Epicenter Festival 09
08/22/09 Fairplex: Pomona, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
Why waste time with a long introduction about the Fairplex at Pomona (you know, where they race ponies) lets just get to the f’n music!
Street Sweeper Social Club:
Chances are I would not have shown up to this festival till much later in the day if it was not for SSSC opening up the cavernous main stage. As someone who spent their formative years (musically speaking) in the 1990’s I was not about to miss a chance to see Tom Morello live in person (having not seen him perform since the 90’s). Not knowing anything about his new project (which features Boots Riley from The Coup), I was blown away by their oh so brief opening set. Decked out in matching military jackets, the five piece outfit blazed through a handful of songs from their debut record. When not having us take “The Oath” the politically charged band (strike that, as was repeated through the entire set by Riley, they are not a band, but a Social Club) was pumping out high energy rap meets funk meets MC5 jams like “Fight! Smash! Win” and “100 Little Curses”. Perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser was their cover of MIA’s “Paper Planes” which became an all out assault against the current bank bail out by our Government. Morello was going crazy the entire set, making his guitar produce noises that NO ONE has been able to replicate in 20 years. I was so impressed, as soon as the Social Club closed with “Nobody Moves til We Say Go” I was off to the merch tent to pick up the album.
I was curious about this six piece crunk rock outfit hailing from my old home town. I have heard a few of their hits on the radio (and have seen plenty of graffiti left around the streets of LA bearing their name) and it’s not really my thing I suppose. However, I went in with open ears was somewhat surprised with their 30+ minute set in the muggy Pomona heat. Songs like “No. 5” and “Undead” got the mainly white male crowd excited. I think my highlight was a song called “California”, that was still hard hitting, but had the alt/pop sensibilities of Weezer. The collective closed their set with the hit “Everywhere I Go” which managed to get a small pit going at the front of the stage. Personally, I don’t think I would rush to a merch booth to buy a record by this act, but they were somewhat enjoyable. I am glad I went in with an open mind, and wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again somewhere down the road.
Atreyu was terrible. I mean they were truly terrible. We lasted 1 ½ songs, before running for some shade (where sadly we could still hear them). Seriously, the fact that these complete tools have a career at all is shocking. I am sure the corn in the dookie that I left in the port-a-potty could could better songs. I now understand why their front man was booooed at the 2009 Golden Gods Awards. Perhaps the biggest crime of these complete and total waste of sperm is their name. They are not worthy of having such a cool band name, and I urge Congress to act quickly to strip them of it. Hell, lets just have Congress drop a bomb on their tour bus.
All I know is that Atmosphere has a great buzz around them (part of that buzz was actually featured here by our man BeeZnutZ a few months back) and they were set to close the Monster Energy Drink Side Stage at 4:20. Seemed like the logical place to be for someone like myself. Just before 4:20, the Minneapolis hip hop duo (featuring rapper Slug and DJ Ant) took to the tiny stage and figured they could start early and sneak an extra song in. I couldn’t tell you a single song title excpet “Shoulda Known” but they were really good. I have to assume the organic hip hop act would work better in a small club, this was a great taste for me into the infinite possibilities this act. Plus he got the crowd to chant make dinner dinner so that was pretty cool. I need to explore these guys deeper for sure. We cut out about 2/3rds into their set to get a good spot at the main stage.
