20 May 2012: Columbus Crew Stadium Columbus, OH
Most of the year, the Columbus Crew Stadium is home to grueling soccer matches, but for one weekend, the bright yellow bleachers and temporary-installed turf served as the grounds for a far different match—old-fashioned rock music against the rest of the growingly digitized industry.
As bands from Anthrax to Incubus, Slash to American Idol finalist James Durbin took the stage, numerous frontmen (and a few women) took serious pause on their amplified soapboxes to lay claim that rock was alive and well and inspire a fire in their constituents to keep it that way.
With 40 bands on three stages over two blistering days (a pre-party opened the weekend on Friday night with sets by Foxy Shazam and Black Tide), Rock on the Range made its case to an unwavering jury. There were no 12 angry men here, just a heated co-ed mess 70,000 strong who took the message to heart as they battled through a weekend high on blood (the medics had a busy two days), sweat, and gritty rock ‘n’ roll.
Halestorm got the festivities started at the Monster Main Stage on Day One. The quartet hailing from just outside Philly showed some serious brotherly love as singer Lzzy Hale and drummer Arejay Hale move past any qualms of sibling rivalry to offer a unified front of classically inspired rock ‘n’ roll. Fresh off their latest release The Strange Case Of… the band (completed by guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith) rollicked through a set that presented old favorites (“It’s Not You”, “I Get Off”) and new tracks (“I Miss the Misery”, “Love Bites (So Do I)”), the last of which has been rotated so heavily on mainstream radio it should be a PSA at this point.
Hale is the black stallion of female-fronted rock with a mouth wingspan on par with the toothy Julia Roberts that, when opened, becomes a cannon for her explosive high-pitched growl and breath-holding note endurance reminiscent of the Wilson sisters and Pat Benatar. Dressed in up-to-here hot pants and a white lightning leather jacket, Hale oozes appeal in every manner of the word but no more than her gutsy lyrics that don’t browbeat romantic swooning like other dimensionless lady crooners. Hale’s way of dealing with love notes is to rip out hearts, hold the beating life in the palm of her hands, and then stomp them to nothingness. There’s no doubt about who wears the pants here. “I’m a bit of a freak,” she declared much to the delight of the doe-eyed men in attendance who made her sideshow the main attraction.
Theory of a Deadman was up next on the main stage but was DOA in comparison to the Halestorm that swept through before them. Singer Tyler Connolly was more robot than rockabilly as he went through the motions of playing fan favorites “Lowlife”, “Bitch Came Back”, and new single “Hurricane”. Maybe the 90-degree temps were a bit much for the Canadians as the only engines that fired up were on Connolly’s motorcycle that he quite literally rode off on, through the Columbus Crew tunnel.
Walking to the side stages, appropriately sponsored by F.Y.E. and Jagermeister, became a spectacle in itself after mining the lines of people staking the concourse for bathrooms and Bud Light. Flesh was the word of the day as ass cheeks and tattoo regalia were on full display in every corner of the stadium. After awhile the count was lost for how many girls had been wearing nothing but thongs and platform boots and guys and gals who had every iteration of skull on their forearms, although one ink blot that was unforgettable was a vivid Renoir interpretation of a very downtrodden (and very naked) Adam trashed at the Garden of Eden.
Kyng and In This Moment were notables on the Jagermeister Stage—for opposite reasons. California trio Kyng curb checked the pomp and circumstance, letting their blues-tinged thrashing speak for itself. Frontman Eddie Veliz let his hair down for “Falling Down”, expertly massaging his fret board while daring the microphone to be his bullhorn. If Kyng commanded simplicity, then In This Moment are the darlings of spectacle. Singer Maria Brink is a head-turner for her obvious pinup girl beauty but also for the ravaging, gutteral screams that unrattled ribcages. Never without a shtick, In This Moment pulled off dictator glamour with Brink dressed as a high-ranking general, her brethren of dusty band gents looking like they just emerged from a foxhole. Folks came out in droves to hear “The Gun Show”, one couple so in the moment they decided to get engaged onstage.
The ultimate Guitar Hero Slash made an appearance at the unghastly hour of 5:00 p.m. (this wouldn’t be the last questionable billing order of the weekend) but used his time wisely to frolic through a set combining his best originals with Velvet Revolver and Guns n’ Roses staples. Singer Myles Kennedy assumed the mic with a grin on his face—and for good reason.
The Alter Bridge frontman, who had just two chances to appear on Slash’s eponymous 2010 solo debut that also featured the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Cornell, earned his keep as the exclusive singer on new album Apocalyptic Love. The calculated move did well to keep Slash’s battleship from plunging as Kennedy’s vocal range can deftly handle the gear shifts from newer material to the VR/GnR covers. Although much as been made of the singer’s ability to be a nimble Axl Rose, Kennedy’s interpretations of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City” put the nail in the coffin for naysayers and, more importantly, the singer revived the comradery so long missing from the GnR front.
