13-14 May 2016
Elephant And Wheelbarrow, St Kilda
Review by Joshua Bulleid
Photos by Peter Coates
After two successful runs in the United States, MelodicRock Fest made its way Down Under for two days of big hooks and smooth tones, where Journey tour-shirts were worn, not ironically, but as badges of honour.
Easing into things with an intimate, VIP-exclusive, acoustic set from H.E.A.T’s Erik Grönwall, the first day’s acoustic shenanigans culminated in two varying sets from Paul Laine and Black Majesty. While the ex-Danger Danger front man – backed by Melbourne melodic hopefuls The Radio Sun—brought a cheery enthusiasm to the softer renditions of his material, the Melbourne power metal stalwarts were far more sombre in their delivery. Although the band were technically impressive and somewhat jovial, throwing in some deep cuts from Deep Purple and Dio into the mix. The stripped-back format robbed much of the band’s material of its essential power, resulting in a format not at all unenjoyable but, nevertheless, somewhat dull overall.
Kicking of the electric performances were, recent MelodicRock Records signees, Tonk, who more than any other band of the festival, pushed the limits of the ‘melodic’ categorisation. Boasting a raucous sound far more in kind with the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Mother Love Bone than anything born out of the ‘80s Sunset Strip, the band delivered a refreshing and highly-excitable set that proved there’s far more to the Canberra act than being ‘that band that got ripped off by How I Met Your Mother.‘
Melbourne’s Vanishing Point were up next, and the power metal mainstays weren’t just a huge sonic step-up in the night’s proceedings, but wound up delivering a set that remained the high point of the festival throughout its two-day run. Vanishing Point have been relatively quiet on the live front since releasing their stellar 2014 record Distant Is The Sun, but the night proved that the band remain at the absolute top of their game, and with Black Majesty bowing out for the evening, they became the reigning overlords of Australia’s potent power metal scene. The cheeky cover of Journey’s Separate Ways, didn’t hurt at all either, given the context.
Rounding out the first night were another local act, in the form of pyrotechnically-endowed, glam rockers, Sisters Doll. It’s clear that Sisters Doll are very dedicated and passionate about their craft, as are their fans, who greeted them with a warm reception and an impressive display of merchandise. However, as is often leveled at the glam rock sub-genre, theirs is perhaps a case of style over substance. The band’s commitment has to be admired, but for all their choreography and fashion zest, sonically, Sisters Doll’s seemed about as hollow as the inanimate object for which they’re named.
After Teargas and Serpentine Sky got things warmed up on the second day, The Radio Sun once again took the stage, this time armed with their electric arsenal. “It’s always evening when you’re playing rock n’ roll,” joked lead-singer/guitarist Jason Old, who looks like a mix between Slayer’s Tom Araya and recent visitors to these shores Coheed And Cambria’s, Claudio Sanchez, and sounds about as far away from the former of those visual comparatives as you can get on the sonic spectrum, while indulging in some of the saccharine, sans-progressive, tones of the latter. Yet the sunny afternoon backdrop couldn’t have suited the hometown heroes any better.
The passion and genuity behind The Radio Sun is utterly palpable, and their earnestness so infectious that their relatively soft-hitting rock ’n’ roll take, wind’s up coming across much larger than it would in the hands of a lesser act. Given the encouraging reputation the band enjoyed among the formidable crowd, and the impending, international release of their third album (which is being produced by Paul Laine), the day’s set was a testament that this band deserve everything that they have coming to them.
White Widow were met with a similarly eager response, even if their Journey-light sound couldn’t quite carry as far, but the band gave as much of themselves to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow as they would have if it were their own ‘Live at Budokan’ and the touch of self-awareness that came with front man Jules Millis’s overblown, opening inquiry of “Who’s ready for some AOR?!” Helped take the edge off whit might have otherwise been perceived as an altogether too-indulgent disposition.
Not so much the (relatively) recently reformed BB Steal. While the band’s ‘dad rock’ posturing was largely eaten up by the dad rock devotee crowd, much of their overreaching pretense and affectation came off as more self-important than celebratory, particularly that of smooth chested singer Craig Csongrady, who introduced songs with hackneyed observations about the reliance of DJ’s on USB sticks and substituted a significant portion of his vocal proficiency with overextended zeal.
Things got back on track with, special guest, Erik Grönwall, who joined his H.E.A.T bandmate, keyboardist, Jona Tee and the rest of White Widow in leading a high-octane set of hard rock classics, punctuated by a few recent H.E.A.T numbers. Powerful renditions of Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City and Skid Row’s 18 And Life, along with a touching performance of H.E.A.T’s In And Out Of Trouble, which saw Millis re-joining White Widow and Grönwall, provided early highlights, before Grönwall closed things out with a thrilling version of Point Of No Return, which had the charismatic singer diving into the crowd and remaining there for most of the song’s duration.
Building on his already impressive performance the day before, Paul Laine once again proved that he’s aged far more gracefully, not to mention retained much more of his talent and ability, than almost any of the more-successful, comparable acts of his era (Mötley Crüe, Poison, Def Leppard; take your pick). Backed by the entirety of The Radio Sun, the three-guitar assault added an extra punch to classic Danger Danger cuts like Bang Bang, Beat The Bullet and Sick Little Twisted Mind.
Although the crowd had just been treated to two of the day’s best sets, from Grönwall and Laine, the mood was at this point – somewhat stilted by the fact that the festival was running almost two full hours behind schedule. Sweden’s Eclipse did not take the stage until well-after midnight, and drawing the curtains back to reveal an empty stage before treating the growingly impatient audience to a double-intro track did not make for the best first impression. However, once the Swedes did hit the stage, their otherwise flawless and eager performance made the wait worthwhile for the more patient of those in attendance.