FESTIVAL REVIEW: ROCK ALLEGIANCE 2016 – Day 1 (Saturday)
Leaving Denny’s with a full breakfast over our belts and the morning sun already bringing the heat and humidity to somewhat uncomfortable levels, our thoughts and conversation quickly turned to what lay ahead as we drove to Toyota Park, Chester, PA for the annual Rock Allegiance festival at Talen Stadium. Quite a line-up for this first ever two-day event, on not only the split mainstage (Bridge Stage / River Stage) but the Liberty Stage as well, replacing last year’s tent set-up which proved to be overcrowded and poor lighting for photographers. With the Delaware River as a backdrop accompanied by the Commodore Barry Bridge, this spacious venue will no doubt prove itself, once again, in the journals of metal mania history. So without further ado, I present to you Rock Allegiance festival 2016.
Beginning this epic weekend of madness, music and manfood, Tyler “Telle” Smith opened with “Made This Way” with the accomplished back-up of members that make up the Phoenix, Arizona metal-hardcore band The Word Alive, formed in 2008. Tearing through their six song set and ending with an explosive version of “Trapped” from their studio Lp ‘Dark Matter’ (2016), Zack Henderson brought forth several solid riffs accompanied by Tony Pizzuti on rhythm guitar, with point-on bass and kit beats provided by both Daniel Shapiro on bass and Luke Holland on the skins. An awesome band to begin an even better weekend! Next up on the agenda was a British band hailing from High Wycombe Buckingshire, England, originating in 2008 and no strangers to the ultimate live experience. Young Guns, fronted by Gustav Wood and Fraser Taylor on lead guitar ripped into several heavy hits including “Mad World”, “I Want Out”, and “Bones”, setting precedence for a frenzied crowd positioned in front of the Bridge Stage, that continued to escalate throughout the day.
Skindred, yet another British band to invade the Liberty Stage, brought with them an electrifying energy with their first number “Under Attack” and never let up with their audio assault through their five song set. With Benji Webbe’s growling vocals leading this Newport Wales, UK ensemble comprising of Michael Demus (lead guitar), Dan Pugsley on bass and Arya Goggin (drums), I have no doubt that we here in the states will see more of these hardcore punk/reggae masters in the near future.
Running like Forrest Gump, I made my way back to the River Stage to see one of my favorite female bassists pummel the crowd with chest caving beats of her strings. Emma Anzai, alongside of Mark Goodwin (drums) and Brian Scott on vocals and lead guitar (replacing Shimon Moore, 2016), make up one of Australia’s best post-grunge bands ever – Sick Puppies. Hailing from New South Wales, and with five studio albums already to their credit (with ‘Fury’ being their latest release, 2016) they blew the covers of their amps with such mind-melting hits as opener “War”, followed by “Gunfight” and their classic “Stick to Your Guns”. Prior to closing their eight song set with “You’re Going Down”, the band tore into their cover of one of my all-time favorites – “Guerilla Radio”, a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s epic tune. Once again, Sick Puppies showed to all present that they’re here for the long haul and becoming a headliner act is in their near future. Epic performance indeed!
Shuffling over from the River Stage to the Bridge Stage, I welcomed Max and Igor Cavalera: Return to the Roots band with skepticism but open arms just the same. With brothers Max (guitar/vocals) and Igor (drums) Cavalera accompanied by Mark Rizzo (guitar) and Johny Chow slapping on the bass strings, recently began their North American tour (Sept. 15, 2016) to mark the 20th anniversary of their last studio album “Roots”, from the beginning number “Roots Bloody Roots” (a Sepultura cover) and ending with “Dictatorshit”, this death/thrash metal band originally formed in 2006 (as Inflikted) from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with over a dozen studio albums to their name, eradicated any skepticism I may have originally had and turned me into a true believer in never judging a books by its cover.
My excitement and anticipation rose to new levels as I weaved and maneuvered through the ever-growing crowd, as the next newest band in 2016 overtook the Liberty Stage. Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola (both of famed Godsmack) delivered some of the most hard-driving blues as only The Apocalypse Blues Revue band could. Completing this quartet were members Brian Carpenter on bass and front man Ray Cerbone brought with them the heavier and somewhat darker punk rock/blue with their explosive new album titled “The Apocalypse Blues Revue”, bringing forth many of their 12 hits with extreme ferocity displayed with “Evil Is as Evil Does”, “Devil Plays a Strat” (totally off the chain!), “The Blues Are Fallin’ from the Sky”, and ending with “Blue Cross”. Larkin most certainly did not disappoint, as he literally pummeled the living daylight out of his kit – with arms fully extended at times – as if in pause mode. Tony Rombola let loose some serious fast-driving riffs along with slower blues-type melody, joined by Brian Carpenter (Blackfoot) on bass who played his heart and soul out. Cerbone, while not moving around the stage as much as I’m used to seeing, still belted out vocals like a true seasoned vocalist. This collaboration of musical geniuses will continue to blossom and flourish as time moves forward, and this old fool can only hope that I can witness more performances like the one witnessed on this fine day in the very near future. Kudos boys!!