Slash held his corner of the stage, top hat and sunglasses in tow like his very own Toussad wax figure. Always unassuming, the guitarist continues to be the undeniable thief of the show as all eyes were fixated on the limbo maneuvering of his guitar. While signalongs ensued for GnR and Velvet Revolvers’ “Slither”, it was the original numbers “Halo” and “You’re a Lie” that were a breath of fresh air on the wickedly hot day.
Five Finger Death Punch
Security was on code red for L.A.‘s boisterous Five Finger Death Punch who embodies the notion of “bring in da noise, bring in da funk” … well, mostly just the noise part. Yet for a band whose name inspires bloody revolts, singer Ivan Moody is actually quite patriotic (his Ford-emblazoned microphone is the epitome of American made) and also chivalrous, employing interludes after nearly every song to applaud the military, salute the fans, and rally the kids. Sure he taught the impressionable youngsters how to flip off a crowd but that’s a life skill that they were bound to learn anyway.
Moody and bandmates Zoltan Bathory, Jason Hook, Chris Kael, and Jeremy Spencer went “Under and Over It” with a solid set that hit hard on “Never Enough” and the band’s famed “Bad Company” cover. Although an acoustic version of “Remember Everything” could have taken top honors as the winningest moment in the set, the fan who crowdsurfed in his wheelchair quickly superceded anything just seen.
The sun nearly set on headliner Shinedown but not before singer Brent Smith had his moment in the light. As one of the fastest growing bands in mainstream rock, Shinedown has spit polished their performance just in time for the numerous mainstages they will play at summer fests this year. Smith for his part has never looked or sounded better, his four-octave-range tenor in perfect pitch in a set that spanned much of the band’s three prior major label albums with a taste test of their newest release Amaryllis.
Starting off with 2008’s title track “Sound of Madness”, Shinedown (who only retains Smith and drummer Barry Kerch as original members) offered a blistering call to arms followed quickly by the raucous soundtrack number “Diamond Eyes”. Shinedown’s love ballad “If You Only Knew”, weakened the mood but only before a moment until “Devour” and early single “Fly from the Inside” made appearances.
While Smith and co. did nothing to persuade with new single “Bully”, a weak attempt at banking on a popular national issue, they made up for it with a haunting acoustic cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. “We want to see stars tonight,” Smith demanded and although the sky was brutally clear, the denizens of lighters in the crowd made Shinedown shine.
Incubus was a questionable closer for night one, indicated by the swarms of people who had parted like the Red Sea before singer Brandon Boyd could even tear into “Privilege”. After a day of chanting for encores from Cavo, Slash, even Cypress Hill, Incubus stuck out like a sore thumb on a tired hitchhiker. The stage went pitch black for the band, save the few Bed, Bath, and Beyond floor lamps, so there wasn’t much to look at except Boyd writhing around as he did his best to curtail the bored crowd with numbers like “Megalomanic” and “Pardon Me”.
Perhaps more material from the band’s first release, 1997’s S.C.I.E.N.C.E., would have kept blood pumping with its much more defined rhythm section and heartier scratches courtesy of DJ Chris Kilmore who now just sounds declawed. Incubus doesn’t often play their older material, which is a tragedy for their more nostalgic fans who have to endure watered-down mom radio hits from a band that can offer so much more.
If Day One ended slow and steady, Day Two was a punch in the face. Rock on the Range didn’t go soft, they just left all the metal for the day of worship. The headbanger’s ball began with Chicago’s SOiL on the Jagermeister Stage, and the bad boys from the south side quickly let it be known that was a mistake. Legions of fans who have still not waned of 2001’s hit “Halo” (still a mainstay on radio) overflowed on the small grassy knoll and concourse for a glimpse at the four piece who acted as if the embarrassing plot of land was their own Wembley as they tore through heavy hitters “Breaking Me Down”, “Redefine”, and “Inside”.
Although the band has been active since their 1999 debut Throttle Junkies, SOiL was obliterated for seven years after the departure of singer Ryan McCombs who took a hiatus from music in 2004 and was then initiated as the frontman for Drowning Pool in 2005. In the meantime SOiL moved on but not up with McCombs’ replacements who could not live up to the precedent McCombs had set, so his reappointment in 2011 was met with wide regard and quite literally became the antidote that put a pulse back into the band as witnessed at their Rock on the Range set. With a new DVD Re-LIVE-ing The Scars released just this May, SOiL proves they’re no longer six feet under.
A quick jaunt over to the main stage brought in The Darkness, the British glam rockers who have returned to the scene six years after the disbanded in 2006. Time served them well, most notably for singer Justin Hawkins who got clean and dirtied up his body with a canvas of ink. Gone was the bared-chested androgynous Bowie-esque disco baller replaced with a hard-edged, mustachioed biker babe dressed in a two-piece American flag suit. Sure the music sounds the same (possibly even better) but the new look was astounding for anyone who remembers the music video for “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”. That song made a triumphant return at Rock on the Range as did a few newer numbers, Hawkins so excited about playing he kicked up his legs for a few handstands on the drum riser. We’d give it a 9.
