Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rock USA - Day 4 July 19th, 2014

In the classic movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" the Dead Collector so eloquently states "Bring out yer dead," whilst gathering the bodies of the poor unfortunate souls.  That line really fits the final day of every multiple day music festival.  While "warm bodies" exist, much like the Dead Collector, those that have made it the entire festival begin to look a little ragged.

On July 19th, 2014 the fourth day, rather the LAST day of Rock USA began with many poor souls walking about like the "dead" in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  Four days are hard on everyone not just the poor zombie-like attendees.  The support staff, security, food vendors, ticket-takers and all of those behind the scenes are dragging as they go about their duties.  On a personal note I understand because after four days I'm barely upright (with the assistance of a medical condition that I have) and to see those that "partake" in large quantities of alcohol look as if the Angel of Death is following them closely is a tad humorous.

Four days is hard on every level.  The neat rows of chairs in the VIP section are a little askew and they may look a little worse for the wear.  The gravel that covers said area looks like worn paths found on cobblestone streets in ancient Rome.  Meanwhile in the general admission section the neatly cut grass looks as if the elephants from Ringling Brothers roam about as it has become flat and brown.

For those that made it the full four days it was comforting to know that the acts performing that day wouldn't be candidates for the Dead Collector.  Energy is contagious, and the ability of fresh bodies, fresh acts to come in and hammer their sets into the very souls of those wandering about like zombies.  The lineup for Day Four was ideal to accomplish the transfer of energy into the psyches of all of those in attendance.  The lineup included: Dellacoma, Skid Row, Machine Head, Black Label Society, Slayer and Five Fingered Death Punch.

Running past security
When the band Dellacoma took the stage it was much like parents on Christmas morning, awake too early, with little sleep and groggy.  The crowd on Day 4 began to wander in and the effects of the preceding days were evident.  While Dellacoma was on stage I watched a gentleman sitting in a chair obviously a little tired, mostly hungover and through the bloodshot eyes was a visible haze he appeared to be peeking through.  This gentleman was the perfect antithesis for Dellacoma.  Take for example the part of the band's set when their lead singer took the microphone and ran off of the stage like a jackrabbit and began to run through VIP then through General Admission.  When the lead singer Del, took off running a security guard began to run behind him to protect him obviously, it became evident that the security guard was on Day Four too.

After the little jaunt ended and Del returned to the stage he decided to take off once again and this run lasted longer than before.  I felt bad for security honestly because Del could flat out run and this time the security guard was a little heavier, slower but he fought the good fight for a little bit as he tried to keep up despite the fact Del began to tire.

Dellacoma performed brilliantly!  Their music is superb and they have a stage presence that is fun and engaging.  Take a chance on Dellacoma if you haven't already because they are extraordinary!

Johnny Solinger (L) on stage while Zakk Wylde (R)
sneaks a listen
Throughout the festival the roster of bands had position points that were spot on perfect for that time and the day.  The band Skid Row took the stage following Dellacoma with an energy that only a seasoned veteran band can.  Skid Row has powerful music, the kind that will raise your pulse and make it worth the price of admission.  I've written about Skid Row before and the most important thing I think I can add to those previous comments is the sense of respect they have for those bands that have a well-deserved reverence.  Shortly before Rock USA a legend had passed away, and not just any legend, a founding member of the band The Ramones:  Tommy Ramone.

The appreciation Rachel Bolan expressed for Tommy Ramone and the song he dedicated to Tommy, "Psycho Therapy," was one of sincere reverence and the performance was phenomenal.  I have said previously that in Johnny Solinger the band has a lead singer that is better with the music of Skid Row and through the introduction of new Skid Row music his influence is apparent.  The face of Skid Row may not be the same from those early albums but Solinger has been in the band LONGER that Sebastian Bach was.  Bolan, Solinger, Rob Hammersmith, Scotti Hill and Dave "Snake" Sabo are a very important piece of rock music today more now I would think than before.  I say that because their resounding success in the late '80's and '90's has paved the way for bands that have followed while remaining relevant.  Rock music is hard, and artists can become a success now and gone tomorrow, but the power of the music has not left this band it just gets stronger.

Skid Row - Rock USA 2014
© - 2014
The set that the boys of Skid Row presented at Rock USA was missing "I Remember You" I would think because of the time constraints between the sets and unfortunately they were unable to do an encore (like every other band in those four days).  Encores be damned, they really don't need them.  If you can go to a Skid Row show and NOT be entertained then you are missing out on something brilliant.  Skid Row performed at a level that was unbelievable, you really have to see this band live and buy their new music its worth every minute!

