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[Review] Pandemonium Rocks Fesitval @ Caribbean Gardens, Melbourne 20/04/2024

Now it’s no secret that there has been a LOT of negative talk in the months leading up to the Pandemonium Rocks Festival, and not without good reason. What was initially marketed as a ‘too good to be true’ line up, turned out in fact, to be just that. 13 bands with multiple stages were eventually dwindled down to one stage housing just 7 bands for the day, and then throw in the extremely poor handling of refunding of tickets (or lack thereof) which understandably left an extremely bitter taste in the mouth of some punters. It was going to be an interesting day indeed, and I was intrigued to see what the day would have in store for me in terms of the organisation, crowd numbers and overall vibe. 

The festival was held at the Caribbean Gardens in Scoresby, which after exploring my transportation options, dawned on me that the this wasn’t an ideal location for a festival, and it was going to be a pain in the proverbial just to get there. There was limited onsite parking available for an additional fee, which was sold out prior to the day. Bookings for the designated shuttle buses closed a couple of weeks before the festival, and public transport was a couple of trains and then some bus hopping – forget it. I thought it a bit unfair to cut transport booking options off so early in advance to the event, as I’m sure there weren’t any refunds given for those cancellations. Not knowing the area, I took my chances and drove and ended up in a side residential street not too far from the site. With the site being tucked into the back of a big industrial estate, it was still a hike to get in there and I felt for those unable to physically walk that far. 

The sun was out and the temperature was comfortable, but I knew that the cold would be fast-approaching once the sun packed it in for the day. As I wandered through the gates, The Cosmic Psychos – donning wifebeater singlets, hard yakka and footy shorts – were in the midst of their set belting out some of their songs including Nice Day to Go to the PubFuckwit City and Dead in a Ditch. Before me a sea of camping chairs and picnic rugs were laid out with people mulling about and setting up their camp for the day, with others wandering around checking out the merch and their surrounds. An abundance of portaloos – tick. A good variety of food options – tick. So far so good. I ventured toward the bar area and noticed a HUGE line of thirsty patrons waiting patiently, and it was then I was thankful that I was my own designated driver and wouldn’t have to line up for years to get a drink. 

I decided to grab a bite to eat before the next set and with only a small handful of tables and chairs available for use, some kind strangers at a table were very accommodating to this girl who just wanted to sit down for 5 minutes and chow down on her burrito bowl, because I was going to need my stamina for the night ahead. I ventured on down toward the front of the stage to get a prime position for Aussie rockers, Wolfmother. One elderly music lover had walked down to the front of the stage with her zimmer frame, and I marveled at her dedication to the cause. Wolfmother hit the stage, and the crowd were pretty damn excited. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve seen them live, and they’re a band that I forget how much I love and miss them and their sound until I hear them again. They’re just a great, no bullshit Aussie rock band, and their playing was sublime. They played through a number of their hits including Woman, Dimension and Joker and the Thief. A select few people around me were getting into it, however I feel the band didn’t get the reaction they deserved due to their early time slot and probably the sobriety levels of the crowd at that time of day. Singer Andrew Stockdale declared “Rock and roll ain’t dead yet, and we’re living proof”, before rounding out their set and departing the stage. 

Chatting to a few concert goers and even a fellow reviewer whilst waiting in line for the portaloos, it seemed apparent that a lot of the crowd there had purchased their tickets in anticipation of seeing the bands on the original line-up who had eventually pulled out. Wheatus were next to hit the stage, and even though I’m old enough to remember them hitting the big time and owning their CD single (go ask your parents, kids), I couldn’t remember them releasing any other songs during that time, so I wondered if they were going to fill their set with a 40 minute extended version of Teenage Dirtbag. Surprisingly, they filled their set well with songs like Fourteen, Leroy & Hey, Mr. Brown and although I didn’t know them, I did recognise a cover of AC/DC’s Rock and Roll Damnation before they finished off with the only song anyone cared about, Teenage Dirtbag. The crowd were loving it sick and singing along to every word of the early 2000’s anthem. 

