Soundwave 2013 @ RNA Showgrounds, Saturday 23 February 2013 – Part 3

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Cancer Bats are yet another one of those Stage 4 bands that, a few weeks on, I have no clear recollection of. All the Stage 4 band have just all blended into one.

Danko Jones fill some time between bands, although I don’t know anything about them. Band fatigue has well and truly set in for the day but they’re not that interesting and I only stay for a single song. It doesn’t grab me and neither does the band, so it’s a surprise over the next few days to see a few friends on Facebook rave about the band and their excitement at seeing them at the Sydney leg of the festival.

The truly amazing and yet quite scary thing about seeing Garbage is that they don’t appear to have aged since the mid 1990s, and they weren’t exactly spring chickens when they started either. Although they’d always been on my list of bands to photograph today, similar to forgetting John Stanier plays with Tomahawk, I’d completely forgotten that Butch Vig drums for Garbage. From a photographic point of view, it’s a shame that he plays behind a perspex barrier (I’m assuming these things have proper names but I’ve no idea what they are called). Possibly even worse than forgetting that is that I don’t pay any attention to the bassist hiding at the back of the stage and then find out afterwards that it’s Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction. As always, the lesson learnt is do you research in advance of photographing the show. The band plays a straightforward greatest hits set plus a couple of songs from their latest album; they’ve become one of those bands for who playing a festival set is easy given that they have so many singles to choose from for a short festival set. After the event, the Shirley Manson monologue is well reported in all the reviews from the day; I don’t think there was a single review that didn’t mention it. It’s well intentioned and starts off fine but, to me anyway, lost its way, especially when being a female rock star is being sold as something you can do to get free clothes and makeup.

Fucked Up are such a great band to photograph (and see), so it’s always been frustrating when they’ve played at previous Soundwaves and been timetabled against one of the main acts playing the festival and on the stage furthest away from the main stage(s). Today is no different, with only a tiny window of opportunity to photograph them between their 7:20pm start time and Metallica’s 7:45pm start time. Allowing time to get across the festival site, it only really gives a maximum 10 minute window, and, from memory, they were a few minutes late starting, which cut this down even further to basically one song. It’s enough to get some nice shots but still leaves you wanting to stay and see more of them.

One thing that’s become increasingly annoying, especially when photographing the major festivals, is photographers photographing with their camera away from their body, either holding it out sideways for any action going on in the pit or holding it above their head when at the higher major stages. This happens a number of times during today, including during Fucked Up and Metallica’s headline set. If you decide to photograph with the camera away from your body you’re pretty much blocking and/or ruining the photos for anyone stood behind you. I just find it extremely annoying and fairly rude and it’s something that seems to be getting worse. The worst example is photographers with their cameras mounted on monopods that they hold up from the photo pit while operating the shutter release by cable or remote and these too are becoming a more regular sighting in the photo pits of the major festivals.

The previous night, those attending the Blink 182 sideshow had been treated to Metallica soundchecking as they walked past the main arena to the second stages. Security were quick to police the area and move on anyone stood watching the soundcheck in the gap between the stands of the main oval. Even though the view of the stage was being limited, it didn’t stop everyone walking past from being able to hear the band play, with the songs tried out including ‘Sad But True’ and what sounded like parts of ‘One’.

Other than this quick glimpse of the band from a 150m away, I haven’t seen Metallica for more than 20 years when they were touring The Black Album. Truth be told, I haven’t really listened to Metallica in 20 years since they released The Black Album. I’ve no idea about the albums they’ve released since other than the bad reviews I’ve read and nothing has really made me want to reconnect with the band. Similar to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, it’s funny how Metallica’s breakthrough into the mainstream was where we parted. I didn’t mind The Black Album but it wasn’t as good as their previous albums, especially not Master OF Puppets, which still remains the band’s peak.

Downside of festival headliner acts is that by that time they play, you’re exhausted and over it and just want to go home and have a bit of a lie down. It’s always feels like it’s once last big push to get you to the end. I don’t know if there’s a photographer out there who is feels a sense of euphoria and elation at the end of a major festival, it’s always a huge sense of relief at surviving the day and getting the hell away for some quiet time.

Metallica are massive though. I might not have seen them for 20 years or more, but they’re a band that make playing a huge stage look easy, one of the very few acts that can do that.

They play all over the stage so sometimes you find yourself waiting for someone to come over to where you’re stood. The photo pit later in the day is always a problem as the number of security increases and as they create a space between them and the barrier, it squeezes all the photographers into half the space, made even more of a squeeze as all the photographers are in the pit for the headliners and big acts. It’s always interesting to suddenly see all these ‘new’ photographers that you haven’t seen all day crawl out of the woodwork for the headliners.

The setlist is immense and it’s fantastic that they play Master Of Puppets as their second song, so I get a close up view from the very front while photographing the band. It’s these sort of moments that make photographing bands the real thrill it is. I stay and watch Metallica for almost 75 minutes but in the end decide to squeeze one more act in for the day with Offspring on the second stage.

Bizarrely, Offspring are the only band of the whole day with a photo contract to sign up front. I don’t know why, but as I was walking up to the venue in the morning I suddenly had a nervous feeling that Metallica were going to spring a contract, but luckily that didn’t happen. As well as the contract, Offspring are also the only act to give you their own photo pass sticker, an improvement on the boring wristbands that the festival gives you.

I can’t remember if it was in the contract or just a verbal instruction but we’re told to only photograph from in front of the band are not to go out to sides of the photo pit to shoot the band. It’s funny when old rockers suddenly get precious about their looks and wanting to control the angles that they’re shot from. The annoying thing is that with such high stages, it’s really hard to get decent angles from right in front. Despite the fact Metallica are playing to a full arena a few hundred metres away, it’s amazing just how many people are here to see The Offspring. There’s become a real distinction at Soundwave between the two tribes of punk and metal, are this is clearly evident when switching between the Stage 1 and Stage 2 headliners.

I catch a bit more of Metallica afterwards but don’t stay until the end as have another show to go to, with Einstürzende Neubauten across the road at The Tivoli starting at 9:20pm. I see Metallica’s whole setlist the next morning and there is a touch of regret looking at the encores and wishing I’d gotten to see those songs played as well, but at the time the draw of air conditioning and the thought of a cold drink and a sit down was calling me across to the other side of Constance Street.

As ever, Soundwave delivers in spades, but the question asked every year is where does it go from here in getting a headline act in a world of diminishing headline acts.

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