Rockstar Mayhem Festival – PNC Bank Arts Center – 7/23/13


Better Than: Elevator music in a sauna.

“Welcome to heavy metal Woodstock!” shouted Scorpion Child singer Aryn Jonathan Black, greeting the throng of approximately 30 at hand to see his band at 4:40 on a Tuesday afternoon in 90-degree heat.

One of about 17 groups on three stages, Scorpion Child were also one of the newest–May 2013 saw their debut album–and least “metal” at the festival. Clad in Rainbow, St. Vitus and Orange Amps t-shirts, Black’s Robert Plant-like voice, bell bottoms and the quintet’s Blue Cheer-meets-Humble Pie mien made them the closest kin to metal progenitors Black Sabbath, whose vintage-style T-shirts adorned many in the crowd of sweaty 6- to 60-year-olds.

Now in its sixth year, the traveling metal extravaganza brought back many past participants, including Mastodon, Machine Head, Five Finger Death Punch, Job For A Cowboy, and headliner Rob Zombie, who was second-billed to Korn at the 2010 festival.
American rock and metal fans have long lamented the U.S.’s lack of Brit- and Euro-style rock festivals, but at this gig, with only about 5,000 concertgoers in a venue–PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ–that held 17,000, (according to a Live Nation employee), perhaps that enthusiasm was overstated. Or maybe it was just the heat wave that dampened both brows and spirits, though many of the more rotund rockers in attendance took the opportunity to display flabby flesh that soon turned a lovely shade of lobster. Black (t-shirts) and red (skin) were the predominant colors of the day.

From about 2 to 6 p.m., only the three sponsored “side stages” were in action, alternating bands until the five main stage acts started around 6. Highlights of the Jagermeister Stage included the L.A.-based Butcher Babies, featuring a comely, talented, aggro and hella-metal pair of female lead singers in Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey (who might have been the only women playing the tour.) On the other end of the spectrum was the extreme guy-ness of ex-Biohazard singer/actor/porn guy Evan Seinfield and his new band, Attkia 7, and stalwarts Machine Head, who’ve been plying their solid metallic attack for more than 20 years. If this gig, and their latest CD, 2011’s stunning Unto the Locust, is any indication, Machine Head deserve a spot on the main stage.

Swedish melodic death metallers Amon Amarth opened the (blessedly shaded) main stage, and befitting their J.R.R. Tolkien-nickname and Viking-centric approach, utilized a smoke-breathing dragon drum riser. Ronnie James Dio would be proud. On paper, Amon Amarth may sound silly–listening to them is anything but.

Mastodon, were, as always, solid, though as one of the more lyrically ambitious bands on the bill (2009’s conceptual Crack the Skye CD deals with astral travel and Stephen Hawking’s theories) musically, they’re equally heady, but thankfully without pretension.

The only band who really fared badly were Five Finger Death Punch–and their most-inauspicious start was not their fault. After blowing out the PA, the relative silence while the band forged on led the audience to boo, then chant, rather uncreatively, “We want sound.” When, after numerous minutes and songs, said sound returned, singer Ivan L. Moody recovered, carrying his band of merry, commercial metallers into a perhaps too-long set that included a dedication to servicemen with a true-to-the-original cover of Bad Company’s “Bad Company.”

For both the audience and musician, metal is a physically demanding genre when performed well, and Rob Zombie may be the hardest working man in show business. Even with numerous amusing and over-sized props and video screens that make up the Zombie extravaganza, Zombie’s energy and crowd connection was unbeatable. Kicking off with “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” from Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (it’s pretty hard to go wrong with titles like that), Zombie was, unsurprisingly, the fest’s most dramatic front-man, even running through the aisles with minimum security while the virtuosic John 5 (pictured, page one) took an extended solo.

Like Five Finger Death Punch, Zombie and company did a fairly faithful cover version, theirs of “We’re An American Band.” While songs like ‘Never Gonna Stop” and “Dead City Radio” (sung from atop a giant boom box prop!) were captivating in Zombie’s one-trick-pony sort of style, the momentum slowed when the frontman gave an extended shout-out to KISS drummer Peter Criss (in attendance) and actually brought the three guys who host VH1’s That Metal Show onstage for a “popularity by applause” segment.

Ultimately, and probably fortunately, after nine hours of music, mayhem it wasn’t, but metal–in numerous permutations–it was.

Random Notebook Dump: Day-savers included the “potable water” truck and copious free Rockstar Super Sours Green Apple bevvies with 240 milligrams of caffeine. (As helpful in the mosh pit as they are in keeping journalists awake when they get lost in the wilds of New Jersey after a concert and don’t start writing a review until 2 a.m.)

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