Monster Energy Rock Allegiance – Battle Of The Decades: ‘80s vs. ‘90s

September 25, 2016, a year ago

Mark Gromen

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With the drink maker foregoing their pair of summer long touring caravan, in favor of single, region show (albeit with many similar acts), decided to check out the two-day event when it landed practically in my backyard, the waterfront stadium in Chester, PA, home to the local professional soccer team. Like the old Mayhem and Uproar events sponsored by Monster Energy (remember those?), this is a three stage affair. The entertainment kicked off at noon each day, with Saturday’s line-up skewed towards the rock styles of the ‘90s, while Sunday not only featured several ‘80s band (Slayer, Anthrax, Death Angel), but others, like Ghost, even Volbeat, that clearly linked to that venerated era. Outside Talen Energy stadium, there was the Liberty stage, assorted food trucks and booths for cigarette vendors, the local FM affiliate, Jack Daniels and ironically FYE (selling only vinyl), who recently closed their last Philly area store. Beer vendors were every few yards. Inside, the soccer field had been covered with plastic tiles, its entire length. The open end housed matching, side-by-side stages, labelled Bridge and River, for their proximity to said locale. The normal concession stands were open for business as well as a trio of on-field stalls, for can/draft beer. A 20 ounce craft beer (New Belgium Fat Tire, yes!) was $14, while a 24 oz. domestic can (Miller/Bud) were $11-14, depending upon location. A soft pretzel stick was $5, as was a bottle of water (although vendors lugging their wares across the infield got $7). Late in the evening, went for a plump turkey burger and fries, bit of a “steal” at $10.

First band up, a trio from the UK, Dinosaur Pile-Up. Their namesake might have been more tuneful! Playing simplistic, open chord and nasal whiny pop, it recalled ‘90s stalwarts Alien Ant Farm, Presidents Of The United States and/or The Offspring, albeit third division execution. After just one song, found a beer. Gazing at the flotsam accumulating in the harbor was infinitely more interesting. 

In a nod to Warped Tour production values, most bands get 30 minutes, the headliners just an hour and the stages inside the stadium alternate, rapid fire: when one stops, the other starts. So the only respite from the music is walking away from those who don’t agree with you. The crowd was comprised of an inordinate number of couple, in their 30s/40s, reliving their youth by opting for the more expensive VIP package, that guaranteed separate bar and (air conditioned) bathrooms.

Next up, The Word Alive (sounds religious affiliated to me), a post-hardcore, one guitar foursome with asymmetric, Dillinger stage movements. Back outside, Skindred were getting ready, with the first real star power of the afternoon, courtesy of frontman Benji Webbe, taking the stage in shimmering, silver boa, studded sunglasses and police badge. He wrapped himself in the Union jack, literally. Before "Pressure" began, Webbe did the typical split the audience in half for a call/response, but he told the group to his left, "You're shit," due their underwhelming response. Lots of people interested in the mix of Jamaican rhythms and electronica. A little after 1 PM and the line at the sole ATM machine is already 50 deep. The next day there were four newly installed machines outside.

On the River stage was yet another trio (something of a weekend-long trend, the three piece), called Sick Puppies, which featured a female bassist The main stage acts were broadcast on the four Jumbotrons that flanked the stages, as well as the giant, overhead screen (usually employed for sports replays) and the televisions in each concession stand. Was going to say the Aussies were passable, but generic rock, even prior to their announcing a new single, "Stick To Your Guns" from the album Fury. Maybe I just had a soft spot for the likes of "Where Do I Begin" (pleading for fans to call radio station and request. What, no Youtube?) and Rage Against The Machine cover "Guerilla Radio" because Emma Anzai sports the same bangs, blond tipped hairdo as my first ‘70s girlfriend.  

Billed as Return To Roots, it was the Sepultura founding Cavalera brothers, revisiting the classic Roots CD. Actually, in Philly, the Roots means something else entirely (hip hop group). Straight to the point, as it appears on said disc, they launched into "Roots, Bloody Roots", slicked back hair Igor behind his Charlie Manson headshot kick drum and matted, dreadlock Max, with yellow fringed pockets on his black jeans. Knew the premise, but was really hoping they'd sneak in a vintage, non-album cut. Not to be. Continuing the recorded running order, "Attitude" was next, but this wasn't a verbatim run through setlist. Max called for a circle pit, prior to "Spit". "Straighthate" got everyone singing along to "what goes around, comes around" lyric, before ending with Max's call to "Take no shit" during "Dictatorshit." Now if we can just get the boys to look backwards a little earlier! 

