Discovery Park, Sacramento, CA
September 14, 2014
By Dan Wall
Last year, the Aftershock festival in Sacramento was absolutely perfect. Perfect weather, a perfect mix of bands and a great concert site were on display in lovely downtown Sacramento, and that experience led to a total sell-out of this year’s event. So, was this year’s event better than last years?
The answer to that would be no, but for many reasons. Some can be controlled and fixed, and some you couldn’t fix unless you had a personal relationship with Mother Nature. So what about this year didn’t match up to last year?
First, it was absolutely, hell-like hot! Last year, the temperatures were in the 80’s, a slight breeze blew at night and no one looked like the Wicked Witch of the East, virtually melting right in front of your eyes (that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture). I can honestly tell you that this was the most miserable heat I’ve ever experienced at a live outdoor rock show, even topping some of the days I’ve spent at Rocklahoma. It was in the high 90’s in the shade, and there wasn’t much shade.
And then there was the dust (and not Sevendust). Here’s the formula for dust in Sacramento these days: no water (remember, California is in a severe drought) means no trucks watering down the site after 32,000 fans trample the concert area for two days=DUST! Mountains of dust, so much that Ace Collins looked like he slept in a horse stable. So much dust that many really good looking attendees looked like they had done the dust bucket challenge. So much dust that thousands of fans put on masks and scarves just to breathe. So much dust that Blade Runner 4 could have been filmed in this apocalyptic-looking wasteland.
That’s where Mother Nature could have helped. She can’t, however, fix the multi-stage problem, the lack of water supplied to the attendees (lines for tap water were longer than the lines for beer) and the absolute mess of garbage that looked like it wasn’t picked up all day Sunday (I wasn’t there on Saturday), with every garbage can I saw overfilled with bottles, cans and rotting food. It was not the most pleasant experience, and I do not remember it being like this last year.
The biggest problem, though, was the addition of a third main stage in the main concert area. Not only is it impossible to watch two bands at the same time, it is impossible to hear either unless you are standing right in front of one of the bands. And since it impossible to get that close to the stage, you have the problem of trying to figure out if the song you are hearing is being played by Seether or Mastodon-not an easy thing to do.
So can any of this be fixed-except for the weather and lack of water, it can all be fixed. Eliminate the third stage-go back to the two side-by-side stages and keep the smaller side stage. Some of the bands booked here are simply filler and don’t need to be mucking up the main stages. This method also hurts the headliners, because these (usually bigger and more well-known) bands must cut their sets due to the non-stop barrage of music. Pick up the garbage, trim a few trees and at least try to water down the site on the second day, and the Aftershock festival could return to the heady days of-2013!
The music, for the most part, was just as good as last year, but if you have been reading along, you might figure out that everything else that was happening made it really difficult to have a rip-roaring good time. A good time could be had, but it was nothing like last year, which was one of the best days I’ve ever spent at a rock festival. Without further moaning and groaning, here’s what went down on the stages at Aftershock 2013:
The first real surprise of the day was Las Vegas-based quintet Otherwise, another great modern rock band that owes much of its sound to Shinedown and Pop Evil (and if you know me, that’s okay). The band released its new record “Peace At All Costs” on September 16, but the new record was actually sold here to accommodate the fans in the audience who turned out to see this band for the second time in two years. Heavy guitars, a solid bottom and the incredible voice of singer Adrian Patrick helped drive the band’s seven-song set, which featured both new songs (“Love and War,” “Darker Side of the Moon”) along with songs from its first major label release, “True Love Never Dies.”
I had the opportunity to talk with Otherwise bassist V (otherwise known as Vassilios Metropoulous) after band’s performance. He is very happy about the new record (“I feel like we really grew as musicians”), the band’s current activity on the road “(it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do”) and the group’s future (“I don’t know if the economics of music will work for us today, but we’re going to do our best to stay active and on the road for the next year”). These guys are another new band with great attitudes, wonderful music and a drive to succeed, and hopefully Otherwise will be seen at some of the Midwestern rock fests next year.
For the first five hours or so of Sunday’s show, various bands came on and quickly were ushered off (the average set time for the early bands was 25 -30 minutes). Young Guns played the big hit “Bones,” and before the amps stopped ringing, Escape the Fate was doing its gothic modern rock with a Crue-like touch on another stage. Then, it was the punky We Are Harlot, and stoner throwbacks Kyng competing for eardrums and attention. Hard to say if anyone won that one. Atreyu reformed for a set that was loud and not really focused, and in two hours seven bands had played and no one really impressed completely outside of Otherwise. We Came As Romans? Of Mice and Men? The side stage? Too many acts, not enough Dan and Ace.
As the day moved on, bands like Black Stone Cherry, Buckcherry and Seether played very nice, compact sets that are really hard for me to review since I’ve seen all of these bands play a much longer set in much better conditions in the last year. How do you compare Black Stone Cherry’s set here (7 songs, 35 minutes) to the one I saw just five weeks earlier in Montana (14-songs, 75 minutes)? It’s impossible, because the band was obviously much better on a bigger stage, playing longer and with a full light show. Same for Seether and Buckcherry, and the same could be said for Godsmack and Rob Zombie.
Now, if you are younger than me, haven’t seen as many shows and this was your first time seeing these bands, then I know you loved it, survived it and had a great time. There was no reason (except for the heat) not to. But if you have spent time with any of these bands in the past, I think you might prefer seeing some of the headliners play longer shows than wasting time on a band that is simply taking up a half hour that Godsmack could have back to do it’s full headline show.
