Last weekend, my friend Dustin sent me a text telling me he got free tickets to Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio. “Google that shit”, he said, and “try to get Saturday and Sunday off. We’ll camp.” If you’re not familiar with Rock on the Range, here’s what you need to know: self-billed as “Where Rock Lives”, ROTR has been an annual event since 2007, when it was a one-day only thing. It is held at a professional soccer stadium (Columbus Crew of the MLS organization) just north of downtown Columbus. ZZ Top headlined that first year, and the likes of Papa Roach, Buckcherry, and Puddle of Mudd played as well.
In 2008, the event was extended an extra day, covering Saturday and Sunday. Stone Temple Pilots headlined the first day, and Kid Rock and Three Doors Down co-headlined the second day. Other bands on the bill included Papa Roach, Disturbed, Seether, Five Finger Death Punch, Drowning Pool, etc. If you’re noticing a theme to some of the bands, then you’ll understand why I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea. Good bands have been known to play Rock on the Range, but for every Cheap Trick, Anthrax, Helmet, Clutch, Ghost, and Alice in Chains that have appeared, there have been dozens of Limp Bizkits, Korns, Hollywood Undeads, Godsmacks, Stone Sours, and Black Veil Brideses.
2014 marks the second consecutive year that the event has been extended to a third day. I checked out the website, and here are the three headliners, in order, Friday-Sunday: Guns ‘n’ Roses, Avenged Sevenfold, and Kid Rock. Understandably, I was not super fired up about driving four hours for this shit. When I looked further into the Saturday lineup, however, I knew I had to find a way to go: Slayer, Exodus, and Suicidal Tendencies were making this the last stop on their short US tour, and I had a chance to see them for free, and all I had to do was drive us there? Sign me right the fuck up! If you’ve read more than a few things on this blog, you know that thrash metal is my lifeblood, and I had never seen Exodus or Slayer, so I was definitely into it. I was also kind of pumped about seeing Fozzy, and Don Jamieson of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show was headlining the “Old Milwaukee® Comedy Tent”. I’ve only heard a couple of Fozzy songs, but Chris Jericho was one of my favorite professional wrestlers in the mid-to-late ’90s, and I’d never seen or heard any of Don’s stand-up, but he’s pretty funny on the show, so I figured I might as well check them out while I had the chance.
I already get Sundays off work, so all I had to do was figure out the Saturday situation, which I managed to do pretty quickly: I’d go to work at 5:30 AM like I always do on Saturdays, and I’d leave at 9:00, drive an hour north to Indianapolis to pick Dustin up, and head three hours east to break my fucking neck headbanging. When I finally had a chance to research the event properly, a major hitch became apparent: camping was only allowed for people who purchased a “Camping Package”, which was sold out, and which cost $869 – EIGHT HUNDRED SIXTY-NINE FUCKING DOLLARS – for four three-day Field General Admission tickets (Field GA allowed access to the floor in front of the stage, while Stadium GA only allowed seating in the stands – this will come into play later), a campsite (no tents allowed), and four festival t-shirts. With less than one week before the start of the festival, the only available hotels were $300 a night, so we had to figure something out. After much discussion, I managed to talk Dustin into only attending Saturday, since we hadn’t paid for the tickets anyway, with the deal being that I would drive us back to Indianapolis afterward. He was only really interested in two bands on Sunday (Trivium and the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience), and I was only interested in Gojira, but I was obviously fine with not paying $300 so I could stay in Columbus and watch a band I’m only marginally familiar with play for 30 minutes.
I arrived late to Dustin’s house (thanks for fucking nothing, Mapquest), so we got to the venue about an hour later than we’d anticipated, and thus had to pay $20 to park 1.5 miles from the venue. Dustin is the head brewer for Cutters Brewing Company (which is how he scored the tickets, and which you should definitely check out if you get the chance), so he brought some beer, and I’m a kitchen manager at a co-op grocery store and a bourbon enthusiast, so I brought some expired bread and cheese and a flask full of Four Roses. We were about to jam econo, Heavy Metal Parking Lot-style. We had an awesome conversation with the most Kentuckian couple I’ve ever met (which is quite a feat, considering that my wife and her entire family are from Kentucky), and we traded beers for more bourbon, and the man (who was very excited to meet a Brewmaster) said “Man, I hate to say it, but Guns ‘n’ Roses kinda sucked last night” [which came out more like “Mayun, Ah hay-eete ta say-ee it, but Guns ‘n’ Raoses kanda suucked last naht” – seriously, it was so much fun to talk to them (and I’m not making fun)].