One of my criticisms of the (now dead) Monster Energy Mayhem format was the lack of European talent and that which they did bring over was often relegated to the smallest stage (C.O.B.) or first on the main stage (while most were transitioning from the parking lot, ala Amon Amarth). Gothenburg Sweden based Avatar might not be in the same league, but the visual outfit were afforded a prime time to win new fans (which I think they did). Johannes Eckerström is equal parts Alice Cooper, Joker and Marilyn Manson, looking like the Kid Catcher, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. His henchmen are attired in matching gold/red, vertically striped vested suits, complete with red, knee-hi socks, with tassels. Even the stage crew wears similar styles: old ice cream parlor soda jerks. Individually lighted letters spelled out their moniker, in whole or flashing one at a time. Losing his hat for "Hail The Apocalypse", Eckerström flickers his tongue and waves his cane (or is it raising Cain?) Their sound gives away their locale, a mix of In Flames/Engel with hints of Pain. Finale "Smells Like A Freakshow" meets with disappointment, as the crowd wants more, but Avatar promise to follow-up this debut tour with additional North American dates, so fret not. 

SNL alum Jim Breuer has been off the show for almost 20 years. In the meantime, apart from stoner comedy and (more recently) metal parodies, he's been out of the limelight. Something painfully obvious judging from the kids standing near the stage, most not even born when he was on TV, who had no idea who he was and his anecdotal comedy (from a bygone era) fell on deaf ears. Older attendees could identify with his train of thought, but the color-by-numbers musical portion would have been better served by a real band.

Speaking of which, shame on the promoters for not securing Sabaton, perhaps the hottest heavy band on the planet (#1 album in multiple countries) who are on tour with Trivium (already on the bill) and did nothing that day! As if a minor attempt to right a wrong, Trivium frontman/guitarist Matt Heafy wore one of his Swedish tourmate's t-shirts. "Until The World Goes Cold" sees the most crowd surfers thus far, an almost constant overhead parade over the barricade, including a large number of females. Other guitarist Corey Beaulieu adds gruff vocals throughout the set. Prior to "In Waves", Heafy has the crowd bend down, or lay on the floor (a little tough in a tightly packed outdoor, standing-room only stagefront) then suddenly jump upright. Short set, major career points.

Not a fan of Motionless In White, although saw them when I chaperoned by nephews' first concert experience (Warped Tour) several years ago. This is a band seemingly in a dichotomy, unable to decide if they're a costumed outfit or not (witness bassist Devin Sola, hooded keyboardist Josh Balz and androgynous waif of a guitarist, Ricky Olson). Even frontman Chris Cerullihas toned down the pasty Marilyn Manson pancake make-up (or maybe that's just a concession to the summer heat?). Regardless, it was something of a homecoming for the Scranton, PA based act. The backdrop with (as the singer mentioned) obscured moniker, depicted a play on the original Halloween movie advert (slashing knife jack-o-lantern face). Standouts included "Contemptress" and "Abigail" (not the King Diamond tune).

With Alice In Chains, The Offspring and The Cult not only restricting the number of photographers allowed to a mere handful, but relegating them to shoot from the soundboard, the last band worth covering, on Saturday, was Buckcherry, who sadly had to play the minuscule stage outside. The walkways were PACKED and Josh Todd (who looks a bit like comedian/actor Denis Leary) and crew didn't seem to mind, rocking a half dozen tunes, in 40 minutes, with their biggest hits: "Lit Up" and "Crazy Bitch" reserved for the final one-two punch of the evening. The tambourine playing singer came onstage with a red headband that lasted just for "Sunshine". Guitarist Stevie D. seemingly depositing a bag full of picks into the crowd, at low altitude, whizzing past photographers' heads. Good time rock ‘n’ roll, leaving you wanting for more.

Additional Day 1 photos.