Wow, where do I start on this one? I won’t lie, when Wolfmother first came on the scene I somewhat dug it, checked out their record. But as I got deeper into them, I was turned off by how it just lacked a certain something. By the time Mike Patton was all over You Tube ranting about how unoriginal this Australian outfit was, well lets just say I was drinking his Kool-Aid and hoping off the Wolfmother bandwagon. Knowing how front man Andrew “temper tantrum” Stockdale had fired the entire band, I went into their dinner time set with an open mind, but didn’t expect much. I think it was about three minutes into their opening song “Dimension” when my mind was made up. Wolfmother is a bad joke and truly generic, boring and un-stimulating. The band played with no feeling at all. Stockdale had to repeatedly ask their drummer (who sported a full on Mexi-mullet) to speed up, which sadly he was too fat and out of shape to do. The band seemed to mix (dare I say) classic Wolfmother with songs from their upcoming “Cosmic Egg” record. One new song, “California Dream” was basically Kasabian on their worst day trying to be Fu Manchu, while another new song “New Moon Rising” sounded like Black Sabbath being fronted by a goat. I don’t know how anyone could have taken it seriously. The band even struggled on their biggest hit – “Woman” with a very sloppy middle section that featured Stockdale running around stage like a four year old who was sent to his room without supper. “Mind’s Eye” was an even bigger train wreck than “Woman” if you can imagine that. Stockdale further grew upset by the lack of response from the crowd. I guess no one told him that a field of sunburnt dope smokers are not going to waste their energy clapping for a band whose bass player appears equally burnt (no joke, I think he gave up at one point). I have to assume that this may very well be the end of Wolfmother in the states. Face it: you’re an untalented cry baby who indulged himself by playing pathetic new material to close instead of a crowd favorite like “Joker and the Thief”. The stop watch has counted down 14 minutes; make the most of it while it lasts.
Alice in Chains:
Now this is what I was truly looking forward too. I have been a huge fan of Alice in Chains for over 15 years now. However, I was too young to catch them live the first time around, and sadly Lane was a waste of flesh and bones by the time I started going to concerts on a regular basis. You can only imagine my excitement to see them at this festival. I thought my brain was going to explode when the band opened their set with “Rain When I Die”. It’s amazing how similar to Lane, yet distinct new front man William DuVall sounds. The man can belt it out, and has a great stage presence. We were on bassist Mike Inez’s side of the stage, as he dropped bomb and bomb in classic Chains hits like “Man In The Box” and “Them Bones”. The band played two new songs (sorry, I didn’t catch the titles) and both were very solid (and better presented than Wolfmother). However it was the classics that got people moving (including the first full blown pit of the afternoon). The group closed with the one-two punch of “Would?” and “Rooster” . Despite being covered in sweat from the sun all day, I found myself having goose bumps during the last number. Both axe slinger Jerry Cantrell and DuVall sounded so good together on the vocals of what I guess would be AIC’s biggest hit. Perhaps the crowd (at near capacity) singing along the melody rich opening lyrics added a bit to my bumps. As a life long fan, the 45 minute set was much too short for me, but also truly magical. In fact it was a dream come true and my personal highlight from Epicenter 09.
A funny thing happened as the sun set behind the grand stand of the Fairplex @ Pomona. As roadies set the stage for the only North American appearance of Linkin Park in 2009, the douche bags came out in alarming numbers. While I don’t go out of my way to listen to Linkin Park, I have nothing against them. However, you can not turn on rock radio in Southern California without hearing at least one Linkin Park song an hour. They are the Depeche Mode of heavy metal. Catchy Pop songs with neat lil computer riffs and large Metallica-esque power chords. While I prefer something with a little more thought behind it, this music is the perfect backdrop for simple minded douche bags in Affliction shirts who enjoy beating the snot out of each other after spending $100 on 10 cups filled full of delicious Rocky Mountain Goodness. This is exactly what happened during the LP’s set. The band played hit after hit after hit to the delight of the simple minded masses. “Somewhere I Belong”, “Faint”, “Crawling” and “What I’ve Done”, you know, all the songs you and I are sick and tired of despite no longer listening to terrestrial radio. I know that sounds a tad mean, but with the mix of earlier mentioned D-bags I found myself having more fun throwing trash at various tweekers who used a safety barrier to stand upon to enrich their view, and selfishly blocking the view of thousands behind them. Musically there were two highlights for me. The first was “Numb” which happens to be my favorite Linkin Park song. As with all the other songs, the band played it to perfection, never missing a beat as DJ/band dictator worked hard on his laptop. The other highlight was “Breaking The Habit”. Towards the end of this one, the PA suddenly went silent. While the band didn’t realize this at first, the crowd sure did. Yet instead of getting hostile, the sweaty blob of humanity sang along with the band, turning it into a rather special moment. The band eventually noticed, and managed to start back up where they left off as soon as the PA was restored. A very pro move, showing that despite not being on tour all year, this band is very tight and play together very well. For as special as this moment was, it was short lived as lead singer Chester Bennington used Epicenter 09 as the perfect chance to commit suicide.