We continued to eat and drink our free food and beer, and then I began to notice a slow trickle of people in suits walking around the parking lot, which struck me as odd, until we realized that we were tailgating in the middle of a parking lot filled with cars parked by people who were attending a high school graduation. Congratulations, kids, and welcome to the real world. By and by, I realized that we had already missed the beginning of Fozzy’s set, so we hung out a little longer before finally heading for the venue. I immediately scoped out the grounds to find the Jagermeister® Third Stage, where Exodus was set to go on at 6:00. After locating the stage, I found an amazingly badass Exodus t-shirt (which surprisingly only cost $25, and which I’ll share a picture of here later), we bought a couple of $6 PBRs each, and settled our way in near the front of the crowd.
Exodus came on promptly at 6:00, and proceeded to blast my skull wide open for the next half hour. They kicked off with “Bonded By Blood”, vocalist Rob Dukes said hello to everyone, then said “There’s a lot of fuckin great bands playin here today…lot of fuckin shitty bands playin here today too. This one’s called ‘Piranha’.” Then they played “Blacklist”, “War is my Shepherd”, and “The Toxic Waltz”, (they may have played “A Lesson in Violence” next, but I really can’t remember) before closing with “Strike of the Beast”. It didn’t last nearly long enough, but it was an absolutely fucking amazing set (although I would’ve loved to hear “And Then There Were None” live).
One of my favorite parts of the set was during “The Toxic Waltz”: Dukes said he wanted to see “the biggest fuckin circle pit I’ve ever seen”, and while I’m 100% certain he’s seen bigger circle pits, the pit that opened up and maintained itself for the entirety of that song was easily the most fun, respectful pit I’ve ever borne witness to. No meatheads swinging their fists wildly in the air, no one kicking at other people, no mindless, aggressive shoving, just good, friendly, violent fun, with a crowd of giddy Metalheads dancing in a circle for 5 minutes.
Dustin had heard Exodus for the first time in the car on the way to the show, but he was pumped afterward. He told me he loved it, and that he was definitely gonna be adding some of their stuff to his collection. And seriously, I implore you, if you get a chance to see Exodus live, fucking DO IT.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the bathrooms. We had an hour to kill before Suicidal hit the Ernie Ball® Second Stage, and Chevelle was playing on the main stage, so we walked around and did some people watching, got more beers, and made our way toward the stage to wait. A couple of total bro-looking dudes stopped and chatted us up (one of them was very excited about my ALL and Descendents buttons), and the taller of the two told us that Guns ‘n’ Roses were “fuckin awesome last night” (for the record, based on what I’ve seen on YouTube in the past year or two, I’m inclined to believe Mr. Southern Kentucky’s assessment more). Taller Bro was really stoked for Suicidal, and Shorter Bro seemed on the fence, as he was there for some of the shittier bands, but agreed to come give them a chance.
For my part, I’d seen Suicidal once before, on the Vans® Warped Tour back in like 1999 or 2000, so I had already decided to watch part of their set, then head over to the comedy tent to check out Don Jamieson’s stand-up set, which began halfway through ST’s set. The band came out and started the opening strains of “You Can’t Bring Me Down”, then Mike Muir’s voice came from the ether, “Columbus, I just got one question for you…”, then he appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and shouted “What the fuck is goin on around here?!” The band played the song flawlessly, but it seemed to me that Muir was getting winded pretty quickly, as he failed to actually sing large parts of the song, leaving the band to fill the space with backing vocals. They followed with “War Inside My Head”, and Muir seemed more on top of things this time, but it still seemed off. Dustin indicated that it seemed to him that there might just be something wrong with the sound.
At any rate, when they started in with “Subliminal”, we made a beeline for the comedy tent. That was easily one of the Top 50 Worst Decisions I’ve ever made; Don Jamieson was not one bit fucking funny. His set consisted of “Any KISS fans here? (insert joke about KISS)”, followed by a joke about having sex with his girlfriend, followed by a racist joke, followed by “Any Ozzy fans here? (insert joke about Ozzy)”, followed by a joke about jerking off, followed by a racist joke, followed by “Any Mötley Crüe fans here? (insert joke about Mötley Crüe)”, followed by a joke about having sex with his girlfriend, followed by a racist joke, etcetera, etcetera, for like 25 minutes.