Dusk was upon us, and it was at this point that I got led toward the front of the stage by a friend of mine, when my intention had been to watch from afar without people breathing down my neck. It was more of an opt-in situation rather than opt-out, so this is where I realised I would stay for the remainder of the evening. English rock band The Psychedelic Furs hit the stage, and their fans seemed to be getting into them. Unfortunately, the mix was off which meant the sound wasn’t great from my vantage point. It also seemed to be affecting the band as numerous times singer Richard Butler asked to have the levels changed, and even had to stop a song halfway through because he couldn’t hear himself. They played one of their most famous tracks, Love My Way, as well as a number of other tracks like Wrong Train, The Ghost in You and Pretty in Pink. 

We were now getting to the business end of the night with the 2 bands I was most looking forward to. A police siren soundtrack rang out from the stage and 70’s rockers Blondie entered, with lead singer Debbie Harry rocking a green pant suit and black Zorro-like mask. They opened with X Offender and then led into Hanging on the Telephone. One Way or Another and Call Me really got the crowd amped up and singing along. Once again, the sound was a bit of a letdown and with Harry’s vocals not being overly strong anyway, they were completely lost amongst the music at times. I did wonder if it was because I was so close to the stage, but in my experience the sound should still be decent whether you’re 10 metres or 100 metres from the stage. Blondie still put on a great and entertaining show, and when the stage was drenched in neon green lighting, Atomic blew us away with the addition of guitarist Tommy Kessler’s ripping solo on his Flying V. Blondie played for over an hour and included In the Flesh, Rapture and The Tide is High in their set. Heart of Glass had Harry donning a mirrored cape with a hood, before they finished off with Dreaming.

Darkness was well and truly upon us now, the air was chilled, and as I looked up to the sky in amongst the dark clouds was a near-full moon shining through. I couldn’t help but think how eerily cool and appropriate it was, given the act we were about to see next. There had been a little movement in the crowd which now mean I was about 6 people deep from the stage, and in a prime position to see shock rocker, Alice Cooper. The props were rolled on stage and a huge double drum kit was lugged on in 2 parts. My excitement was growing as it had been 19 years since I’d seen Alice Cooper, and I’d been front row squished on the barriers for that show. More movement on stage and a black curtain was in place, shielding us from the happenings behind it. The lights go down and 2 characters in creepy old fashioned plague masks with a long beak cross the stage ringing a bell. The intro plays out and Alice Cooper busts through a banner in all this black, leather-clad glory. The crowd were going mental by this point as he opened the show with Lock Me Up which was followed by Welcome to the Show. No More Mr. Nice Guy had the crowd singing along, as did I’m Eighteen. Billion Dollar Babies had green confetti guns going off, before Hey Stoopid and iconic anthem Department of Youth kept the crowd singing along. His band would have to be some the fittest people in the business, as their energy was off-tap and didn’t waver at all. Snakebite had Alice wrapped in a REAL LIVE snake (That’s a big no bloody thanks for me!!) and I was impressed that he could still perform so comfortably with that slimy thing wrapped around his body. 

It was then feeding time and I had the urge to start screaming “We’re Not Worthy” (Wayne’s World style) as the intro to Feed My Frankenstein played out. One of my favourites and I couldn’t help but scream along to the lyrics. Next on the list was my ALL-TIME favourite Poison, and the crowd were going sick for this classic hit. Throughout the song Alice was walking around pointing at audience members asking if they were poison, and I swear to absolute god he pointed directly at me and eyeballed me as he asked, “Are your lips venomous poison?” I wondered who he’d been talking to that had been telling stories about me…

A few more tracks followed including Black Widow Jam, Elected and Ballad of Dwight Fry, in which he was locked into a strait jacket, before ending the set with an awesome version of School’s Out that sampled Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. His songs are played with such passion and energy that every single song could be a finale because they’re so epically huge. The crowd was left absolutely buzzing as he left the stage, and his impressive and engaging stage show was just as brilliant as I remembered it nearly 20 years ago.

In what was a day that many went into with disappointment, Alice Cooper was definitely the redeeming factor and saving grace of this festival. Without being bias, I definitely think it would’ve been a pretty mediocre line-up without him. I did have a great day all round, but I went in without any pre-conceived ideas or opinion, so I understand that others may not have felt the same. I don’t think I’ll be hurrying back to this venue for another event given its location, but the layout of the grounds were easy and straightforward to get around. Once I was home my body was telling me that I’m probably a bit too old to be down in the moshpit, however you know you’ve had a good night when your whole body is aching, and you have to go to bed with a big dose of Nurofen and a hot water bottle. Just another day spent listening to great live music, to fill my little music-nerd heart. 

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