Next up and a hard act to follow behind, Avatar front man Johannes Eckerstrom hit the River Stage with his brightly colored garb, caressing the crowd with this melodic death metal/gothic metal vocals, joined with Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Ohrstrom on guitars, and skin slamming performance of John Alfredsson along with bassist Henrik Sandelin. Formed in 2001 in Gothenburg, Sweden, the elaborate stage props and vivid colors complimented their seemingly never-ending set, which included “Hail the Apocalypse”, “Bloody Angel”, “Let Us Die”, and also played the title track “The Eagle Has Landed”, from the recently released album ‘Feathers & Flesh’, their sixth studio album that is self-described as a concept album, and based solely upon a fable in which an owl declares war against the world to prevent the sun from rising. A tad too deep for me, but an overall outstanding performance just the same!
Jim Breuer and the Loud & Rowdy began playing shortly afterwards, but in all honesty I succumbed to the divine aromatic gourmet manfood smells floating temptingly on the summer breeze, and I found myself devouring a steak and cheese sub from the well-known Cheesewagon, one of Philly’s finest. One simply doesn’t travel to Philadelphia and not have one of Mike Sullivan’s signature subs!
Now for a scheduling crisis, as Trivium take on one stage, while Jason Aaron Butler and the boys of Letlive take another. Choosing to see both I bolted across the open field, past where Letlive crew were checking instruments, and finally made it to the River Stage just as Matt Heafy led the band into “Strife”, and in moments to follow began the first in a long line of crowd surfing, that evolved in number but in continuity throughout their five song set and the weekend as a whole. From the moment this Orlando, Florida based progressive/thrash metal band formed in 1999, member Heafy, Corey Beaulieu (guitar), Paul Wantke on drums, and the wild antics of Paolo Gregoletto on stadium thumping bass took stage, it was apparent that their dominant stranglehold on the audience was in full force throughout their show.
Reluctantly I had to depart halfway through “A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation” (off the album ‘Vengeance Falls, 2013), as the Los Angeles based band since 2002, Letlive had already begun one of the most insane shows to date. There is something magical that happens each and every time Jason Butler takes the stage, and just as he amazed the crowd in Chicago, Butler didn’t disappoint the fans here in Philly. I made it as Jeff Sahyoun (guitar) and Ryan Jay Johnson unified while opening with “Renegade 86”, as Butler assaulted the explosive crowd with the energy of a madman. Keeping these boys on track were the quick tempo beat of Loniel Robison, who in my opinion did an outstanding job. Halfway through “Another Offensive Song” (‘If I’m the Devil’ Lp, 2016), Butler climbed over the crowd barrier and created his own mosh pit, microphone cord trailing behind him throughout, but later during their short six song show broke, leaving Butler to attempt a quick repair (red duct tape), which in and of itself was captivating. If only they could have played all day!
Motionless In White out of Scranton, PA let loose next, with their gothic-like metal core thrashings with opener “Death March”, ravaging all present with the ear-splitting riffs of both Ryan Sitkowski and Ricky “Horror” Olson, and the deep dark growling voice of Chris “Motionless” Cerulli – (some have compared him to Marylyn Manson). Founded in 2005, these three are joined by Devin “Ghost” Sola on bass, who put his axe to the test in numbers such as “Devil’s Night”, delivering thunderous reverberation to levels beyond most, but with precise clarity. Vinnie Mauro brought his unique drumming style and energy, reigning in these madmen, especially during their closing number “Reincarnate” as the band gave it everything they had…and we all accepted graciously! On the heels of this hard-to-outdo performance, Baroness hit the adjoining stage within five minutes, this extreme heavy metal band from Savannah, Georgia began instantaneously with the shrieking guitars of Peter Adam and front man John Bailey, with “The Sweetest Curse” as the crowd jumped up and down in unison with drummer Sebastian Thompson and the non-stop pummeling from bassist Nick Jost. Finalizing an amazing eight song performance by all, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the brutalizing of guitar strings, as Peter Adam wailed through “Take My Bones Away” with an intensity and ferociousness that nearly left me speechless, only until I made my way back outside the stadium and back to the Liberty Stage where the largest crowd all day had already formed. And no wonder, as the wild antics of those bad boys from Anaheim, California were about to take stage. I give you Buckcherry! Even from my viewpoint which was several hundred feet away on the stadium’s third floor landing, I could tell right away that Josh Todd and this tight-knit group that are on their own 15th Anniversary Tour themselves, came meaning business. Right from the start, the audience participation vocally was second to none. With only a fix song set, Buckcherry wasted no time, opening up with “Sunshine”, followed by “Brooklyn” (from the disc ‘15’ released in 2005 in Japan, 2006 in USA). It wasn’t until they closed with their classic hit “Crazy Bitch” from the same disc, that I truly believed the crowd was about to swarm the stage as these west coast bad boys revealed who’s got the right stuff. My advice to those first-timers attending a Buckcherry show? Simple. Don’t put yourself between Josh Todd and hundreds of lust-hungry adrenaline-fueled female fans!
