Carolina Rebellion, Friday, May 5, 2017
Written by: David Locklear
Photos: David Locklear and John Richardson
It was the horizon that made me nervous.
It was a pulsating mess of whites, blues and and grays that seemed fickle, as if it were a petulant child trying to decide whether or not to have a tantrum. "Maybe I'll rain or maybe I'll release the sun from my grip," it seemed to be saying. The Weather Channel app kept reassuring me that there would be no rain and everything will be fine. I was pretty skeptical.
But the 2017 Carolina Rebellion did not experience the repeat of the hail and rain that plagued the last day of the 2013 festival. That year, the weather was so severe that it forced several acts, including headliner Soundgarden, to cancel their sets, ending that year's festival on a sour note. Although most of this year's patrons had the experience of trudging through the mud that formed from the previous day's rainfall, we were thankfully spared nature's bath and given a cool, breezy North Carolina spring day.
After setting up camp in the media tent, we hiked to the Carolina stage to catch Dillinger Escape Plan pound out their technical and catchy audio assault. Being that this is rumored to be their last album and tour, it was bittersweet to watch them play.
And, on some level, I was hoping that maybe one of the band members would do something ridiculous as a last hurrah that would make the audience's jaws drop; something akin to their infamous set at the Reading festival in 2013 in which vocalist Greg Puciato defecated onto the stage and threw it into the audience, telling them that his shit was just as good as the other bands playing on the festival bill that year. However, even though there was no poo flinging, there was a point about halfway through their set in which Puciato asked the audience for a beer and a lucky fan handed their PBR tall boy to the singer, who then promptly chugged it and threw the can out into the crowd. A Dillinger show could send any self respecting hypochondriac into a small spiral.
As they rounded out their set with "Prancer" and "When I Lost My Bet" from their 2013 release, "One of Us is the Killer", the band never slowed, never showed signs of disinterest or touring fatigue. All of the band members gave every drop of energy they had to the performance, jumping, head banging, and running across every inch of the space they had on the stage. The unfortunate reality of a festival like this is that many sets have to be short, so watching Dillinger finish their lively set after a little more than half a dozen songs, I couldn't help but feel like they were just getting started.
Eagles of Death Metal kick started their raucous, sex dripping set with my personal favorite tune of theirs, 'I Only Want You' and the crowd was immediately infected with the boogie fever the Eagles were spreading.
You could sense the genuine joy the band took in performing live-all smiles, hip shaking, and scrunched up guitar faces. I couldn't help but wonder that maybe they have been infected with a newfound appreciation of life and playing music after their horrifying ordeal at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris when ISIS orchestrated an attack on one of their shows and killed almost 100 attendees. Not many people would come out of an experience like that unscathed, but Eagles seemed like they couldn't be happier.
An awesome and unexpected highlight was watching Mastodon guitarist, Brent Hinds, make an unannounced guest appearance to jam along with the band. Watching him duel guitar with Eagles member Dave Catching was a treat, because they seemed like they have been jamming together for a long time. While they were trading riffs, they looked like two guys jamming together in a garage, as if they were playing for each other. And during one of the guitar solos, singer Jesse Hughes shuffled off to the side of the stage and just watched them play, smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
Watching the Eagles of Death Metal perform was, for me, reminiscent of the way the Ramones would play a merciless set back in their heyday, because the Carolina Rebellion audience was left with little room to breathe or stretch in between tunes. The band focused on classics from their early albums, crushing songs like "Don't Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!)" and "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)" from 'Death by Sexy', and also treated the concertgoers to cover tunes such as Boots Electric's "Complexity" and David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream".
Hughes at one point commented about how pleasantly surprised he was at the size of the crowd that came out to see their set. Often, singers will rightfully compliment the audience on how awesome they are, regardless of the how much awesome fuel the crowd is burning with. This interaction between EODM and their devoted fans, however, felt like a genuinely symbiotic vibe-the band seemed to really be on fire and playing for the crowd and the fans gave the love right back. The audience gave the Eagles of Death Metal a sincere fire to cook with and in turn they made a meal out of them.
One of the highlights for me personally was seeing one of my longtime favorite rock bands, The Cult, jump onto the Rebellion stage and tear whole in the sound barrier surrounding the Charlotte Motor Speedway. I have been hooked on The Cult ever since their 1989 rock classic, "Sonic Temple" slayed my teenage earholes with guitar classics like "Sun King" and "Soul Asylum". Although their set today relied heavily on many of their more contemporary tunes from 2016's "Hidden City" and 2012's "Choice of Weapon", it was a genuine thrill to see one the rock monsters from the days of my youth playing live, even if I have become largely unfamiliar with their newer music.
