Monday, September 8, 2014

Rock USA - Day 2, July 17th 2014

Sunny skies, warm temperatures and happy people are the things that great days are made of and when the three are are full of live music everything becomes that much better.  While music festivals and their attendees are hopeful of that combination at times it isn't the case.  Weather can wreak havoc on an outdoor festival making the entire experience miserable.  So?

On July 17th, 2014 I was at Day 2 of Rock USA in Oshkosh, Wisconsin with a schedule of bands including: Almost Kings, Hellyeah, All That Remains, Megadeth and Rob Zombie.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect and that schedule had some ramifications that made everything even better.  Huh?  Why did I talk about the weather "wreaking havoc" you ask.  Its simple really and I'll explain it in detail shortly.

When "Almost Kings" took the stage, the self-described "fun party rock/hip-hop band" the weather was incredible and those in attendance took advantage of the energy of the band.  This band has an edge to it, they are sharp and they really know how to play to the crowd.  Its a difficult combination of music genres that they claim to be but not to worry because they are darn good at it.  They were exceptional on stage.

Pedigrees aren't usually things that you associate with musicians and bands.  Too often performers have the misnomer associated with them of just being a musician and and critics usually associate the performers influences as either not legitimate or just plain copycatting.  Fans of metal music are eternally aware of the influences however and the names "Mudvayne," "Nothingface," "Damageplan" and "Pantera" cannot be discounted as pedigree worthy.

Consider the fact that the band has a serious frontman in Chad Gray, a founding member of "Mudvayne" and one of the most intense, powerful singers in metal ever.  The man is a beast vocally and he exudes this power that singularly can raise the dead.  In fairness not the dead but the man will literally force you to your feet in short work.  Within the drivers seat of any band is the drummer and the man that presides over that position for "Hellyeah" should be considered metal royalty.  Think for a moment about the loudest, most violent sounding engine, the kind that shakes the ground and makes your heart flutter, that is what Vinne Paul IS for the band.

Vinnie Paul Abbott - Hellyeah
Vinnie Paul was more than just the brother of one of the greatest guitar players of all time (Dimebag Darrell Abbott), he was the drummer for Pantera (with his brother), a band that is arguably one of the most influential metal bands in recent history.  Couple that little nugget with the fact that Dime and Vinnie created an even more powerful band called "Damageplan," a band that probably would have grown ever larger than Pantera and that pedigree is set. (I will be writing more about their performance in an individual article later).

Inside their performance at Rock USA was a sense of power and a real sense of this band wanting to lay everything on the line for their fans.  I cannot tell you accurately how loud and violent their show was, it was incredible.  In all seriousness this is a band that cares about their fans and it was obvious that they will make sure that each fan has the time of their lives.  This was truly one of the hidden gems (for me) at the festival, they were fantastic.  I am a new fan!

As good as Hellyeah was I was shocked by the number of fans that WEREN'T there.  Despite the fact that it was only 4PM when they took the stage and while it was a Thursday night the crowd was really not there but that's too bad because they missed two great bands.  It was interesting as the crowd began to shuffle in for the 6PM performance of "All That Remains" but still the numbers weren't as I would have expected.  It was noteworthy that the energy level seemed to rise amongst all in attendance which really seemed to ignite the next band.  "All That Remains" is a thrash metal fans dream.  The band is comprised of four men and a female bass player, Jeanne Sagan and she puts many of her male contemporaries to shame.  It was surprising how melodic and hardcore thrash this band really is.  I enjoyed their performance more that I thought I would and I can't wait to dig a little further into their music catalog.

Dave Mustaine - Megadeth
© - 2014

As night was erasing the day, a strange glow from the stage began to come forth and a palpable murmur started to rumble.  Yes we all knew that "Megadeth" was upon us and I was as happy as a pocket full of Gummy Bears.  This was a major night for me, there were some massive acts that I hadn't seen before this festival with Megadeth being one of them.  I love Megadeth, Dave Mustaine is this larger than life guitar deity and I was extremely excited to see them live.  I didn't expect what I saw and heard, it was mind-blowing.  Mustaine and David Ellefson, the founders of Megadeth are exquisite examples about what their genre of music requires and at the same time how few will ever match their prowess.

