A Big Rock Sandwich: Mind’s Eye Digital 15th Anniversary Party @ Venue of Scottsdale on November 16

By Benjamin Leatherman Photos by Luke Holwerda

Better Than: Working the dance floor at Myst.

This past Friday night, the streets and sidewalks of Old Town Scottsdale were absolutely overflowing (as they usually are on the weekends) with nightcrawlers in the midst of kicking off their weekly routine of drinking, debauchery, and debasement. But while the usual crowd of Fembots, douchebags, and $30k millionaires were bound for more ostentatious joints like Next and Dirty Pretty Rockbar, the cooler cats were chillaxing at the Venue of Scottsdale, where renowned Valley recording engineer and producer Larry Elyea was feting the 15th anniversary of his studio, Mind’s Eye Digital.

It’s also where myself and kickass concert photog Luke Howlwerda found ourselves, as we sought to document the party for suckas like yourself who somehow couldn’t pry themselves away from Friday Night Smackdown! and get the hell out of the house. The setup was fairly simple: Elyea -- who’s cut records for such marquee-level performers as the Beastie Boys, Eminem, and Capadonna (of Wu-Tang fame), not to mention Valley bigwigs like Jimmy Eat World, Authority Zero, and Bionic Jive -- assembled a lineup of five local, hard-charging rock groups he’s previously worked with (as well as his own outfit, Giantkiller) to come out and show off their shit. Although all the bands on the bill fit comfortably into the field of hard rock/nü-metal, Elyea hoped each outfit would show off their own particular flavor of the genres -- from brooding melodic-style jams to more balls out, concussion-inducing kinda stuff -- in an attempt to blow out the back wall of the one-time Cajun House. And they did, in spades. The raucous rock lineup even prompted Giantkiller vocalist Jared Woosley to describe the event as “a big rock sandwich,” a quote we used for the title of this blog post.

The crowd is ready to eat a big rock sandwich

Due to the usual Friday evening Old Town traffic snarl, I arrived a half-hour late to the shindig and met up with Master Luke just at the first band, the thunderously melodic hard rock outfit Awaking the Fallen was finishing up their 30-minute gig. According to some of the smokers doing the puff thang outside between sets, they didn’t disappoint. Following a rather thorough and impersonal pat down by the hulking security guards -- who did everything but snap on the latex and almost dropped Holwerda’s camera while digging through his backpack of equipment -- we headed inside the packed venue to join the crowd (which numbered nearly 900 at one point). A wide cross-section of rock fans came out to the event, including aging hippies, dazed and confused burnouts, posturing teenyboppers, rock hotties, trailer park rats, Al Jourgensen clones, frat boyish preps, tatted-up thugs, cowboys from hell, and grungy indie kids.

Larry Mac and Kim LaRowe, Phoenix music gurus

We also rubbed shoulders with a slew of radio and music industry types who were there to celebrate Elyea’s success as one of the top knob-fiddlers in the Valley, including Edge 103.9’s weekend jock and local alt-radio legend Larry Mac, who was serving as emcee at the party. Rocking the Stone Cold Steve Austin vibe with a shaved head and goatee, Mac was in the company of the Kim LaRowe, booker at The Sets in Tempe.

Since the Mac Man knows a thing or two about P-Town’s music scene (per his current gig showcasing local jams on his weekly “Sunday School” program, as well as previously helping run bygone AM alternative station KUKQ back in the mid-’90s), we asked his opinion on which band’s performance he was most looking forward to seeing.

“It’s an awesome good lineup, it’s solid, but I’ve never seen Giantkiller before, so I’m anxious to see them,” he says. “I’ve heard nothing but great things.”

Mac had to shove off and return to his emcee duties, so shutterbug Luke and I got our eardrums quaked up by the next band, Versed in Grey, whose sludgy alt-metal sound was thick with gristly guitar chords and the hollering of mountain man look-alike Augie Palacio. I was an already digging them throughout most of the set, but they cemented my permanent allegiance by whipping out a cover of Tool’s “46 & 2.” We even heard that night that guitarist Norm Wall’s wife had given birth to their child two hours before the show and the proud papa still managed to make the gig. That’s dedication to your craft, biatch.

Versed in Grey wouldn't miss the gig, even for a new bundle of joy

Afterwards, I was hoping to track down Larry Elyea to get some face time with the belle of the ball, but he was too busy preparing for Giantkiller’s set. The dood’s a serious axe-master, having jammed with Bionic Jive and Gift, and displayed his skills at the party on songs like “Son of Sam.” Meanwhile, dreadlocked singer Jared Woosley (who looks like the lovechild of Ethan Hawke and Adam Duritz) used not one, but two mics -- one modern and the other a kind of retro ’50s deal -- to pepper Giantkiller’s melodic, hard-edged rock (somewhat akin to A Perfect Circle) with his vocals. As the band ripped through their song list, a mist of fog drifted across the stage, causing the array of colored spotlights to pierce the vapor like lightsabers (only fitting, since Elyea and crew are like rock ’n’ roll Jedi).

Larry Elyea, the man with the jam.

The audience, for the most part, was rather subdued for a hard rock show, probably because they were mostly made up of folks in their late 20s to mid 30s. There was nary a mosh pit to be found, only a few lighters being held up during Giantkiller’s set. These were serious rock fans who rock out seriously.

Giantkiller rocks out. Seriously.

Frankly, the joint didn’t get rowdy until the boys of Digital Summer hit the stage.

Arguably the biggest band on the lineup, DS flipped the switch on the crowd’s juice with their somewhat slick-sounding, punk-tinged pop metal (à la Chevelle), causing many fists to pump and heads to bang, and inciting the formation of a rather weak pit populated by about four fuckheads (I hate moshing). Humorously, one gent in a blue bandana perched himself on the waist-high security fence and continuously flipped off the band through the first couple songs. The five members of DS probably mainlined some Red Bull in the Green Room, as they both stoked and fed off the mojo, climbing on different amps and speakers or leaping into the air like a herd of alt-rocking spider monkeys. Tremendous.

Digital Summer

Both Holwerda and myself figured the lion’s share of those in attendance were made up of Digital Summer fans, as once the band wrapped up their 45 minutes of stage time, half of the throng disappeared from the venue. It was quite a shame, actually, since the remaining bands, Signs of Betrayal (Korn-esque nü-metal) and Denial Method (think Breaking Benjamin colliding with Deftones) were quite good. By the time 1 a.m. rolled around, Denial Method’s fans were outnumbered by the amount of discarded beer cups on the floor.

Signs of Betrayal

Random Fact: Nearly everyone in the audience had at least one tattoo.

Personal Bias: I listen to Chris V. late at night on KUPD.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea