything that blows up,” the figure says after a few songs. “All great things start small.” Right. Their music is embarrassing. It sounds like a cross between Jet and modern Kings Of Leon.

    For the full report on day two, visit Mess+Noise.

    Report: Splendour 2011 Day 3

    A fatigued ANDREW MCMILLEN powers through the final day of Splendour In The Grass 2011, taking in performances by Pulp, The Panics, Coldplay, The Vines and the last ever show by Townsville’s The Middle East.

    By now, fatigue has set in. I’ve spent Splendour sober – I’m in the midst of a three-month break from drinking – and I’m still ruined from the walking, the dust, and the volume of food and soft drink consumed thus far. Time for one last push. At the Amphitheatre, Melbourne’s Alpine are winning fans under a cloudy 11am sky that threatens to break. They tell us that it’s their first festival, yet the six-piece handle their set like true pros. “I can’t stop smiling, even though some of the songs are sad!” one of the singers enthuses between tracks. They end on ‘Villages’, a fantastic indie pop song that hints at their potential for greatness. The prospect of relocating to another stage is too much to handle, so I sit in the shade and wait for Grouplove, a band about whom I’m blissfully ignorant.

    As it turns out, they play a set consisting entirely of Arcade Fire covers. I kid. these guys are from Los Angeles, not Quebec, so there’s at least one point of difference. Their showing at midday is powerful and evocative. It’s all blustery, feel-good indie rock, which fits the zeitgeist like a glove. They pull a big crowd. It feels as though a lot of those here are discovering a new favourite band. They thank Splendour co-founder Paul Piticco for inviting them here, and dedicate ‘Naked Kids’ to him. They’re a very easy band to like.

    On the same stage at 1.10pm – like I said, fatigue has set in – Hungry Kids Of Hungary prove their sound works well in an arena context. With no one else really playing at the time, they’re handed the perfect opportunity to impress a good chunk of Splendour-goers. They don’t miss the mark. They play most of debut album Escapades and kick beachballs into the crowd (as you do). With a new record reportedly underway, they’re well on track to continue ascending the Australian pop ladder.

    Under the McLennan tent, Leader Cheetah sound great but are otherwise dull. They show strong songwriting, but give us nothing else to latch onto. We might as well be listening to the album. I arrive in time for ‘Bloodlines’ and a wave of material from the newly-released Lotus Skies. I stand at the back of the tent and look out across the pond of filthy water upon which the nearby “pontoon bar” is housed. There’s a momentary break in the timetable, so I scamper for an early afternoon shower and return to catch the final 30 seconds of Liam Finn’s set – which is a shame, as it looked like a good time. A decade into their career, The Herd are a classic festival draw by now. They play a set of crowd-pleasers intermixed with material from forthcoming fifth album Future Shade, which are well received. I prefer them over most Australian hip-hop acts because they treat melody with as much respect as their rhymes. Watching thousands of people sing along to their hooks, it’s easy to see why they’ve established themselves near the peak of the genre. While they mightn’t have the hardcore fanbase of acts like Hilltop Hoods or Bliss N Eso, they’ve certainly carved out their own niche.

    For the full report on day three, visit Mess+Noise.