September 26, 2012
TNB Music reviews an outdoor rock festival in Irvine and a Red Hot Chili Peppers show in San Diego.
Fans holding tickets for this year’s Epicenter Festival have reason to be concerned. This past Monday night, Epicenter headliners Stone Temple Pilots channeled their inner Guns ‘N Roses and strolled onto the stage two hours late for a show in British Columbia. The half-hearted apology from singer Scott Weiland, followed by zero in the way of explanations, proved to be an exasperating precursor to their subsequent cancellation of the next evening’s show in Alberta. Although the band eventually issued a statement that Weiland was ordered on 48-hour vocal rest, speculation raged that perhaps there was another explanation. After all, Weiland has never been regarded as a paragon of sobriety, and with back-to-back snafus, as Epicenter opens its doors on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon, fans and promoters are left wondering if STP will even show up for their only Southern California appearance of the fall.
The first half of today’s bands will play the Monster stage, located just outside of the amphitheater proper, next to food vendors, drink and t-shirt merchants, and the ever popular “I ♥ Vaginas” booth. Festival sponsor KROQ hosts a tented lounge with a metal DJ spinning the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Metallica, while festival goers take advantage of the plush couches tucked away in the tent’s cool shade. In view of temperatures hitting what feels like 200 degrees Fahrenheit, shade is—next to beer—the most prized commodity of the festival. Monster Energy Drinks, in addition to sponsoring the second stage again this year, also hosts a mobile club with free Monster energy drinks and more shade. With half of the guys walking around shirtless, there is more ink on the fairground than the weekend edition of the L.A. Times, while the wide array of band t-shirts suggests that the Deftones and local heroes Hollywood Undead are the hot acts of the day.
The most notable artists on the second stage are surprisingly not metal artists, but rappers. The first, Hyro Da Hero, seemingly has little business being on a bill that boasts the Deftones, Bush and Stone Temple Pilots, but his breezy style of hip hop proves the perfect opener to a hot outdoor festival. After a smattering of generic rock acts, local boys Hollywood Undead close out the second stage festivities with a blazing set of beverage-sipping hip hop anthems. The Undead’s six tatted-up white boys throw down relentlessly fun and often profane jams, meticulously orchestrating their call-outs and choruses, while making it seem as if they are playing it off the cuff. The set is marred by some short-sighted homophobic banter by a couple of the band that suggests that they might fight for their right to party, but they’ve still got a lot of growing up to do.
Dead Sara kick off the main stage in a sparsely populated amphitheater. Lead singer Emily Armstrong runs, jumps and hurls herself from amps so tall one almost cringes as she leaps back to the stage. Armstrong is no stranger to the Janis Joplin catalog, but the sound is fresh, the songs fly at a furious pace, and the punters who found their seats in time for the set are among the luckiest ticket holders of the day.
The stage is built upon a rotating disc bisected by a tall wall, enabling one band to play while, on the other side of the wall, hidden from the view of the amphitheater, the crew can set up for the next band. Consequently, as soon as Dead Sara finishes, the stage rotates clockwise to reveal Chicago-based Chevelle ready to go, their stage featuring a massive black bull that remains unacknowledged the entire set. Chevelle have plenty of hits and a number of fans in attendance, but a camera thrown onto the stage that hits singer Pete Loeffler in the foot derails the momentum. As if throwing a camera onto a stage were not short-sighted enough, when Loeffler asks who threw it, the offending chucklehead actually raises his hand and throws the middle finger to the booing crowd. The rest of the set passes by without much of a build-up, ending on a muted note, with Loeffler simply laying down his guitar, thanking the fans, and saying “Bye.”
System of a Down offshoot Scars on Broadway follow with a proggy campaign of alt-rock that harkens back to the feeder group on several levels. Frontman Daron Malakian unleashes angry, combative lyrics delivered in dissonant vocal harmonies that establish that SOB have not fallen far from the SOAD tree. Sharp fretwork and seething rhythms turn tight corners, often breaking down into tasty prolonged jams. A cover of SOAD’s “They Say” galvanizes the crowd into a dancing, hand-waving frenzy, setting the stage for 90s alt-rock titans Bush.
Gavin Rossdale is aging better than Benjamin Button, all hale, shredded and in top vocal form. Although Bush have a relatively new album to promote, and although very few people in attendance are aware of this fact, the band wisely hew close to the hits, spicing the set with a few new tracks but favoring the songs that led them into the promised land of the mainstream. Mining their platinum-selling Sixteen Stone for hits like “Everything Zen,” “Machinehead” and “Comedown,” Bush play as if their next mortgage payment depended on it, Rossdale going so far as to publicly profess his hope that sponsor KROQ will add their next single into the rotation. A cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” primes the crowd for Rossdale to walk through the crowd for two songs, strolling from the bright stage through the mezzanine, the loge boxes and up onto the lawn, where he walks about, coming down the other side and doubling back to the stage, singing the entire time. Their set is the first of the day that seems to leave the crowd wanting more, suggesting that regardless of the fortunes of their latest release, Bush have plenty of life left as a touring band.
