Review: Pandemonium Rocks 2024 @ Cathy Freeman Park (Sydney)

Alice Cooper - image © Chris Dy
I'm Daniel, a freelance writer with a passion for music, arts and culture. By day, I work as an arts administrator, but when the sun sets over Sydney I explore the city's incredible nightlife. I'm there ready to translate the magic into words.

So far, 2024 has been a tough year to organise a world-class music event in Australia.

The national touring Pandemonium music festival is a beacon of hope in this uncertain Australian cultural landscape. Making its debut this year, Pandemonium's aim is to fill the void for fans and revellers who yearn for a good old fashion rock & roll festival with stellar acts who know what it takes to entertain audiences.

With headliners Alice Cooper and Blondie, plus a bunch of other Australian and international rock legends, this was a much-needed injection to keep live music in this country afloat, and to prove our music-loving community still exists and will continue to thrive into the future.

Navigating this festival ship through such a storm, however, has had its challenges as the original line-up was sized down while the Sydney leg of the tour was originally planned to be located in The Domain on ANZAC Day, before disapproval from war veterans and a negative media blitz left festival organisers no other choice but to move to Cathy Freeman Park at Sydney Olympic Park.

Yet with all the adversity and high stakes, Pandemonium 2024 got over the line and the Sydney leg of the tour (25 April) was a rocking occasion on a beautiful, sunny, autumn Thursday.

An early afternoon start by local rock power duo Fyrebirds gave early comers something to get the festival atmosphere cooking, followed up by Melbourne pub-rock larrikins Cosmic Psychos, who unapologetically cranked up the volume with extra distortion on their electric bass and guitars.

The trio's raw, unfiltered Aussie punk-rock attitude was unmistakable and showcased as guitarist John 'Mad Macka' McKeering played a shirtless solo and had the crowd in stitches by gyrating and wobbling his beer belly like a hula dancer, proving that humour and punk rock can indeed share the same stage.

Wolfmother's appearance at Pandemonium was to be celebrated as frontman Andrew Stockdale come onstage with his striking Hendrix perm appearing not to have aged one iota since the band's debut self-titled album in 2005.

The LP was an Australian rock classic back then and still holds a special place in many fan's hearts with retro, '70s classic rock era singles like 'Woman', which the crowd knew all the words to.

Andrew took notice of a lady wearing a blow-up unicorn costume and the band played 'White Unicorn' in honour of her standout costume. Their set ended with the metallic heavy riff centric anthem 'Joker And The Thief'.

US outfit Wheatus were catapulted into worldwide stardom with a single song that would define millennials and be adored by teenagers in subsequent generations.

'Teenage Dirtbag' has given Wheatus a life career in music and thousands of people come close up to the stage to see them play not only this monumental song, but a full set list of music they recorded throughout the years.

Their nerdy and hipster charms went down well, and frontman Brendan B. Brown acknowledged how Australia was the first country to embrace their career-defining hit and how this return to our shores was to say thank you for the loyal support.

English quintet The Psychedelic Furs were the first act to play in the evening and brought their new wave and post-punk vibes to festival goers who were looking to possibly feel somewhat nostalgic and get lost into the world of '80s stylised fashion and retro synths.

Bringing another dimension to the festival line-up, they played their sensual single 'Love My Way' and bassist Tim Butler played an electric cello adding further warmth to their lavish compositions, which audience members sitting on portable chairs, or standing in line for food and drinks, were happy to get lost into.

Blondie's appearance was also one of anticipation and enthusiasm as iconic frontwoman Debbie Harry, now in her late 70s, brought her charm and charismatic personality to the stage.

With countless hits under their belt, Blondie's collective performance reinstated why they were a powerhouse in the '70s and '80s. Utilising pop art-influenced visuals as a backdrop, alongside some incredible musicianship, inspired the audience to dance and reminisce on their massive cultural impact.

Harry wore a few stylish outfits including an anti-war dress and acknowledged and respected the soldiers marching for ANZAC Day but also made clear her antiwar stance.

Their music covers multiple genres such as pop, rock, reggae, disco and hip hop, and all of their rich catalogue of hits including standouts 'The Tide Is High', 'Heart Of Glass' and 'Dreaming' were included in the set list for everyone to enjoy.

For the final act of the day, the stage loomed dark and we all knew something nightmarish and terrifying was about to take place.

Since his heyday, Alice Cooper has been a master of the art of theatrics and brought inspired horror movie themes into a rock idiom. His opening performance is spinetingling and his presence looms large, punctuated with a backdrop that reminds us he once was. . . banned in Australia.

At his age, he's still showing his iconoclastic attitude and is prepared to claim himself as the original goth and shock-horror frontman. Behind his menacing black eyeliner, sword, and crutches he belts out a passionate 'No More Mr. Nice Guy'.

For 'Snikebite', a real-life snake snuggles around his shoulders and yet he still managers to sing with no fear or hesitation. In addition to this, we witness a huge Frankenstein puppet and a woman with an eye patch and a pirate dress – who is his partner in real life – beheading him with a guillotine.

Of course all the theatrics never overshadowed the timeless songs performed like 'I'm Eighteen', 'Poison' and 'Elected'. Three electric guitarists were employed in his band and all three gave the audience spellbinding solos.

An encore was expected and for everyone who ever despised being at school, finally got to hear Alice Cooper's youth rebellion anthem and chart toping #1 hit 'School's Out' mixed in with Pink Floyd's classic, anti-authority masterpiece 'Another Brick In the Wall'.

This was an ecstatic way to finish a debut music festival that gave audiences a chance to enjoy a day off from their busy lives and to keep the flame burning bright for our Australian music festival culture.

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