Rockstar Mayhem Festival at Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion, 7/15/11

Megadeth, Godsmack, and Disturbed at Rockstar Mayhem Festival 

Friday, July 15, 2011 
The Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion

"You guys are fucking amazing, Phoenix!"

This was the first thing I heard as I approached the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion for the Rockstar Mayhem Festival. The compliment, enthusiastically hollered from the stage by Machine Head singer Robb Flynn, wasn't just the usual pander-to-the-audience stage tack. There were a shit ton of hardcore metalheads at this show sweating and moshing out in the sun for more than nine hours -- they earned it. And they deserved the hard, fast, loud, and looong show they got, too.

When I picked up my tickets at 1:30 in the afternoon (when it was 103 degrees outside), there was already a line of a few hundred people winding around Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion waiting to get through security. Most were clutching big jugs of water and wearing T-shirts supporting some of the 13 bands on the bill, including Unearth, Trivium, Suicide Silence, In Flames, and locals Back From Ashes.

But it was the main stage we were mainly interested in: Machine Head, Megadeth, Godsmack, and Disturbed. Machine Head went on first, and by the time we got through traffic and security, they were playing their last song. The roaring, fist-pumping crowd loved them -- but they and the thumping of the bass drum were pretty much all I could hear on the way in. It's too bad. I saw Machine Head on Gigantour in 2006, and they were great.

Megadeth went on at 7:15, in front of eight stacks of Marshall amplifiers and with Dave Mustaine playing a twin flying V guitar. They opened with "Trust," from their 1997 album Cryptic Writings, and followed it up with "Hangar 18." Mustaine and Chris Broderick nailed the hell out of the guitar solos on the latter song, creating a crisp, clear wall of screaming melodies that felt like shots of adrenaline in the ear.

Mustaine was more gracious than I've ever previously seen. He repeatedly told the masses he loved them and bowed humbly with a warm smile. "It's nice to be back home in Phoenix," he said from the stage. "I can say that, right? Home?"

Thousands upon thousands in attendance screamed their approval. Through his poodle hair (sorry, man), Mustaine smiled and said, "This is a song about a woman who wants to kill me," before launching into "Wake Up Dead," from the classic Megadeth album (and one of the greatest metal albums ever), 1986's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? Particularly for classics like this, it was great to see original bassist Dave Ellefson back on stage with Mustaine. And it was fun to watch drummer Shawn Drover deftly bang the crap out of his kit.

The band played a new song, "Public Enemy No. 1," from their forthcoming album, TH1RT3EN. It was thrashy, classic-sounding Megadeth, with multiple, finger-twisting guitar solos and timing changes, but with more prominent backing vocal harmonies from Ellefson and Broderick. They ended strong, blasting through "Peace Sells" (Mustaine let the audience carry the chorus) and "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due."

Of the last three bands playing Rockstar Mayhem, I was most excited to see Godsmack (for the first time). A few of my friends had seen them and swore it was like, the best show ever. I wouldn't go that far, but Godsmack was damn good, easily the most exciting and burly band of the night. After the venue dimmed the lights and played AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" on the speakers, Godsmack came out, and shirtless singer Sully Erna announced there would be no pyrotechnics or special effects -- just the audience, the band, and some good ol' rock and roll. Then they launched into their latest radio hit, "Cryin' Like a Bitch," setting off what was basically a "Godsmack's greatest hits" set (no complaints here).

Erna dedicated the second song, a booming rendition of "The Enemy," to the United States of America, "for killing that cocksucker Bin Laden." Godsmack was super-tight throughout the show -- a bit bottom-heavy, but with meaty, gritty six strings to balance the sound. Erna's vocals were as strong as on record, and his intensity was great. I like it when I can see all the veins and muscles bulging in a singer's neck while they scream.