DAY 2

Not many bands I'd get up to see at noon, but Death Angel certainly were worth it! Apart from a brief opening snippet of "The Ultra Violence" (the entire song from their '87 debut would have taken a third of the allotted time), would be hard pressed to know (from the song selection) that the Frisco thrashers have been around for three decades. Walking onstage, with Bombay gin bottle in hand, singer Mark Osegueda jumped off the drum riser and was all over the stage, even out on the bank of amps, mere feet from the barricade. Throughout the show, guitarist Rob Cavestany and Teddy Aguilar would also venture beyond the confines of the stage. Apart from the intro, only "Evil Priest' (also off the debut) predated their 2004 resurrection. “Claws In Deep" begins with Osegueda and Cavestany stage right, sharing vocals. It ends with machine running riffing.Rob often stands sideways, in a crouch, legs splayed. "Thrown To The Wolves" is his moment to shine, with spotlight guitar break. They stop, the singer asks for a circle pit ("We want to feel you move.") before reprising "Wolves". "Left For Dead" sees a sea of thrusting fists and when Mark announces it's time for the final song (met with groans/complaints), he jokes, "Write your congressman. Maybe next time we can play at 1 PM!" Afterwards, old schoolers' discussion centered around the fact the last five studio efforts easily outpace the initial three/highly revered albums. If you don't know Death Angel, you don't know metal! 

Bypassed Crobot at the Clark, NJ Food Truck & Rock Carnival last year. Had heard about their ‘70s psychedelic nature, so decided to check 'em out. Another "local" band, from Pottsville, PA (home of Yuengling, which was absent from the grounds, although Victory and Yards brews were available). Brandon Yeagley certainly had a vintage leisure suit and funky bassist Jake Figueroa seemed to be in world of his own (green rimmed glasses, burgundy bell bottoms), contorted at weird angles and just grooving out on the likes of "Easy Money". 

Sevendust have been to the top of the mountain (trio of gold records in the ‘90s) and now are trying to stay relevant. To that regard, the music is heavy, extremely loud and devoid of most of the electronica bullshit peddled earlier, although they can't quite shake that Nineties vibe. Nice touch having Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna appear for "Face To Face". Lajon Witherspoon is an imposing figure, even before stepping up on a stage front riser. Compressed "steam" trails (carbon dioxide) shoot skyward. "Hero" is accompanied by copper strobes, barricade crashers come in waves. The set ends with the Grammy nominated "Thank You". 

Wonder how drummer Vinne Paul (ex-Pantera) feels about current Hellyeah singer/bandmate Chad Gary (Mudvayne) pink goatee. Variety of t-shirts in today's crowd, but more Shipwrecked cruise than 70,000 Tons, which shows the separation of "metal" allegiances. Not really a fan of either Damageplan, or Hellyeah, but there's definitely Dimebag guitar tones (squelches) in the likes of "Blood For Blood". Props to Santa (or at least his doppelganger, in plush, fur lined suit) who made repeated forays over the barrier, despite the mid-80 degree heat! During "Startariot", Gray moves around, singing from a crouch, then jumping off shadowboxes. Sort of bizarre to cover Phil Collins, but maybe it's the lyrics to "I Don't Care Anymore" that resonate with the nu metal crowd. Backed with "Human" finale, the band started strong, but ended weakly. 

So when a band yells, "Make some noise" (especially accomplishing noting, having after just taken the stage), does booing count? Perseverance award to Of Mice & Men frontman Austin Carlille, first for the black coat (unnecessary, but undoubtedly part of the image), in such sweaty environs and also for performing in a medical walking boot. Just two songs in, "You Make Me Sick", he's calling for a circle pit. "Relentless" follows. Heard enough to know this ain't my thing, so walk around, but return for next band, only to find the Cali boys are still finishing up "You're Not Alone". 

Saw Killswitch Engage, with returning frontman Jesse Leach, in Montreal, at the start of August. Not the first time, either. Wacky guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, still playing with pressure bandages on each knee, runs in place while playing. They have the most crowd surfers of any act, by far. It's 5 PM and the casualties are beginning to mount, as the fest's been open for six hours, some partying longer than that. Couple hours from now, once it's dark, the situation is compounded. "Strength Of Mind" and "Hate By Design" are included in the first half of the set. Maybe it's just my age (and having met/interviewed the man), but don't think Ronnie James Dio would appreciate Leach's request to see "Philly cheesesteak tits" during "Holy Diver". No denying their drawing power with the underage set, though.