If you don’t like what Phil Anselmo has to offer, there’s something wrong with you. Although the former Pantera frontman cursed out his wretched 30-minute spot with his band Down, he and the crew of notables (Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod, Pepper Keenan of CoC, Pat Bruders of Goatwhore, and Kirk Windstein of Crowbar) filled every minute with a powerhouse performance and a punchline dedication. “Rehab” went out to “all the youngsters” … “Stay out of there as much as possible,” Anselmo warned. Later, “Lifer” would be a chilling homage to Dimebag Darrell, who was killed onstage at a club not far from the Rock on the Range stages in Columbus.
When he wasn’t offering charismatic narratives or reverently flipping the crowd off, Anselmo fortified his brigade with vein bulking vocals that could be heard on the other side of the park. The musicianship seen and heard on “Bury Me in Smoke” and “Lysergik Funeral Procession” is what gives the band the title of a supergroup, with so much force and formality you’d think it would have to be a recorded hologram rather than live in the bloody flesh. For their last number, Down was quick to get up from their spots on stage with temporary replacements from a local band, Mount Carmel, that Anselmo gladly plugged. Anselmo’s blessing and standing in his shoes? Talk about a dedication.
As the night was winding down, fans were treated to a shock rocker and a horror show—but first we’ll get to Marilyn Manson. In the 18 years Manson has been bared the brunt of religious right wingers and Columbine scape-goatists, there is not much more the nearly 45-year-old rocker can do to shock his crowd especially in this day and age of the visual musician like Gaga who no doubt was inspired by Manson’s early ‘90s innovations.
Rip some pages from the Bible? Seen it. Wearing ghastly face masks? Really, again? And much of his Rock on the Range set seemed like an hour-long repeat of the songs and gimmicks we’ve seen from him before without much in the way of inspiration. From the get-go, Manson appeared out of sorts both with warped sound and difficulties speaking (did he just say Columbus?) but gradually he got the act together with the help of his more lucid bandmates, the only notable one being Twiggy Ramirez as the rest of the act has been a decade long swap meet.
The set ran through a number of older favorites like “The Dope Show” and “The Beautiful People” as well as some newer numbers from his latest Born Villain release but the most fetching performances were those of Manson’s well-executed covers “Sweet Dreams” and “Personal Jesus”, the latter of which was introduced by some long-winded joke about his father’s murders in Vietnam and accepting Jesus as his one and only savior. As he exited the stage, his father in tow, a recorded version of Manson’s latest cover “You’re So Vain” (recorded with Johnny Depp) blared on the speakers, a perfect track to end this bloat show.
If you want to get a pro to end a high-octane rock weekend, you call on Rob Zombie, and thankfully Rock on the Range did, saving itself from the embarrassment of having the sullen Incubus close Day One. Zombie is a master of visuals, and the movie director/producer pulled out all the props and skeletons in his closet to make his finale performance one that will be forever haunting. From fireballs to fireworks, giant robots to giant balloons, Zombie’s set was child’s play meets adult peep show.
He is not only the anarchist of show production, making his own rules (and his own incredible costumes) but also the king high on a mighty throne for what can be possible in a live show. Zombie proves there is more than just listening to a band translate its album onstage; there is a serious performance creed that sadly is all too often disobeyed. But not on this night. The set began with a bold emergency warning blaring over the video monitors. Z-O-M-B-I-E is coming, get ready. Running on stage, jumping onto his speaker perch, long leather suit jacket and wild dreads flailing, Zombie kickstarted the show with “Jesus Frankenstein”, and from the moment he started moving, he never stopped, leading his on-the-feet crowd by perfect example.
“Superbeast” and “Scum of the Earth” followed, literally on fire from the hell-ish video feed of flames rising high above the diminutive band. “Living Dead Girl” was dedicated to the army of (mostly topless) girls perched on the shoulders of the men beneath them while “Pussy Liquor” showed Zombie’s main squeeze, Sheri Moon, broadcast in a scene from Zombie’s film The Devil’s Rejects. Although Moon was in attendance, sadly she didn’t emerge to dance for her own number.
Nonetheless, the show carried on with White Zombie numbers “More Human Than Human” and “Thunder Kiss ‘65”, the latter of which was interjected with a teeth-playing solo of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by guitarist John 5. The finale number was arguably Zombie’s biggest hit “Dragula”, which was a perfect ending song for the hundreds who slowly started walking for the exits, always turning their backs and stomping their feet. With more inspired acts like Rob Zombie, rock will not only rise from the dead but thrive amongst the living.
* * *
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.