Tuesday, August 25th 2009
The KROQ Epicenter Festival descended on the dusty plains of Pomona, California last Saturday for a heavy dose of white boy rock, and the pitch was dead center as the hordes of black-clad Inland Empire left their basements and bedrooms for a day in the sweltering SoCal sunshine. Tool, Linkin Park and Alice In Chains headlined the event, which is a rebranded offering of the long-running Inland Invasion festival L.A. radio station KROQ has put on over the past decade.
Anyone showing up after 4pm or so would never have known the Monster Energy side stage existed at all, but while it lasted it provided a mildly-appealing alternative to the main stage fare. After Midnight Project started off the festival with passion, but to mixed results from the early-arrival crowd. Electro-rockers Sonny didn’t fare nearly as well, losing roughly half the audience two songs in, but reliably solid showings by both Aesop Rock and Atmosphere set the Monster Stage off right.
If Street Sweeper Social Club’s Epicenter set was any indication, audience patience for this one-trick pony is wearing thin. The pseudo-revolutionary pulse of their afro-funk grit never really got off the ground, despite energetic showings from both frontman Boots Riley and legendary guitarist Tom Morello. It would be a little too easy to blame the crowd, which was brimming with castaways from the next season of So You Think You’re Inbred – their lackluster performance was less for missing enthusiasm than for possessing any real fire.
Wolfmother arrived like the bastard children of Led Zeppelin and The Darkness, singing about angels and unicorns while reminding the masses how popular a band can get with a little help from Guitar Hero and one really catchy, really fucking annoying song. I’m referring, of course, to their hit Woman, the entire reason any of us know they exist, which they won’t ever outlive and certainly won’t ever eclipse. Frizzed-out frontman Andrew Stockdale has his own gravitational field, it seems, given the squealing from attendant females, but we’ll see how far that carries them on their upcoming next album, Cosmic Egg (a winner title if I’ve ever heard one). The guy’s got passion, I’ll give him that much.
Alice in Chains took to the stage to a maniacally enthusiastic crowd that didn’t give a moment’s hesitation to embracing new lead vocalist William Duvall, who left little room for doubt as to whether he deserves the spot vacated by Layne Staley nearly a decade ago. Opening with Rain When I Die, the band tore through a set heavy on the classics, with a few new jams thrown in. The heaving bodies went berzerk for Dam That River, Man In The Box and Rooster, which featured the biggest heartfelt singalong of the day, as well as Check My Brain, which drew a surprising level of enthusiasm. Duvall walked the fine line between tribute and parody as he wailed his way through the hits, aided of course by Jerry Cantrell’s inimitable harmonies. The set was inarguably a triumph – even for the Layne-loyal skeptics.
After an hour and change of a surprisingly rocking, hits-heavy set by Linkin Park, the band filed offstage so vocalist Chester Bennington could introduce his new side project, Dead By Sunrise. Imagine Orgy (you remember, that shitty tweaker band that covered Blue Monday about a decade ago) getting together with, well, the singer from Linkin Park. It’s a fucking nightmare collaboration and in the name of everything sacred in rock music I urge you not to buy into the hype this uninspiring new band is brewing on overtime.
Tool took the stage at 9:30, clearing the crowd’s collective palette of all that weird bullshit in the first surging notes of their opener, Jambi. It was as if a collective switch was thrown in the audience at the very first riff – thousands of listless bodies with aching feet suddenly came to life as one throbbing, roaring mass – and remained that way for their entire 90-minute set. Frontman Maynard James Keenan, supported by crutches after an accident while harvesting grapes (“God kicked me right in the balls,” mused Keenan), used his supports as vocal punctuation throughout the set, jabbing them at the sky, playing air guitar, sniping off members of the audience, etc.
Tearing through a dream setlist that included a manic Rosetta Stoned segueing into an utterly epic version of Flood, which gave way to the geographically-appropriate Ænima (“Nothing personal,” Keenan told the crowd before the song began), Tool left little question as to why they’re regarded with wonderment by their industry peers. The entire crowd seemed to know every word of the spiraling Lateralus, a nine-and-a-half minute song that received minimal radio play. After closing the show with a pounding singalong version of Vicarious, the ever-appropriate ode to mass masochistic/voyeuristic obsession, the band remained onstage for roughly three minutes, waving goodbye to the lingering crowd. It’s the last scheduled show of the year for Tool, who are said to be in the early stages of writing the follow-up to 10,000 Days.
Sure as hell beats CrüeFest.