Tuesday, September 28, 2010

KROQ Epicenter Fest review - Day 2

A slightly different version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed here:
Thirty Seconds to Mars photo of Jered Leto (above) by Kelly Swift.

Epicenter Twenty Ten
Where: Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA
When: Sept. 26

Epicenter Twenty Ten boasted some heavy hitters on Day One, but Sunday’s lineup – focusing on punk rock, its various permutations, plus several fine alt-rock acts - was equally strong. 

The blistering triple digit heat continued and made trudging back and forth between the main and side stages a chore (everything could’ve been a lot worse; at Warped Tour and Coachella, the rosters and location sizes are multiplied). Early arrivals basically chose to stay put at the larger of the two areas. They ended up missing a few great groups in the process. 

Although an event spokesperson said the Auto Club Speedway attendance was near 30,000 people, waits for the concession and restroom lines were reasonable. A majority of concertgoers stuck around for blink-182’s event closing set.

Last year, the pop/punk trio reunited and toured for the first time in five years. Epicenter served as their only North American concert appearance of 2010 following a summer European trek. Singer/bassist Mark Hoppus admittedly fluffed a couple indiscernible notes and singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge seemed unusually screechy amid “First Date,” but overall the guys sounded tight.

Drummer (and Fontana native) Travis Barker proved particularly adept throughout, whether he was pounding syncopated beats (“Feeling This”), shuffling rhythms (“I Miss You”), intense workouts (synth-enhanced “Stockholm Syndrome”; the encore solo) or simply being a thunderous anchor (“Stay Together for the Kids”).

Back in the late ‘90s, before superstardom arose, Hoppus sang, “I guess this is growing up” on first hit “Dammit.” Not when it comes to performing their tunes live. While the blink-182 repertoire contains the occasional profanity, DeLonge, 34, still takes every opportunity to inject potty humor into the lyrics and between song banter.

Sometimes uncomfortably so: his crude sexual joke about President Obama last month at England’s Leeds Festival made the international music news rounds. Yet that irreverence seems to endear blink-182 to its fans. Indeed, a bunch of young guys next to me really enjoyed each time DeLonge did it at Epicenter. Lest anyone think blink-182 are lightweights, fast and furious takes on “Not Now,” “All the Small Things” and “The Rock Show” came across otherwise.

Each time the vocalists for Rise Against and Bad Religion asked the audience whether it was ready for the headliner, you could sense a slight derision in their tone. Both melodic hardcore bands make serious music that challenges the listener to ponder the world at large.

For its final gig of a mammoth world tour (and only one in California this year) for 2008’s “Appeal to Reason,” Rise Against turned in a razor sharp 75-minute set that rarely wavered in intensity.

Taking the stage to a female voice intoning “these people are nuts,” the Chicago foursome came out with all guns blazing on “Collapse (Post-Amerika)” and was riveting during an ebullient “The Dirt Whispered.” Raspy voiced front man Tim McIlrath roamed the stage with authority. Guitarist Zach Blair served up searing leads on “Long Forgotten Sons” as well as popular radio hits “Savior” and eerily intense “Prayer of the Refugee” (the latter two whipped concertgoers into a fist pumping frenzy).     

McIlrath also shone amid acoustic takes on “Swing Life Away” (fans should check out the amazing version on Rise Against’s DVD “Another Station: Another Mile,” due out Oct. 5) and realistic snapshot “Hero of War.”

Bad Religion, the elder punk statesmen on the bill, are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their first show (in Fullerton with Social Distortion). Solid studio album “The Dissent of Man,” which tweaks the trademark sound a bit, is in stores now. Among the new tracks performed, “The Devil in Stitches” found bassist Jay Bentley getting a prominent spotlight onstage, and the breakneck speed of “The Resist Stance” was prefaced by singer Graffin ruminating about changes in the punk scene. Elsewhere, the group - guitarist Brett Gurewitz was inexplicably absent from the lineup – delivered satisfying workmanlike punk takes on “Generator” and KROQ hits “20th Century Digital Boy,” “American Jesus,” “Sorrow,” “Infected” and “Los Angeles is Burning.” 

Jared Leto sure has the showmanship aspect down to a science with Thirty Seconds to Mars. He makes big, grand musical statements too: the alternative-meets-prog rock songs from last year’s “This is War” average five minutes in length and look to Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails for inspiration. At Epicenter, the stage was adorned with a large block symbol and six taiko styled drummers who pounded away to launch the dramatic “Escape.”

Looking sharp in bleached white hair and jacket to match (later, he would joke about sporting a “desert rat mullet”), Leto made audience interaction a priority, continually prodding people to jump, sing, etc. At times, he interrupted his own singing to shout commands. Vocally, he did well moving from a low croon to high wails.

Standouts included “Search and Destroy,” bolstered by the wavering Edge-styled guitar sounds of Tomo Milicevic (he wore a surgical mask for the first few songs; maybe the exhaust billowing from a Monster Energy Drink truck bothered him), a stripped down version of “The Kill,” dense and industrial “Closer to the Edge” (where Leto doused people with a water hose) and soaring, pseudo gospel closer “Kings and Queens.” Leto invited dozens of people onstage for the last song and it became a free-for-all.

Florida’s politically-minded punkers Against Me! utilized a more streamlined sound on their excellent latest album “White Crosses,” but it doesn’t diminish their usual fire and aggression. That was especially true live as gravel voiced leader Tom Gabel and company tore through several of those songs with winning results (“I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” “High Pressure Low,” “Suffocation,” “White Crosses”), not to mention the Social D-styled “White People for Peace” and “Thrash Unreal” off 2007’s “New Wave.” No wonder they are a favorite of Bruce Springsteen. Bonus points for the amps sporting lyrics.

Earlier in the day, pleasant Illinois punk/pop group The Academy Is… kicked off the main stage proceedings with a set hampered by a truly horrendous sound mix that drowned out most of the vocals. That didn’t stop front man (and Zac Efron lookalike) William Beckett and the musicians from doing energetic versions of “About a Girl,” “Same Blood” and “Slow Down.”

Biffy Clyro routinely sells out arenas in its native Scotland and acclaimed 2009 Mercury Music Prize-nominated “Only Revolutions” went platinum in the UK. The album finally arrives Stateside tomorrow. Unfortunately, only about 75 people wandered over to the side stage to witness the trio’s equally incendiary and heartfelt performance that often channeled Foo Fighters. Why these guys weren’t on the main stage is baffling. Still, scraggly singer/guitarist Simon Neil (hair completely covering his face) and his band mates gave it their all. The aptly titled “Bubbles” features Josh Homme on disc; here it soared with a circuitous guitar riff. “Mountains” and “The Captain” were equally enthralling. A pleasant surprise.

Frenetic Brooklyn-via-Copenhagen three-piece (yes, another one) New Politics came across like a cross between Beastie Boys and Weezer. And it worked. Playing to a sparse crowd, David Boyd did handstands and the splits between mini rap cadences and herky jerky moves. Fans started a small slam pit during the fast “We Are the Radio,” “Love is a Drug” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah” had a psychotic edge and “New Generation” showed their socially conscious side. One to watch.

Venice hardcore veterans Suicidal Tendencies drew a large, mosh-happy crowd during a harrowing closing side stage set that included signature 1983 song “Institutionalized.” Screamo group A Day to Remember had a huge following, who reveled in tunes from latest album “Homesick” like “The Downfall of Us All.”

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