Skid Row - Meet and Greet - 2014
© - 2014
Attendees of Rock USA have the ability to enter contests to win "Meet and Greet" packages with the bands that are performing, its a fun little perk that everyone, regardless of ticket status (VIP or GA), has a chance to win.  On Day Four we received a telephone call alerting us to the fact that we were winners to meet the band Skid Row.  To redeem the tickets we had to walk across the venue which was quite a distance and get there by a specific time, and then a mad dash began.  After getting to the location before the deadline, we were told that we had to make it to a location near the merchandise tent which was a pretty good jaunt in and of itself.  Once in appropriate area we took our place in line and then we we waited.  And waited.  In an attempt to make my head NOT explode we wandered up to a person that announced the "Meet and Greet" for Black Label Society was to go behind the "magic curtain."

While the magic curtain was a simple blue tarp people those waiting for Black Label Society began to wander behind it I approached that person as they had seen previously the "MaG" stickers and we were told that the the time for the Skid Row "MaG" had been changed and it was possible that the office we were told to report to either didn't tell us of the change OR they didn't know.  We were floored.  I contacted the person that called us and she apologized as she wasn't aware of the change but...  I was pretty disappointed by the "mistake" and as I thought about it the distance between the location where the passes are picked up and the location of the "MaG" are too far apart.  It would be easy to move that location OR have the check-in location and the "MaG" be the same spot with an identifying word (like they did when they called) but I can only imagine the confusion and disappointment others may have faced.

Day Four was an eclectic day for the acts performing.  Following the set of Skid Row was the thrash metal staple, "Machine Head."  In 1994 I bought the first release of Machine Head "Burn My Eyes" and I was blown away.  They reminded me so much of two of my favorite bands, "Slayer" and "Pantera" and then they seemed to slip from my radar.  When I saw the band perform at Rock USA their power was immediately recognized and their music began to bombard my eardrums with such resonance that it became blatantly obvious how much I had missed.  The live performance that the band smashed into my grey-matter was impressive and it makes me want to hear more!  Great job!

The thing I really like about this little journey I have embarked upon are the people that like talking to me about music and the opinions we all have about our favorite bands, genres, performers and legends.  While I can talk for hours about why "The Ramones" are one of the most important bands in rock history, so too can I ramble about guitar players.  Every "metal" fan has favorite guitar players and those opinions can be pretty staunch.  I remember the arguments we had when I was younger about who was better, Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhodes.  I was always on the precipice about how great Rhodes was and I loved hearing the "faux-metal heads" talk about how great Van Halen was.  I won't get into that argument now (Rhodes is probably the greatest ever) but as time went on new names began to populate the list.  What was interesting was the fact that on the list were names that were always associated with Ozzy Osbourne.

The names of Tony Iommi, Rhodes, and Jake E. Lee were staples in the music of Osbourne but the name Zakk Wylde adds serious ammunition to the title "greatest ever."  Wylde helped shape the music of Osbourne into a much harder, sharp edged form of music that recreated Osbourne and the genre itself.  When Wylde left Osbourne to form "Black Label Society" it was with a certain amount of trepidation for his fans but fortunately any trepidation was met with the power of Wylde and crushed.

Zakk Wylde - Rock USA - 2014
The music of "Black Label Society" is best described for me as hardcore metal but he has a brilliance to it that is reflective of the musician himself.  I had never seen "BLS" live but I was blown away by the way Wylde makes it look so easy.  It was really like watching Mozart or Chopin as he performed, he made it look effortless, too much in fact.  While he was performing I realized that I was standing there, mouth agape while slowly shaking my head back and forth.  I thought stopping my actions were imperative for no other reason than looking like I was a blathering idiot but it was too late.  I love "Black Label Society" and seeing them live made me an even larger fan!  INCREDIBLE performance!

When I was younger I saw a movie called "The River's Edge," it was a creepy little movie that featured Dennis Hopper, Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, and Ione Skye.  The movie is a cult classic, and one of my all-time favorites but the soundtrack of the movie may have been one of the best parts about the movie.  The soundtrack featured several bands, "Hallow's Eve," "Agent Orange," and a band called "Slayer."  When I got the soundtrack I quickly grew into a "Slayer" fan because of their additions to the album.  Fans of the band point to the depth and power of their music while "non-Slayer" fans will point to anti-God, anti-Christ messages that seem to flaunt itself into the faces of the public.

