A Benefit For Chi Cheng – Featuring P.O.D., Far, Cypress Hill, Tommy Lee, Mark McGrath, Greg Puciato, Ben Kenney, Xzibit, Richie Cavlaera, Rodleen Getsic and the Deftones
11/19/09 – Avalon: Hollywood, CA
Words/Photos/Videos by Reverend Justito
When I read on blabbermouth.net last year that Chi Cheng, bass player for one of my all time favorite bands was in a coma from a serious car accident, my heart sunk deep into my gut. For 12+ years, I have seen his band – the Deftones all over the great state of California. From my first show at The Edge in Palo Alto to the Los Angeles Coliseum with Metallica; when it comes to heavy music, personally nothing gets me off harder than the Sacramento five piece. Needing no excuse to see the Deftones live, I made sure I secured tickets as soon as they went on sale for the Chi Cheng Benefit at Avalon Hollywood. For years, the Deftones have gotten me through some tough times in life, and it is an honor and my duty to help one of them when they truly need it (for those unaware, Chi’s insurance is no longer covering the high costs that come with being in a coma).
My wife and I found a great spot stage right at Avalon, and were ready to go when the first band of the evening hit the stage around 7:30pm. Not visually recognizing them, I was shocked when I heard the opening notes of “Boom”. Holy smokes, its P.O.D. I said to my wife. Sadly, I had forgotten all about this San Diego four piece (and judging by a polite, but dull reaction by the rest of the crowd, I was not the only one) who I never managed to catch live during their 15 minutes in the spotlight. The bands brief set consisted of their radio hits, which included the earlier mentioned “Boom”, “Southtown”, “Youth of the Nation” and “Alive”. The band sounded very unpolished in my opinion, with guitarist Marcos Curiel was probably the weakest link, especially on Youth. Despite this (and front man Sonny Sandoval’s failure to get the crowd to participate), I enjoyed the warm up set from a band that while never a huge fan, were at least enjoyable the first 249,928 times you heard them on rock radio.
At my first Deftones show in 97, fellow Sacto rockers Far were main support and blew me away. Sadly, they broke up shortly after and I never got a chance to see them again. Thankfully that changed, as they were the second act to perform in honor of Chi. While they didn’t play their recent radio gem – a cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony”, the band did tear through classics from their highly influential record Water & Solutions. Despite some sound issues for guitarist Shaun Lopez, “Bury White” managed to give me goose bumps. Far was playing live 15 feet in front of me I kept saying over and over again. “Mother Mary”, the bands earlier taste of radio success (if you can even call it that) managed to get a few bodies moving on the floor, but I fear many didn’t realize who they were. Front man Jonah Matranga made sure to keep the focus on Chi, as he shared with us tales of visiting Chi in the hospital and how their upcoming 2010 release At Night We Live was named based off a dream he had about the injured bass player. The brief but emotional set was too short for me, and I must catch these guys next year when they tour behind their new record. If you have never heard Far’s music, you really should, as just about every popular rock/emo band this decade has ripped them off in one way or another.
After another quick set change, it was time for some hip hop sounds from Los Angeles stoner legend Cypress Hill. Once again, I felt some goose bumps as somehow I have never caught Cypress Hill live. Wow, was I impressed – after playing their song “Boom”, the band busted out classics such as “How I Could Just Kill A Man” and “Insane In The Brain”. After 15+ years the later two jams withhold the test of time, and managed to get the first circle pit of the night swirling on the very crowded dance floor. Running short on time, the band closed with an abbreviated version of “I Want To Get High” as B-Real lit up a fat joint on stage. I guess he’s a patient of Dr. Eisenberg as well?!?!?!
Deftones hit the stage like a ten ton dump truck. Opening with the new number “Rocket Skates” the crowd erupted, bashing into each other with joy and delight. I really dig “Rocket Skates”, especially the heavy crunchy riffs of guitarist Stephen Carpenter. Three songs from the Around The Fur quickly followed. “Lotion” gave front man Chino Moreno the chance to show off a slimmer body than past years, while radio hits “My Own Summer (Shove It)” and “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” only increased the size of the circle pit. After playing various songs from perhaps their most successful record White Pony, which included an intense versions of “Elite” and “Street Carp” (featuring Ben Kenney of Incubus on Bass/Vocals) and the bands biggest hit to date “Change (In The House of Flies)”what felt like a typical evening with the Deftones became anything but.
I was a bit surprised that the band picked Los Angeles (versus their hometown of Sacramento) for the benefit shows. Then it occurred to me that the only star power in Sacto is a washed up actor/body builder whose life goal is to destroy our fine state, and Hollywood was actually the perfect location. First recognizable face for me was Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato, who while not Maynard James Keenan, did a fine job handling vocals on “Passenger”. From there, various members of Far returned to the stage, first for a tender version of “Xerces”, and then perhaps my musical highlight of the night, a cover of the Jawbox jam “Savory” (which Deftones released on their B-Sides & Rarities collection a few years ago). This song is an intense distorted snarl and to watch Far front man Jonah Matranga trade hooks with Deftones front man Chino Moreno is something I will never forget.
The collaborations got crazier from there. I don’t know whose idea it was to get both Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and living legend Tommy Lee (Motley Crue, Rock Star Supernova and of course a certain home video with a certain Baywatch Babe) together for “Anniversary of an Unimportant Event”, but I am glad they did. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but shame on select audience members who booed and taunted Shinoda as he played keys on the soft number. This was not a night for boo’s but a night for positive energy for Chi. Things just got stranger as Sugar Ray front man/TV personality Mark McGrath joined the band (along with Tommy Lee, who basically hung out the rest of the night on some form of percussion) for a blistering cover of Thin Lizzy’s classic “Jailbreak”. Likewise, kudos to McGrath who educated the crowd before they could booo, sharing how his band toured with the Deftones back in 1995, long before his act sold their souls and started to appear in Scooby-Doo films.
As I changed batteries in my camera, rapper Xzibit snuck out on stage and rocked the house down with “Back To School” (which I don’t own on CD, since I actually purchased White Pony the first day of release). Moreno seemed shocked that he was sharing the stage with the MC/TV host, while Xzibit was all smiles, nailing the lyrics to the song. Up next members of Far and Cypress Hill joined forces on stage with the Deftones, as the now mega-group launched into a cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” for the very first time (at least as far as the Deftones go) live. It was real spacey, jammy/percussion heavy and stretched out to the limits. B-Real and Sen-Dog of Cypress hill then joined in the fun with arguably the heaviest version of their hit “Rock Superstar” ever.
The night ended with perhaps the “Head Up” – the heavy insane skull crushing number from Around The Fur. I know someone came out to take the vocals originally recorded by Max Cavalera, but I couldn’t tell you who he was (Updated 11/23/09 – It is Richie Cavalera from the band Incite). As the crowd bounced and jumped around like crazy, the band blasted through the song with amazing accuracy. In fact, it has been years since I have heard the Deftones (especially Chino) sound so good. The band left the stage to chants of Chi Chi Chi, and despite the majority of the crowd cheering, yelling and going crazy for a solid five minutes, the band never returned for an encore. While some bitched about the lack of encore as they walked out, I was just thankful. Thankful for the one time I got to meet Chi, thankful for all the music he has helped make that has made my life better. But most important, more than thankful, I was hopeful that perhaps one day Chi will wake up and join his brothers upon the stage again.