On Absolute (Rise Records), Kublai Khan ticks off a lot of the boxes I’m looking for in modern Metallic Hardcore or extreme music, but something isn’t quite passing state inspection. They’re blending equal parts Hardcore and Metal fury, have meaty breakdowns, occasional Thrash tempos and happen to be from Texas. I should like this. Or I should like this a bit more. Continue reading
Ah, 1999. A time for ridiculously baggy jeans, wallet chains, and clothes with far too many zips and pockets. A time for silly haircuts, spiked neckbands, black lipstick, and even blacker eyeliner – for both sexes. A time for backwards-facing red caps and hilarious facial piercings. Also a time for many metal fans over the age of forty to think back upon while making vomiting noises and pretending such crimes against metal never actually happened.Continue reading
People descended on Tempe Beach Park in Tempe, Arizona Halloween weekend for the first ever Monster Mash Music Festival. Set up in the shadow of Arizona State University and right on the water, it was a great location for a big music festival. Once Tool was named as the headliner, it turned into a must see event since the band has barely toured the last few years. I flew out from Boston, by some good graces of friends for the show. The rest of the lineup was equally stacked, so it looked to be a great time in the making.
Saturday at the fest was a pretty short day between the two. It was cool to meet people not just from across the country, but across the world. I met people from Australia, Germany, Toronto, and Brazil and more. I saw more Tool band t-shirts than at any point in my entire life combined. The Halloween atmosphere was awesome with people in costumes. The whole town seemed to be in awesome spirits from the local folks I ran into.
The event was spread out with one huge stage with large screens on the sides if you couldn’t get up close. This was a factor towards the end of the night each day as the fans packed in all day. Based on demand, Tool had merch at the front gate and the special custom Monster Mash Tool posters were sold out way early, much to the chagrin of many. Still, the rest of the fest was well stocked with a massive beer garden, some cool foodage (the mediterranean wrap guys had the best grub of the weekend) and other vendors. I spent some time at the To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) table, talking about the charity, learning all about mental illness and suicide. They are awesome and making a dent in helping people.
The first band of the weekend was With Our Arms To The Sun, and they just totally surprised everyone. They are well-known locally from AZ, but with the crowd from all over, so they were really playing to all new people today. Front man Josh Breckenridge really brings it in terms of charisma and style vocally. Their best song ‘Great Black Divide’ was frankly beyond belief and you should stop reading this review and go hear it now. Also props to drummer John McLucas, the kid is a beast. These guys will be on our radar for a long time to come. Aeges from LA was up next and they were in the Halloween spirit in costumes ranging from a hotdog with mustard, a monkey to Jason Vorhees. Aeges came to rock faces off and they did just that. The band just has that cool modern rock thing that bands like Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails (think last ten years) have, that sets them apart. People didn’t seem to mind the late afternoon sun baking us dead since the band was slaying.
It was kind of a mixed bag for Coheed and Cambria. I can’t profess to being a super Coheed fan, but being a lover of prog I have always had a respect for them. However, with their new album the Color Before the Sun, it just felt like the band had mailed it in to me. Playing a third of the set from the new album, you could just feel the air leave the venue during these tracks. They of course crushed it on all the classics. It’s a tough spot for the band that have indeed been visionary, but at least live they still deliver on the old jams. Primus however, was just gold. Although they faked me out with the inflatable mushrooms from their Chocolate Factory album, it was all greatest hits for an hour straight. The band was tight, having recently wrapped up a year on the road and Les Claypool was in top form. He joked during the set about Tool’s Maynard James Keenan during the set. On any other night, it would be hard to follow these guys.
Of course the largest crowd of the weekend was packed in tight for Tool, upwards of 35,000 people by some reports. Security seemed nervous about the number of people, but overall I think they did a great job. Tool’s legendary special effects heavy show was put in place and the lights went down and a huge cheer went up. The band came on stage and I thought something was unusual about them. I noticed drummer Danny Carey wearing a read headband and then I saw bassist Justin Chancellor and his fancy bell-bottoms. I said out loud “Are Tool dressed as Led Zeppelin for Halloween?” And indeed they were. No only that, they were dressed as the band and how they looked in the film The Song Remains The Same. Then Adam Jones began the familiar notes of their cover of Led Zep’s ‘No Quarter’ played and my mind was blown. It set the tone for the night, with a lot of feel-good throwback songs in the set list.