Dead By Sunrise:
We were treated to a very large promotional blitz for Bennington’s new project all day. Street teamers covered the venue with glossy promo posters, while a small place circled the venue for hours dragging a banner that read “Who Is Dead By Sunrise?” Towards the end of LP’s set, the band left, and roadies quickly brought out some synthesizers and drum sets. Chester returned and mentioned how he would be debuting some new songs with his new band (featuring Ryan Shuck and Amir Derakh formerly of Orgy) and wanted to know what we thought. I think he found out as the entire crowd sent a thunderous collective boo towards the stage after the first song. Simply saying thank you, the band launched into the next song, which somehow managed to be worse than the first one. It was at this time when trash was thrown upon stage, middle fingers were raised and the crowd quickly grew upset. It was clear by the third and final song that this little promo stunt had gone horribly wrong. Shuck (who is now a fat bloated old man still trying to act like he’s a cool hip 21) threw a temper tantrum that would have made Wolfmother proud, throwing his guitar and once again coming to the shocking realization that no one gives two craps about his piss poor techno guitar rock sound. As chants for Tool came from the crowd, the musicians quickly left the stage with their tails between their legs. Hell, it may be the first time in history that a drummer threw sticks into the crowd only to have the person who caught them throw them back. Atreyu owes these guys a gift basket of cookies or something, as it saved them from being the worst band all day. Thankfully, Linkin Park came back out (with Chester seemed to be holding back tears) to play the Transformers 2 song, another nameless hit that sounds like all the other hits before finally closing with “One Step Closer”.
I am a huge fan of Tool, and along with Alice In Chains, they were the reason I purchased a ticket for this festival. Having seen Tool four times over the years, I knew exactly what I was in for – a skull fucking sensory overload of massive proportions. However, despite playing a very similar set list as the 10,000 Days tour, this set a unique twist. Mr. Maynard James Keenan was “kicked in the balls by God” or so he said, and was on crutches with a bad leg. After the band opened with a skull crushing version of “Jambi” a very chatty Keenan shared how he had hurt himself, and how he should be praised for even showing up, as lesser pretentious singers such as HIMSELF would have cancelled the gig. He mentioned how he knew it was important for the audience to “get drunk and run into each other” and he didn’t want to let em down. Despite Keenan’s numerous apologies for his lack luster performance, I thought he and the rest of the band sounded fine. Hits like “46 & 2” and “Stinkfist” kept the crowd happy while crazy images created by guitarist Adam Jones were projected upon giant video screens. “Schism” caught me off guard as it had a really fast middle bridge section, almost more punk rock than prog. It was during this song that a large fire made from a days worth of trash and or various promo material broke out on the large infield, prompting Keenan to encourage the crowd to “Stop, Drop and Roll.” My personal highlight was the intense ode to acid and aliens that is “Rosetta Stoned”. I must be honest, instead of the normal lighting fast verses, I think Keenan was just making lyrics up. I have no clue what he said, but I must assume it was inspired by any and all pain killers the wine enthusiast was on because of the bad leg. Perhaps the highlight for the massive audience was the title track to the Aenima record. With Keenan opening the song by saying “Nothing Personal”, the Bill Hicks inspired song attack on collective home of Los Angeles was perhaps the loudest sing along of the night. Honestly, despite playing for 90 minutes and going well past curfew, the Tool set was not nearly long enough for me (I think Linkin Park actually had a longer set). Despite aches and pain from standing for hours, I wanted so much more, but sadly that was not to be. I truly figured the band would close with “Lateralus”, but thankfully we got to end with the recent modern rock radio hit “Vicarious”. As drummer Danny Carey (in full Kobe Bryant uniform) pounded out the final notes, we began the long walk back to our car, satisfied knowing that we got to not only witness Tool during one of their down times, but were able to witness a wonderful day of music.
In closing, the 2009 Epicenter Festival was a massive success. Sure, all the bands may not have been pleasing on the ears, but it was a great day, with a great vibe. Kudos to the event producers for putting on a truly fan friendly festival with hardly any flaws. I truly hope this new festival continues to grow and that 2010 is even better than this year.