After his set, I turned to Dustin and said “I wish we hadn’t walked over here for that,” to which Dustin replied “Yeah, he wasn’t funny”. Such is life, however, and Slayer was slated to start their set on the main stage in about 10 minutes, and we still hadn’t found a seat. My feelings regarding Slayer have been discussed elsewhere in the pages of Stay Heavy, but here’s the short version: I fucking love the first four Slayer albums, and I consider Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, and South of Heaven to be absolutely essential. Seasons in the Abyss has some great songs on it, but it marked the beginning of a noticeable change in Tom Araya’s vocal delivery, wherein he went from an amazing and sometimes frightening combination of screaming, wailing, shouting at the top of his voice, and creepy singing to a combination of shouting at the top of his voice and creepy singing, completely forgoing the screaming and wailing. I like some stuff post-Seasons, but I have found every album since that one (and sometimes that one) to be boring, overall.
To add to that: when founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman passed away, followed shortly thereafter by Kerry King and Tom Araya firing original drummer Dave Lombardo over some business-related bullshit, I decided I didn’t really give a fuck about Slayer anymore. Gary Holt of Exodus has been playing live with them for several years now, and he’s a guitar beast, but the Lombardo stuff all just seemed so petty and shady, and Hanneman’s death made me so sad, that I figured I wouldn’t be able to really enjoy Slayer live, and in fact I had decided less than one month ago that I would still see them live if given the opportunity, but I wouldn’t pay for it, as I don’t want Kerry King to make any money off me.
I am happy to report that I was sorely mistaken about not being able to enjoy Slayer live. Even in that enormous stadium setting, where I could only really see the band on the big screens to the sides of the stage, they were devastatingly good. Part of that, no doubt, is the fact that Lombardo’s replacement, Paul Bostaph, has been a member of the band before (throughout most of the 1990’s), and that Gary Holt is one of the best metal guitar players alive. At any rate, I enjoyed the fuck out of it. We got to our seats a bit late, but they opened their set with “World Painted Blood”, “Hate Worldwide”, and “Disciple”, so I didn’t mind as much as if I’d missed, say, “At Dawn They Sleep”. Our tickets were stamped “Stadium GA”, which meant we were not allowed access to the field in front of the stage, but that didn’t stop Dustin from trying to walk out there anyway, pretending like he didn’t know we needed a wristband to get on the field. He was denied, so we found the closest seats we could, and settled in as “Disciple” was winding down and “Mandatory Suicide” was beginning.
A guy next to me asked me if I’d seen Slayer live before. I told him I had not, and he told me he was very happy for me. We then discussed the sad nature of the people around us, noting that for the most part, they did not seem to give a shit about Slayer. He postulated that a lot of people these days know Slayer as a logo, and as something that people scream in their faces at shows, but that they don’t actually know what they sound like, which seemed like a pretty solid line of reasoning to me. At any rate, I alternated between banging my head, pumping my fist, throwing the horns, screaming along to the songs, and marveling at the lack of interest I was seeing from a huge amount of people (most of whom I found were there to see headliners Avenged Sevenfold, which I’ll get to later).
I yelled at them between songs: “GO FUCKING MOSH TO SLAYER, YOU FUCKING JACKASSES! YOU’RE STANDING AROUND LIKE YOU’RE AT A FUCKING KENNY G CONCERT OR SOMETHING, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES! YOU’RE WASTING THOSE FUCKING FIELD WRISTBANDS, YOU FUCKING MORONS!” My yelling only served to make several of the people around me laugh, but most of those people were oblivious to the fact that they were part of the crowd I was yelling at, so my yelling was clearly in vain, but it did make me feel a little better.
At any rate, Slayer went on to assuage my fears a bit and bring me back into the fold over the next 40 minutes by playing “Postmortem”, “Chemical Warfare”, “War Ensemble”, “Hallowed Point”, “Seasons in the Abyss”, and “Hell Awaits” before a new backdrop came down behind the band, and they closed their set with three of the best Hannemen-penned (or co-penned) songs: “South of Heaven”, “Reign in Blood”, and “Angel of Death”.
