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Epicenter Festival lives up to the hype in Irvine
Monday, 26 September 2011 08:13

If you host it, they will come...and come they did.  Young and old alike gathered in mass on Saturday at Irvine’s 15,000-plus capacity Verizon Wireless Amphitheater...to cheer, mosh, sing, dance and bang their heads to the sound and fury of hard rock, rap and heavy metal.  The occasion was the third annual Epicenter music festival, sponsored by the legendary SoCal radio station 106.7 KROQ FM.  As an angry, but wise singer told the crowd that evening...”This isn’t an Air Supply concert motherf*#kers!”

The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater has always been a great place for a festival, having played host to several Lollapalooza fests in the past, as well as at least one Lilith Fair.  To get to the amphitheater, one must walk through lush, open, green pastures before arriving at the large vendor section out front.  Unlike other venues, this vender section functions more as a flea market than as a traditional food, drink and souvenir showcase.  There’s a variety of food to choose from, as well as clothing, jewelry, CDs, kettle corn, and more.  “I (red heart symbol) Vagina”...is not something you see on a t-shirt everyday, yet one of the vendors had an entire stand dedicated to the bold slogan.  There were “I (red heart symbol) Vagina” shits, hats, bumper stickers, and more...

Also located inside the vendor section was a small second stage, officially known as the “Monster Energy Stage.”  Those who arrived early to the concert, were treated to 40 to 50-minute sets by bands like P.O.D., Crossfade, Redlight King, Middle Class Rut and Asking Alexandra.  Drive A were the very first act of the day, performing at 11:30am.  Unlike other festivals, Epicenter was planned so that one could possibly go see all six bands on the “Monster Energy Stage,”...and then go over to the Main Stage inside the amphitheater proper, to watch the nine other bands.  Of course, things happen, and as it played out...P.O.D’s set ran longer than expected, which overlapped into the set of the very first band on the Main Stage...Red.

At 4:00pm on the dot, Red...a 4-piece Christian hard rock metal band from Nashville, hit the stage in front of a of sparse crowd.  Lead by singer Michael Barnes, the band ran through a 5-song, 25 minute set that highlighted material from their latest release UNTIL WE HAVE FACES.  Barnes, drummer Joe Rickard, bassist Randy Armstrong, and guitarist Anthony Armstrong worked hard to engage the crowd.  Barnes, in particular, went out of his way to get the audience on their feet, leaping into the audience to further motive them.  It was a charged, energetic set, setting just the right tone for the rest of the day.

“The rest of the day”...was managed quite well.  The organizers knew they had to fit nine bands into seven hours, so they built a rotating stage...so while one band performed in front, another band could set up their equipment backstage.  As a result, the downtime between each act was only about 5-10 minutes...if everything ran smoothly.  Of course, the next performer could not help but rebel against such a tight schedule.

At 4:30pm, Everlast and his band came on stage to perform an excellent 5-song set...with a bonus.  Everlast (aka Erik Schrody) is not just any ole white-boy rapper.  He’s also a talented songwriter, musician, and leader of the legendary rap group House of Pain.  His solo work has been hip-hop-oriented, with touches of blues and rock...as evident in his 1998 smash album WHITEY FORD SINGS THE BLUES.  After opening with an instrumental jam, Everlast wasted no time indulging the audience with no less than three songs from WHITEY FORD...”Today (Watch Me Shine),” the brilliant “Ends,” as well as his biggest hit “What It’s Like.”  He also played his new single, “I Get By,” which fit perfectly with his older songs.  Very much the defiant gangster, Everlast choose to go past his allotted time, and ignore the fact that the stage began to rotate in order to present the next act.  Everlast stepped off of the stage and let his band rotate around without him.  Angry about being booted from the stage, Everlast also complained that he and his band had to park miles away from the amphitheater.  Despite, or perhaps because of his anger...Everlast brought out his House of Pain partner DJ Lethal to do a fantastic version of their 1992 House of Pain hit “Jump Around.”  Needless to say, the crowd went wild.

Memphis Christian-rock band Skillet came on next.  Lead by husband and wife team John and Korey Cooper, Skillet performed five songs, featuring key tracks from their 2009 album AWAKE...”Hero,” Awake and Alive,” and “Monster.”  Similar to Red, Skillet worked extra-hard to engage the crowd...playing hard and loud, and employing shooting smoke in the background in order to enhance their stage presence.  John Cooper took on the role of preacher at one point, pontificating to the crowd about the “War for your souls.”

