Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

My ongoing series of concert reviews, or “On this date in history” as I like to think of them, have been relatively straightforward pieces of work so far…until now.

Over the course of 3 wonderful days, my girlfriend and I attended Riot Fest in Chicago, IL. This was the 15th anniversary of the annual explosion of musical diversity, reunions, guest performances, and full album showcases.

I have been pondering how to tackle this enormous task, and have decided that this piece will serve as the introduction, and each day of the festival will receive a separate write up in order to fully explore all that we saw and heard. Part of the beauty of Riot Fest is that no two attendees will experience the exact same things.

With 5 stages spread out in the expanses of Douglas Park, often with 2 or more bands playing at the same time (with sets staggered so that viewers can sample multiple bands in any given portion of the day), the possibilities are wide open, kind of a musical buffet.

Upon entering the main gates, a map of the park and listings of performers and set times is available for all attendees, and then the fun begins.

The performers for Riot Fest 2019:

Friday – Blink 182, Dashboard Confessional, Neck Deep, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, Yours Truly, The Flaming Lips, Violent Femmes, Hot Snakes, Caroline Rose, The Garden, Jawbreaker, Descendents, Lucero, The Get Up Kids, Hot Water Music, No Parents, Rancid, Pennywise, Cock Sparrer, Senses Fail, Anti-Flag, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Glassjaw, H2O, Hot Mulligan, Angel Dust, Mat Kerekes, Thin Lips, Can’t Swim

Saturday – Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, GWAR, The HU, Rise Against, The Story So Far, Avail, Turnstile, Masked Intruder, Bloc Party, Manchester Orchestra, The Struts, Turnover, Cursive, Surfer Blood, Cherry, Glazerr, Wu-Tang Clan, Pyris, Grandson, The Selecter, Prof, Lando Chill, Andrew W.K., Senses Fail, Microwave, The Damned Things, Elder Brother, Drakulas, Cleopatrick, Monarchy Over Monday

Sunday – Bikini Kill, Patti Smith And Her Band, Against Me!, The Beaches, Skating Polly, The Raconteurs, Bob Mould, Ride, White Reaper, Dead Swords, Taking Back Sunday, The Starting Line, American Football, Streetlight Manifesto, Less Than Jake, Frank Iero And The Future Violents, Save Ferris, Ultra Q, Ween, The B-52s, Guided By Voices, Village People, Nick Lowe With Los Straitjackets, Ganser, The Ergs!, Teenage Bottlerocket, Dave Hause And The Mermaid, Sincere Engineer, This Wild Life, Kali Masi, Ramona

Day 1

On this date in history, 9/13/2019, Riot Fest opened its annual run in Chicago’s Douglas Park to kick off the 15th anniversary of the 3 day music festival.

I must give total credit to my girlfriend for initiating the conversation which ultimately led to us attending this event (and entering into a romantic relationship…Thank you, Riot Fest!). We had met at a mutual friend’s party and started a discussion on Facebook in which she mentioned that Slayer would be performing on the 2nd night of the festival. Plans for a trip for just that day quickly blossomed into purchasing the 3 day passes and our excitement grew with our American love story.

When we arrived in Chicago (my first time driving in the Windy City) we quickly determined that finding a parking spot for this event was going to be quite tricky. Eventually we found a great lot (which we used for all 3 days…run by some really cool people) and started walking to the main gate.

I remember remarking that we would be doing this only once (a decision that was quickly replaced with “We need to make this our annual vacation spot”), and suddenly we were inside the park, exploring the grounds and locating the 5 stages.

It was mid afternoon by the time we got in, so we missed a bunch of the earliest performances, but we found our way to the Radicals Stage where Senses Fail were launching into a frenzied cover of Institutionalized by Suicidal Tendencies.

Next up was a punk band from England called Cock Sparrer. It was bizarre to me that these guys have been around since 1972 and I had somehow never heard of them…and they were great.

I realized that I have this weird irrational idea that punk bands are young and frozen in time. The reality is that they grow older just like any other band, so seeing these guys in their 60’s playing these rousing working class punk songs with drinking chants was pretty revolutionary for me.