He played rhythm guitar for the first half of the set, and was clearly enjoying being experimental -- putting the instrument on the ground and hovering over it from above while playing, messing with amplifier knobs. The high point of all this was when he played a very cool, psychedelic-sounding intro for "Awake" through a talk box (an effect that should have been reminiscent of Peter Frampton and Bon Jovi, but oddly wasn't).

When they played "Voodoo" -- an incredible, witchy slow song that's the most un-metal tune Godsmack's ever recorded -- the audience was singing almost louder than Erna. This was followed by a frenetic but precise drum solo of epic proportions, featuring not one, but two rotating drum risers -- one with drummer Shannon Larkin, and the other with Erna. After nearly ten minutes of kinetic bongo thumping, snapping snares, and crashing cymbals from the duo, bassist Robbie Merrill and guitarist Tony Rombola came back out, seamlessly joining in for an instrumental medley of metal and rock classics that included pieces of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and Metallica's "Creeping Death."

This was topped off by closers "Whatever" and "I Stand Alone," wherein Erna prodded the audience into a frenzy, demanding everybody in the venue (including on the lawn) to get up and move. For a few minutes, everywhere I looked, there was a swarming sea of bobbing heads, flying hair, and pumping fists. Fuck yeah.

Disturbed had a big stage set which included multiple video screens, and they opened with a dramatic video of singer Dave Draiman dying, having nightmares about being a boy abused by some ghoulish man, and waking up in the ambulance and fighting his way out. The moment he burst through the doors in the video, Draiman appeared on stage, looking heavy but sounding smooth (he did seem to run out of breath a couple times, though).

The band obviously wanted to put on a show -- the videos and images on the screens on the stage showed a variety of things, from flickering brain scans to bloody hallways to a kaleidoscope of opening and closing doors. Flames shot up through the air behind the band during several songs, including opener "Asylum." Again, fuck yeah.

Limited to just an hour, Disturbed crammed as much into their set list as they could. Seven songs into the show, they played a medley of the songs "Fear," "Meaning of Life," "Numb," and "Voices," lopping off pieces and mashing them together. Personally, I would've rather heard "Meaning of Life" or "Voices" in their entirety.

But Disturbed did play plenty of other crowd favorites in full, ending their set with two of their best songs -- "Indestructible" (from the 2008 album of the same name) and "Down with the Sickness" (from their 2000 breakthrough debut album, The Sickness).

And some of the faithful, who'd been banging their heads and chugging beers since the early afternoon, stayed until the very last "devil horns" sign had been thrown.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Rockstar Mayhem Festival at Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion

The crowd: A massive throng of diverse metal fans, but mostly Native American metalheads (rock on!) and tall, bald shirtless white guys with lots of tattoos and long goattees.

Overheard in the crowd: "Have you played this on Guitar Hero?" (during Megadeth's "Hangar 18")

Random notebook dump: One of the audience text messages scrolling across the screen between bands: "Bring on Rebecca Black!"

Set lists:

1. Trust
2. Hangar 18
3. Wake Up Dead
4. Head Crusher
5. A Tout Le Monde
6. Public Enemy No. 1
7. Symphony of Destruction
8. Peace Sells
9. Holy Wars...The Punishment Due

1. Cryin' Like a Bitch
2. The Enemy
3. Forever Shamed
4. Straight Out of Line
5. Awake
6. Speak
7. Love-Hate-Sex-Pain
8. Voodoo
9. drum solo, instrumental jam (elements of "Back in Black" by AC/DC, "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath, Metallica's "Creeping Death,"Jethro Tull's "Aqualung," "Moby Dick" by Led Zeppelin, and "Tom Sawyer" by Rush)
10. Whatever
11. I Stand Alone

1. Asylum
2. The Game
3. Prayer
4. Liberate
5. The Animal
6. Inside the Fire
7. Warrior
8. Fear/Meaning of Life/Numb/Voices (medley)
9. Another Way to Die
10. Stupify
11. Ten Thousand Fists
12. Indestructible
13. Down with the Sickness