The band has extremely provocative song titles and lyrics and regardless of what you think of the band or their music it is important to realize that the band has acquired massive success because of the complaints about that same music.  I had never seen "Slayer" before (shocker) so the chance to see them live was a point of serious excitement.  The history of the band has had some up and downs and when Jeff Hanneman passed away in 2013 many thought that it would be their last gasp.  I think that the thing that sets this band apart from its contemporaries is the fact that the can never be discounted, they seem to thrive on that.  Based on that fact was what made this band so exciting to see at Rock USA.

The face of "Slayer" has been one of dark themes and lyrics that grab your attention so I assumed that their stage show was going to be this over the top stage with demons, fire and pretty flowers (now you're paying attention) but nothing could be further from the truth.  The "Slayer" stage was simple.  A simple back drop with smoke and lights and that was it.  I think that was part of the mystique of the band in my eyes.  Although the backdrop of the band was simple it highlights the complexity of the music and the sense that the band will do what it wants and still kick your ass.

Slayer on stage at Rock USA - 2014
© - 2014
Of everything that I could talk about with this band I think that there are two things that stick out the most.  The frontman for the band, Tom Araya, the Chilean-born bassist is the perfect face of the band.  I say that because much like the assumption I had about the stage show and the ferocity of their music are the complete opposite of Araya.

Tom Araya - Slayer
© - 2014

When Araya entered the stage he appeared to be just another bass player but when the camera zoomed in on his face I was struck by the fact that the man resembled Saddam Hussein when he came out of the infamous "spider hole."  I'm sorry but its true but when Araya began to speak I expected a booming, evil, loud voice (he looks like Hussein what else could I expect) instead I heard this quiet, grandfatherly-like tone who exuded appreciation of the people that were there to see them.  As I listened to Araya talk you could hear that reverence in his voice and that really was as much confusing as he was comforting.

Despite the quiet demeanor of Araya and the simplicity of their stage show their presence on stage cannot be discounted.  This band hasn't lost any of its edge and the power that they wield on stage is legendary.  I don't foresee a time where this band will ever lose that edge and I hope that I will be able to see them perform time and time again! (Note: I did have a chance to see Slayer at Riot Fest in Chicago but I couldn't make it fit)  If you're not a fan, become one and if you haven't seen them live, DO IT!

Modern metal music has many faces and transformations that people look to as a "re-birth" of the genre when the genre never died.  For whatever reason the bands that are considered to be the new face really shouldn't be considered metal in the first place.  When I was younger bands like "Def Leppard" and "Poison" were called metal and nothing could have been further from the truth.  So too are some new bands like "Buckcherry" and "Nickleback" that have weaseled their way into the genre but there is another band that is talked about in the same sentence.

"Five Finger Death Punch" has that same buzz associated with them.  Its with a curious ear that I went into their performance at Rock USA.  I had heard some of their music and I listened to their version of the song "Bad Company"so I was aware of their style.  Their version of "Bad Company" is interesting if not for their spin on the song.  It would be quite simple for me to either discount or wax poetic of that version of the song but that would be wrong.  Instead I approached their set like I would if I bought their album for the first time, I sat and listened.

The first impression I got when they took the stage was how rabid their fans were.  It became apparent that these fans were my best indicator about what this band was like.  It took some time to actually figure out who was driving this performance but the answer was as easy as it was complex, both were (the crowd and the band).  You could see the band feeding from the energy of the crowd and the crowd reciprocated the action to the band.  I really enjoyed the performance, I thought they were exciting and in a way they ebbed and flowed along with the crowd.  Great performance!

Day Four of Rock USA was a bittersweet day for those in attendance.  The morning started off slowly but as the hours passed that slow pace was replaced by the energy that was generated by the electric guitars and the power of the six bands that performed on the well worn stage.  That final day produced hundreds of new fans for the bands that performed while cementing themselves into the psyches of those that already knew how good the bands really were.

Black Label Society Stage - Rock USA - 2014
Rock USA had four days of music that could provide every person in attendance some high point that they can look back at as the seminal moment that will remain with them forever.  When Day One started the energy was infinite, it was at a level that wasn't easily explained.  As the days continued the energy in the mornings faded but were reborn by the final performer of the night.  When Day Four dawned in was much like that scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  The "Dead Collector" seemed to be walking slowly through those in attendance at at times it seemed that his cart was overflowing.  As Day Four continued the cart got emptier and emptier yet the crowd continued to pour in.

That's the testament to the power of a music festival isn't it?  Regardless of how tired the attendees are they see it through to the end.  Rock USA - 2014 is in the books and I can't wait to see what 2015 will look like!  Great job!

Tom Araya on stage at Rock USA - 2014

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