While the recorded music of Megadeth has this powerful razors edge to it, when performed live the music takes on a new persona.  Listening to the performance made their music make you think it was made just for listening to live.  While the video displays belch forth bright, neon like lighting with graphics, they are far from distracting, instead they are merely a way to illuminate every member of the band.  I love Megadeth, I always have but this performance solidified and amplified that emotion.  They were one of the BEST performances I have seen this year, not just at Rock USA (Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on their individual performance)!

Rob Zombie Stage

When Megadeth left the stage my sense of anxiety and excitement began to ramp up exponentially, not because Megadeth was bad and they were run off of the stage rather Rob Zombie was the next act.  I was excited for several reasons actually, the first being Zombie was an act I had never seen before, but for another odd reason.  If you have ever seen a band like KISS or Motley Crue you have been a witness to large theatrical stage shows so when I saw the entire stage setup for Rob Zombie take probably 15 minutes to setup I knew that Zombie was more about the fans and and not just smoke and mirrors.

It was such a simple stage, a few lights, old pictures from '30's - '40's horror movies and their performance, that was it.  Rob Zombie is more than a simple rock star, he is a movie producer and I would dare to add that he took the label of "grunge rock" and its ilk and proved one again that hard rock (heavy metal) was still supreme.  On stage Zombie is incredible, he always seemed to be a larger than life person but as a performer he is truly in a league all of his own.  As the night progressed Zombie informed the crowd that they have one final song that they could perform because it was near midnight and they were supposed to be off the stage then (it was a venue thing, not his).  In the ultimate act of defiance Zombie then explained that they would do that last song but it would be twenty minutes long, and he was spot on with that time.

© - 2014
Zombie began the song but then he jumped from the stage and began to make his way into the crowd, rumbling through the VIP section with a look of an escaped animal.  Zombie wanted to leave the VIP section so he could enter the GA world and he finally succeeded.  As his band continued to perform he began to surf through the "real animals" as he referred to them before getting back to the stage.  I truly think that this show was the most entertaining of all of the shows I have seen this year bar none.  With the incredible amount of live acts I have seen this year I can tell you with certain resonance that you have to catch Zombie because he can flat out command the stage and entertain you with little effort.  WOW! (Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on the individual performance)

Day Two of Rock USA proved itself to be worthy of any day of any festival I have seen in recent times.  From the beginning note of the day to the final note this day was a who's who of rock legends.  While each band has followed their own path to success, each of them has proved their metal if you will.  Each and every performer that day was worthy of their appearance and I loved every minute of it.  If there was a single problem I had was the lack of people that actually attended Day Two.

I did wander about general admission and I found that it was packed to the gills however VIP was far too sparse.  There is a phenomena at every music festival I have been to whereby those people in GA  act with a bit of disdain for those in VIP but the VIP experience is worth every penny and in all honesty the cost associated with that upgrade makes the entire event even better.  I would highly recommend VIP to any event.  I was surprised by the fluctuation of seating during Day Two because the acts that were performing made it worth every minute of it.

Outdoor venues are a fickle little character.  Certainly the bands performing have a lot to with that but often weather is the real issue.  Rain or even the chance of rain can cause fluctuations in the ebb and flow of an outdoor music event.  When dark clouds threaten and large raindrops the size of silver dollars being to bounce off of the sunburned arms (or scalps for the bald people), those in attendance run for cover.  Day Two of Rock USA was a beautiful day, rife with a nice breeze and lots of sun yet the crowd followed that ebb and flow continuously during the day.  Many of those in attendance treated the day as if  the forecast called for blinding rain and tempest like winds however that wasn't the case.  Instead the first two days of Rock USA made for some incredible performances that made me a new fan of some bands while making my enjoyment of some others even better and with eager anticipation I awaited Day Three!  Incredible day!  Thanks to the acts that performed, you were epic!

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