With much excitement, Kansas City rockers Puddle of Mudd waltzed on stage to the sound of Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light,” and performed Stoned,” the opening track of their last album...2009’s VOLUME 4: SONGS IN THE KEY OF LOVE and HATE.  This was soon followed by “Psycho,” from their 2007 release FAMOUS.  From the beginning of their set, there were problems.  Lead singer Wes Scantlin was all over the place, yet never really took charge of the stage.  The sound mix was off-balance for the first few songs...creating a bottom-heavy drone that drowned out everything else.  The stage set-up was strange, awkward, and unpleasant to look at.  In front of a black backdrop, Drummer Shannon Boone played on top of (what looked like) a long, rectangular banquet table...with two platforms on each side.  Despite these setbacks, the band still sounded good.  Shannon Boone, Bass guitarist Doug Ardito, and guitarists Paul Philips, and Dizzi Devereux all played well...and frontman Wes Scantlin’s vocals were as strong as ever.  “Away From Me,” from 2003’s LIFE ON DISPLAY didn’t impress the crowd as much as “Control”...the opening track from Puddle of Mudd’s landmark 2001 release COME CLEAN.  This was followed by their latest single, a fairly straightforward cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 masterpiece “Gimme Shelter.”  To close out the set, Puddle of Mudd performed two of their greatest songs from COME CLEAN...”Blurry,” and “She Hates Me”...to the delight of the crowd.

Lead by shirtless, tattooed-to-oblivion lead singer Josh Todd, SoCal rockers Buckcherry burst onto the stage after 6:00pm with the ironically upbeat “Dead,” the closing track of their 2010 album ALL NIGHT LONG.  Josh Todd prowled the stage like a middleweight boxer.  His feet were fast, and he moved as much as possible to the sounds of Keith Nelson and Stevie D. on guitars, Jimmy Ashhurst on bass, and Xavier Muriel on drums.  “Rescue Me” came next, a fast-paced track off of 2009’s BLACK BUTTERFLY.  Keeping up the fast pace, Buckcherry then broke out “All Night Long”...a party anthem that opens up their 2010 album of the same name.  “Recovery” is also off of the ALL NIGHT LONG album, and was performed with a fierce intensity.  “I used to go to high school around here” said Josh Todd, who informed the crowd that his teachers used to scold him for his dirty mind.  Buckcherry then attacked ”Dirty Mind,” from their 1999 debut album BUCKCHERRY.  It felt as if no time had passed.  After a few bars of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” the band went straight into their cocaine tribute “Lit Up”...the opening track off of their debut album.  Before the song, Josh Todd said “The first time I did cocaine, it was a Friday night.  Then I figured out I could drink more.”  Fantastic.  To close out the set, the band played “Sorry,” their second biggest hit from their breakthrough 2006 album 15, as well as Buckcherry’s biggest hit from the same album...”Crazy Bitch.”  Before performing the latter song, Josh Todd told the crowd that “a crazy bitch can take down an empire.”  The band then played snippets of Prince’s “Irresistible Bitch,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and KC and The Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” before launching into the song proper.  Buckcherry was clearly pleased to play at the Epicenter festival, and was the only band on Saturday to give a shout out to KROQ, the festival’s sponsor, and the station that first broke the band...

The gentleman seated to my right noticed my press notes, then gave me the devil finger sign and warned me that Five Finger Death Punch was by far the heaviest band on the bill that day.  He was not kidding.  In fact, I think underplayed the emphasis on the word “heavy.”  With a new album due next month, the 5-piece heavy metal band blasted through seven of their best songs from 2007’s THE WAY OF THE FIST and 2009’s WAR IS THE ANSWER, as well as performing a new single called “Under and Over It.”  With Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook on guitars, Chris Kael on bass, and Jeremy Spencer on drums, the band was fast and furious through each and every song.  Yet it was the presence of Ivan Moody on vocals that stole the show.  Moody is a formidable commanding general, leading his troops in a take-no-prisoners attack on the audience.  This is a man not to be messed with.  His vocals were frightening, whether he sung straight, or in a demonic, devil-sounding voice.  One song after another...”Burn It Down” into “Salvation”...”Under and Over It” into “Hard To See”... Five Finger Death Punch beat the crap out of the audience.  “No One Gets Left Behind” was dedicated to the military, and after the song, Commander Moody told the crowd that the band recently had gone to Iraq.  “It changed my f*#king life!” Moody continued, “Over there there they had a nickname for us...,” and thus began Five Finger Death Punch’s heavy cover of the 1974 classic by Bad Company...”Bad Company.”  However, Moody stopped the song midway, in order to call out the security people for being too rough with fans.  “You security guys need to relax!” he shouted out.  Moody in particular yelled at security for kicking out a woman from the lower seating level.  In protest, Moody refused to sing another note until security guards let the women back in.  Thankfully, security gave in, much to the crowd’s delight.  Moody was thankful, and told the security guards that he understood that they had a job to do, yet the fans paid hard-earned money for concert tickets, and deserved to be treated better.  Once that was taken care of, Moody and the band resumed “Bad Company,” and closed their set with two standout tracks from THE WAY OF THE FIST...”White Knuckles” and “The Bleeding.”

