No Sleep Til Festival - Sydney Entertainment Quarter (18.12.10)

While there’s no doubting that Megadeth fans were holding their collective breath for the iconic thrashers to bring their 20th Anniversary performance of Rust in Peace to our shores, they sure picked an odd line-up of bands to travel around the country with. The No Sleep Til Festival had already been weaving its way around the perimeter of our fair country before it landed at the Sydney Entertainment Quarter on Saturday December 18 and with it came a hodgepodge of acts from the punk and metal worlds – worlds that historically have never gelled very well.

Regardless, the line-up saw a good smattering of quality acts come together to entertain and at times perplex (GWAR and Katatonia out in the open in daylight hours, anyone!?) an equally diverse crowd that included 30-something Megadeth lifers, dirty Frenzal Rhomb fans and tweeny bopper We Came As Romans kiddies. It was quite nice to see the decent and diverse crowd get along OK with no obvious tensions or brawls, despite the presence of alcohol (crappy, overpriced mid-strength alcohol – which is enough to make anyone angry!).

Australia’s own Heroes for Hire kicked off proceedings on the Red stage with their pretty ordinary brand of modern pop-punk; complete with juvenile inflatable fat chicks gaff taped to the mic stands and jokes about their guitarist just reaching puberty (actually, he really did look like he’d just reached puberty). Their cover of Blink 182’s Josie rounded off the forgettable and sloppy performance.

We Came as Romans turned up the volume a little on the Black stage with their twin-vocalist watered-down hardcore approach. The semi-Christian assault thankfully left the preaching at home and put on a decent performance with an energetic stage presence that saw all band members pulling every textbook move they could cram into their 45 minutes. If today’s performance was a gauge of their usual effort, they’re sure to have won some new fans here.

Back on the Red stage, the ever-entertaining Me First and the Gimme Gimmes proved the worth of experience and maturity with an easy, witty banter leaving everyone laughing between songs. The crack about the singer’s ‘Lesbian Hitler’ hair-do was particularly good. The fact that they throw in plenty of wacky and clever takes on classic show and film tunes really helped them stand out and left no one disappointed.

Suicide Silence were easily the day’s heaviest act, destroying the Green stage situated outside. While you’d be forgiven for thinking that an act (commonly referred to as Deathcore – a moniker the band hate) like Suicide Silence would lose some of their impact in the horrible daylight, Mitch Lucker and company put on an intense performance to a big crowd. The skinny tattooed frontman stalked the stage like an amphetamine-fuelled madman, menacing cheers out of the punters. Their down-tuned, seven-string assault sounded clean and brutal causing the heavens to open up during the only real rain of the day.

Aussie veterans Frenzal Rhomb took to the Red stage soon after, proving they’re still a crowd puller with a big crowd that lapped up their set full of classic Frenzal ‘hits’. Known for their humour, they still seemed to have it going for them with plenty of puerile banter between songs. Singer Jay is looking ever crustier and we’re sure we could smell his dreadlocks from the crowd.

Back outside and Sweden’s Katatonia are really on the wrong stage. The melodic metallers would have surely preferred to have been in the cosy darkness of one of the inside stages – their pale Nordic skin looking a little red in the harsh Aussie sun. However, their unique brand of tuneful metal pleased the somewhat disappointing crowd and their musicianship and stage presence were without fault. Hopefully they won some new fans with their performance we’ll see them on our shores again in the future.

The Dropkick Murphys followed the Swedes on the Red stage, reinforcing the complete weirdness of the festival’s line-up. The Irish-centric punk rock went down well with the big crowd and the band really commit to their roots with the addition of a banjo player, accordion player and a burly dude in a kilt playing a piccolo. It’s a real air-punching performance that gets the punters excited and their stage presence cannot be discounted with plenty of swagger and bravado displaying the band member’s personalities. We’re pretty sure the guitarist was the lovechild of Joe Perry and Slash.

Party metallers Atreyu got the Black stage pumping hard. They’re pretty seasoned performers these days thanks to numerous world tours and it shows with a blistering set of their crowd favourites. It’d be good to see these guys come back on their own as headliners so Aussie crowds can see them perform a longer set. Diminutive guitarist Dan Jacobs is the master of rock poses and seems incapable of standing still. Fellow axeman Travis Miguel seems a little more subdued today, but the band is note perfect and their mental bassist Mark McKnight is worth the cover charge by himself. What an awesome performer!

Punk icons NOFX take to the Red stage immediately after and the hall is almost packed with fans. They kicked off a little late, with Fat Mike taking to the stage with a plate full of chicken and a cup full of tequila, which he sips on through a straw during the rousing and pretty humorous performance. It’s clear the crowd knows every word to every song with plenty of sing-along moments and the band known they’re loved in what is a very confident and relaxed show.

Another band that were never meant to play a daylight stage, USA’s alien mob GWAR take to the stage with the fold back speakers and security all covered in a protective layer of plastic. The band is true to form, drenching the audience in fake blood and spew within the first few bars of the first song. It just gets dirtier from there with numerous opportunities for pus fountains littered throughout their punk performance. They draw a big crowd and it’s good to see the band hit our shores with their unique brand of theatre that included a gimp boy, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hugh Jackman’s eyeball and more.

Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive just keeps on impressing. For such an unassuming-looking bunch of surfer guy, their punishing brand of metal is attracting huge attention all over the world and it’s no more evident in their performance here tonight with a huge crowd in the Hordern. Scores of punters flowed over the mosh barrier like a violent waterfall for the duration of the performance. In fact, the band incited even more bodily harm at the end of the set with fans streaming out from the side of the stage even after the last bars of their final song had ended.

Megadeth headlined the event, taking to the Black stage inside the Hordern just before 9pm. Clearly the punk and metal crowds decided to split up for this one as the venue was not entirely full. Perhaps some had gone to see the Descendents or A Day to Remember who were playing elsewhere at the same time. Regardless, Dave Mustaine and band took to the stage with all the drama befitting a thrash band of their stature and the crowd went duly apeshit.

Sadly Dave’s voice isn’t what it once was and he had plenty of trouble with the higher-register vocals of the ‘Rust in Peace’-era material. It took little away from the impact of the performance though, with he and co-guitarist Chris Broderick offering impressive displays of fretboard dexterity. Who’d ever guess it wasn’t that many years ago that Mustaine thought he’d never play again after severe nerve damage in his left hand?

While many – this reviewer included – may pine for the ‘classic’ ‘Rust in Peace’ line-up of old, there’s no disputing that Megadeth’s current line-up (including original member Dave Ellefson and drummer Shawn Drover) totally cut the musical mustard. The band is tight and the energy is palpable. Once through the 20th Anniversary ‘Rust...’ material, Dave sings the remainder of the lower-register songs perfectly and the set includes tracks from across their back catalogue including albums not normally kept close to fan’s hearts like ‘Trust’.

Sadly, the band would have enjoyed a bigger crowd had they come over for their own headlining tour and the fans probably would have enjoyed a longer set, with the group playing for around one hour fifteen. Hopefully it won’t be too many years before we see them here again.