I've probably seen over 1,000 artists in my lifetime, but not a single one of them compares to Slipknot's live show. The band holds a special place in my heart, having single-handedly opened the door for my love of heavy music. Even if you're not a fan of their music (although I'll argue that their musicianship is miles ahead of any of their nu metal peers), you cannot deny the unparalleled showmanship - and chaos - of their concerts.
The band recently wrapped a headlining run on the summer's Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival 2012, and I was in attendance at the August 3 stop at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. Prior to hitting the road, frontman Corey Taylor stated that if the tour didn't work, it could be the end of the band. At the show, however, he made a promise to the crowd: "This is only the beginning." It's safe to say, at least from the outside looking in, that the tour was a success, and this is not the latest we've seen of Slipknot.
The setlist was essentially a collection of greatest hits, heavy on material from their first two records. Not only was it crowd pleasing, but it was also appropriate considering they just put out a greatest hits album, Antennas to Hell. Following the "742617000027" intro, the band opened with "(Sic)," the first track from their self-titled debut. The thousands of maggots (that's Slipknot fans, to the layman) in attendance screamed along. The loudest singalong of the night came in the form of their Grammy-nominated lead single, "Wait and Bleed."
I was surprised by the absence of Iowa singles "My Plague" and "Left Behind," opting instead for deeper cuts such as "Gently" and "Disasterpiece." The set still included such staples like "The Heretic Anthem," "People = Shit" and "Spit It Out." During the latter, Taylor told everyone to get down on the ground until he unleashed the battle cry of "Jump the fuck up!" The result was push-mosh pandemonium.
Toward the end of the set, Taylor revealed to the crowd - whom he addressed as family - that the main reason the band was there was to celebrate the life and music of Paul Gray, the band's bassist who unexpectedly passed away two years ago. (Original Slipknot guitarist Donnie Steele is filling in on bass, but he was not on stage. Gray's bass, however, was showcased on a stand next to the drum set.) They dedicated "Duality" as a tribute to their fallen brother, as Gray's band number, #2, was set as a backdrop to the stage. The fans were nothing but respectful.
The night concluded with "your new national fucking anthem," as Taylor calls it, "Surfacing." The nihilistic, angst-ridden closer had every maggot singing along with their middle fingers in the air. During the song, Joey Jordison's drum kit came off of its riser and spun around at a perpendicular angle. With only an hour and 10 minutes, he didn't have time for a full-length solo, but this was a nice way to allow one of the genre's best drummers do a bit of showing off. (His full gravity-defying solo, as seen on past tours, rivals that of Blink 182's Travis Barker.)
With eight masked men sharing the stage - a lead vocalist, two guitarists, a drummer, two percussionists/backing vocalists, a DJ and a sampler/keyboardist - anarchy is guaranteed. Still, it's amazing that, at the third-to-last stop of a five-week tour, the band still brought this level of intensity to the stage. Sometimes the stage wasn't enough to hold them all, as a couple members made their way through the crowd, much to the fans' excitement.
Appropriately, Slayer took the stage just as the sun set. Shrouded in darkness, they illuminated the stage with pyros in front of amplifiers stacked in the shape of inverted crosses. With their large and dedicated fanbase, the band easily could have headlined the festival on their own. (It was obvious that some old school fans were only there for the trifecta of Slayer, Anthrax and Motorhead.) They have been at the forefront of the thrash metal genre since hitting the scene some two decades ago, and now they make it look easy. Iconic axeman Kerry King and touring guitarist Gary Holt (of Exodus) took turns effortlessly shredding through solos.
They opened with "Disciple" and did not let up for an hour, with the exception of briefly leaving the stage after "Angel of Death." It did not last long, however, as fans knew they weren't done yet. They came back for an encore that included "South of Heaven" and "Raining Blood." I've never witnessed head banging as hard as fans did to "Raining Blood;" some people must have gone home with whiplash.
Motorhead are undoubtedly influential, and bands of today could still learn a thing or two from them. They are only a trio - one that has existed for over 35 years, no less - yet their performance is positively boisterous. They are living proof that you don't need a bunch of down-tuned guitars to be heavy. At the ripe age of 66, frontman Lemmy Kilmister's guttural yet melodic vocals remain unique. His bass often acts like another guitar, complimenting Phil Campbell's fretwork nicely. Meanwhile, Mikkey Dee keeps the pace on drums. Dee showed off his skills with a drum solo during "The One to Sing the Blues," a song they don't often play. The 50-minute set was well received, particularly closer "Ace of Spades."
Asking Alexandria was the first band on the main stage, so people were still filing into the amphitheater. The British metalcore band have developed quite a following for themselves in just a few years. Frankly, I don't see the appeal, but it's worth noting that they seemed to have the most vocal female fans out of all the bands that performed. Regardless, their half-hour set was good for what it was.
Earlier in the day, the venue's parking lot was rocked by the Jagermeister Stage, which boasted some of the best current and up-and-coming metal acts. Also in action was the Sumerian Stage, which featured local winners of the Headbang for the Highway Battle of the Bands, in addition to Upon a Burning Body and Dirtfedd.
The second stage was headlined by none other than Anthrax. The thrash metal legends would have fit in better on the main stage, but they seemed to revel in the intimacy of the outdoor stage. Classic vocalist Joey Belladonna rejoined the band a couple of years ago, and it's great to have him back. You would never guess that he's 51 years old based on how he moves around on stage, truly commanding the crowd's attention. He even grabbed a videographer's camera and ran around with it for the majority of a song, all without missing a note. The band made every second of their 40-minute set count, packing in fan favorites such as "Madhouse," "Indians" and "Caught in a Mosh," in addition to their well-known covers of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time" and Trust's "Antisocial."
As I Lay Dying showed the bill's newer metalcore acts how it's done. The band places a bigger emphasis on crafting well-written songs rather than formulaic tracks with obligatory mosh parts. Their 35-minute set spanned from early fan favorite "94 Hours" to their latest single, "Cauterize," from their upcoming effort, Awakened, and concluded with "The Sound of Truth." Energetic frontman Tim Lambesis also called for a wall of death before the band kicked into "Confine," which made the crowd go wild.
The Devil Wears Prada were more enjoyable live than on record, with frontman Mike Hranica bouncing around on stage throughout the entirety of their half hour set. I think the loss of keyboardist James Baney, who recently left the group, benefited them, as it is one less cliche in their sound. The stage also featured the breakdown-heavy Whitechapel, upcoming Christian metalcore group I the Breather and hard rock locals Dead Season, who kicked off the day's festivities.
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival 2012 was a resounding success. It may have featured less notable second stage names than past years, but the overall line-up was a big improvement over last year, in my opinion. The festival serves as metal's answer to the Warped Tour, but the fewer bands and structured schedule makes it easier to digest. I look forward to seeing how they try to top it next year.