Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Air is Buzzing - Melbourne Part One

The inability to breathe has never been more worth it. Pushed forward by tens of thousands of people behind me, bent over the railing like a rag doll, breathe literally pushed out of my lungs involuntarily by crowd surges. Bruised from head to toe, kicked in the head by crowd surfers so violently my cheek bone bashed into Squish’s skull rendering us both teary eyed. And this, my friends, is my idea of heaven.  

Never have I understood worship and faith more than I have when front row at a concert. Religion provides community, hope, inspiration, safety, security, joy, distraction… just as music does for me. 

But this is not the beginning of the story, for Friday morning began many hours earlier. The joys of hostel living - rubbish trucks at 5am, Germans with bed-ownership issues and messed up body clocks, ensured our sleep was not the most restful. We awoke early, readied ourselves and ate the free continental breakfast provided by King Street Backpackers. Poor Lobster and Mini-Squish had far higher expectations for Breakfast than Squish and I, but the toast and cereal was a good, free, start to the day.
We walked 10 minutes more than we had to, to get on a train bound for Melbourne Showgrounds. It was Squishes idea, to board one stop earlier than the biggest (and closest) station and it was a brilliant idea at that. Hundreds of kids stood crammed in the aisles as we say comfortably in our seats.

Last year, we arrived fashionable late, missing the earliest bands and not bothered in the least. This year, we needed to get in line at the signing tent as early as possible. Sevendust were doing a signing and because they're Squish's favourite band, we needed two of the limited number of tickets to the event for her and Mini. We entered the festival as gates opened, with thousands of people desperate for the fronts of queues and stage barriers.

Once we had successfully acquired the $2 donation tickets, we headed to the metal stage, armed with water bottles and hot chips. While Brisbane had 3 water fountains for everyone, Melbourne must have had at least a hundred, set up in rows especially for Soundwave.

As we hit the metal stage, we were greeted with the sounds of a band we weren’t familiar with, Taking Dawn. 20 minutes later, we were huge fans. Not only was the music heavy and catchy, but the front man was a character, and chatted away with the crowd effortlessly. He loved the crowd so much he joined us at one point, causing temporary chaos as the mosh pit went where he did. Well after the Taking Dawn set ended, he remained in front of the stage, chatting with fans and enjoying The Sword's set from front row.  

The Sword was probably my least favourite band of the day, although of course my day was centred around bands I wanted to see, and as this wasn’t one of them, they drew the short straw. The singer couldn’t sing, whether due lack of talent or vocal strength I'm not sure because I had never heard them before, but after the strength of Taking Dawn in both talent and technique, they didn’t live up to the standard that had been set for them.

By the time The Sword finished, anticipation was at a high for the day so far – Sevendust were next. As an earlier band, they were allotted only half an hour, but they made the most of it. I was only familiar with one of the songs they played, but the set was seriously enjoyable, especially from the front row spots Lobster had saved for us earlier. The front man was awesome, engaging with the crowd at every opportunity. He was open about his worries that they wouldn’t be welcomed in a country they didn't play often , and thanked the crowd through tears for their enthusiasm. I think my enjoyment was enhanced by knowing how much Squish loves them, knowing how I feel when I see my favourites play and loving sharing the experience with her. For all the times I detach myself from sentimentality, sharing good music with people who get a deeper meaning from it reels me in every time. 

By this time a toilet stop was much needed. I know Portaloos aren’t the most enticing topic, but once again Melbourne prevailed. There were enough there that the huge crowd waiting moved very quickly, and cleaners constantly went round the block sweeping them out. Small mercies are appreciated! 

We had a quick look around the small marketplace, by which time it was after 2pm. I knew if I wanted to be front row for Slash at 5.20pm (and who am I kidding saying ‘if’) that I needed to separate from my friends and work my way in now. Slash was playing on one of the 2 main stages, set up side by side to allow for quick changes between bands. Bullet for my Valentine were currently on Stage 2, the same side as Slash, and I wanted to make my first surge forward as their fans went out. Having not heard the band before, I underestimated the crowd. I ended up in a sea of unforgiving circle pits where boys would pull anyone in to be bashed around, included the smallest of girls – no one was excluded! 

As the Bullet crowd eased and the focus moved to Stage 1 next door for Stonesour, I made my way to the second row from the front, where I ran into some Slash Superfans I had met the first time I was in Australia to see him. They had already been to Brisbane Soundwave and to greet the band at the airport the day before, and were armed with a banner and fresh autograph tattoos. From my vantage point, I caught up with the Superfans and watched Stonesour from a distance. The set up is such that if you’re at the front of one stage, you have a pretty decent view of the other as well. Stonesour put on a good show, but it didn’t blow me away.  

Primus took over on Stage 2 and we discovered just how many of their fans surrounded us. I made a deal with a guy in front of me on the barrier to swap for Slash and swap back for Queens of the Stoneage. I had heard of Primus before but I had never heard their music. It was entertaining for the time they were on, but to be honest I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. At one point Bobby Schneck from Slash's band was watching from the side of the stage and I felt a bit bad for Primus as much of the front row started screaming Bobby’s name. 

Post-Primus, 30 Seconds to Mars took over Stage 1 with one hell of a set. I love their music, absolutely love it, but the Stage 2 crowd were having none of it, booing and chanting Slash’s name during the set. 30 Seconds appeared oblivious as Leto stepped into the crowd, literally standing on hands and shoulders and remaining upright while singing and playing guitar, an impressive feat where most crowds would have taken to surfing him over their heads.  

Leto was very accommodating to his fans, allowing a few onstage during certain songs. At the end of the set however, he took it a bit far and I'm sure earned himself no fans in the security team. Leto announced to the crowd that the first 10 people to crowd surf would be allowed on stage. As people flew over the barriers from above head height they were boosted onto the stage by security. 10 wasn’t enough though as Leto hand picked a few more and then chaos erupted as more and more kids bounded up onto the stage. 

I’m no good with estimation but I’m going to say there were at least 50 on stage by the time security moved to sit on the edge of it, pushing kids down, and the front barrier became a mere inconvenience to the now hundreds streaming over it. How they stopped the kids on stage from heading back to the dressing rooms with those sorts of numbers I’ll never know but that was the least of worries for security. With a huge crowd where the 2-metre gap between the front barrier and the stage used to be, there was no way to pull frightened or injured kids from the crowd and fast track them to safety. The overall affect was very cool and the kids on stage had a once in a lifetime experience, but Jared Leto certainly didn’t earn himself any favours with the stunt.  

I can’t believe I’ve become so old I think of safety first.


Married In Chicago said...

wow! it sounds like you had such a great time!

Dalene said...

Ohhh....I am a music festival junkie and how I miss am going to miss that this North American summer while I sit in Honduras!!


And I never thought of making a deal with someone in front of me to get to a barrier - ingenius!!

Penny said...

@MIC - It was awesome! I want to go back :)

@Dalene Honduras is a pretty good alternative I would think? :) I can't wait for the European festivals, will be a world away from what we're used to down here!

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