Next they played another rarely heard track, ‘The Grudge’. Normally when I have seen Tool in the past it was always a note for note, flawless performance. Each member of the band tonight seemed to be kicking the rust off in their own way. Mistakes were made, but they were few and barely noticeable to most. To me it lent an air of fragility to the band that I dig. These guys are human beings after all, not machines. Maynard was in great form in particular. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun up there, and made jokes at the band, some fans, and professed his career highlight as seeing Batman in the front row.
The band played another old-school gem in ‘Opiate’, a new song was played (now know as a smaller part of a longer track) dubbed ‘Descending’, a killer drum solo by Carey, and several of their biggest hits. All in all, the show felt like a triumph. I felt lucky to be there.
Sunday I got to the venue early, hung out with some industry folks and hydrated like a mofo on this arid, cloudless day. Ghost was up first and it was a packed crowd early right in front of the stage. I was up close and it seemed 50/50 Ghost fans and people who had no idea who they were. It was interesting to see the band deal when they didn’t exactly have the full command of the crowd. But by the end of the set, songs like ‘He Is’, ‘Year Zero’ and the surprising closer of ‘If You Have Ghost’ seemed to convert many to the flock.
Puscifer came next, and along with it the first performance of their new material for their album Money Shot (Puscifer Entertainment). Dressed as a mustachioed, pot-bellied, speedo wearing Captain America complete with shield, Maynard Keenan’s other muse seemed a lot more relaxed than his other act the night before. Aside from Maynard, the band were all dressed in snazzy suits and Lucha Libre wrestler masks, except for drummer Jeff Friedl who drew the unlucky leather clad BDSM sub get up in the sweltering heat. The presentation is all on purpose with Puscifer, but serves only to force you to face the music on their terms. And it is brilliant. Opening with the fitting ‘Grand Canyon’, one gets the immersive musical experience Keenan and his troupe are aiming for. Hearing Keenan and Carina Round trade vocal lines and weird stage mojo with each other live was one of the highlights of the weekend, and maybe my entire year.
After that I made the decision to leave the pit and get some more water and a better vantage point. Where Puscifer was high-art theater meant for the small stage, Deftones would bring the thunder of an arena band. Front man Chino Moreno whooped and crooned, running all over the set and jumping into the crowd numerous times. Although he claimed to be drunk before doing an on stage shot early on, he sang well. He did have microphone issues the entire set which was a bummer, especially when his mic cut out for half a song at one point. Joined by local resident Max Cavalera (Soulfly/Killer Be Killed) for ‘Head-Up’, it was another unforgettable moment, and the best pit action moment of Sunday too.
With darkness falling and a huge stage set unveiled, it seemed like a lot of fans were in the house to see Rob Zombie. With his over the top imagery, the stage was decked out in tribute to Universal Movie Monsters. Sadly, Rob’s voice was shot from three straight weeks of shows. During the first song he struggled to sing at all. He addressed the crowd about this after and said he refused to cancel or cut the set short. Instead he was a trooper and danced, sang his best, and asked the crowd to pitch in. I think many other artists would have bailed, but props to Rob for caring about his fans.
Linkin Park came out to close the night and the weekend for Monster Mash Music Fest. Similar to Tool, they came out in costume (cool zombie makeup, bros) and they also seemed oddly rusty. Perhaps it was mainly Chester Bennington, who has toured up a storm lately with LP and Stone Temple Pilots. It’s easy to see why these guys are one of the biggest bands in the world, even if they forgot some of the words to two of their biggest hits (‘One Step Closer’ and ‘Numb’, ugh). However, Linkin Park puts on a hands-down stellar show. From impressive lights, to solo spots for most of the guys, including a full on EDM set and DJ Joe Hahn doing a Fort Minor mini-set, it was excellent. The crowd was tired, but into it as the music rang out in the desert night for the last time. Based on my experience, I’d like to see this fest come back next year and every year!
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