“This Goes Out to Anyone Whose Heart Beats Like Kick Drum”
Flashbacks and Golden Gods. The seventh annual Rock on the Range festival had two competing agendas for the weekend.
One, provide shelter for ‘90s Lollapalooza-era bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Bush, and Smashing Pumpkins who, even in the midst of bold comebacks, were left in the dust for Steve Angello and Mumford and Sons at Perry Farrell’s fete this year. And two, welcome Revolver’s new class of Golden Gods en masse, including “best vocalist” Corey Taylor (Stone Sour) and “best drummer” Arejay Hale (Halestorm), both of whom proved their merit, while the controversial “best song of the year” band Black Veil Brides still made few fans.
In the throws of the Pollyanna Coachellas and the Bonaroos of the mega matrix fest circuit, thank god there’s still a home for rock — and people who still want to hear it. This year’s sold-out edition proved the staying power of AEG’s premiere Midwest festival with an expansion to three days, a new comedy tent, and a heavy-hitting lineup 50 bands strong that drew a record-making 105,000 ticket holders from 49 states and three countries.
All those bodies hit the floor for Korn’s high voltage set on the opening night. The racuous nu metal band from Bakersfield, California drew the biggest crowd of the weekend that was tangibly felt in the cellblock standing room of the Columbus Crew Stadium. The attraction was likely consequential of the recently spawned “Head Reunion Tour”, which reinitiated original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch for the first time since his calling for the church and Christian rock in 2004. Head had the devil in him this night though as he raged through quick-dry classics like “Blind”, “Falling Away from Me”, and “Freak On a Leash” with renewed spirit.
With most of its original lineup in tow (sans drummer David Silveria who was replaced by the dynamite Army of Me kick pedaler Ray Luzier back in 2009), Korn was wise to invoke its rock roots while closing the book on their questionable EDM-laced tracks from latest album Path of Totality. Further indicative of their return to form were the drowning cries of bagpipes on seminal track “Shoots and Ladders”, and the unearthing of the track “Chi” in memorium of recently deceased Deftones’ bassist Chi Cheng, who like Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and even Ronnie James Dio, were in spirit over the weekend.
“Raise your horns in his honor,” demanded Lzzy Hale as she and her band Halestorm marked the anniversary of Dio’s passing with a persuasive cover of “Straight Through the Heart”. It was one of the few variants in a set list that has become precise, yet predictable for the radio charting band who has toured nonstop off the strength of singles “Freak Like Me”, “Love Bites”, “I Miss the Misery”, and “I Get Off”. But if they were tired, it didn’t show in this electric set that lit up the day like Vegas on a power surge. As one of the too few female talents at the fest (In this Moment’s Maria Brink, Smashing Pumpkins’ Nicole Fiorentino, Nicole Fiorentino, Skillet’s Korey Cooper and Jen Ledger, and Sick Puppies’ Emma Anzai rounded out the rest), Hale held her own as a visceral frontwoman, assuaging her classic rock heart with a brazen warrior’s call that has made her the centerfold of metal’s new faces.
Red Line Chemistry is not in Kansas City anymore, or so they set out to prove with an infectious set that dealt their cards as a band ready to wage all. Although the quintet has been active since 2004, it is the material from 2013’s Tug of War (“Unspoken” and “Paralyzed”) that lay fresh cement for the rising stars to leave their prints on. Singer Brett Ditgen’s mile high range fit in with the grunge singers of the weekend, but RLC’s billowing choruses also bring more modern commercial appeal reminiscent of early Shinedown. Look for their material to dominate rock radio this summer as the band heads out on tour with another ROTR newcomer Gemini Syndrome.
