Sunday, May 8, 2016

Carolina Rebellion's inaugural 3-day run offers diversity and camaraderie

Carolina Rebellion ends its three day run at Rock City Campgrounds today. The festival kicked off in Concord Friday with a mix of classic rock and metal, `90s radio staples, and a smattering of current acts. It continued Saturday with half of thrash metal’s Big Four and some of the genre’s bigger acts.
Expanding from two to three days for the first time in its six year history allowed for a more eclectic lineup. Friday’s focus was largely nostalgic.

German metal legends the Scorpions – Friday’s headliner - marked the occasion as its first with longtime Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee, who is filling in on the band’s North American dates. The Swede’s first drum solo here since Motorhead’s final show in Charlotte in September felt like a triumphant return. The death of Motorhead’s linchpin, Lemmy Kilmister, in December marked the end of Dee’s 23 years with the group. 

Many in the Rebellion crowd had never gotten a chance to see Scorpions before and the group didn’t disappoint. It kicked its set off with “Going Out With a Bang” from its 2015 album “Return to Forever.” The introduction felt like a mission statement for the night and for the band, given its 51 year history. Some of its members are only a few years shy of 70. The production was what you expect of a headliner, with Dee on a stage-length platform a story above the rest of the band (who came and went via two hidden staircases) and a series of graphics interspersed with footage of the band on three giant screens.

Scorpions (below) surprisingly didn’t stack the setlist with hit after hit opting for 1990’s “Tease Me Please Me” instead of radio staple “Rhythm of Love” or power ballads “Wind of Change” or “Believe in Love.” It did offer up “Still Loving You” during the encore. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” put the final exclamation point on the night. 

The crowd, which trudged in droves between the two main stages all weekend, went from Jacksonville, Florida - a hit-filled set by road dogs Lynyrd Skynyrd - to Deutschland. For years Skynyrd has performed at the seated PNC Music Pavilion as a co-headliner or support act, but the chaos of the general admission crowd added a new energy to the show. Given his expression as he launched into a solo during “Sweet Home Alabama,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke seemed to note the crowd surfing. The Southern rock band may have seemed an odd fit for the heavy festival, but given the location and its historical place in rock, Skynyrd fit right in. 

Georgia’s Collective Soul, which closed out a run of `90s hit makers on one of two smaller stages, was a fitting lead-in for Skynyrd with pop-rock radio staples “The World I Know” and “Shine.” The latter even had fans in the field who were simply waiting for the next band singing along.

Filter and Candlebox preceded Collective Soul as did another hit-heavy band, Three Doors Down, on the main stage. While those acts are mainstream rock staples, the more aggressive Escape the Fate and New Year’s Day appealed to a younger crowd on the opposite side stage. The former was at the mercy of Friday’s brisk winds, which meant inconsistent volume during songs like “Just a Memory.”
Veterans of hard rock giants, Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) and Vinnie Paul (Pantera), respectively gave crowds a taste of their current bands Sixx:A.M. and Hellyeah. Paul’s rumbling blast beats shook the hill top as he and his bandmates from Mudvayne and Nothingface plowed through Hellyeah’s late afternoon set. 

Sixx:A.M. - Sixx’s collaboration with former Guns n’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and producer/vocalist James Michael - delved into theatrical, almost rock opera territory with two female backing vocalists whose voices could go from shouting catchy choruses to operatic swells. They were certainly not just eye candy and contributed to the show with those varied vocals and interplay with frontman Michael. With a focus on uplifting, positive messages and that theatrical bent, Sixx:A.M. proved to be doing something that no one else is right now and it worked to its advantage. 

There are always a few wild cards on the bill, and NC’s prog-metal experimentalists Between the Buried and Me filled that role. It’s fluttering, harmony dual guitar parts, nimble sci-fi bass lines, and mood altering synthesizer were actually the perfect soundtrack for the sunset. Even if its rollercoaster of arty metal was too heady for some, everyone recognized its cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” – an ambitious festival feat given the length of the song and the brevity of anyone but the headliners’ sets.  

Short sets meant a 25 year old band like Clutch, who closed out the same side stage as BTBAM on Saturday, was relegated to 30 minutes. It opted for four tracks from its latest album, “Psychic Warfare,” one from its previous release, and two older tracks. 

The format also meant fans had to choose between side stage acts, while the main stage bands alternated times. That pitted Clutch against recent Grammy winners Ghost, whose theatrical show and last year’s radio play and buzz meant the Swedish metal band was one of the festival’s newer must-sees. Visually its costumes were scaled back to simple white faces and black clothes, but the performance was not. 

Yet the variety of the bill meant Saturday fans could also opt for the psychedelic stoner metal of the Sword or Parkway Drive's growling metalcore.

Thrash metal founders Anthrax and Megadeth played in succession on the Carolina stage. As with past Rebellions, Anthrax packed its 40-minute set with mosh-inducing staples “Caught in the Mosh,” “Got the Time” its “Antisocial” cover and “Indians” along with a couple from its new album. 

The crowd surfing and circle pits continued for Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson and company. The 54 year old band leader seemed a kinder, gentler version sharing his appreciation for the fans and joking about messing up the lyrics to “Sweating Bullets.” Its set ended with the obligatory one-two punch of “Peace Sells” and “Holy Wars.” 

Florida’s A Day to Remember brought pop punk and hardcore punch to the opposite main stage as the sun began to set. While delivering one catchy chorus after another, the young-by-comparison band’s set was also big on antics with a guy in a hot pepper costume shooting t-shirts at the crowd, an anatomically correct blow-up doll making its way to the stage, singer Jeremy McKinnon daring the audience to surf on top of crowd surfers. While most attempts at the latter were foiled by gravity and the fact that a constantly moving crowd isn’t Cirque du Soliel, a few managed to stay vertical atop the crowd for a few seconds. 

Lamb of God and Five Finger Death Punch delivered a biting punch of metal on both fronts with Shinedown’s more mainstream rock closing out Saturday night. 

Carolina Rebellion finishes up Sunday with headlining sets from Deftones, Rob Zombie and Disturbed. Horror rock icon Alice Cooper closes out the side stage in the fitting pre-Zombie slot. The lineup also continues to diversify with late afternoon sets from rapper Yelawolf and Cypress Hill and punk vets Pennywise. Japan’s female fronted Baby Metal will certainly draw curious onlookers with its cartoony image and theatrical, symphonic metal.

Throughout the weekend there was a defiant spirit that Carolina Rebellion and its sister festivals prove that rock - while it’s not the sole chart-ruler it once was – is by no means dead. But it’s sudden underdog status isn’t lost on the people who make the music. Hellyeah praised the region’s “metal community” and Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty thanked the crowd for being the kind of people who go to a show on Friday night. 

Entertainment has taken a hit across the board in the past 15 years, not only due to downloading and the collapsing record industry, but in the live arena as well with more people choosing to stay online at home than engage in a live concert. Yet as a stranger lifted my 60 pound 7 year old on to his shoulders to watch Megadeth (top), I was reminded of the camaraderie and community that these kinds of events create. In a global climate where so much emphasis is on division, the kind of unity music creates is greatly needed. 

Maybe it was the weather - much cooler than the previous few years, with rain falling only for a short time during Scorpions' set - or the ease of traffic coming in from I-85 during the afternoons this year, but

Carolina Rebellion seems to get easier to manage each year (although I don't know how traffic was coming in from the Speedway). The cigarette smoke, lack of vegetarian vendors (it's mac n' cheese, fries or nachos), or late day breeze from the port-a-potties and occasional mud were the only downsides this year and for many, if not most concert goers, smoking and meat are part of a metal way of life.