And then it was time for Avenged Sevenfold, a band about which I knew very little until the drive to Columbus. I already knew they are Dustin’s favorite band (last night was his 17th time seeing them live), and that they were the primary reason he wanted to attend the show in the first place. I also knew I didn’t really care for most of what I’d heard from them (in fact, I first heard their song “The Beast and the Harlot” on Guitar Hero II and kind of liked it, then later downloaded the song only to discover that the GH version was one of those “in the style of…” songs, and I actually liked it more than Avenged Sevenfold’s version). Dustin informed me on the drive that I should be prepared for a lot of explosions and fire, and a badass show. He played some songs for me, which I neither loved nor hated, and he was excited like a little boy on Christmas morning (or like me when I saw Iron Maiden), so I was getting a bit excited myself. The stage setup took so long that Master of Puppets played to halfway through “Leper Messiah”, then the lights went out (15 minutes after the band was scheduled to start), AC/DC’s “Back in Black” started blasting out of the PA, played in its entirety, then fireworks went off, flames shot out the back of the stage, and the band began to underwhelm me for the next hour and twenty minutes.
Here’s the thing about A7X (as the kids call them): their stage set was amazing, they are musically talented, their setlist was crafted well, and frontman M. Shadows is a consummate showman, deftly controlling the crowd while all manner of stage trickery happened all around him (more flames, explosions, video footage projected on the stage behind them, etcetera), and the crowd ate it up, swallowed every bite, and asked – nay, begged – for seconds. Despite all that, the whole thing seemed a bit contrived, and I was bored enough that during the last half of the set, I was predicting when flames would rise out the back of the stage with a pretty alarming accuracy. To be fair to the band, though, it was very chilly up there on those aluminum bleachers, and I was so very, very tired, so it was hard for me to think about much except being asleep in a warm bed.
Anyway, I decided today that one might classify Avenged Sevenfold as “Cafeteria Metal” – i.e., the entire band persona seems to have been chosen À la carte from a menu of Hard Rock and Metal Things. Here are some examples: they played a song that sounded very much like a Mötley Crüe power ballad; they played a song that had a main riff that was nothing more than the main riff from Metallica’s “Sad But True” played in a slightly different manner; they played a song that sounded eerily like a Use Your Illusion-era Deep-Voiced-Axl Guns ‘n’ Roses song (Dustin even leaned over to me during this one and said “I think this one sounds kind of like a Guns ‘n’ Roses song”.); they had tapestries on the stage adorned with inverted crosses, even though they’re about as Satanic as Selena Gomez (see above photo). And their reliance on pyrotechnics struck me as a means of drowning out the fact that at their very core, they’re mostly just copying all their influences, rearranging them just enough that the casual listener won’t notice, and blasting them back at millions of people, albeit to the tune of three RIAA Certified Gold albums and one RIAA Certified Platinum album, as well as sold out concerts around the globe.
Eventually their set ended. Dustin was thrilled with the performance (after one song, he said to me, “They haven’t played that song live in 8 years!”), we walked 1.5 miles back to the car, and I began the long, tired drive back to Indianapolis, finally returning shortly after 4:00 AM Sunday morning, approximately 21 hours after waking up for work the previous day. All in all, it was a great day spent with a great friend.
I woke up at 7:00 AM to drive back home, and since I couldn’t stop hearing their songs anyway, I played Exodus’ 1997 live album Another Lesson in Violence, which I started as I pulled away from Dustin’s house, and which literally finished as I was pulling up in front of my house. It was a helluva good way to cap things off. Here are my final thoughts:
The Good: hanging out with Dustin (whom I don’t get to see very often), Exodus, Slayer, my new Exodus t-shirt, listening to Another Lesson in Violence in the car, Suicidal Tendencies
The Bad: $6.00 cans of PBR, $20 to park the car a mile-and-a-half away
The Ugly: Don Jamieson’s abhorrent stand-up comedy set
The Final Verdict: I would attend Rock on the Range again, but only if tickets were free. Likewise, I would pay up to $15 to see Avenged Sevenfold again.
That’s all I got. Stay heavy, friends.