August 7, 2010

We came for the Zombie, no question. Baronetess and I hit the Mayhem Festival at 2:15 p.m., conscious of the fact that Rob Zombie would be doing a meet and greet at the Roadrunner Records booth at 4:00 p.m. The email from the press coordinator stated that we have press passes, photo passes, and media passes. When we picked them up, I noticed that the Meet and Greet section (as well as the Aftershow) have been blackened out. I am so naïve. The crowd is already a mass of sweat and confusion. People trying to physically pass through each other as they make their way to music, memorabilia, desperately needed water, or bathrooms.

Someone murmurs that I’m a narc. Not a narc, just an alien trying to find the Roadrunner Records booth. A system has been established for the meet and greets: Buy a piece of merch, get a color-coded wristband for the meet and greet. No press. I feel a tinge of regret for buying my copy of Hellbilly Deluxe 2 the day it was released. My attention is drawn to the sky. Sweet Baby Jesus.

That is a motorcycle flying over the queue. I am disturbed by this, as I always am when I see objects that should not be soaring through the air doing precisely that. I think of every air show disaster I’ve ever seen or read about. There are ramps set up just outside the fence for freestyle BMX. I must catch their next full show.

From a few hundred feet away I can hear the Dickinson-influenced vocals of Three Inches of Blood. Metal about goblins usually holds my attention, but there’s something about the band I don’t connect with. This is not a value judgment. I fully endorse the themes and motifs of the band, and as a certain breed of metal fan (I tend to favor vocal acrobatics and epic struggles of good vs. evil. So naturally, Dio is my bag), you develop the ability to discern the differences among metal genres as a survival adaptation. You need to be able to distinguish between the people who took to metal as the music of the outsider and the people who just want to get loaded and punch someone in the face. Songs about monsters and demons are one of the touchstones. I explain my perspective to the Baronetess.

“See that skinny kid with the sides of his head shaved and the top-knot wearing the Slayer shirt? There’s a 75% chance that someone in a Slayer shirt will be good people. He got into this stuff as an escape from his school years. Probably got picked on a lot. See that stocky dude in the Pantera shirt and urban camo shorts? He’s probably the one who used to beat up that Slayer kid.”

Pantera fans are usually filled to the brim of bullshit machismo. Also, Tapout gear is a dead giveaway. If, say, you see someone wearing Tapout gear and a Pantera bandanna, follow the admonition of Lord Humoungous and “Just walk away.” (Nothing against MMA, but as a rule, I tend to avoid sports that don’t have storylines.) We watch as a young man and his girlfriend brush past a bald red-faced shirtless drunk in a Lamb of God t-shirt. The drunk has suffered an imaginary slight, even though we saw nothing out of the ordinary occur. After a few seconds of trash-talking to his buddies, the drunk sets off to find the young man. He’s too drunk to succeed. I add “Lamb of God” to the list of fans to be wary of.

Another sign to look out for is how much drinking your favorite metal act encourages. I don’t drink much compared to most writers I know (or people I know for that matter). I’m no teetotaler, and Captain Morgan is a friend of mine. The reasoning is simple. I am a proponent of Timothy Leary’s 8-circuit model of brain function. Alcohol keeps you functioning at about level two, which can be roughly compared to the adolescent state. Emotions run hotter and colder, not to mention wilder. Battles for territory or dominance. Primate behaviors. In complex and unpredictable social situations involving drinking, the tiniest instance can set off a volcano of affection or animosity. For me, this more than adequately explains why most functions where libations flow freely will end in loud proclamations of “I love you, man!” or a shouting match/fistfight. Maybe a combination of both. Now apply that formula to people who have been paying $11 per beer (or tailgating in the parking lot) and add extreme heat and music that stimulates the adrenal system.

Brian Fair of Shadows Fall is requesting to see some boobies from the Jager stage. Many fans are quick to oblige. A wiry stranger rushes over to me eagerly displaying his bloody knuckles. I have no idea why. He flashes me the Devil horns salute, looking for my approval. I return in kind. We touch fingers, Devil horns united. In the words of Manilow, “Could it be magic?” “Hell YEAH!” my new friend exclaims, before scampering away.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of the whole Metalcore guttural vocal thing. The more you sound like you emerged from the Children’s Television Workshop, the more I tune out. We overhear a young girl asking the eternal question, “Amber, should I be proud of my boobs?”

My consort and I decide that a beverage is in order. We wander over to the main pavilion area, where a few dozen people are riding the same vibe that I am. Cooling down in the shade, and drinking a $5 Coke. It tastes of high fructose corn syrup and larceny.

With two other stages raging until the main stage opens at 6:30 p.m. we have plenty of time to check out the booths and vendors. Ah, something that will keep the crowd from freaking out: hydration booths. We head back towards the music just as In This Moment takes the stage.

