Thousands of people showed up for the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival on Friday, from all walks of life--five-year-olds with their parents all the way to couples pushing 60, meatheads and meth-heads, respected industry figures and pierced and tattooed punks--but there was one definite commonality. All of them came out to enjoy a full day of heavy metal from some of the industry's legends and up-and-comers.
Just one problem: We were in the desert.
Granted, it only hit about 108 degrees F, and it was somewhat hazy and cloudy. It could've been a lot worse. But for those in attendance from noon to midnight, the drill was hydration, shade, sunscreen, repeat... but in the world of metal, that doesn't sound like much fun, now does it?
Throughout the day you could see enthusiasts having a grand old time spritzing each other and passers-by with fertilizer pump-action spray-jugs-turned-water-misters. Fire fighters sat atop roofs with hoses, sporadically drenching crowds of thousands all at once.
An added bonus was the addition of Ak-Chin Pavilion's $4 value beer, which is 12 ounces. The next beer up is 24 ounces and costs $10, but in Arizona we all know that it's best to get the smaller beer in the summer.
But one thing metalheads have on everyone else is that they can take the heat--they'll show up for their favorite bands no matter what the weather. The Mayhem Festival's solid line-up was distributed across four stages set atop radiating pavement, including a Metal Mulisha ramp area with several riders flying through the air, showing off tricks for a large crowd.
Stand-outs throughout the day included Attika 7, Motionless in White, Children of Bodom, City in the Sea, Huntress, Butcher Babies, Job For a Cowboy, Machine Head, Amon Amarth, Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch, and of course, Rob Zombie.
Early in the afternoon, locally loved metallers City in the Sea and Job For a Cowboy attracted surprisingly large crowds, considering the time of day. As one of the Phoenix New Time's 13 Bands to Watch in 2013, City in the Sea has only been proving themselves again and again after being signed to Sumerian Records towards the end of last year.
Butcher Babies and Huntress proved to be must-see acts as well, bringing an element of bad-ass female energy that stirred up dust in the mosh pits due to their impressive music, but also (without a doubt) from their sexy stance.
Machine Head is a band that I've enjoyed for a long time, although I can't quite understand why they are always so low on the totem pole when it comes to festival line-ups. I feel like they should've been opening the main stage before Amon Amarth.
The band, facing the sun around 5 p.m. and clad in leather, brought an immense amount of energy, as fans crowd surfed up to the stage, including a guy in a wheelchair, who front man Robb Flynn cheered on constantly.
"Arizona is a bunch of diehard troopers! We love all you crazy fucks," shouted Flynn. "I've been watching you all day long! The satanic Hispanic, the drunks, stoners and meth heads--we love every fucking one of you guys!"
As the band walked off stage, the crowd continued to chant "Machine-fucking-head! Machine-fucking-head!" before moving to the stage directly next to it for Children of Bodom's set.
By the time Children of Bodom, took the stage, the last before the main stage acts went on, the Mayhem Festival actually started looking like, well, a festival. More people had decided to show up later in the day to beat the heat, and the place was crawling with people, whether they were browsing the vendor booth, waiting in line for autographs, or trudging between the stages, lugging around gallons of lukewarm water.
The main stage opener was Amon Amarth, definitely one of the heaviest acts of the day. Hailing from Sweden, these five Viking-esque guys pretty much headbanged their entire set. The drummer sat atop a huge smoking Viking boat jutting out from the middle of the stage, and the singer had the completely typical heavy metal voice.
"We are from Sweden!" he roared, powerful, abrasive and intimidating. "And we are here to bring you some heavy fucking metal, yes? We are bringing the heat! And we know you like the heat out here in the desert."
Mastodon, I'm convinced, is probably the closest thing you can get to hippie heavy metal. Singer Brent Hinds could pass for Rob Zombie's brother, and the band, while tight and talented, have an extremely laid-back set, gazing out of the crowd while they play their extremely infectious grooves. But when it comes to their long jaunts of instrumentals mixed with wails and powerful shouts, I feel like they are better on record then live.
It finally began to cool off when Five Finger Death Punch took the stage to put on their usual show, ripping through a set list full of radio hits and angry anthems. Two ten-foot-tall brass knuckles with the band's logo, FFDP, were affixed to either side of stage, and as the first song "Under and Over It" kicked off people on the lawn were already swinging shirts ablaze with fire over their head.
"People keep talking about how hot it is here, but I used to live in AZ. And this is not hot!" screamed vocalist Ivan Moody, before ripping off his sleeveless jersey to reveal a black t-shirt that read "I (weed leaf) Arizona."
Moody then went on to dedicated the jam "Bad Company" to a fallen soldier whose dog tags were given to him by the soldier's friend in Iraq when they had played a show at a base. FFDP has always done a great job at honoring the troops during their shows, and young children as well. Halfway through the set, Ivan asked the little kids to come up on stage so we could all take a look at the "next generation of heavy fucking metal." He kept the dozen or so kids up there for a couple songs, playing a game called "Ivan says" which included the children to flip off the crowd and throw devil horns.