“Here you get to see all your favorite bands and they get to see you,” Ditgen said before ending their set. Surely this was the case with L.A.’s Black Veil Brides, whose polar magnetism followed them to Columbus, parting a sea down the line of the soundboard of hysterical fangirls and the more moody fan that gravitates to their AFI meets Avenged Sevenfold double dagger. Although the band’s leather and liner shtick may be modeled after glam metal bands like Motley Crue, their mannequin apathy on stage and the use of headsets suggest more Spinal Tap irreverence. Singer Andy Biersack’s recent acceptance speeches have come under fire for their venom, but it’s clearly a defense mechanism against the majority of those still wondering what the big deal is about this band.
Matt Walst lived up to the hype as the newly unveiled singer of Three Days Grace. The Canadian alt metal band issued breaking news earlier this year that founding member Adam Gontier had departed mid-tour to be replaced by the My Darkest Days frontman (who also happens to be bassist Brad Walst’s brother). Although the “Home” hitmakers caution that Walst is a temporary replacement, this set hinted otherwise as the quartet’s chemistry proved more than just some lab experiment. Fire balls erupted as Walst took to the stage like a young Oz who deftly manned the machine for wrecking balls like “Chalk Outline”, “Just Like You”, and “Pain.” The “we want Adam” naysayers present in the crowd can’t deny the improvement: whereas Gontier bordered on monotone, Walst brings melody and mastery with his vocals. The set ended with a fist-flying cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” that begged the question of when the Florida band (currently on a small venue tour) will rip up arenas again.
It took them two years to arrive, but once Stone Sour got to Rock on the Range, they made quite the entrance. “You have no idea what this means to us,” said lead singer Corey Taylor with the charismatic humility that you know must have always lurked underneath those Lecter masks in Slipknot. “We are not going to disappoint you tonight,” and the band kept its word, delivering an aggressive set that stabbed at the heart of their impressive catalog. “Do Me a Favor” had attendees swarming like locusts to the nearest FYE vendor to buy new album House of Gold and Bones Pt. 2 while “Absolute Zero” threatened to disturb the calm of the early twilight. Ghostly acoustic versions of “Bother” and “Looking Through the Glass” gave Taylor great solitude, but if the emotive performances gave any sort of distress call they were answered by an unchained cover of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.
Although The Smashing Pumpkins can barely call itself that anymore, Billy Corgan and his latest grab bag of instrumentalists proved there is still much to “adore” about the original colonists of alterna nation. With a set heavy on Siamese Dream and Melon Collie hits, the band can still ramp up a crowd from “Zero” to a high-speeding “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”. Stuffed into the night’s hope chest was also “Cherub Rock”, “Disarm”, “Tonight, Tonight”, and a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, with psychedelic loops that mirrored the Stanley Kubrick video towers hovering over the band. If the Pumpkins are Corgan’s Neverland, the frontman should disguise his age better. “Be careful out there,” he warned to the crowd surfers, asking them to stand in place instead. “It’s not anti-rock, it’s just smart.”
Fans obviously did not heed Corgan’s advice on Day Three as nearly every set brought in the reinforcements for the piles of people trying to get up-close-and-personal with free man Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) or In This Moment’s head nurse Maria Brink, who had setup a bloody post-war triage onstage.
If Brink was this fest’s Medusa, then surely Sick Puppies’ Emma Anzai was its Aphrodite. The skilled bass player is hard to miss with her slaphappy maneuvers and whiplash hair flips that should make her contemporaries’ heads roll. It’s a wonder that the Aussies have not found more success stateside, although some might say it’s their own fault. The “Riptide” trio has a passive-aggressive tendency to air out their dirty laundry live, but keep their dark secrets hidden on Sunday best album releases. Maybe they’ve gotten the memo for July’s Connect – new track “Die to Save You” was debuted at ROTR; it features Anzai dueting with singer Shimon Moore and could breathe newfound glory into the band.
It’s a feeling felt by Canada’s Big Wreck. The ‘90s underdogs have been off the grid for the better part of a decade, but earlier material In Loving Memory Of… and The Pleasure and The Greed are worth getting reacquainted with, as this set proved. Singer Ian Thornley went on to form a band bearing his last name, but 2011’s BW reunion and subsequent new album Albatross finds a deserving second coming. Thornley growled his way through an early set, setting off whispers of “is that Chris Cornell?” Thornley was spotted later taking in Soundgarden’s set, disproving the Roswellian theories; clearly, there’s enough raspy howl to go around rock’s gene pool.