With an album scheduled for release in November, followed by a tour supported by Scars on Broadway, the Deftones are the “It” band of Epicenter. Singer Chino Moreno leads the band through a 50-minute, head-smashing set of new sauce and old standards like “Bloody Cape,” “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and new single “Leathers.” The band punch in and go to work with unchecked aggression; by the eleventh and final song, Moreno, clad in chinos and a flannel shirt, is literally drenched in sweat, smiling the entire time. Only Bush matched the Deftones’ raw, physical aggression, and with a circle pit swirling below him, Moreno keeps his foot on the gas until the final note rings out. Four of the Deftones’ six albums have reached the hallowed peak of platinum status, and if the Epicenter crowd’s response is an accurate predictor of the band’s fortunes, the band will close out 2012 on a decidedly high note.
STP are scheduled to take the stage at 9:15. Perhaps we have been spoiled by every other band taking the stage on time, but by 9:25, there is no sign of the headliners and a nervous chatter vibrates through the crowd. For any other band, a ten-minute delay would not even register, but STP haven’t been spotted since Canada and one cannot help but wonder if they have resurfaced.
At approximately 9:30, the lights dim and out come STP, to the relief and thrill of the people who are still in attendance, because a scan of the crowd behind us reveals a surprise: a healthy percentage of the people have departed after the Deftones, underscoring that you can pack a bill with an eclectic variety of bands but you can’t make the fans stay.
Opening with “Crackerman,” frontman Weiland spins, runs, slithers and gyrates in the middle of the stage. Physically and vocally, he appears to be in top form. Never known for a bombastic rock voice, Weiland’s strengths as a frontman align closer to those of David Bowie; it’s all about the rhythm and presence, although he does have a decent voice that fits perfectly with the post-grunge stadium rock of STP.
Unfortunately, the band sound listless and under-rehearsed, missing a shocking number of chords and changes that should be imperceptible to a crowd, but that are as obvious tonight as a gunshot in a meditation class. By the fourth song, the exodus has begun; as STP plod towards the finish line of tonight’s set, more and more seats open. Weiland does his best to connect with the crowd, prefacing “Interstate Love Song” with a brief interlude about the song being written at a small studio in Hollywood, but the performance drags. It doesn’t sound horrible, just slow. The aggression of Bush is nowhere to be found, and by the final encore of “Sex Type Thing,” both band and crowd are clearly ready to call it a night.
When RHCP singer Anthony Kiedis underwent foot surgery at the beginning of the year, the band were forced to postpone their US tour in support of their 10th full-length studio release, I’m With You. Held at the former San Diego Sports Arena, this make-up show had initially sold out in a matter of minutes after being announced; by the looks of the capacity crowd at the Valley View Casino Center, everyone held on to their tickets.
Although the RHCP, like any band that enjoys prolonged commercial success, have attracted the sneering derision of those who might fancy themselves music snobs, the 12,000 San Diegans who don’t take themselves as seriously were ready for this show from the get-go. 500 car stereos competed for attention in the parking lot outside of the venue as local entrepreneurs with an apparent tenuous grasp on anti-bootlegging statutes hawked $20 RHCP t-shirts to the tailgaters. In a more distressing scene, two girls are seen fighting back tears as a security guard explains to them that the all-access passes they are holding—purchased on Craigslist for $300 each—are counterfeit. To be fair, the passes look like they were printed at Kinkos, bearing no indicia of a backstage pass, such as the name of the tour. Taking pity on the scam victims, the security guard places some calls to his supervisors and walks the girls in the door so they can at least see the show.
Inside, sticky sweet clouds pass along the ceiling of the arena, and a visual survey of the crowd reveals a broad demographic of ages, genders and ethnicities—although the sweet spot appears to be twentysomething couples in the first six months of the relationship, judging by the unchecked volume of PDA. Either that or there is some really good MDMA floating around here this evening.
Taking the stage at 8:45 p.m., the band launch straight into “Monarchy of Roses,” from the new album, with bassist Flea outrunning and outgunning even Kiedis. Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer remains seated for much of the gig, surrounded by a trio of brightly-colored monitors and a microphone stand. Drummer Chad Smith, enjoying a doubly big year with his side project Chickenfoot, appears ready to dart from the drums and dive into the crowd at any second. Kiedis is ironically the most demure, darting about between verses, but singing with eyes closed and mic clutched close to his face for much of the opening three songs.
A pair of cuts from Californication follow, (“Around the World,” “Snow (Hey O)”), and then it’s onto the hits, with “Otherside” and “Can’t Stop.” Through the first three songs, TNB Music has been mixing it up in the photo pit, and as we walk back to our seats for the remainder of the show, we notice that, as the band fill the venue with their jacked-up funk attack, the people out on the concourse are all bouncing. Nobody is simply walking; people bounce out of the restrooms, they bounce away from the beer vendors and they bounce back to their seats, seemingly unaware of their own bounciness.
Kiedis asks Flea for his favorite moment in San Diego, and after an apparently unacceptable answer, Kiedis asks, “Wasn’t it the time we came here to see Van Halen and you got sick on the way home from doing all that coke?” As one might imagine, such banter meets the roaring approval of the locals. They then give a shout out to the city of Chula Vista and dive into the back half of the set.
Graphics popping from a dizzying matrix of screens infuse the music with hues of psychedelia, yet the overall vibe is funk, funk and more funk. Kiedis’ foot has healed extraordinarily well by the amount of running he does and the band appear loose, playful and polished. “Higher Ground” and “Californication” elicit singalongs, while a generous five-song encore (including a smoking Robert Johnson cover), caps off the evening with a booty-jiggling, high-octane take on “Give It Away.” The Peppers might be an L.A. outfit, but one hundred miles south in the balmy beach town of San Diego, they feel right at home.