Hailing from Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, was a band well versed in bringing their brand of pseudo-mysticism of the Doors and combining it with Led Zeppelin-like guitar orchestrations/heavy metal revivalist riffs. The Cult, formally Southern Death Cult (1983-1995) killed it with their single “Rise” with Billy Duffy’s explosive guitar solo front and center, tearing into even the most elaborate ear-plugs, as “Deeply Ordered Chaos”, accompanied by the ever-rolling bass of Grant Fitzpatrick. Keyboardist Damon Fox laid down some serious trippy sounds in the opening of “Love Removal Machine” while Ian Astbury danced about tantalizing the fans with his wide range of screaming vocals. John Tempesta dropped down some seriously slow yet determined beats while performing “Sweet Soul Sister”, keeping the boys in check as the audience once again sang like it was the end of days.
Labeled as the ultimate cover band, Chevy Metal hammered us with an eleven song set that was literally one for the books! Founded by members Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) and bassist Wiley Hodgeden on vocals, this Topanga, California group is unlike any other created with Mick Murphy on guitar this time, the band has amassed numerous guest appearances – including part-time member Dave Grohl, vocals of Mick Jagger, Joan Jett, and Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction) to name a few. Beginning with “Looks That Kill” and “Livewire” (Motley Crue cover), and continually crowd-pleasing with the likes of “The Wizard” (Black Sabbath), which blew my already frazzled mind, two David Bowie covers – “All the Young Dudes” and “Ziggy Stardust”, as well as “Mountain Song” (Jane’s Addiction” in which they did to perfection. Fitting for a closing song, the performed “Let There Be Rock” (AC/DC cover) to the amazement of all witnessing history here, on this stage, with a stellar faced-paced and choice song selection, Chevy Metal is a show that no one should miss. You’ll never know who’ll show up! Kudos guys!!
As darkness fell upon this ever growing wiry crowd, it wasn’t long before the stage lights illuminated the stadium with reds, greens, blues and yellows as The Offspring front man Dexter Holland dressed in a plush red dinner jacket and jeans grabbed the microphone, leading into the first of 17 songs with “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (‘Rise and Fall, Range and Grace’ album), which brought surprise. The Offspring also known as Manic Subsidal (1984-1986) is one of if not the best skate punk/alternative rock bands to ever grace the music scene. Founded in 1984, this Huntington Beach, California band has more than proven itself, with nine studio albums under their belt, the most recent being ‘Days Go By’ (2012). Joining Holland on stage was Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman on guitar, Greg K (bass) and Pete Parada on drum, these four lads belted out hit after hit, until it was almost curtain time. It was then that they began playing “The Kids Aren’t Alright” and ended with “Self Esteem”, that the audience seemed to yearn for more. Anything. Just more of The Offspring please!
Now on to the headliner(s), as if each band up to this point didn’t share this luxury in their own rights, but here we go! First up…Breaking Benjamin. Starting off with “So Cold”, Benjamin Burnley led these post rock/hard grunge boys through a bevy of hits – thirteen songs in all, but one specifically stands out in my head, and that’s the cover version(s) of “The Imperial March/Schism/Smells Like Teen Spirit/Walk” (John Williams, Tool, Nirvana, and Pantera). Epically genius! Jasen Rauch and Keith Wallen on strings proved to be the ultimate in guitar playing heaven, while Aaron Bruch (bass) and the electronic percussion/drums of Shaun Foist were flawless, especially in “I Will Not Bow” and their closing number “The Diary of Jane”. Hailing from Wilkes-Barre, PA since 1994, with a medical hiatus from 2011 through 2013, these lady charmers came back with a vengeance in 2014, releasing their latest of five studio albums, titled ‘Dark Before Dawn’, 2015, debuting on Billboard’s 200 at number one. Without fail, Breaking Benjamin did not disappoint, nor will they ever in my eyes. Yet another superb act to follow, and hopefully the next and last band of this glorious evening had better have brought their A game with them. And that they did! Following a break-up in 2002, after the tragic loss of Layne Staley, Alice In Chains dissolved and remained dormant for what seemed an eternity, until resurfacing three years later as members Jerry Cantrell (lead guitar), Mike Inez on bass and drummer Sean Kinney brought on board and gladly accepted William Duvall into their post grunge/heavy metal family as their front man. With four albums to their claim with Staley and their most recent album ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’, dropped in May of 2013, came to Rock Allegiance with a mission. They began their assault with “Hollow”, leading into “Them Bones” and continuing with chart-busters “Again” and “Down In a Hole”, and as a surprise to all, Billy Duffy of The Cult joined in while Alice In Chains performed “We Die Young”. Afterwards they progressed into “Would” (released in 1992) and finally all things had to come to an end when they wrapped up their eleven song set with “Rooster”. The applause from the audience was deafening as these Seattle, Washington boys bid us adieu.
In summary, Day One of Rock Allegiance offered a wide variety of not only different twists of music genre, but a sample of some of the finest artists from across the pond – from Australia to England, from Wales to Sweden, alluring everyone young and old, and all walks of life, were drawn into Rock Allegiance’s web of melodic madness. With gourmet manfood aplenty and several craft beers a flowing throughout this picture perfect day not a soul could be found left unsatisfied.