During the Cult's set, the crowd didn't seem as responsive as many of the ones I had been a part of earlier in the day, which is always something I always hate to see as a fan.The guys are legends in the rock world and certainly deserve a little more energy that what they got. It's always hard to pinpoint why a band and an audience aren't making a connection, but sometimes things don't sync up and its just the way it is: maybe it was that the day had grown quite cold as evening approached, maybe it was that many patrons were already quite hammered and muddy, or maybe it was time to recharge after an exhausting day of partying and absorbing great tunes. Who knows? Regardless, the band played well and I walked away pleased in the knowledge that I could go to my grave having seen The Cult play live.
So, full disclosure: I have never really had an opinion about Amon Amarth's music prior to May 5. I have heard their viking drenched tunes, knew they had a devoted fanbase and seemed to do what they do exceptionally well. It just never connected with my metal sensibilities for some inexplicable reason. But after watching their set on this fateful day, holy shit, I am now a fan. If music could become a tangible being and put a steel toed boot in your ass, I am sure that Amon Amarth tunes would make this their only wish.
With the stage adorned with a dragon carved Viking boat mast with glowing crimson eyes, the band came out howling with every ounce of their insanity and pounded mercilessly on the heads and ears of their rabid fans. It was wildly obvious that these guys fucking LOVE being a metal band. They growled, jumped, screamed raised fists to the sky, bellowed smoke, staged sword fights and generally gave their audience the exact type of showmanship they wanted and expected. For the entirety of their set, there were at least two bodies crowd surfing at all times.
To say these guys know how to employ theatrics to enhance their show would be an understatement. As they peeled the skin from their fan's faces with "The Pursuit of Vikings" and "As Loki Falls", all hell really broke loose when the opening chords of "First Kill" pierced the air and the stage backdrop fell to reveal stage sized "Jomsviking" album cover banner. It was one of those moments at a metal show that you get to experience occasionally, where the entire audience seems to mold into a focus minded being, where aggression, love and unhinged madness becomes singularity. It's frightening and awesome at once, and if you are one of the metal converted, it paints a massive smile on your soul. Amon Amarth came to deliver and I can attest to fact that they did not disappoint.
At this point, our hurried pace had begun to wane. We slogged back over to the Carolina Stage and awaited the thunder of the mighty Mastodon. With their newest album, "Emperor of Sand" only weeks old, it was exciting to anticipate what the new songs would sound like live. I was immediately bowled over by the opening riff of their new single, 'Sultan's Curse', and was again reminded how much of what you hear on an album is given a new and awesome layer musicality when you can hear it live. The looseness of all the band members, especially bassist Troy Sanders, gave the songs a swaggering vibe that was more in line with drinking a tall boy of PBR and nodding your head than the bloodfest that Amon Amarth just pummeled the Carolina Rebellion patrons with.
That doesn't mean the Mastodon set was somehow bereft of moshing, crowd surfing and other metal concert tropes by any means. Mastodon seamlessly segued through each of their boot stomping tunes, focusing the majority of the set on "Emperor of Sand" songs, such as "Ancient Kingdom" and "Show Yourself". They did easily intersperse other well known head crackers, like 'Black Tongue' from "The Hunter" and a dizzying take on the "Crack the Skye" classic, 'Divinations'. 'Divinations' has always been an insanely technical song to listen to, so to watch them speed it up even more live and still maintain the song's tricky structure and look cool while doing it, is the true definition of being metal gods.
Back at the Black Stage, under an ominous grey sky-the type of sky where wizards cast vengeance spells-Opeth took their positions on the stage and opened their set in grand style with "Sorceress" from their recent album of the same name. The low end bass that leapt from the speakers was violent, and felt as if I was being punched in the chest by a heavy metal specter that wanted to see how much abuse my heart could take. The gloom of the sky contrasted perfectly with the orange and blue spotlights that dotted the back of Opeth's shadowed stage.
Having seen Opeth play live several times over the years, they have always had a great sense of self deprecating humor about their musicianship. Even the most casual listener can hear the extraordinary technical mastery they measure into every song that they have created, so hearing them announce "...our next song is approximately 2 weeks long, so please bear with us," just before they perform their ten minute long 'Ghost of Perdition', not only makes me laugh-it actually makes my appreciation for their craft that much deeper.
As they carefully and amazingly shredded through their set, they managed to indulge in a couple of their shorter songs in between their longer anthems, such as 'Cusp of Eternity' from "Pale Communion". And as they closed out their show, they smartly ended things in explosive style with the always welcome, 13 minute classic, "Deliverance". To hear how good they are at maintaining accurate time on an such a long and complicated song live, is something to behold. And when the song climaxes with it's classic ending riff, the audience was air guitaring/drumming along all the way to the last note, as if it were just as anthemic a chorus as Queen's "We Will Rock You". Not too many bands have been able to pull that off, but this is Opeth we're talking about.
As twilight slowly bled across the sky and night settled in over the Rebellion Stage, the shadows of the evening dangled across stage and began battling for turf against the pale, sporadic spotlights of A Perfect Circle's stage decor. A single, powerful spotlight glared down on current drummer, Jeff Friedl, while the outlines of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, bassist Matt McJunkins, and guitarists James Iha and Billy Howerdel went in and out of the darkness, as if they couldn't decide if they were attracted to or repulsed by the dark void around them.
