Those of us who were ready to rock were not disappointed with Rockaway 2016.
Malaysian fans had already been given a suitably rocking treat in October at the Rockaway Malaysia MotoGP Festival 2016, which had featured Scorpions, The Darkness, Wings and Wolfmother. However, the main event on Nov 19 (at Bukit Jalil Extreme Park in Kuala Lumpur) titled Rockaway: The Saga Continues, had even more to offer.
And to make it even sweeter, it was a festival with a distinct Malaysian flavour. Headlined by Malaysian indie rock royalty Butterfingers (making a comeback after more than 10 years), this was a festival where, for once, international artistes were the supporting acts.
With a good mix of different rock styles on show – from the indie rock sensibilitites of One Buck Short and Pop Shuvit, the old school classic vibe of Alleycats, the heavy post rock influences of Deja Voodoo Spells, the folk rock/world music of Zainal Abidin, the emo pop rock of Get Up Kids, the pop punk of Taking Back Sunday, the throwback to 1990s alternative rock of Third Eye Blind… there were pretty much something for every type of rock fan.
The festival kicked off around 1pm with local bands Dirgahayu, Toko Kilat, Lyme and Oh Chentaku gamely rocking on as the crowd trickled in. Then, the heavy hitters started – Hujan (featuring Radhi of OAG), followed by Alleycats, Indonesia’s The Changcuters, and then Pop Shuvit.
Making a comeback after almost 15 years away, Pop Shuvit’s typically power-packed set also included a special guest – Dave Kennedy of American band Angels And Airwaves. Kennedy was one of two international artistes who, refreshingly enough, were supporting the local bands instead of the other way around; the other being former Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot, who played with Deja Voodoo Spells.
The main stages may have been dominated by the old stalwarts of Malaysian rock, but for a glimpse of the present and the future, one only needed to head over to Stage 3, where the new guard held court, spearheaded by the likes of Kyoto Protocol, Artefacts, Killeur Calculateur, and Singapore’s Force Vommit and The Summer State.
One of standouts of the Stage 3 group was Son Of A Policeman, which put on a fun set, especially when the members donned fake moustaches for its amusing Latin-influenced song, Maria, about a, er, stalker from Wangsa Maju.
Back at the main stage, The Get Up Kids got the international lineup off to a great start with a set that included hits like Ten Minutes and Action & Action.
After that burst of energy, the subsequent set by Zainal Abidin felt a little out of place. At first, at least: It’s testament to the local legend’s appeal that he had no problem getting people grooving, thanks to songs like Orak-Arek and Senang Senang. The only downside of the festival (for me, anyway), was that Zainal’s set got cut short before he even got to sing his biggest hit, Hijau.
After singing Manis and saying “We’ll be back” before heading into a break, it was a surprise to see One Buck Short coming back out instead, giving a feeling that Zainal’s set was at least one song short.
Well, luckily One Buck Short didn’t come up short. The band’s return to the festival, which it helped to pioneer back in 2009 – was a nostalgic hark back to that landmark event.
Seven years on, and the band’s bite still remains as potent as ever – kicking off with the roaring Semangat, it got the crowd pumping with classics like Carilah Duit, Khayalan Masa, and a new song called Boleh, before ending with the thumping Kelibat Korupsi, which, with its “rakyat ke depan!” chant, felt fittingly appropriate, considering other events around the city that day.
The biggest surprise of the day came when Deja Voodoo Spell took to the stage. The band’s set was a masterclass of guitar magic, with frontman Rithan leading the way with some scintillating skills, matched by the double-neck guitar wizardry of Bumblefoot.
The band even got an orchestra (The Book Of Spells Orchestra) to weave its magic on the set, which led to some masterful music. Instrumental number Arrhythmia, in particular, combined all these elements for a glorious wall of pure unadulterated sound.
Given Bumblefoot’s Guns ‘N’ Roses connections, I supppse it was expected that he would play one of that band’s songs, though the choice of Sweet Child Of Mind seemed a little too, well, predictable for my liking (Rithan’s subsequent cover of Bohemian Rhapsody was far superior, to be honest).
It may have only been Saturday, but Taking Back Sunday seemed fully intent on taking it back anyway. From frontman Adam Lazzara’s microphone tossing and scaffolding climbing antics to its high energy, hard rocking style, there were little to dislike about this New York band’s set, which included new songs like Flicker Fade and hits like Make Damn Sure.
The last time Third Eye Blind was in Malaysia, the band was still riding the massive wave generated by its best-selling debut eponymous album back in 1997, which included the hits Semi-Charmed Life and Jumper. Nineteen years later, the band has not lost its potency.
Although only the most hardcore of Third Eye Blind’s fans would know newer songs like Rites Of Passage or Company Of Strangers (from its latest EP We Are Drugs), it was, unsurprisingly, the older songs that got the biggest cheers.
From lesser known songs like Wounded and Motorcycle Drive By to more recognisable songs like Graduate and Never Let You Go, frontman Stephan Jenkins promised and delivered the greatest hits show we were all hoping for – the singalongs to Jumper and Semi-Charmed Life were, without doubt, one of the highlights of Rockaway.
The biggest cheer of the night, however, was reserved for arguably one of the most iconic Malaysian bands of all time – Butterfingers. It’s back together again after breaking up in 2009, and boy, have we missed seeing Emmett, Loque, Kadak and Loco on stage.
From the look of sheer joy on the band members’ faces, it was clear that they had missed us too (“I’ve missed you guys,” Emmett quipped in BM at one point).
With a plan to “keep it slow first” before moving on to heavier numbers, Butterfingers showed little signs of being rusty, waltzing through slow- and mid-tempo numbers like Hidup Mati, Cuba Lagi, Cuai, Selamat Tinggal Dunia, Merpati Sejoli and Kabus Ribut, accompanied on every verse and chorus by its adoring fans. Emmet’s vocals were as sharp as ever, and Loque’s insane guitar-playing gave the whole set a hard rock edge that was evident even during his so-called “21st century folk song” Tentang Tentang, with its “Geylang si paku geylang” chorus.
While it was disappointing that the band went off without playing certain favourites like The Chemistry (Between Us), there was still plenty to enjoy about Butterfingers’ set, especially on the hard-rocking numbers like Fo, Naive Sick Chasm and Wet Blanket, and festival closer Royal Jelly.
Walking out from the festival grounds – way past midnight, nursing a sore neck from all that headbanging and with the sounds of guitar reverberation still ringing in my ears – I struggled to remember the last time I had rocked this hard on local soil.
Arguably one of the best rock events held in Malaysia in recent times. The fact that most of the best acts were Malaysians made Rockaway 2016 a resounding success for me.