With all due respect to the festival’s headliner, the biggest act of the day...the one that truly engaged the entire crowd, who stood on their feet in joyous rapture for their entire performance...was none other than Papa Roach.  With a lavish stage set, and in full costume...drummer Tony Palermo, bassist Tobin Esperance, lead guitarist Jerry Horton, and frontman lead singer Jacoby Shaddix arrived fashionable late to open the show with “Getting Away With Murder”...the title track of their 2004 album.  Soon the band leaped back in with “...To Be Loved”,” the opening song on 2006’s THE PARAMOUR SESSIONS.  Papa Roach had the packed crowd in the palm of their hands, and didn’t have to work as hard as the other acts that day.  Yet that didn’t stop them from pulling out all of the stops...and delivering an exciting, energetic performance.  Their latest album TIME FOR ANNIHILATION was showcased with strong songs like “Burn,” “One Track Mind” and “Kick In The Teeth.”  Jacoby Shaddix was not shy about leaping into the crowd to sing a few songs, though he was not impressed with the tepid mosh pit in front of the stage. “Between Angles and Insects” came next, a funky rap metal song from their landmark 2000 album INFEST.  “Forever,” from THE PARAMOUR SESSONS, was dedicated to the “dirty little girls,” and the majority of the crowd all sang along to “Scars,” a top 20 hit from GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER.  Papa Roach’s 2009 collection METAMORPHOSIS was represented by two songs...”Lifeline,” and the blunt yet effective “Hollywood Whore.”  Jacoby Shaddix was clearly having a good time, yet told the crowd that he’d been on tour since 1999, and teased them that the Epicenter concert would be Papa Roach’s second-to-last show ever.  Before anyone could cry foul, Shaddix assured the crowd that the band was only taking a month-long break (“which will feel like forever.”).  To close out their set, Papa Roach played a faithful version of the song that started it all for the band back in 2000, when KROQ played the track on super-heavy rotation...”Last Resort.”  Everyone around was very pleased...a sharp contrast to what happened next...

Staind is no doubt an excellent band, having sold over 15 million records worldwide.  Aaron Lewis, the band’s frontman, is without doubt a fantastic vocalist, probably the best singer on the entire Epicenter bill.  Yet as big as the band is, their performance style clashed with the explosive energy exhibited on stage by the other bands who performed that day.  Staind is very akin to The Eagles, in that they have great songs...have sold millions of records, yet cannot compare in performance style with other bands of equal popularity.  While Papa Roach, Buckcherry, and Five Finger Death Punch owned the crowd, Staind instead choose a much more low-key approach.  Interaction with the crowd was kept to a minimum, as the band preferred to just play.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all, except that most of the previous acts worked extra-hard to engage the audience.  The result of this contrast proved unsatisfying for both the crowd, and the band.  Feeling high off of Papa Roach’s dynamic set, the audience had a hard time connecting with Staind.  Aaron Lewis voiced his displeasure at the crowd’s indifference a number of times.  After a weak attempt to get people to sing along to song at one point, Aaron Lewis responded with “That’s all you got?”  Before Staind’s final number of the night, Lewis told that the crowd that he hoped the next act (Limp Bizkit) would somehow wake them up from their slumber....clearly a dig at the audience’s lack of enthusiasm for the band’s set.  Perhaps in a passive aggressive move (or just simply...aggressive), Staind punished the crowd by not performing their biggest hit...2001’s “It’s Been a While.”