Opening with "Caught In A Mosh, Anthrax offered oldies and a couple off more recent platters in 40 minutes. Nice to see Charlie Benante back behind the drums, this being something of a local show for the NYC outfit. He's missed the last couple of tours (especially overseas). Noticed throughout the day, but also w/ Thrax (who I'd seen three prior times this spring/summer), all the bands amended their scrims/backdrop to include the trademark Monster M. On the last tour, Scott Ian's picks had pictures of various monsters/vampires. This time around, it was his make-up during a guest stint in Game Of Thrones. Joe Jackson cover "Got The Time" sees the guitarist skank in circles. After newbie "Breathing Lightning", Joey Belladonna leaves the stage, during "Indians", to high five not only everyone at the front of the barricade, but works his way across fans already camped out at the adjoining barrier. Ian, apparently not happy with the (lack of) response, chides, "If you're sitting down, waiting for Kanye West, you're not going to see him today." By that time, Belladonna had returned to the stage, for a reprise of "Indians".

Biggest controversy/disappointment of the weekend, Ghost's appearance without papal vestments. And on the heels of their Popestar EP being released the day before! Last tour, after a few numbers, Papa lost the mitre and stole, performing in more modern, classical/operatic attire (looked like a tux and/or accompanying vest, spats and white gloves). At Rock Allegiance, from the "Square Hammer" opener (new single from aforementioned EP), there was no religious inkling, apart from the bastardized stain glass window backdrop (one of the three panels depicting a chuckling Satan). What gives? Was the wardrobe lost in transit? Still got unholy anthems like "From The Pinnacle To The Pit", "Ritual" and "Absolution", so believe they've had a thematic rethink, despite the lack of visuals. All the more bizarre since this was a festival setting, containing thousands who'd undoubtedly heard/read about Ghost, but never witnessed the band before, only to miss out on the impact. If they wanted to "disrobe" on their own tour, that's one thing. One of the guitar toting Nameless ghouls had a flower pinned to his guitar strap. It was a three tier stage, with drums and keyboards side-by-side, "Cirice" sees the slicked back, short haired frontman on his knees, blowing kisses to the crowd. To start "Zero Hour", a trio of string instrumented Ghouls stands center stage. Will the next album be called Unmasked? 

The Volbeat phenomenon is quite amazing: Danish metal/rockabilly with fans in big name outfits, like Metallica and Mercyful Fate (Hell, their guitarist Hank Shermann enlisted in the band for a couple of years). An animated Michael Poulsen, sporting his metal cred (recorded the The first Nine, in '96 with Dominus, so that's all I need) wore a cut-off denim vest w/ Bathory back patch. During the set he dropped a few bars of Johnny Cash ("Ring Of Fire"), AC/DC ("Back In Black") as well as the oft covered ‘60s gem "I Only want To be With You” (also done by Bay City Rollers in '74 and pin-up turned pop star Samantha Fox in '88). Hope it works out better for Volbeat, in terms of longevity. During the acoustic begun "Sad Man's Tongue", the singer/guitarist recognized himself on the stadium Jumbotron and announced as much. Throughout the night, he was able to stop at any point and simply let the audience carry the vocals, which happened frequently. One song followed seamlessly (without any real rest, a casualty of the tight time limit, just 60 minutes). During "The Mirror and The Ripper" (which Poulsen called their Motorhead song), se and former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano did their best synchronized guitar moves. The scope of this band is ever increasing, as even my bartender, who knows nothing of the hard rock/metal world was aware Volbeat was in town. 

For BraveWords.com aficionados, there can only be one band to end (since no one really want to open for) Slayer. Squeezing 35 years of history into an hour slot is nearly impossible, but if they'd only play their 29 minute opus and walked off, fans would still be happy. The fourth time seeing the band since April, noticed the set was essentially the start and finished of longer, career retrospective festival/headlining gigs, with a heavy dose of the pre-Reign material. That said, following an intro that saw inverted red crucifixes and white pentagrams projected on the curtain obscuring the band, it was still the title track off last year's Repentless, to kick things off. "The Antichrist" saw Kerry King stood out front, working his axe in an ethereal yellow halo of lights. Tom Araya kept things moving, but also basked in the adulation (prior to "War Ensemble"). Great to hear "Fight Till Death", a rarity off the debut, was retained for a US festival date. The powerful closing run of "South Of Heaven", appropriately crimson drenched, mosh pit inducing "Raining Blood" "Hell Awaits" and "Angel Of Death" was all the more punishing, coming of the heels of two long, sun-drenched days. The green tinted finale (punctuated by Araya's opening scream) featured the Heineken logo adapted to fallen guitarist Jeff Hanneman. 

As long as single day tickets are available, organizers seem to be on the right track, keeping the style of music separate, rather than mixing them over two days. Will be interested in seeing what happens next year.

Additional Day 2 photos.

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