Also halfway through the set, drummer Jeremy Spencer donned a glowing jacket and rocked out a solo that was unique and impressive, utilizing bongos, snares, cowbell, cymbals, double bass and an array of other techniques. Along with guitarists Zoltan Bathory, Jason Hook and bassist Chris Kael, there's no doubt that these musicians have fantastic musical talent. As much flak as the band gets for appealing to douche bags and meat heads, I have to say their positive impact is way more positive than the negative.
Moody also talked about the bands upcoming double album, where the collaborated with such names as Soulfly/Sepultura's Max Cavalera, In This Moment's Maria Brink, rapper Tech 9, Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta and Judas Priest's Rob Halford. He dedicated "Lift Me Up" to the latter, as being such a role model for the band over the years.
The band cruised through "Never Enough" and "Far From Home," and the musicians ran all over the stage while Moody did his typical gorilla chest pounding, spitting and angry tongue lashes at the crowd. Finally, on the last song of their set "The Bleeding," he opened up and said that the song was dedicated to AZ.
"I wrote this song while living here, and KUPD, the best fucking rock station in the world, played it when no one else would give me a chance!" Throughout the entire set, the band showed a lot of love to Arizona, that's for sure.
As they walked off the stage, Ivan handed the microphone to a young boy in the front row and told the crowd that they would be back in the fall.
The anticipation heightened as the crowd waited for Rob Zombie to hit the stage.
Opening with "Teenage Nosferatu Pussy" the band jumped in head first with more energy then I remember them having last time I saw them live. The stage opened up with pyro and Zombie on huge rock slab engraved with "Zombie" singing from the top. Guitarist John 5 and bassist Piggy D were adorned in some of the most elaborate costumes I've ever seen them in--John 5 was a sort of armored black raven, with a studded, black feather-mohawked metal mask and armor, while Piggy D was a creepy hog/gremlin. By the third song, "Meet the Creeper," both had ripped off their masks to reveal their usual face paint underneath.
One thing that I loved about this set was the array of acoustic, electric and bass guitars that Piggy D and John 5 utilized. From Piggy D's wooden slat cross bass to John 5's LED light guitar, they switched out regularly and it accented their outfits even more.
Rob Zombie strutted around, looking skinnier than usual and gyrating more than I've ever seen him do so. As the first licks of "Living Dead Girl" sounded over the speakers, he had as many girls as possible get onto guy's shoulders and flash the stage during a countdown. Throughout the song, girls shown on the gigantic screens were going crazy, singing along and dancing like their seat was a strip club platform.
The show had its usual bells and whistles--Rob Zombie rarely spares an expense in that regard. The stage was covered in giant screens that were turned into platforms, and clips from vintage videos, horror movies, Rob Zombie's music videos, and pin-up naked girls flashed over the screens. During one of his newer songs, "Ging Gang Gong," images of Charles Manson and his family repeatedly jumped onto the screen.
"Lords of Salem" brought clips of Zombie's newest film, Lords of Salem, and John 5 on double-neck guitars rocking a straw cowboy hat. John 5 led into "We're An American Band" with the National Anthem--played with his tongue on his guitar--and it was as patriotic as you could get during a metal show, as red white and blue were as far as the eye could see. "Here's some big balls for the ladies!" roared Zombie before launching into "Sick Bubble Gum," where giant bouncy balls fell from the ceiling ove the crowd. And during his White Zombie throw back "More Human Than Human," I swear I've never seen as many breasts ever on a screen at a show. Not from the audience, but from Zombie's archive of footage.
Rob Zombie Set List Teenage Nosferatu Pussy Superbeast Meet the Creeper Living Dead Girl More Human Than Human Theme for an Angry Ging Gang Gong We're An American Band Sick Bubble Gum Lords of Salem Dead City Radio Thunder Kiss'65 Dragula
Five Finger Death Punch Set List Under and Over It Burn It Down Hard to See Bad Company White Knuckles Lift Me Up Coming Down Never Enough Far from Home The Bleeding
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Critic's Notebook: What: Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival Where: The newly named Ak-Chin Pavilion on Friday, July 5, 2013 The Crowd: Metalheads and rockers of all ages and from all walks of life. However, it's safe to say that the majority of them have had some sort of delinquent tendencies--I saw an eight-year-old girl smoking, for God's sake. Overheard in the Crowd: "Yes! Yes!" an over-excited man who looked like he's done his fair share of drugs yelled when he spotted a girl pouring vodka from a flask over a giant sno cone. Personal Bias: I've seen Rob Zombie probably five times in the past two years, and I gotta say watching guitarist John 5 never gets old. Towards the end of the set, he busted out his guitar solo: almost a 10-minute tirade ranging from acoustic Spanish style (with a multitude of spacey photos of planets and stars in the background), to funky psychedelic rock, to the fastest finger picking you can imagine. If you haven't heard his solo stuff, you're missing out.
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