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Live Review: Pandemonium Rocks 2024 @ Caribbean Gardens, Melbourne

21 April 2024 | 10:44 am | Madison Thomas

"Talent just needs a platform, and to be frank [the promoters] shat the bed at everything apart from the day itself.”

Blondie @ Pandemonium Festival

Blondie @ Pandemonium Festival (Credit: Joshua Braybrook)

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I remember seeing the first promo for Pandemonium Festival early in the new year. The lineup and location seemed improbable.

Months on, 13 acts have been whittled down to seven, then to six. Gate times changed, playing times have not been released until the afternoon before, there are rumblings of the ACCC getting involved due to the refund options offered, and to cap things off on Friday night there was a data breach featuring the BSB and account details of about 400 or so ticket holders. Comments on the festival’s social media pages have been switched off since March. To put it simply, goodwill has nearly evaporated.

The location, the Caribbean Gardens (a site etched into most of our collective memories for knock off USA sweatshirts and much forced family fun on the rickety chairlift, but that is my childhood trauma), isn’t on a train line, limiting transportation options to:

  • Driving, and paying $15 for festival parking (allocation exhausted).

  • Driving, and rolling the dice on alternate parking (hopefully) near the festival site.

  • Taking a shuttle bus (the sale of tickets for which closed a week prior to the festival, no sales on the day).

  • A public bus, and a 10-15 minute walk.

For those who waited to the last minute (understandably so, considering the shaky lead up many punters were sceptical of the festival coming off at all) to buy their tickets and thus plan their trip, the message is an overwhelming “too bad, so sad”.

As we arrive, soundtracked by the iconic Cosmic Psychos, we are heartened by the plentiful toilets and food options, though the 20-minute long and growing bar queue leaves us with pause. For some reason only a small portion of the bar is open. Still, it’s a good opportunity to get to chat with our fellow punters. The overall thoughts are positive, but annoyed at the lack of transparency by the promoters over the events’ changes. The strains of Nice Day To Go To The Pub and Dead In A Ditch keep us company as we wait for our bevvies. 

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Wolfmother are up next, led by a formidable Andrew Stockdale. Their set is faultless, with all of the hits thrown in. Stockdale does his best to get the crowd revved, though he gets less of a full bodied revelry as much as a head nod. The crowd is older, sat comfortably on their picnic blankets and camp chairs, giving the event an ‘A Day On The Green’ vibe. Woman and Apple Tree are highlights, played with vigour and received warmly. When Stockdale announces “Here’s a song that isn’t 20 years old”, there is a noticeable exodus to the portaloos. It’s a solid set, and the band does their best to warm up the crowd. 

Post-Wolfmother, we peruse the food options, all of which are tempting and delicious, and brave the bar lines which are now flowing quickly. Chatting again to fellow festival goers, many are here because they couldn’t get a refund. The majority of people that I spoke with purchased their tickets in the initial first round of sales, and overwhelmingly for Placebo or Deep Purple. The $70 refund option for a reduced line-up appeased no one, and many are here simply because they didn’t want to waste their $200+ tickets. Some are bemused, some are resigned, and some are downright angry. 

Wheatus open with a compacted version of Teenage Dirtbag, prompting many to yell “was that it?!” They play a gem-filled set dotted with it overlooked bangers. Wheatus are a band who suffered the one-hit wonder curse, and while they are looked at as a novelty by most, their set is one of the most enjoyable. They should have been bigger, but that’s another story for another day. “Thank you for making this song a hit… the first place that embraced this song was Australia” smiles singer Brendan B. Brown as they rip into Teenage Dirtbag, which is shouted back at the band with gusto. 

If Wheatus were the most surprising act of the day, The Psychedelic Furs were the most disappointing. To put it bluntly, they sound terrible. As one of acts I was most looking forward to I move closer, then further back, from stage left to stage right in the vain pursuit of better sound. “I can’t hear myself” complains lead singer Richard Butler. Love My Way is rough, but Pretty In Pink is a gorgeous return to form. All in all, it’s a flatliner of a set. 

As we wait for Blondie, we take a walk around the site to find the VIP area and are shocked to find its little more than a tent in the middle of general admission. For $800 initially (and $600 after the line-up was halved), I’d expect more than some picnic tables and half a dozen portaloos. Compared with the VIP offerings available at other festivals, this just seems like a lazy cash grab.

Blondie hit the stage led by Debbie Harry, resplendent in a green suit. Their set is laden with hits, though Harry’s vocals aren’t great. Hanging On The Telephone goes off, indeed all of their songs do. Unfortunately it’s at this point that my sister is assaulted by a fellow punter. I am infuriated to have to say this again, but you do not have the right to touch another person. If you can’t keep your hands to yourself, don’t leave the house. The rest of the set is a blur. Harry does nail the rap in Rapture, which is a delight. Do they sound amazing? No, but I will worship at Harry’s altar until I die. The way she keeps adjusting her in-ears suggests it’s not gone her way either. 

Alice Cooper wraps up the day with a deliciously over the top set, full of all of the evil and bombast one would expect. Cooper stalks across the stage, menacing and divine all at once. After the insane lead up to Pandemonium, seeing Cooper in the flesh serving up Schools Out, Poison, and No More Mr Nice Guy makes it all worth it. The crowd throws themselves into the set and Cooper delivers in spades, with a cheeky brush with a guillotine to boot. It is rock n roll theatre of the highest calibre and wickedly enjoyable from start to finish. 

Pandemonium itself is fine, though amateurish in every way. It would not be at all surprising to find it was planned by interns. The sound wasn’t great, which could possibly be chalked up to a difficult site, but otherwise the day was without issue. It was a fine way to spend a sunny Saturday. 

Talent just needs a platform, and to be frank, the promoters shat the bed at everything apart from the day itself. Sadly, the mismanagement of the festival will give punters further pause at spending their hard earned and for that they should feel deeply ashamed.