Concert Review: Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival - As I Lay Dying, Anthrax, Motörhead, Slayer and Slipknot - 7/21/12 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

Concert Review:  Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival - As I Lay Dying, Anthrax, Motörhead, Slayer and Slipknot - 7/21/12 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

High temperatures were no match for heavy metal as fifteen acts and two of the "Big 4" performed across three stages Saturday in Tinley Park as the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival rolled into First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre...

Rock is dead.

That's what I keep hearing and reading at least.

But rock looked anything but dead Saturday at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre.

In fact, I haven't seen the lawn section at the outdoor shed as full as it was Saturday in quite a while.  And make no mistake, it was packed early in the day as As I Lay Dying opened up main stage festivities, not just by the time darkness fell and Slipknot closed out the evening.

As the popularity of the touring festival has waned in recent years with many once marquee festivals disappearing altogether and destination festivals taking their place in major cities, a funny thing happened in metal.  The lack of an Ozzfest on the summer docket has left a void in terms of rock when it comes to major, touring package festivals.  Gigantour rose from the ashes last year and for the fifth consecutive year, Mayhem Festival has toured the United States.

Embracing all things metal (not just music but tattoos, leather, motorcyles and Jägermeister too), Mayhem Festival has attracted major commercial sponsors (Rockstar Energy Drink and more) and with it, top notch talent.  Some of the biggest names in metal (both old and new) have gotten together for what Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee described to me as "A very, very good package going around.  And trust me, I don’t say that about every tour." he added.

What also amazed me was the range of ages around me in the crowd.  Slipknot is a great example of the type of metal band that via their crazed stage show, costumes and online presence appeals to the younger demographic that most rock bands don't seem to be reaching these days.

But it wasn't just Slipknot that rallied the youth.  As I looked out from my perch on the side of the stage, it wasn't just aging bikers singing along to "Ace of Spades," it was young fans too.  "Another major thing is that, I think it has paid off, the fact that we did the Tony Hawk stuff, the Triple H stuff, the X-Games.  A lot of stuff that kids today like, you know?" explained Dee as he pointed out Motörhead's continued placement in skateboarding, pro wrestling and extreme sports.  "Then after they see one show, we have them.  That’s where we come in and take over in a way then.  We show them real rock 'n' roll.  It ain’t fake.  It’s what it is."

When all was said and done on Saturday, I had as good of a time at Mayhem Fest as I've had at any traveling festival in several years.  But despite a bevy of interesting distractions and top notch people watching Saturday, for me it was all about the metal.

Onto the music...

Anthrax - I'm always amazed when I see one of the "big 4" headlining one of the smaller parking lot stages as opposed to the main stage.  Those who waited a bit before showing up on Saturday missed one of thrash's finest as Anthrax took the stage amidst blazing heat just after 5PM Saturday.

Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante is based in the northern suburbs and a few years back, bassist Scott Ian went so far as to call Chicago the "heavy metal capital of the United States."

The band's 2004 live release Music of Mass Destruction captures a live set at Metro.

So the bar is generally set pretty high when the band performs here.  Anthrax has great expectations of the crowd and the crowd expects a lot from the band.  So it's a two way street.

And never was that more clear on Saturday than during the band's performance of "Indians."  Ian stopped the song multiple times to rile up the crowd (especially the pit) and Benante's drums kicked hard during the drawn out performance of the song.

Vocalist Joey Belladonna is back for his third tour of duty and sounded great on classics like opening number "Caught in a Mosh."  It's pretty tough to follow "Caugh in a Mosh" in a thrash set but "Fight 'Em 'Till You Can't" from Antrhax's Belladonna-voiced 2011 release Worship Music sounded good.  Older numbers like "Antisocial" were solid as well.

As I Lay Dying -  Following Anthrax's headlining performance outside, the massive crowded moved inside, storming both the lawn and pavilion for As I Lay Dying's opening set on the main stage.  This crowd was large and frenzied for this early in the afternoon.  It's one of the reasons I love metal:  You just can't beat the live crowd.

I watched As I Lay Dying from the corner of the stage for the first time at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre and I now understand just why the monitor is so important in the cavernous setting of an outdoor amphitheatre.  It's pretty tough to hear much of anything while standing onstage without it.  This also reinforced for me just how terrible the acoustics really are inside the pavilion area at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre.

But all of that said, As I Lay Dying sounded good.  The Grammy nominated metalcore band opened with "Condemned" and tore through a set that for me peaked with "The Sound of Truth."