The concert began with the sinister tapping of "The Package" from 2003's 'The Thirteenth Step' and Keenan's soft/desperately angry vocal stylings slowly built into the meat of the song: "Clever got me this far/and tricky got me in/I am what I'm after/I don't need another friend". The song builds in way that sounds like someone who has been knocked to the ground, stands up with clenched fists and charges forward not giving a shit who they kill because they have had enough. It set the tone for the rest of their concert, and kept the fans enraptured.
By the time they have crushed the audience with "The Hollow", "Weak and Powerless", and "Thinking of You", it's clear that these guys know how to play a show. They take full advantage of the cover of night to maximize their sense of theatrics in a way that most bands playing that day weren't able to utilize. The crowd response was much more subdued than any other I had seen that day. They swayed like a single organism, but seemed far more focused on trying to catch that fleeting glimpse of one of the band members and what actions they were performing in the shadows of the stage. Much like the lyrics of A Perfect Circle and Keenan's other band, Tool, the crowd seemed to be leaning in closer to see or hear things that weren't spelled out and made clear. It wasn't so much rocking out to a concert, but watching a well orchestrated performance. The fans seemed almost more connected to this performance than any other that already transpired that day.
As things came to a close on their set, and the music and feedback slowly ebbed away, it was an amazing feeling to see this band, who have really only released two albums of original material in the eighteen years of their existence, hold such power over an audience. The fact that all of it's members are involved in various other projects from jazz projects to wine vineyards, it's not surprising that they don't have the time to dedicate to making new music for the band. Knowing that A Perfect Circle play live sporadically and fans don't often have many chances to see them perform, made catching this show a very special experience indeed.
Expectations were high for Soundgarden's set. With the iffy weather that was taunting the Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier in the day, the fear of Soundgarden being rained out like they were in the 2013 Carolina Rebellion was a pest that nested in the back of my mind for most of the day.
But hearing the opening chords of 'Spoonman' (even though I am not a fan of the song) pierce the night was a reassuring sound. But really, other than 'My Wave' (which they played about halfway through the set), what better Soundgarden song could put the crowd on their feet and set the mood for a celebration of a great day of music?
The band bumped, pounded and howled with loose, drunken energy. They seemed excited to be playing, giving the crowd a positive vibe and rocking the fuck out, but without venturing too far into the wilderness of mosh pits and forehead smashed Bud Light cans.
As they played most of the expected crowd favorites-"Fell On Black Days", "The Day I Tried to Live", "Black Hole Sun" and "Rusty Cage"-it was a pleasant surprise to hear them pepper the set with obscurities such as much beloved b-side "Kyle Petty (Son of Richard)" (which makes sense-the concert is being held in the heart of Petty country) and "Incessant Mace" from the early nineties opus 'Ultramega OK'. Hearing these songs splashed about among their hits frankly amped my own selfishness and cultivated the hope that maybe I would get to hear some deep cuts from 'Louder Than Love' such as "Hands All Over" (My gateway Soundgarden track and still my favorite), "Full On Kevin's Mom" or "Big Dumb Sex". Unfortunately, the 'Lounder Than Love' album didn't make an appearance at this concert, but I don't mind. Most successful rock bands don't dip too far into their deep cuts any more-in fact, many bands seem to forego them to give the majority of the fanbase what they want. So when nerdish fans like me get to hear Soundgarden pull out a deep cut live, I appreciate the fact that our voice hasn't been forgotten by the band.
As the day crawled to an end to the sounds of "Slaves and Bulldozers", the exhausted but still decently energetic cheers of music fans waned, the lights went down, and buses pulled away. While some were crawling into bed and others continued crawling into a bottle for a few more hours of partying, we crawled into the car to head home. It was an hour and a half drive back, and unfortunately my busy schedule prohibited us from being able to attend the rest of the weekend. But for the faithful who remained, they had Kyng, Volbeat, In Flames and a host of other bands that would make sure that this mammoth festival would hold the metal flag high.
Until next year...
May 17, 2017-Chris Cornell has died. Which changes everything about the pictures that we took and the music we heard at the Carolina Rebellion.
This morning, I've been frequently looking at the picture above I took of Chris Cornell onstage at the Carolina Rebellion, and it breaks my heart. I don't see a singer; I don't see a man whose desperate wail spoke to and punctuated the fury and confusion of my younger years; I don't see the lyrics and the music crafted by Soundgarden; I don't see a rock star. As a father and a husband, all I can see is a wife who is now a widow and children who will go on living without a father, which is a desperate tragedy that human language cannot describe. Just looking at the picture, his eyes convey a bright and kind soul and the world is now a darker place without it.
"Heaven send hell away,
No one seems like you any more."
Our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt prayers are with his family. RIP, Mr. Cornell.