Rock on the Range 2008 Concert Review
I’m going to try my best for this review, and I’ll say right up front that my best simply isn’t good enough. I’ve managed to make it through Ozzfest on five occasions in my lifetime, but I’ve never managed to attempt a multi-day rock and roll festival. I was a fallback, a stand-in if you will, for the reviewing responsibilities for Columbusunderground.com at this event and I had some form of delusion that I had the stamina to go it alone and cover this event when presented with the task. I should never have thought so highly of myself, I promise it will never happen again. Columbusunderground.com had been graced with comp general admission tickets by GMnext, and after my review is complete you’ll understand just how miserably I failed all parties involved. I apologize in advance.
I arrive at Crew Stadium for my first ever visit pockets bulging with index cards which are cheaper to purchase than a little notebook at Target, my camera, my cell phone, a pen, and a general disenchantment with rock and roll. I’ve been burned out on rock for a while now and this concert just seems like a rehash of what the local rock stations have been regurgitating for the last ten years. I won’t lie and say I was overly enthused with the prospect of 20 or so hours of it, but I was willing to bear the burden of my former musical transgressions and bear witness to this testament of bad hair decisions and alcohol-fueled bad hair decisions.
First on the list is Drive A on the ODPS Stage. I honestly have no idea what ODPS stands for- maybe OutDoor Pavilion Stage, maybe Onerous Donkeys are Phreaking Sexy… the world may never know. Drive A is a very young group, and they mentioned they were very excited to be playing the same day as STP – the first of just about every band to say that. As I walked up I felt they sounded pretty poppy and reminded me of Jet. I picked up on some Black Sabbath-esque guitar riffs and the percussionist was actually one of the better I saw with some impressive jazz fills. The sound was pretty good but the cymbal mikes weren’t correct. Being such a young band they were clearly derivative but if you picked up that they were deriving from bands like Sabbath and Jet – they have picked some good bands to derive from. I think this was probably the most marketable band I saw, with the age and talent I see them right in line with the skateboard-pop thing that’s going on right now. The crowd was still a bit sleepy as they wrapped but overall a very excellent job.
The main stage wasn’t quite started up yet so the second act, Ashes Divide, is on the ODPS stage. I’m always a fan of a left-handed drum rig, and the band comes out with a mix of heavy distortion and thoughtful lyrics. I really don’t witness any outstanding displays of musical prowess and concede that they are a very solid rock band with some progressive tendencies which places a lot of importance into meaningful lyrics. My one snarky comment regards the stolen hairstyles from Little Nicky… evidently a lot of rock hair stylists really liked Adam Sandler’s hair in that movie.
Now the main stage is filling up and cooking, with Finger Eleven bringing the noise. After the first few chords I notice two things about having a general admission ticket: whoever did the sound must enjoy terrible bass distortion removed from the area beyond center stage, and the aluminum seating of crew stadium vibrates pretty noticeably. I honestly don’t recommend getting tickets in the bleachers for any large-scale musical performance at this venue. Finger Eleven came out with lots of solid blues guitar and gained the attention of the crowd with their hit “One Thing”. They gave a very decent performance.
As we wait for the sound check to complete on the ODPS stage, lets take a moment to run through some fun facts about going to a festival… I never once had to wait in line for a urinal or water fountain at Crew Stadium, which is amazing compared to Ozzfest at the former Polaris Amphitheatre. The food and drink costs you more than a new kidney, so bring your 401k folks:
Hot Dog $4, Bratwurst $5, Bottled Water $4, Soda $4, Slice of Pizza $5, whole Donatos pizza $30, Domestic Beer $8, Imported beer $9, Funnel Cake $6, 6″ Subway Sub $7, Dippin’ Dots $6.
I love the smell of commerce in the morning. I also managed to stand next to four different people smoking marijuana throughout the day, saw two people taken out in wheelchairs who had simply rocked out, and watched a completely drugged out teenage girl fail to understand the process of standing upright while climbing stairs. Were it not for the next band that girl would have been the highlight of the entire odyssey.
Airbourne descended just as the crowd was waking up, and delivered the best show I had the chance to report on. These guys were the kids whose parents sent them to rock camp, but they cashed in their tuition and drank whiskey with AC/DC. They played fast, hard, and clean. The risk when you make the decision against heavy distortion on the guitars in a rock band is that a few mistakes don’t get hidden, so there were a few and the frontman’s wireless rig would cut out periodically – but these guys were definitely in this thing to win it. One memorable tune was “Cheaper Wine, Cheaper Women” which tells us that “whiskey may not be the answer but it sure does hit the spot.” How true. I really have to liken this group to a young AC/DC and their energy level was phenomenal for the timeslot and stage. I’m glad they were not playing on the main stage, as watching acts on the main stage was a more relaxing disengaged situation – and this was an engaging group.
I returned back to the terrible sound of the main stage for Shinedown, who delivered a pretty bland set. The lead singer deferred to the audience several times, letting us all know that the fans were the boss and the real reason rock and roll has survived. I guess I can say “you’re welcome” here. There actually was a somewhat touching moment in my little section of the bleachers when they played their song about addiction “Save Me”… an older rocker in front of me took out his AA token and waved it in rhythm with the music. I’m not too cynical to see past the connection the man was making to the music, and I’ll be the first to commend Shinedown for putting a message of struggle and healing out there into the rock community.
