Reporting Brian Ives
In the ’90s and ’00s, rock fans spent their cash each summer on a variety of traveling summer festivals. Spearheaded by Perry Farrell’s brainchild Lollapalooza (which busted down traditional genre barriers by combining alternative rock, punk, goth, industrial and hip-hop acts), there were a plethora of themed tours: Lilith Fair featured female-fronted bands and singer/songwriters; the H.O.R.D.E. featured the biggest jam bands, the Warped Tour spotlighted punk rock and Ozzfest had heavy metal’s legends alongside up-and-comers. It’s clear that Rockstar Energy Drink must have some fans of Ozzfest and Lollapalooza on its staff, as it has created decent updates of both. Their Mayhem Festival is now the premiere metal tour of the summer (this year, Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch and Mastodon were among the headliners), and the now-in-progress Uproar Festival, which came to New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center on Saturday (Aug. 17) treads on Lollapalooza’s former turf.
While Rockstar probably wouldn’t like the comparison, several Mayhem bands played Ozzfest back in the day. And while in past years, some Uproar bands seem like they could fit in with Mayhem (Avenged Sevenfold, Stone Sour and Hellyeah would probably do fine on that bill), this year they’ve put some distance between the two summer festivals by naming Lollapalooza veterans Alice In Chains and Jane’s Addiction as Uproar headliners. Coheed & Cambria, also on the main stage, may well have been a Lolla headliner if that tour lasted a few more years.
Uproar follows Mayhem’s format: lesser-known bands play on two small stages in the early hours of the day, and by late afternoon, the action moves to the venue’s main stage for four headliners. The crowds got progressively larger as they day went on, and the biggest three draws all veered towards dirty, trashy blues-rock, which was generally unfashionable in the ’90s – although that’s changed with post-Lolla bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys.
The Canadian garage rock trio Danko Jones have been bubbling under for years and may be ripe for a breakthrough. Jones said that they deserved to be booed — because it was their first time performing in New Jersey. If that’s true, no one held it against them; the crowd was enthusiastic for their set and flocked to the band’s merch booth after their performance.
If they’re short of a “supergroup,” Dead Daises at least have an impressive pedigree: singer Jon Stevens briefly fronted INXS post-Michael Hutchence’s passing; keyboardist Dizzy Reed has been a member of Guns N Roses since the Use Your Illusion era along with guitarist Richard Fortus; guitarist Marco Mendoza has done time in Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, and has played for Ted Nugent as well. The crowd took to their sound quickly — it was like a less-jammy, more hard rock Black Crowes. Stevens, a charismatic frontman, did most of the set from a chair, as he had a “boot” on his foot due to a recent injury.
Walking Papers come closer to the classic “supergroup” definition, though the most high-profile member is easily bassist Duff McKagan. Singer/guitarist Jeff Angell isn’t nearly as well-known as his bandmates, but once he starts singing, he more than held his own. For sure, lots of fans were drawn to the stage: it’s not every day you get to see a member of the classic Guns N Roses lineup that close up. But regardless of what drew people to the stage, the music kept them there, and then led them to the band’s merchandise booth to buy CDs and t-shirts.
After Walking Papers, the small stages shut down and the headliners began on the main stage. When Circa Survive started their set, it was a perfect demonstration of why assigned seating doesn’t always work at multi-artist festivals. CS began to sea of empty seats, however there was a loud and enthusiastic crowd on the general admission lawn, hundreds of yards away. Coheed & Cambria’s heavy prog-rock style drew more people; odds are, had Lollapalooza toured for a few more summers, odds are C&C would have been on that tour; their unique brand of heavy rock would have fit in perfectly.
By the time Jane’s Addiction took the stage, the seats started to fill up. Between the larger crowd and the fact that the sun went down by the time Jane’s started, it seemed like a different concert.
Perry Farrell is the ringmaster of nearly any show he puts on. So, it was odd to see Jane’s as just one of the attractions of someone else’s party. But once Jane’s start playing, you’re in their house. For their one-hour set, they focused on their 1988 classic Nothing’s Shocking and their 1990 follow-up Ritual de lo Habitual. Perhaps ironically, they opened with “Underground,” from their latest album, where he sings, “I’ll never give up the underground/ I came back to pay respect” but later admits that “Someone had to float the cash/To pay up for the wake.” It’s no longer the ’90s, and Jane’s seemed fine with playing someone else’s tour as long as said cash was floated, even if an energy drink is an unlikely sponsor for this formerly underground L.A. band. Outdated punk-rock ethics aside, the band has lost none of their power over the decades; Farrell is still one of the most charismatic and unique frontmen in rock history; Dave Navarro’s guitar playing, while avoiding histrionics, still manages to blow minds and Stephen Perkins’ tribal drumming sets the band apart from the rest of the alternative rock pack.
By the time Alice In Chains’ set began, the seated section appeared to be sold out, with thousands of fans on the lawn behind the seated area. Performing for just over an hour, the band played songs from their latest album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and their last one, Black Gives Way To Blue, both of which feature singer William DuVall, who has the seriously tough job of replacing the late Layne Staley. While Staley will always be the singer who people associate with the band, the fans reacted to the William-era songs as fervently as the older material, which is no mean feat.
Of course, most of the set drew from the ’90s, with “Them Bones,” “Again,” “Man In The Box” and “Grind” as well as mellower numbers “Got Me Wrong” and “Nutshell” keeping the fans on their feet and singing along the entire time. Drummer Sean Kinney’s bass drum had “LSMS” on it — the initials of the band’s fallen members Layne Staley and original bassist Mike Starr — but all eyes were on frontman DuVall and guitarist/leader Jerry Cantrell through their performance. The band’s stage set featured several video screens and elaborate lighting; odds are, after Uproar is over, they’ll be bringing their gear back on the road on their own headlining tour, where they’ll play longer sets. But playing Uproar was probably a good move: the younger fans who showed up for the bands from the smaller stages got a taste of Alice and Jane’s, and as both groups pass the quarter century mark, bringing new blood to their fanbases.