Black Out the Sun is metal band Sevendust’s latest effort, and appropriately their rousing set eclipsed most other performances on Sunday. Digging deep into their nine album arsenal, the fevered set obliterated any doubt of the band’s waning by dislodging new bullets like “Decay” and “Til Death” and polishing the barrel of classic numbers such “Face to Face”. In 16 years, the band has yet to produce an album that is forgettable, or play a show that isn’t just as memorable for its sound and fury. While other heavy acts use speed demons as armor, Sevendust’s melodic vulnerability and singer Lajon Witherspoon’s soulful delivery are the strategy that lets them capture the flag.
If attendees didn’t have time to check out the comedy tent or didn’t care (really did they just do a Slayer joke? Too soon my friend), Steel Panther was there to fill the need for comedic relief. “We can tell you’re confused. No we’re not Poison,” guitarist Satchel affirmed before jabbing singer Michael Starr, “he can’t sing as good as Bret Michaels.” The band’s hair metal vaudeville and cache of profanity-laced songs about Asian hookers and community property body parts would be crass if not for their ability to shred their guitars to shrapnel.
Although Panther bassist Lexxi Foxx asked the crowd to “make some noise for my face,” it was over at Ghost’s stage that people were transfixed by the hollow eyes and skeletal fissures of Papa Emeritus II. The Swedish monastery metal band who looked like the monks of Satan in papal regalia and hooded robes may appear holier-than-thou (they asked fans to vote for their frontman to be the next Pope of the Catholic Church, after all), but their music is traditionally steeped in the musings of classic heavy rock acts like Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult. Although identities are hidden (the backing band is known only as the “Nameless Ghouls”), it only adds to the intrigue — and keeps out the right wingers.
The holy trinity of Day Three was undoubtedly the conglomerate of ‘90s bands Bush, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden. All of them are in the throws of convincing comebacks, years after many thought they’d never hear from them again, or have the chance to see them perform live ever.
Gavin Rossdale was on fire, literally red and burnt from either sun exposure or, more possibly, the rush of blood that comes from knowing you’re on top again. As if he didn’t believe it, the Bush singer ran through the tiers of stadium seats, corralling adoring fans into a sing-a-long of The Beatles’ “Come Together”. The audience participation didn’t stop there though as the Sixteen Stone-heavy set brought back vocalized memories of alterna gems like “Comedown”, “Little Things”, and “Glycerine”. All we need now is a Bush/No Doubt tour to make hearts really flutter.
While most bands would declare defeat after the death of their lead singer, Alice in Chains instead chose to soldier on by finding a replacement who sounds just like him. The similarities of William DuVall and Layne Staley are uncanny if not cryptic as the singer, supported by AIC noblemen Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney, parlays a set that makes you feel Staley is always in spirit. While preserved versions of “Them Bones”, “Again”, and “Rooster” could put you back into a Seattle club if you closed your eyes, emotional acoustic versions of “”Down in a Hole” and “Nutshell” re-envision the set of Unplugged as if it just happened yesterday.
Soundgarden was hard pressed to top Chains’ performance, but in the comrade spirit that defined the grunge generation, the band decided to complement it instead. Only one song from their latest King Animal made it into the set, “Been Away Too Long”, which signified the feeling felt across the park. The band was commanding in their return to the stage, packing their best material into an hour-long set that rose to the occasion with “Outshined”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Superunknown”, “Spoonman”, and “Black Hole Sun”.
Soundgarden’s reunion was just one of many over the weekend, illuminating one of the pleasurable traits about the rock community — you’ve never strummed your last chord and there is always a crowd ready to welcome you back home again.
Black Veil Brides
Black Veil Brides
Three Days Grace
Three Days Grace