While waiting for the ODPS stage sound check to wrap up let’s think about what we can market to the rock show crowd. Notably present were F.Y.E., Bed Head hair products, Sony Entertainment, and the United States Army. Sony rolled out the trailer with the PS3 and rock band and a whole bunch of interactive demos. The Army followed suit with Guitar Hero III set up in their booth, so you could rock out with your cock out while simultaneously learning which is for fighting and which is for fun. The best of both worlds if you ask me.
Red took the side stage with a red and black motif, and fittingly they sound a lot like Chevelle who have a song called “Red”. The bass guitar was actually very clear on the ODPS stage for this show, which was really nice to hear. The frontman really works hard on his rock gestures like reaching out to the crowd and flinging his hands in the air, thankfully he did not fall down on the stage for dramatic effect. Overall this is a very very solid rock band and I shouldn’t let my comments get in the way of that, progressive stylings and some impressive lyrics will keep them just a bit ahead of the middle of the pack but I’m not seeing anything to really distinguish them – hopefully that’s something they discover. A repeating chorus in one of their songs was “I don’t want to run away, and I don’t want to be afraid” – definitely revealing to everyone the softer side of rock and roll.
Next up on the main stage was Killswitch Engage, pretty much the closest the festival had come to hardcore that day and the beginning of my diatribe on the mosh pit. The point of the mosh pit is not to push people out of the pit so you can stand around like a tool in the middle of a cirlce in the crowd by yourself. The point is to mosh WITH people and have an experience. It’s like playing tennis- it’s fun to hit the ball against a wall but eventually you want a partner to hit the ball back to you… Jim. Another thing I’d like to point out, and this was something I’ve seen P.O.D. address at every show of theirs I’ve been to (2): People need to take care of each other at rock shows, pick each other up, when there’s a huge mass of people up front at a festival who won’t move and give up their spot throw out some water bottles or hose them off. I’ll leave off the rest of my checklist for now, but keep in mind that participating and caring are good things – even at a rock show. Back to Killswitch Engage – the lead singer has some serious pipes and the vocals were nice, but the bleacher seats were still dealing with terrible distortion and an echo of vibrations off the opposing metal bleachers. I really dug the music on this set regardless.
10 years pulls out the next on the ODPS stage, and I really don’t notice anything special from them… again really feeling Chevelle from them like Red a while back. The vocals are really clean in the sound mix and the rhythm guitar parts are really swell. They break out the sing-a-long with their hit “Wasteland” and come off a little bit like Incubus with the line “Just as beautiful as you are, it’s so pitiful what you are” from the song “Beautiful”.
Serj Tankian strolled out onto the main stage fronting his self-named group in top hats and suits. The music is just as complicated as you’d expect from the System of a Down frontman, but the bounce between the metal seats really keeps the music and lyrics from being discernable in many spots. I will admit this is just weird music in some respects, but I like it. Whoever Serj has playing drums is absolutely fantastic. Serj jumps up on the soapbox between songs and chastises President Bush and society, noting that we’re always told to either “Praise the Lord” or “Pass the Ammunition”. It actually surprises me that anyone would find that a revelation, but we’re not in a debate here – this is a rock show.
Theory of a Deadman wins the award for being the ladies’ favorite while I was at the festival. They got the most ladies at the ODPS stage, women crowd-surfing, women on their guys’ shoulders, women screaming. This equates into success in the music world, because if you have the ladies you’ve got suckers like me who chase the ladies around and listen to the same music they do. The crowd is filling out and getting lively about this time of day, and the pop-punk riffs and popular style of music Theory of a Deadman brings to the table fits in. The frontman has a high level of energy and rises above the fact that there’s nothing particularly special about the music being played.
I’ve now come to an impasse in my role as a reviewer, I’d like to catch Filter and Stone Temple Pilots – but I can’t bear to sit through Staind and Disturbed. This is compounded by the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of standing and running back and forth, and because I’m a pretty cheap bastard I wouldn’t buy any food at the high prices being charged. So for a few minutes I’m standing at the front row of the ODPS stage angling for great photographic position for the Filter show that I’ll have to wait for over an hour to start. Some crowd surfer girl is wandering around looking for her lost flip flop and I’m coming to the realization that if I continue to stand here I’ll get really bored and people might try to start talking to me. I lose my entire motivation and walk back to my car which is parked on 16th and Summit for free because there was no way in hell I was paying $15 to park in the mud hole they call Crew Stadium parking. I am cheap, but I came to realize through this experiment in rock journalism – I also have no stamina. After a long night of relaxing in Franklinton I wake up late Sunday and decide that there’s no way in hell I’m putting myself through another day (and looking at the schedule, and even less-talented musical day) of rock and roll. I have to face the facts – I’m neither a dedicated journalist or a serious rock fan. I’m just a guy who doesn’t finish what he starts and disappoints everyone who really didn’t even expect him to succeed in the first place. By skipping the second day I also missed out on a potential opportunity to hang with Kyle Gass from Tenacious D set up by GMnext that would have been totally forced and strange. This is unfortunate because I generally thrive in strange situations. With this I can only offer you my partial review and most sincere apologies.