Screaming solos, shirtless larrikins and a snake: Pandemonium proved rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well

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Screaming solos, shirtless larrikins and a snake: Pandemonium proved rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well

Photo: Brittany Long
Words by Elijah Wraight

Pandemonium undoubtedly had a rocky start before its debut, surrounded by uncertainty and acts pulling out at the last minute.

But when the time came, the Pandemonium Rocks artists, organisers and staff had succeeded in bringing back a stellar rock festival to Australia – one that won’t be easily forgotten. The day was even graced with the sun, a big success compared to the dreary Melbourne weather a few days prior. 

The lineup originally consisted of Alice Cooper, Blondie, Deep Purple, Placebo, Dead Kennedys, Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Palaye Royale, Wheatus, Wolfmother and more.

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As the date drew near, Deep Purple, Placebo, Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four had to pull out of the festival, with Palaye Royale having to pull out due to family health problems. The national music festival, which had shows in Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney, had minor tweaks in location and added a sideshow in Newcastle. 

In Melbourne, the final lineup that played on Saturday was Alice Cooper, Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs, Wheatus, Wolfmother, Cosmic Psychos and Aimee Francis. Not the big shebang punters were promised, but pretty impressive nonetheless.

Australian punk legends Cosmic Psychos were the second opener of the day. The trio of true-blue Aussies, clad in footy shorts, singlets and thongs, the unofficial uniform of Australia, commanded the stage, providing all the fun, punk and fuzzy goodness. Throughout the show, they engaged with the audience, making jokes and unashamedly being themselves.

“One day soon you’re all gonna die and they’re either gonna chuck you in an air fryer or a ditch,” they proclaimed before they went straight into their song Dead in a Ditch. Their set was good old straight-up-and-down punk, never missing a beat. What more could you expect from a band who pioneered Australia’s punk scene? As they closed their set, the larrikins sure did leave with a bang, featuring some shirtless belly dancing and mooning the crowd. 

Up next, Australian legends Wolfmother started their set off with Dimension, a riff-heavy track to get the crowd moving. The screeching solos cut through and sounded so tasty.

Lead singer Andrew Stockdale led the crowd with charisma and energy, chanting ‘Oi’s, and the set was filled with prominent warm riffs and solos, cohesively playing together to bring out that distinct well well-loved Wolfmother sound. Stockdale addressed the complications that overshadowed the festival, explaining how grateful he was to finally see the festival happen. “Rock and Roll isn’t dead yet, and we’re living proof of that,” he exclaimed.

The American pop-punkers Wheatus delivered an awesome show, which was quite a pleasant surprise for somebody like myself who isn’t familiar with their whole discography. Every song was feel-good and dancey, even their sadder tunes. The whole band produced a tight performance – even with lineup changes, they sounded so full.

You could tell the band genuinely loved Australia and their fans as they shared stories of touring Australia and Wheatus’ earlier years. Their creative value shined through, each song utilizing many different tones, meanings and feelings that the band and the crowd responded to with ease. There was a lot of chorus and vocal accents used throughout which complemented their sound perfectly. Lastly, Wheatus played their iconic Teenage Dirtbag, a song known and beloved by everyone young and old. Everyone was passionately belting out, ‘Oh yeah! Dirtbag!’. 

The Psychedelic Furs were up next with a set filled with ambient ’80s British alternative indie tunes: a lighter, dreamier response to post-punk. Their lead singer Richard Butler’s voice still held up with his Bowie-esque vocal style and flamboyant moves. The bass felt so velvety and smooth, moving expertly through the dynamics of the songs.

The keys/synth held up those dynamics, flourishing all throughout the set and making it that much sweeter. The lighting that accompanied the band was truly a wonder, fitting for their sweet and dreamy set. After every song, Butler thanked the audience with a very British ‘Ta’. All in all, the band was really tight and it was fascinating to see this band in the flesh and hear that rich, melancholic sound in the 21st century still sounding amazing. 

Now we were down to the two main headliners. Blondie was the first to grace the stage with a roaring crowd before them. Debbie Harry came out in an all-green suit and black glasses with her iconic bleach-blonde hair. They started the set strong with X Offender, moving swiftly into Hanging on a Telephone. They brought a great energy and carried through Blondie’s original punk roots seamlessly.

Harry’s voice, admittedly worn from the decades of performing, still sounded amazing. Harry remained as poised, classy and rebellious as ever. Sometimes she lurked in the shadows, remaining the aloof enigmatic character that is Debbie Harry. Even with a slight wardrobe malfunction, she performed with ease and nonchalance.

Sonically, Blondie put on a great performance and between songs Harry really sold the performance with interjections of the story behind the tracks. Their last song was Dreaming, and in that moment, it really felt like a dream to see such an iconic and important band as Blondie. 

Lastly was the main headliner, the godfather of shock horror, the rock icon that is Alice Cooper. There was so much happening on stage – the production of the show was amazing. The setting was like a dark circus and Cooper was the ringleader, clad in frilly shirts and black leather with his numerous studded belts and his iconic black eyeliner.

The show was filled with all kinds of spectacles: streamers, confetti, big balloons, etc. It was a show fit for a stadium. He started with Lock Me Up and moved on to Welcome to the Show, which allowed Cooper to welcome us into his nightmare. The whole time it was so entertaining you couldn’t keep your eyes off the stage, every single detail was fascinating.

Cooper sounded great and commanded the stage with ease with his many props including different swords, numerous canes and even a snake. The best part was Cooper’s fake execution with a guillotine as he incorporated his wife, Sheryl Cooper, into the performance. As the guillotine comes down on Cooper’s neck, his loving wife picks up his head and starts dancing with it accompanied by his song I Love The Dead.

Cooper closed out the show with School’s Out, his most recognizable song, which had the crowd singing along to what seemed like every lyric. Right before he left the stage, Cooper introduced all of his incredible band. The most outstanding was female guitarist Nita Strauss who nearly stole the show. Her chops were incredible, delivering really tight roaring guitar solos and using the stage’s ample space by running around acing every song. 

In the beginning, Pandemonium really was pandemonium. But the festival survived, which is a huge feat considering some of Australia’s biggest festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Groovin’ in the Moo haven’t been able to make it through this year. The festival didn’t run as smoothly as it could have with some sound problems during the sets, however, everything else went beyond expectations.

It’s a beautiful ode to rock and roll and something all Australian rock lovers need. Hopefully, we see another Pandemonium festival next year but maybe next time just with a little bit more stability and promotion. If the next Pandemonium is anything like this one, you don’t want to miss out.

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