In the words of Jim Morrison from Wayne’s World 2, “If you book them, they will come.” New Jersey received a true Waynestock experience this past weekend during the first annual Rock Carnival. If you haven’t heard of this event before, there was a full-fledged music festival in Clark, New Jersey comprised of heavy metal bands, food trucks, craft beer, BMX stunt spectaculars, indie wrestling, and carnival rides. This almost sounded too good to be true. You either rocked out or ate way too much!
Since we’re a music publication, I generally focused on this monstrous lineup comprised of popular bands spanning three generations of rock n’ roll. We’re talking about a diverse bill including modern titans like Godsmack, thrash legends Anthrax, rising stars Crobot, and eighties sensations like Stephen Pearcy from Ratt. From my perspective, I was genuinely excited for this lineup since most of the artists thrive in a live setting. Simply stated, groups like Slash and Sevendust are the best in the music business when it comes to maximizing the crowd response.
Saturday Recap: September 19, 2015
Right off the bat, I’ll start off with Jersey legends Skid Row who drew a large hometown crowd that was ready to witness one of their very own take the stage. Like most eighties bands, this isn’t the original lineup as former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell is currently the band’s third frontman to-date. Despite outside pressure to reunite with original vocalist Sebastian Bach, founding member and bassist Rachel Bolan refuses to entertain the idea. Regardless, Skid Row played a solid set comprised of hits like “Slave to the Grind,” “18 and Life,” and “I Remember You.” Dave “The Snake” Sabo really stole the spotlight as his guitar tone is so distinct and he performed his leads and solo’s to perfection.
Allow me to dampen the mood for a second but I must express my concern for Puddle of Mudd frontman Wes Scantlin. When glancing at the festival lineup, Puddle of Mudd were scheduled pretty early for a band of their stature. They were unquestionably the faces of post grunge throughout the early/mid 2000s yet their reputation has diminished in credibility over the years. I saw Puddle of Mudd open for Buckcherry at the Starland Ballroom in 2012 and Scantlin walked onto the stage severely under the influence. While he sounded good, he used the bass drum as a pedestal to keep his balance, which prevented him from collapsing. There was this nauseating look of anxiety among the band throughout the show and unfortunately, things haven’t really changed much in three years. While Scantlin kept his balance this time around, he sounded flat and sang with a severe lack of energy on hits like “Control” and “Away From Me.” The band frequently took extended guitar solos and drum fills, not for the sake of musicality, but to prevent the ship from sinking. Scantlin has been arrested multiple times in the past few years and it’s obvious how he needs professional help or counseling. I don’t take any personal enjoyment writing this either; I proudly own their first two records. At this rate, however, Puddle of Mudd are only a few steps away from headlining VFW halls if Scantlin doesn’t clean up his act immediately.
Puddle of Mudd & Sevendust Photo Gallery
Let’s take this story in a much brighter direction, as I’m about to focus on the almighty Sevendust. I always refer to them as “The People’s Champion” for heavy metal since they shun aside the notion of being referred to as “rock stars.” They have one of the most loyal fan bases in the world and frontman Lajon Witherspoon always shares his love for New Jersey since the Garden State has become the band’s second home. In fact, I challenge readers to find a nicer bunch of guys on stage but don’t let their kindness fool you. From the opening notes of “Black,” this musical annihilation was equivalent to having your head smashed against a brick wall. The melodies are addicting and their riffs bounce with such thrilling aggression. Truth be told, Witherspoon is so underrated as a frontman that it’s nearly infuriating. Being fortunate enough to see legends like Bruce Dickinson, James Hetfield, and Ronnie James Dio perform, I fully standby stating that Witherspoon ranks right up there in terms of command, reliability, and inspiration. During the set, he saw King’s X vocalist Doug Pinnick standing in the crowd and proceeded to sing the chorus for “Over My Head” as a display of gratitude. Sevendust also performed two brand new songs “Not Today” and “Thank You” off their upcoming LP Kill The Flaw. Needless to say, both tracks should excite the old fans as well as attract plenty of new listeners. While “Not Today” and “Thank You” contain the beloved ingredients of Sevendust’s musical identity, both display an emotional innocence and heaviness unmatched by any of their contemporaries.