An unexpected delight (and for my money, the best supporting act of the day). Not only does vocalist Maria Brink have the Hardcore screaming down pat, but her clean powerful vocals soar when she lets loose. I can forgive the one cheap pop she gets from the crowd for asking, “Where all my Steeler fans at?” More musical than the proceeding acts, the Baronetess is an instant fan. In a flash, she’s making her way through the crowd to the band. The group sounds fantastic with intricately-layered guitar parts over Brink’s melodies. Brink owns the stage with her California strut.

Their music is a happy marriage of Metalcore and some good old-fashioned British influence. A surge of high energy with impressive technical precision, In This Moment’s set is all too short.

Time for the next Metal Mulisha freestyle BMX show. I have no idea how these people (or their loved ones) can sleep knowing what they’ll be doing the next day. The stunts are surreal, especially when more than one bike is hurling through space at the same time.

The first time I’ve ever seen anything like it. Bands, I think Chimaira and Atreyu, blend together in the background. Hatebreed. I keep Hatebreed fans in the same category I keep Pantera fans. Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta scores a few points for telling the men in the crowd not to be complete scumbags and stop copping cheap feels. Good for him. A one-word mantra loops through my consciousness. ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE. Baronetess needs dinner. As my consort braves the food line, I hold our spot in the shade. ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE.

Welcome to the tat parade. A shirtless man with a swastika tattoo on his chest is laughed at by two passing gentlemen, one of whom has a red Fox Glove tattoo on his back. Another shirtless man with an entire line of Kanji on his back staggers through the food pavilion lines, leaving an incriminating trail of vomit as he goes. The girl sitting directly in front of me is wearing low-rider jeans with an exposed thong, highlighting the tattoo on her lower back. A Lamb of God fan is describing how he had his back piercing torn out. Killswitch Engage has taken the main stage. The crowd erupts. A few necks snap towards the thunder, though their bodies are still trapped in the Netherworld of the beverage line. Baronetess and I enjoy our cheese fries, before going to the main stage. A necessary detour to the men’s room. Grim fluorescent bulbs bring out the colors of the communal trough. Reality warps as a middle-aged woman in a tenuously attached, floral bikini top lurches towards me. A casualty of drink and home perms. As she paws her way across the bathroom, opening several stall doors, some of the men begin to cheer. She shambles out the door, into the unknown. My mind paints grotesque canvases of sexual violence and alcohol poisoning. The ghosts of Burroughs and Thompson admonish me to mind my own business. I hurry outside. Visually scanning the surrounding pockets of attendees with my imagined T-800 display, my target is hard to miss. Her well-tanned, pumped-up escort swoops in for the rescue. My ghosts shake their heads in a good-natured rebuke.

The main stage. Press protocols vary from venue to venue, and it behooves the reporter to investigate early. I wait for the press liaison to fill me in, killing time with Five Finger Death Punch. The highpoint of the set is a steroid-enhanced version of “Bad Company.” Otherwise, it just sounds like music people like to hurt each other to. Growing numbers of rocking Tapout gear and Zubas. I know that my disinterest has more to do with me than them. Not my dish. Cheap pop for thanking the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Sections of the crowd respond enthusiastically, others remain silent. Other members of the press, with varying degrees of technologically advanced equipment, are assembling beside us. Lamb of God is up next. The audience loves them. My left shoulder jerks violently forward. My right hand (which holds the camera) twitches, launching the batteries into the air like a spring-loaded snake from a can of nuts. My neurological system lights up, attempting to explain the discontinuity. Adrenaline rush. I look behind me, dreading the slobbery jeer of a greased-up Pantera fan. To my left, all I see is an older man in an automatic wheelchair. Wait, am I being pulled forward? Yes, I am. In a million-to-one shot, the man has hooked the handle of his wheelchair in my jacket pocket. I look at Baronetess, searching my internal database for the most polite way to say, “Help me, I’m caught on your wheelchair!” I hurry behind him to save myself the embarrassment of toppling over and being dragged through the aisle like Hector behind wheeled Achilles. How much weight can these things haul, anyway? The man senses me behind him and turns to meet my gaze. I smile helplessly and still walking. I am greeted with a frown, as he brings the chair to a stop. “Thanks,” I say while freeing myself. He says nothing. I rejoin Baronetess. None of the other members of the press have their cameras out yet, so I am spared from becoming a meme. Shadows Fall does their thing.

At last, the press coordinator shows us down to the side of the stage. Photos are allowed for the first three songs, and God(s) help you if you don’t get your shot. This is what I’ve been waiting for, the glorious return of the Hellbilly. The techs are setting up for the onslaught. I am giddy as our liaison unfastens the chain to the press pit, the same heady feeling I get when I’m about to board a rollercoaster and with good reason. I am impressed with Zombie’s art direction before the show even starts, marveling at the six-armed skeleton microphone stand and silver ram (again, skeletal) framing on the screens in front of the sound monitors. The lights drop. Star-shaking howls of approval break loose from the crowd. Red light and smoke obscures the stage but leaves the monitors visible, which are spelling out Z-O-M-B-I-E.

