The boots were laced tight and black t-shirts flowed like wine in Irvine, as the city played host to Rockstar’s Uproar Festival last Friday. Starting way too early and ending near midnight, a grab bag of current metal acts gave an eager crowd something to cheer about. The Verizon Amphitheatre spans two stages, one at the bottom of a giant hill (the good one) and one set up in the parking lot (the tough one), but both near plenty of beer stands. Those arriving early could get their aggression out with new wrestling video games while budding musicians jam out at Best Buy’s Musical Instruments tent, hosting most of the band signings. No matter your time of entry, however, you had plenty of metal to sift through and check out a few bands you had probably never heard of while enjoying some standouts from today’s metal scene.
Eyes Set To Kill
The Phoenix band was set to blah as both genders shared the vocal duties and their breakdowns felt plucked from Fisher Price’s “My First Breakdown” toolbox. Although it doesn’t help starting a metal festival in a hot parking lot, long before 95% of the crowd gets there. Still, if Meshuggah jammed in the middle of the forest and no metalhead was around to hear it, would they not still rock?
Hail the Villain
The Emo swoop draped over singer Bryan Crouch threw off some onlookers, especially after their tone sounded more suited for the Warped Tour and not heavy metal. Because they played with Orange brand amps (and that pleases the rock gods), their show got better as it went on, winning over the crowd by their set’s end. The guitarists avoided cheap hooks and retail-approved lyrics and the singer’s charisma and snappy vocals kept the less-than-masses entertained.
”The reason you don’t know who we are,” said Crouch to a puzzled crowd, “is because we’re Canadian.”
I can only describe this act as a male Avril Lavigne fronting a Sum 41 cover band. Cheesy 80’s riffs paved the road, and the band’s lyrics littered them. Rhyming words that contain the same suffix does not take much wit or skill, although they never flubbed a lick or dropped a drumstick. Right after the band started, the singer dedicated a track to his dead sister. Now how can I boo you?
Imagine AC/DC and Anvil get into a bar fight, and both bands mangle and dismember one another. The sewn-together amalgamation that would come from such a fight would be Airbourne. They exist to remind us forgetful Americans that we need to party, drink, and take it easy. Also, to stand on our amps, smash beer cans into our head until they explode, allowing us to shotgun them and chuck to a hungry crowd. No, you won’t understand the lyrics and yes, the guitars will combine to create a frenzied swarm. But they made the crowd smile with their sweaty, dirty metal.
“As long as you are alive, and as long as we are alive,” belted singer/guitarist Joel O’Keeffe “rock ’n’ roll will always be alive!”
It is so weird seeing a supergroup like Hellyeah, as any of the bands these guys were plucked from (Mudvayne, Pantera, probably not Nothingface) could potentially headline the festival and not play in a parking lot beforehand. But times are weird and the calculated, graphic material reminiscent of their former groups was not the metal du jour. Their drunken, southern sound fit right in, with plenty of beer, party, kickin’ ass, and raising hell preached to the audience. Drummer Vinnie Paul showed off his living “legend status” by anchoring the down tuned sermon with his blend of stability and improvisation. This gives his band mates the freedom to explore their positions which they do, quite well.
Stone Sour grabs the audience’s attention with some lively video displays on the main stage, combining a pounding tempo with flashing lights well. The crowd seemed to be into a more straight forward style, as they borrow melodies from the wide world of metal, including a couple that feel more like the Iowan nonet singer Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root are famous for. Fans screaming “Slipknot!” during the show cemented Stone Sour’s status as less than lateral career move, although the material from their first album or two were much better. Taylor is far less dark and brooding in a white button-up shirt and a little too-well-trimmed baby Mohawk. They stuck to mostly the new album, but probably lost a few fans when he called the crowd “f***ing sluts.” Smooth move. Also, the crowd lit some of the lawn section on fire during this set.
This band has somehow hit a sweet spot in modern metal, without a screaming front man or follow-able guitar parts, and the death of the band’s drummer during this peak has caused an explosion in devotion. Add in ex-Dream Theater Mike Portnoy on drums and a witch’s brew of talent and sonic fury. The Huntington Beach bad boys played in front of a near-hometown crowd and the number of Avenged t-shirts outnumbered every other band 10-to-1. The show started on an odd note, with a noose hoisting a random man hung from the top of the stage. With the recent passing of their drummer, James “The Rev” Sullivan and Slipknot’s bassist, Paul “The Pig” Grey, this touch felt uncomfortable and illogical. Still, the band delivered on all fronts and gave the performance of the night, highlit by an uncanny energy and quarterbacking ability of Portnoy, who was given the space and time to deliver his veteran touch to the younger band.
Although the merchandise sales may have gone to the Huntington Beach co-headliners, it was David Draimen and co. that closed the crowd out. With a set list packed with heavy hitters of their yesteryear and some of the newer anthems they’ve written, the longest set of the night felt packed. It’s hard to imagine a band that the top band from the class of 1996 would be headlining a major metal festival in 2010, especially with bands like Orgy and American Head Charge debuting around the same time. The band has found a near perfect image of their music, with the help of Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame. They perform extremely close to their recorded albums and they aren’t musical slouches. A recently released cover of “Living After Midnight” unveils a strong parallel between the dramatized styles of both power metalers. Their live show gave a temporary flashback to the bands that created the genre, perhaps deserving the title “traditional metal.” Gigantic balls of fire and strikes of lightning filled a darkened stage, which had no other set pieces other than the band itself.
“After Avenged played I didn’t think the crowd could get anymore into the show,” said Adam Kozlowski, 21, of Huntington Beach, “but Disturbed delivered. The show became very personal.”
The audience bore witness to heavy riffs, powerful vocals, but nothing that most metal heads haven’t already appreciated in their time. Sadly, too many fans delve into such heavier and experimental types of sub-genres that there is no room for a band like Disturbed in their brain. But the group proved they deserved to carry the torch for this tour and promote heavy metal for the youth of the nation.
Both main acts impressed by taking full advantage of their lighting and video capability. The screens were varied and impressive, the lighting cues were brooding and the total package pleased most senses. But no amount of visual aid can make up for originality and diversity, the way a festival should. Sounds of the Underground tried, Summer Sanitarium shot itself in the foot, and nobody else has succsefully resurrected the American metal festival. Ozzfest was the king of beers for many years, but the questionable lineup and other decisions has left a gap between good festivals and good metal shows. Wacken Open Air in Germany and Sonicsphere in all of Europe (to name two of many) put our parking lot misfit parade to shame.
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Dudelson and check his site for more pics to come!