Once again, I’ll focus on local Jersey legends by shining the spotlight on guitar god Zakk Wylde. There was this contagious energy in the air and the almighty Black Label Society drew one of the weekend’s largest crowds. From the first sight of his bullseye flying V, Zakk proceeded to light up the fretboard during BLS classics like “Funeral Bell” and “Bleed For You.” The setlist balanced heralded staples such as ‘Stillborn” with new highlights like “Damn The Flood” off their latest LP Catacombs of the Black Vatican. Zakk wasn’t the only member to shine: both rhythm guitarist Dario Lorina and bassist John DeServio played some complicated scales alongside Zakk and executed sweep arpeggios with such ease. On a sidenote, it’s a pleasure to watch Zakk enter his creative zone during songs like “Suicide Messiah” since his love for the guitar is evident from the stage. Regardless of all the girls in the audience as well, there was no time for ballads or soft songs. Black Label Society was a full-fledged marathon of uncompromised doom metal and guitar wizardry.
Saturday’s co-headliners – Three Days Grace – drew one of the weekend’s youngest crowds since they were relatively younger than most of the other acts on the bill. There was a theme of nostalgia for the most of Saturday until Three Days Grace managed to rile up the audience with more recent hits like “Animal I Have Become,” “Home,” and “Just Like You.” Original frontman Adam Gontier quit the band in 2012, which was a huge loss at the time. Since then, vocalist Matt Walst (My Dying Day) has done his best to keep the band’s momentum alive, which is highly evident on their recent hit single “Painkiller.” While they weren’t the most riveting performers from a visual perspective, one cannot deny the strength of their catalog. The entire setlist was comprised of rock radio staples that were immediately recognizable. Walst did a fine job in adding his own flavor to Gontier’s material without copycatting his style. Even from the other main stage, attendees from a far distance could be heard singing the words, “I hate everything about you!”
If one were to vote for the best rock n’ roll band of 2015, I don’t know how anyone could choose against Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators. Talk about a legitimate headliner – this band is truly something special, especially in a world of devoid of true rock n’ roll. Plenty of attendees were excited to hear Guns N’ Roses hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” before the show but Slash’s new material truly won this crowd over. As I wrote last year, Slash’s latest LP World on Fire stands alongside his best work on Appetite for Destruction. This all started with Slash hitting the lottery once again by recruiting Myles Kennedy as his vocalist. Not only is Kennedy an extremely gifted singer with a four-octave vocal range – his expert knowledge in music theory and songwriting helped Slash rekindle his creative prowess. I’d argue Slash is at his all-time best in terms of guitar virtuosity. New tracks like “Wicked Stone,” “World on Fire,” and “The Dissident” perfectly compliment Guns masterpieces like “You Could Be Mine,” “Nightrain,” and “Mr. Brownstone.” When “Anastasia” drew a monstrous reaction on par with “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” this speaks volumes about the quality of the material. Think about how the term “new song” is usually spoken in tongue and cheek amongst music fans yet Slash has avoided this stereotype by surrounding himself with such highly talented musicians.
The Conspirators featuring bassist Todd Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz, and rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris truly capture a synergy reminiscent of Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Izzy Stradlin. Kerns himself is an accomplished vocalist who effortlessly harmonizes with Kennedy and even sings lead vocals on “Welcome to the Jungle.” I don’t want to this review to sound like Slash ignored his past material either; his performance garnered such a wild reaction since the setlist truly encapsulated his entire career. There were plenty of monstrous songs performed off Appetite and Slash even squeezed in “Slither” for the millenials like myself. Speaking of Guns N’ Roses, former rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke performed at the Birch Hill Stage earlier Saturday and managed to make an appearance during “Paradise City.” Talk about a special sight – witnessing two iconic members from Guns N’ Roses trade off riffs during “Paradise City” really concluded Saturday night on the highest possible note. Once Kennedy screamed the words “Home” before the breakdown, the entire crowd truly witnessed the stairway to heaven.