Mayhem descends on DTE Energy Music Theater

Fans flock to hard rock festival, undeterred by rain
August 20, 2008 2:49:39 PM PDT
(08/11/08)--A Michigan hard rock fan summer tradition almost came to an end this year when the traveling heavy metal horror show known as Ozzfest was reduced to a single date in Dallas, Texas, Saturday.But thanks to the folks behind the annual punk and emo festival known as the Vans Warped Tour, those who prefer their music at volumes forceful enough to drop a rhinoceros at 50 paces still got their fill Saturday at DTE Energy Music Theater.

And during a show (Ozzfest) that often is marked by not just oppressive volume but also oppressive, sticky heat, the first annual Rockstar Mayhem Festival is destined to remain in memory banks, thanks again to Mother Nature, and thanks to a pair of Ozzfest veterans who carried the torch.

Metal fans are known for their loyalty and resilience, and both were tested this weekend when thunderstorms moved though the area for much of the day, leaving a sold-out crowd sloppy-wet for the majority of the nearly nine-hour endurance event.

The bands which suffered most on the tour's three stages were those on the second and third, but handfuls of diehards stood firm for acts like Detroit-bred Christian metalcore act Walls of Jericho, who repaid their faithful with not only a tight set, but a heartfelt thank you and an earnest "It's-so-good-to-be-back-home" shout from growly vocalist Candace Kucsulain, the sole woman on the tour.

Not everyone was as fortunate. When the heavy rains became outright torrential downpours, fiery Aussie rockers Airbourne saw a stampede of music fans running for any awning or leafy tree they could find.

Those who toughed it out, however, saw a high-octane performance accented by straight-ahead fist-pounders like "Blackjack" and "Stand Up for Rock 'n' Roll."

And while the band may be derivative of another more famous Down Under act whose name begins with the letter A and refers to voltage, going backwards to move forward sounded surprisingly energetic and fresh.

Third stage up-and-comers like the teenage, classic-metal-tinged Black Tide and hardcore The Red Chord also fared well despite the parking lot puddles, thrashing undeterred by the inclement weather.

The only drawback to having a 14-band, triple-stage bill was having to hustle from the second stages to the pavilion main stage to catch a glimpse of performers during a roughly half-hour overlap between Atlanta, Ga.'s propulsive and darkly melodic Mastodon and the aggressive machinations of California's Machine Head.

Coincidentally, as the rain gave way to some sunshine to warm the shivering, drenched throng, metal heads began to grin ear to ear when the United Nations of hard rock, DragonForce (members hail from all points of Eurasia) took the main stage.

DragonForce, while dubbing the Clarkston crowd "the worst city on the tour" for having too many butts in the seats, proved it's possible to play feel-good speed metal, its faithful waving hands in the air and singing along to every anthemic chorus in its catalogue, including the debut of "Heroes of Our Time," the first single off the upcoming new album, "Ultra Beatdown."

Sometimes sounding like a metallic Journey on steroids, the band plants its collective tongue firmly in cheek, zooming all over the stage whilst mock tripping and elbowing fellow band mates and mugging self-deprecatingly to the crowd. It would almost be self parody were it not for the band's passion and musical dexterity.

Led by singer ZP Theart and twin lead guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman, the band stormed at light speed through epic early works like "Valley of the Damned" before closing out with "Through the Fire and Flames," the band's biggest hit thus far thanks to legions of Guitar Hero fans who wail and flail from their living room gaming consoles.

All of which led to co-headliners Disturbed, who took the stage at about 8:30 led by charismatic frontman David Draiman, who was wheeled out Hannibal Lecter-style on a dolly wearing a straightjacket.

As the crowd rose to its feet and fists were raised, Draiman's shackles were removed and the band charged into the opening riffs of "Perfect Insanity," one of several new tunes from the band's latest, "Indestructible."

From there, guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren and bassist John Moyer visited select cuts from the band's four-album collection, including "The Game," "Voices," "Stupify," "Prayer" and the recent No. 1 hit "Inside the Fire."

The band was electric and powerfully consistent, and Draiman's commander's bark of a voice was at its rapid-fire, staccato best on fan favorites like "Down with the Sickness" and the new "Indestructible," a salute to the troops overseas.

Draiman and co., who performed for the troops in Kuwait earlier this year, further paid tribute with a rousing edict for fans to chant "U-S-A" about midway through the show.

The venue didn't fare as well, as the day's wet weather made a mess of the lawn seating, providing thick mud for fans to slosh around in. Things got ugly as large patches of sod were sent soaring through the air and into the pavilion during the group's hour-long set list.

Just before 10 p.m., the capacity amphitheater had been thinned somewhat by the time the brutally intense, Iowa-based Slipknot took the stage to close the show, as several the above mentioned earth-movers were ejected from the concert.

But it didn't deter the band, which brought all the shock rock shtick out for Michigan's first sensory pummeling in two and a half years.

Percussionist Shawn "Clown" Crahan proved most animated, pounding away on his beer keg drum platform, which rose and fell on a mechanized lift that rotated full circle while plumes of flame shot toward the lighting rig.

A newly shorn and sweaty Corey Taylor prowled the stage, screaming unholy terror on unearthed early songs like "Prosthetics" and the new single from the upcoming "All Hope Is Gone," "Psychosocial."

Slipknot is best ingested in doses, so having to share the spotlight with Disturbed in a twin 60-minute set worked in the band's favor.

The band's frenzied and relentless hammering is not for the faint of heart, so a few moments of humor -- most notably DJ Sid Wilson showing off the casts on his feet earned from the Mayhem tour opener in Auburn, Wa., where he jumped from a riser and broke both his heels -- were welcome.

One cannot deny the band possesses talent -- managing to perform precise, shift-on-a-dime metal histrionics with a nine-member group wearing grotesque, bondage-style masks is no simple task. But the band fares much better when some melody creeps in, evidenced by the kinetic response that more streamlined cuts like "Duality" received.

But whether fans were at the theater for the 'Knot or the newcomers, during this sluggish economy where cash is more selectively spent, they got what they paid for, albeit after a good soaking.

(Stay tuned. ABC12 will be publishing some interviews with the bands, including Disturbed, DragonForce, Mastodon and Black Tide.)

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