So here’s a quick recap of the bands without regard for the set list or time restrictions:
Black Stone Cherry did its typical Lynyrd Skynyrd-meets-Metallica thing over 35 minutes. Though this group gets little attention outside of the Midwest and England, the crowd seemed to like the seven songs played, which included new single “Me and Mary Jane” and classics like “Blind Man” and “Lonely Train.” (For a further review of BSC, check out my review of Rockin’ the Rivers 2014 on this site).
Buckcherry has a new bassist (Kelly Lemieux) and Skid Row guitarist Scotti Hill either subbing for or taking the place of guitarist Stevie D.-did any of that matter? No, these guys keep the sleaze ball rock rolling with vocalist Josh Todd, guitarist Keith Nelson and drummer Xavier Muriel still hammering home some of Hollywood’s best gutter rock. The band has a new e.p. out called “Fuck,” and every song features the word “fuck” in it (funny, most of the group’s songs have the word “fuck” in it). “Lit Up,” “Everything,” Sorry” and “Crazy Bitch” are the staples, however, and every one of those songs gets a big sing-along and massive props from the now melting crowd.
There is so much going on that I can’t even watch Theory of a Deadman or spend much time with Pennywise. I’ve seen the bands before and from I heard both did very well, but this is a further explanation of having so many bands and stages-you can’t see everything. It’s almost too much of a good thing.
Lacuna Coil still features two lead vocalists, male screamer Andy Ferro and the lovely Cristina Scabbia on high harmonies. The band was a pleasant surprise on the side stage, mixing its gothic song base with heavy guitars and bottom into a tasty stew that mixed just right on this day. “Nothing Stands in Our Way” and “Zombies” are the highlights, and the band leaves to a rousing ovation.
Seether draws a huge crowd to stage three around 5 p.m., but ends up battling heavy metal masters Mastodon for the sound rights over the festival site for the next 45 minutes. Another band that I’ve seen headline this year and do a much longer set, Seether still gets a nice reception for a set that includes nothing but big hits. For some reason, the lovely ladies in the crowd took the opportunity during Seether’s set to show their ample breasts (I have never seen a Sacramento crowd act this way before), so Seether went over really, really well with all of the guys in attendance. (For a further review of Seether, check out my story on the Moondance Jam 2014 festival on this site).
Rise Against is not exactly my cup of tea, but the kiddies seem to like the boys, who do have a couple of good songs in “Help Is On the Way,” and Satellite.” A punk-meets-pop rock hybrid that would please most Green Day fans, Rise Against is the first band of the day that has no competition while playing-none of the other stages are being used at this time, and Rise Against draws a huge crowd to stage one.
If you read this review last year, you know I love Five Finger Death Punch and nothing has changed in the year since the band last played here. I’m not going to rewrite that review (check it out on this site under the review for Aftershock 2013), but FFDP played the same exact show as last year, save for one song. The band didn’t add any new songs from the second “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of hell” that was released last November. Even Ivan Moody’s raps were the same, and the group did the same kiddie sing-along to “Burn MF” that was such a novelty hit last year. This year it seemed forced, and even though the band went down great (since there were obviously many fans in the crowd seeing the band for the first time), I would have like to have heard a few different songs or a couple of new stage raps to make this show a bit special. What 5FDP really needs to do is get out and headline theaters and auditoriums with a totally new set, since the quintet has been playing this one for over a year.
Rob Zombie and his crack band were heavy, flashy and at times breath-taking as the quartet blasted out 11 staples of Zombie’s gore-rock to an appreciative crowd. Zombie will never be confused with metal’s great singers, but he is an engaging front man and was in a great mood on this night (I’ve seen him when he wasn’t so nice, and this was a much better option). His band, which features guitarist John Five, bassist Piggy D. and drummer Ginger Fish, was solid as a rock, hammering out a set of interesting covers (the band opened with “We’re An American Band”), big solo hits (“Never Gonna Stop,” “More Human Than Human,” “Dragula” ) and the White Zombie classic, “Thunder Kiss 65.”
Godsmack might have seemed like the headliner, but during a night of headliners, the band went on in a very bad spot-following Zombie is a tough place to begin with, but the Smack also had to deal with a huge crowd that was rapidly tiring and those who had attended both days (remember, this is a two-day festival) who had just about had it. Thankfully, the crowd that stayed was totally into the band, which has a new album to support and a ton of hits to trot out. Vocalist Sully Erna portrays a larger-than-life figure as the band’s front man, and it doesn’t take long to figure out who runs this band. Not only does he sing every song, but he also plays guitar and the band’s tandem drum solo spot (done with drummer Shannon Larkin) is easily the highlight of the set. Tony Rombola’s riffs and Robbie Merrill’s solid thump keep Godsmack at the top of the modern rock live act list, and songs such as “1000 mph,” “Keep Away,” “Awake,” “Speak,” “Whatever” and “I Stand Alone” sounded great. I would just like to have heard more, since Godsmack cut 5 songs and roughly 30 minutes out of its regular set due to the rapidly approaching curfew.
I think this festival has a solid future, and should prosper by tweaking a few things and not trying to jam every band driving by Sacramento onto the bill. You can’t do nothing about the weather, however, so I fully expect to see Aftershock 2015 take place on the same weekend next year. It has become a Northern California two-day holiday.