The pounding drums of Zombie’s introduction, “Sawdust in the Blood,” dare my eardrums to flinch. The crowd begins to chant my day’s mantra en masse: ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE. ZOMBIE. The intro mixes into two other Zombie sonic landscape tracks from previous records. Zombie and his bandmates take the stage in heavy costume. Total Skull (Sheri Moon Zombie’s clothing label) skeletal facemasks obscure the faces of each musician. John 5 (Guitar) and Piggy D. take their places at the sides of the stage. Joey Jordison (of Slipknot) has moved to the drumset. Zombie is wearing a leather biker’s cap, evocative of an SS officer, with a hydraulic claw over his left arm. The video screens begin to bleed (or at least project that image) followed by the traditional film leader countdown. 5-4-3-2-1. The ringmaster is here, the show has begun. Zombie and the boys tear into the merciless “What Lurks On Channel X.”

Currents of hot air from the pyro slap me in the face, even from my distance in the press pit. The heat onstage must be incredible. The disguises come off to reveal classic face paint, and Zombie’s revived Hellbilly persona. An unstoppable momentum carries the metal monsters into “Superbeast.” They sound fantastic. Savage. Finely honed purveyors of musical carnage. The bludgeoning assault of “Scum of the Earth.” Attempting to photograph Rob Zombie during the throes of performance is like trying to throw a net over a spider-monkey dosed with PCP. The man is everywhere at once.

The robot is careening around the stage, the video monitors are showing clips from Planet of the Apes. Escorted from the press pit, we slink to the back of the pavilion, trying not to miss a moment of the show. The Demonoid monster from the “More Human Than Human” video joins them on stage. The Hellbilly beckons the crowd to the front, to “start having a FUCKING ZOMBIE PARTY!”

Nothing says party like “Living Dead Girl,” followed by White Zombie’s mainstream breakthrough, “More Human than Human.” The attendees are in a frenzy. As I watch the audio-visual juggernaut, I keep thinking that once again, like on the Hellbilly I tour, Korn has to follow this. Zombie commands the crowd to “whistle loud enough to break your fucking ears off.” The people almost hit the mark.

Piggy D. looking gleefully menacing. Zombie works the crowd, leading them in a chant of “Motherfucker Motherfucker Motherfucker” to set the stage for Hellbilly Deluxe 2’s “Sick Bubblegum.” Unfortunately, Sheri Moon Zombie’s not dancing on this tour but she’s here in spirit on the video monitors, popping her gum and teasing the concert-goers. The country-blues drawl of “House of 1,000 Corpses.” A stop in the music, presumably so Zombie can catch his breath. Joey Jordison begins playing a steady drumbeat. Zombie says something about how he wasn’t going to be forced to do this. Jordison keeps going until Zombie plays along. The drummer has pushed Zombie into a brief bit of “Boats and Hos” from the comedy Step Brothers. I didn’t see that coming. Zombie quips, “Prestige Worldwide.” The disco-rock thump of the Clockwork Orange inspired “Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy)” gives way to the 4/4 headbanger “Mars Needs Women.” I was looking forward to hearing this song live above all of the other tracks from Hellbilly Deluxe 2, and the band did not disappoint. The song is an exercise in raucous, monster-y goodness with an absurdist, kick-ass cool refrain. If you can say the words “Mars needs women/Angry, red women” without smiling, even inwardly, I don’t want to know you. Zombie laments that the boys are running out of time. He decides to “play some old shit,” leading me to anticipate the psychedelic drone of “Thunder Kiss ’65.” Nope. Hey, is that…? No, it couldn’t be. The boys are playing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Everyone freaks right out. The audience makes the jump from wild screams to night-shattering howls. After they reach the chorus, we drive into “Thunder Kiss.” The crowd goes supernova.

Another cover, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” which is a holdover from the Gruesome Twosome tour the two recently completed (and are now finishing the Halloween Hootenanny portion of as of this article’s publication). By the numbers, sure, but done with love and respect. Zombie leaves the stage, as the band holds it down. The monitor plays the old “Dragula” clip from The Munsters. Zombie reemerges in an outfit Professor Snape would approve of, and the skeleton podium rises to double its original height. This is it, the finale of the show and everyone is having a grand old time.

The song and the concert reach their climaxes. Balloons and confetti are falling from the ceiling. The robot is shooting feathers from cannons on its arms. We are at an Election Day party in Hell and Zombie was elected president. As I watch the power and the glory, I have no idea how Korn could follow this up. As Zombie bid us goodnight, so we the festival. After all, you can’t beat the Devil with Nu Metal.

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