photo by Ben Thacker
Mayhem Fest main stage
Bullet For My Valentine, Killswitch Engage, Slayer, and Marilyn Manson
Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Better Than: Sitting at an office desk!
Mayhem Fest is Warped Tour Kevin Lyman's metally offspring, a similarly scaled summer package tour now in its second year. Last year's inaugural edition was fun in its relative scrappiness -- the line-up ranged everywhere from post-hardcore courtesy of Underoath, to Egypt-obsessed death metal courtesy of Nile.
This year's line-up was more refined in its essence, featuring a series of heavy-hitters that didn't veer too much into subgenres. The two headliners alone were worth the ticket price: Slayer and Marilyn Manson. That might sound like a weird match-up, but the two acts also previously toured together in 2007.
The major drawbacks this year? For many of us in "South Florida," at large, there was distance. I stared my day's journey in Coral Gables, in Miami-Dade, at 3:30 p.m., picked up a friend in South Beach around 4:00 ... and, thanks to construction and then rush hour, finally arrived inside Cruzan's gates at 6:00. Scary.
Second, this year's local stop of the tour landed on a Wednesday. Of course, these huge tours have to continue on through the week; however, most people who can afford $30 to $60 tickets also have day jobs. The fest itself started around 2 p.m., and although someone rushing over after closing time would have caught all of the main stage's four opening acts, I suspect the whole idea may have been off-putting for many. While overall, the venue was pretty full, large patches on the sides of the second tier of reserved seating remained empty.
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That's okay, though, because, though I remained in this strange no man's land, the lawn and pit were both crammed, and looked fun as hell. The Welsh quartet Bullet For My Valentine opened the main stage, and were already into their set when I arrived. They were a suitable warm-up act for the vast space, with a sound as big, meaty, and straight-ahead as always. (Though from the back of the reserved seats, it was hard to discern clearly many of frontman Matt Tuck's vocals.)
The band rocked some pretty sweet pointy-edged Jackson guitars, the audience loved the band's Guitar Hero-featured songs, and the set was professional and polished. But it got kind of mentally wiped away by the insanity that came from the three bands who followed.
Killswitch Engage, up next, never takes itself too seriously. This time they appeared in matching tuxedo-print T-shirts with cutoff sleeves; guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz was also wearing a cape, as usual. The band's performance saw frontman Howard Jones running across a raised platform festooned with LCDs, and Dutkiewicz inviting women to lose their tops, in order to "turn this into a Breast Palm Beach show!"
The best, though, was when the band incited the lawn crowd to form a "Wall of Death" at the start of one song. The crowd parted down the middle as though Moses had ordered it, and at the first chord, the opposing sides charged each other with full force. There was chaos, a roiling crush of flesh -- and the large inflatable can of Monster Energy Drink (the tour's major sponsor), finally tumbled.
Judging by an informal parking lot T-shirt survey alone, this was truly a Slayer crowd. And after several minutes of rhythmic "Slay-er! Slay-er!" chanting, a screen covered with projected pentagrams finally dropped. Thus began an epic, hour-long onslaught by the band -- whose members are pushing 50 -- that never, ever let up.
They were loud -- so loud, and accompanied by such an intense light show, I felt as if I were truly, finally melting. Time and space disappeared as the band powered through hit connecting to hit connecting to hit, pausing seemingly only after every 10 or 15 minutes. The sensory envelopment was so complete and so crushing, it verged on the sublime; I may have actually had an out-of-body experience induced by a fog of green lights and the song "Mandatory Suicide."
Festival sets don't leave any room for surprises, so of course there were all classic tracks like "War Ensemble," "Chemical Warfare," "Dead Skin Mask," "Angel of Death," and so forth. (The complete set lists here, for the previous dates of the Mayhem Fest, are accurate.) The only new song, "Psychopathy Red," went over as urgent, loud, and fast as the rest ... and of course, "Raining Blood" was last. An hour's set felt like both too much and not enough.
Setting Slayer before Marilyn Manson might seem cosmically unjust to heavy music fans, but the choice actually proved wise. Manson's show is so completely a show, full of costuming and choreography, that it could only work as a grand finale. Manson is no longer really shocking to mainstream America (no protesters here), but he seems to have grown past that, anyways. For this tour, at least, he's dropped most of the Satanic and pseudo-fascist imagery that got so many panties in a bunch more than a decade ago.
Instead, Manson seems more focused on just being a former, albeit one who is consciously over-the-top, bombastic, and theatrical. And, I'll say, it was one of the most fun rock and roll sets I've witnessed recently. He now comes off as glam rock's bastard sun, a pitch-black cousin of early-'70s Bryan Ferry, even. Nor has Manson turned his set into an oldies revival. There were still several songs from his latest album, The High End of Low, beginning with set opener "We're From America." The older favorites arrived soon enough, though. "Sweet Dreams" remains one of the most original cover-song renditions of contemporary rock, and "Dope Show" and "Tourniquet" are still weirdly sexy.
And Manson hams it up. One poor roadie was cast, basically, as his do-bitch, charged with handing him towel after towel, beer after beer, all of which would get tossed to the crowd after one wipe or sip. There were rains of silver ticker tape, flashing columns of light, and, unsurprisingly, a set closer of "The Beautiful People." It was an on-your-feet, mass scream-along -- well, until Manson's microphone cut out somewhere in the last verse. He responded by descending the speaker box he was on, leaving the stage and not reappearing. His backing band, total pros, finished out the song, but it was an anticlimactic ending to an otherwise celebratory, almost-hometown gig for Manson.
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Personal Bias: None, really. I never had the early-teen Manson-obsession phase that was practically required in the mid-/late-90s. That's why it impressed me even more that his set was so exciting.
Random Detail: There's still no consensus on proper hot-weather attire for hard rock fans. I sweated just looking at the fellow in a fully buttoned vinyl trenchcoat.
By the Way: The next truly awesome major metal(ish) show in coming months is the Converge, High on Fire, Mastodon, and Dethklok gig at Pompano Beach Amphtiheatre on November 8.