On a positive note, however, Staind still sounded great.  Aaron Lewis, lead guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April, and percussionists Will Hunt and Sal Giancarelli all played very well.  The band’s 11-song set featured no fewer than five tracks from their strong new self-titled album, STAIND...”Failing,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “Paper Wings,” the excellent “Not Again,” as well as the closing song of the set...the sweet and tender “Something To Remind You.”  2005’s DYSFUNCTION was represented by faithful renditions of “Spleen” (the set-opener), “Right Here,” “Crawl,” and “Mudshovel.”  The crowd finally got  on its feet when Staind broke out two songs from their breakthrough 2001 album BREAK THE CYCLE...the somber ”Outside,” and “For You.”  Yet as the band performed “Something To Remind You”...the crowd went back to being unresponsive.  The Staind set ended with only a smattering of applause...which is a shame.

Picking things up again, Epicenter Festiva headliners Limp Bizkit roared on stage with “My Generation”...not The Who’s 1965 classic, but Limp Bizkit’s original song from their 2000 hit album CHOCOLATE STARFISH AND THE HOT DOG FLAVORED WATER.  The band’s thrilling, 11-song set was the exact opposite of what Staind had to offer.  Fronted by lead singer Fred Durst, and featuring original members Wes Borland on lead guitar and John Otto on drums, as well as Sam Rivers on bass, and House of Pain’s DJ Lethal on turntables and keyboards...Limp Bizkit brought everything and the kitchen sink to the show. The stage set was big, featuring the band’s name in giant lit-up letters.  Wes Borland, as per tradition, dressed in an elaborate stage costume.  This time around, he painted his skin black, and wore a black demon costume, featuring a black death mask with eyes that light up. Borland’s face was never seen throughout the entire performance, yet was still ever the performer...prancing and stomping to the music as he played monster riffs on his guitar.  Fred Durst, dressed in a rapper-chic white t-shirt and jeans, and wore his trademark baseball hat tight around his head.  Durst worked overtime to interact with the audience.  He wore a Anaheim Angels hat for a number of songs, and leaped into the crowd to be among them as much as possible.  Durst’s goal was to aim to please.  Unlike every single act that day, Limp Bizkit did not perform one single song from their new album (GOLD COBRA).  Instead of forcing untested new material on the crowd, the band instead showered the audience with hits that they knew people would love. 

Staying in CHOCOLATE STARFISH AND THE HOT DOG FLAVORED WATER mode, Limp Bizkit next broke out “Livin’ It Up”, along with another CHOCOLATE STARFISH gem.. “My Way.”  Diving into classic material from their landmark 1999 album SIGNIFICANT OTHER, “Break Stuff” came next, which was performed with the same ferocity as when the track was first recorded 12 years ago. After a miscue, and some confusion as to which song to play next, the band asked the crowd what song they would like to hear... and finally settled on performing “Eat You Live,” from 2003’s RESULTS MAY VARY.  Then it was back to SIGNIFICANT OTHER-territory with a double-shot of great numbers...”Re-Arranged” and the huge hit “Nookie.”  Before performing the song, Durst dedicated the entire show to “all you troopers who have to work tomorrow.”  Shifting gears, Durst next lead the band through their 2003 acoustic version of The Who’s 1971 masterpiece...”Behind Blue Eyes.”  Then Limp Bizkit broke out 2000’s “Take a Look Around”...which was featured prominently on the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II soundtrack.

Toward the end of the show. Fred Durst told the crowd that “Fieldy” (aka Reginald Arvizu) ...the longtime bassist from the nu-metal band Korn, was in the house that night.    Durst noted that without the music of Korn, there would be no Limp Bizkit.  He also made note of man in the audience wearing a jacket which read ”I (red heart symbol) Vagina.”  For whatever reason, DJ Lethal soon began to play the 1984 Harold Faltermeyer instrumental track from BEVERLY HILLS COP....”Axel F”...while Fred Durst yelled out “Hey ladies  This next song is dedicated to all the ladies in the house!”...and with that, Limp Bizkit played “Faith”...the band’s ferocious cover of the George Michael 1987 hit, which was featured on their debut album THREE DOLLAR BILL, Y’all $.  After a bizarre turn, where Fred Durst told the crowd repeatedly that Wes Borland had lost his keys, Limp Bizkit closed out the Epicenter festival with 2000’s “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle).”

It was quite a day in Irvine...filled with beautiful weather, great food and drink, great music, high and low drama, as well as “I (red heart symbol) Vagina” t-shirts and jackets.  All in all, I’d say Epicenter...”Southern California’s Rock Festival,” was a real success.  Here’s hoping that they bring it back to Irvine next year...with the ”I (red heart symbol) Vagina” t-shirts, of course.



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