Motörhead - For the third time in the past year and a half, I was lucky enough to see Motörhead.  The band hasn't done a summer tour of the U.S. since 1998, so this was a rare opportunity to catch them outdoors.  Following the release of their twentieth studio album The Wörld Is Yours in early 2011, they've pretty much toured nonstop and as a result they are firing on all cylinders right now.

Perhaps it was the sense of urgency dictated by their abbreviated set, but Motörhead tore through their performance with reckless abandon.  As my left ear continues to remind me several days after the show, I was standing at the corner of the stage nearest guitarist Phil Campbell, directly across from his main amp... an amp so loud that I could not hear drummer Mikkey Dee despite his playing about fifteen feet from me.  I could feel that playing... but I couldn't hear it.  I also could barely hear Lemmy save for his always entertaining between song banter.  Phil had some sound issues briefly during the set but they were taken care of quickly and never lingered.

Lemmy is always careful to refer to Motörhead as a rock 'n' roll band as opposed to a metal band.  If you've ever seen the Lemmy documentary, then you know what a huge fan of Little Richard he is.  And that love of old rock finally hit me in the back of the head on Saturday (well, more that aforementioned left ear I suppose).  Campbell's guitar drowned out everything else and hearing those licks and riffs isolated from the rest of the band, you can really hear that old rock influence in both the songwriting and Campbell's guitar playing.  It's most obvious on "Going to Brazil."

Mikkey Dee stepped up for his solo following "The Chase is Better Than the Catch" and as per the usual it was stellar.  Dee pounds the skins in a fairly relentless manner that keeps you engaged as opposed to headed for the beer line.

Lemmy stirred up the pit as Motörhead closed with a murderer's row of "Killed by Death," "Ace of Spades" and "Overkill."

Slayer - Following Motörhead's set, the backstage area was swept out and we headed for the lawn.  By the time Slayer took the stage, it was obvious quick why ne'erdowell's like myself were told to head for higher ground:  pyro.  Lots of pyro.

The majority of the pyro came from the flaming Slayer sign overhead and two huge crosses spewing fire set up behind the band.  There was also a pipe raised a few feet off of the stage that emitted a low flame for the duration of the set.  So the stage looked cool.

The lawn was at its most packed of the day during Slayer's set and, as is often the case, the crowd was nuts.  The metalhead who just randomly screams, "SLAYER!" was a frequent sight all day on Saturday but it was downright ubiquitous once the band actually took the stage (As was the repeated chant of "SLA-YER! SLA-YER! SLA-YER!" that went up during rare lulls).

What's always striking about Slayer in the live setting is the level of musicianship.  Casual rock fans write off metal far too easily, Slayer in particular.  But the way they incorporate melody into their brand of thrash metal is great.  This was especially evident during "Seasons in the Abyss."  "Die By the Sword" and "Mandatory Suicide" drove the pit as evening fell on Tinley Park.

The frenetic dueling guitar work of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman closed out the night on 1986's "Raining Blood" and a number of fans went heading to the exits early as Slayer's set came to an end.

Slipknot - Until finally seeing the band live, I never understood the appeal of Slipknot.  I never dug the costumes and, at least to me, the masks were a bit to close in style to those adorning the cover of Quiet Riot's 1983 album Metal Health.  I never disliked the band... I just never quite got it.

But to fully enjoy Slipknot, it's imperative to experience them in the live setting.  Because, while some departed following Slayer, the lawn section remain packed for Slipknot and probably close to 25,000 people were simply up for grabs during their set.  Somehow, I did not comprehend that Slipknot was still this popular.  The lawn was hands down at its craziest during their set (and following Slayer... that's saying something).

Slipknot features quite the live ensemble, a lineup including three drummers.  One of the drumkits spun and raised up on a pedestal.  Two drummers crowded into it at once giving opening track "(sic)" a total of four percussionists.

The drumming was truly outstanding all night at Mayhem Fest.  I talked to Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee about that fact.  "On this tour, there are great drummers!  Joey [Jordison] in Slipknot and Dave [Lombardo] in Slayer.  All the other younger bands have great drummers.  It appears to be a drummer convention here, you know?" said Dee.

In fact, great drumming carried my favorite moment of the Slipknot set during "The Heretic Anthem."  The crowd answered in kind chanting the lyrics "If you're 5-5-5, I'm 6-6-6!" back to the band in a somewhat perverted form of call and response.

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    Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday nights at 6PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS and AM 1060 WHFB (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet). Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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