The revolution will not only be televised, it will be sponsored by stimulant laced sugar water (Rockstar), licorice flavored booze (Jagermeister), and a trendy mall "lifestyle" store (Hot Topic) that has pretty much done its best to reduce a once meaningful underground music scene to just another commodity. That's the Rockstar Mayhem Festival in a nutshell. I never thought the day would come when bands like Slayer and Cannibal Corpse would be seen as viable elements in a corporate marketing campaign, but that's the world we live in now. Okay, enough editorializing. On with my review of the show, which I caught at Pittsburgh's Post Gazette Pavillion this past Saturday, August 1st 2009.
The show started at 2:15, but my wife and I didn’t get there until about 4:30, so we missed the first 4 bands playing on the small side stages. We did get to see metalcore bands Black Dahlia Murder and Trivium. Both groups played with passion and ferocity and displayed considerable musicianship. Since these bands just aren’t my cup of tea stylistically, to review them any further wouldn’t be fair to the bands.
The last band to play on the side stages was death metal icon Cannibal Corpse. I’m not a huge fan of these guys, but they have a few songs I like and there’s no denying their brutality and musicianship. Corpse opened up with the title track from their latest album Evisceration Plague before dipping into their back catalog of family friendly numbers like “F@#$ed With a Knife” and “Make Them Suffer”. The band closed out their set with the crowd pleasers “Hammer Smashed Face” and “Stripped Raped and Strangled”. Wonder which song Rockstar will use for their next commercial?
Things moved over to the main stage after that for Cleveland’s Mushroomhead. These guys have been around since 1993, releasing three albums independently before finally gaining national attention in the early part of this decade. To my ears they’ve always sounded heavily influenced by Angel Dust era Faith No More, with a bit of metal, rap and industrial thrown in for good measure. They’ve got an excellent singer and front man in co-vocalist Jeffrey Nothing, who I used to see in the mid eighties when he was still singing for Cleveland metal band Purgatory under the name Jeff Hatrix. The guy’s still got the pipes, and while I’m not going to race out and buy any Mushroomhead albums tomorrow, the band put on a really good show.
Next up on the main stage were Massachusetts based Killswitch Engage, another metalcore band, or so their Wikipedia page describes them. Whatever, sounds like metal to me. Anyway, these guys were really good. I found their playing perhaps a little too precise for my tastes, but their songs were catchy and lead vocalist Howard Jones (no, not the eighties new wave guy) was excellent. They got a really good crowd response, and gave props to the metal gods with a fine rendition of Dio’s “Holy Diver”. Again, I probably wouldn’t buy one of their albums, but I liked these guys more than I expected to.
Finally, as night began to fall, Slayer hit the stage. Despite pushing fifty, these guys still play with all the fire and intensity of a young band with something to prove. The only downside to their show was they only had an hour long set, so what we got was essentially a “greatest hits” show, with the new song “Psychopathy Red” thrown in for good measure. Nothing from the first album, but the band did pull out “Chemical Warfare” and “Hell Awaits” from the early days. And of course they found room for classics like “Angel of Death”, “War Ensemble”, “Dead Skin Mask”, and “South of Heaven” in their 13 song set. Vocalist Tom Araya missed a few lines of “Angel”, but otherwise it was a flawless performance that really got the crowd pumped up.
Then Marilyn Manson came on and sucked all the energy out of the venue. Look, I actually like a lot of Manson’s stuff, especially from the first 3 or 4 albums. But even older songs like “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” and “Disposable Teens” were performed lethargically by the band, and Manson’s vocals were just awful. It was embarrassing, and after about 30 minutes of it I decided to cut my losses and leave. A good portion of the crowd had the same idea, and even those die-hards who stuck around didn’t seem that into it. The crowd that had been slamming and screaming during Killswitch Engage and Slayer were just standing or sitting there, trying in vain to find something to get excited about. I may not have liked all the other bands on the bill, but every one of them put on a tight and energetic show. Manson just looked like he was going through the motions. Time to hang it up, dude.
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