Pennywise were next and it was more or less the same feeling. I knew the name, but had never taken the time to listen to them, and I fell instantly in love with their energy, their positivity, and their connection to their fans. Pennywise had converted me and made me realize I have been missing out on a lot of music.

We checked out about 20 minutes of the Descendents’ set, which amounted to around 9 songs…no lie, their songs are short and fast. Their singer mentioned that they have played at 11 of the 15 Riot Fests and it was apparent to me that their style really represents the core of the festival.

Flaming Lips were our unanimous choice for the Friday night headliners. They played the album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in its entirety. Singer Wayne Coyne was mesmerizing throughout, just emanating warmth, eccentricity, and charm; looking dashing in his white suit and making his obligatory appearance in the plastic ball that rolls around in the audience. Near the end of their set, Coyne delivered a heartfelt tribute to troubled singer Daniel Johnston, who had passed away on September 11.

The Flaming Lips played one of Johnston’s songs, and it was lovely and touching, but Coyne brought a touch of humor into it at the perfect spot, saving the tune from becoming too maudlin. Coyne also talked about the importance of living in the moment, effectively uniting all of us and elevating an enormously entertaining set.

On our way out, we heard a bit of Jawbreaker’s performance, and they sounded fantastic, too. I read another review of the festival that mentioned some problems with the sound for some of the more acoustic based acts, but everyone we heard on the first day sounded phenomenal, mix wise…great bass, crisp drums, crunchy guitars, and vocals clear & loud. As the evening grew dark, the lights were excellent, too. The Flaming Lips, in particular, had a wonderfully trippy light show which totally enhanced the psychedelic nature of their music. Well, that wraps up the first day…to be continued!

Day 2

On this date in history, 9/14/2019, Riot Fest entered its second day in Chicago’s Douglas Park with our most eagerly anticipated acts, culminating in the final Chicago appearance of thrash titans, Slayer. But first, I must backtrack slightly, because I failed to provide the names of all the stages in my initial report.

The 5 Riot Fest stages were the Rise, Radical, Rebel, Roots, and Riot stages. All of these stages had set times so that festival attendees could sample performances non stop throughout the day. Saturday was the one day that we actually planned out, and it worked to perfection. As luck would have it, the Roots and Riot stages were adjacent to each other, and all the bands we wanted to see were on those 2 stages.

The first band of the afternoon was Masked Intruder, and they were simply my favorite discovery of the entire festival. My girl had told me about them, having seen them previously. She was really excited to see them (and for me to see them, too) and I soon found out why. These guys have this underlying concept to their songs, their show, and their personas (all the band members wear color coded ski masks to match their respective instruments). There is a guy dressed as a policeman who plays an important role in the show and provides tons of energy and humor to the act. Masked Intruder has a pop/punk style and high energy songs played with hyper enthusiasm. My belief is that some bands are better studio bands while others are best experienced on stage, and Masked Intruder definitely needs to be seen live. Take my advice and go check them out!

Next up were an intriguing band called The Hu, a Mongolian Folk Metal band. Their debut album was released the day before we saw them, and their music and delivery was truly outstanding, original, and deeply moving. Along with electric guitar and bass, they also utilized the morin khuur (also known as the horsehead fiddle), a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument.

The Hu spoke very little English and still managed to communicate with their American audience through Mongolian throat singing and hypnotic tribal drumming.

Another great discovery of a band I want to experience multiple times. While we waited for GWAR to set up, a band called Turnstile played on the Roots stage and failed to impress us too much.

I was stoked to see GWAR for the first time, but was caught a bit off guard by how physical the experience would become.

We were pretty close to the front of the stage, meaning we were in the “blood zone” and although the cold stage blood felt pretty good in the relentless heat of the sunny day, everyone behind us kept pushing forward and sideways in every direction in an attempt to get in on the action. It got a bit scary a few times as it felt like the entire crowd was going to collapse in upon itself. We survived and found ourselves grinning and covered in red at the end of GWAR’s onslaught. Their show is terrifically fun, but next year if they play Riot Fest again, we plan to observe from a bit further back from the stage.

As we recovered from the exertion of staying alive, Avail played an energetic and highly entertaining set from the adjacent Roots stage. I was impressed with them and look forward to seeing them again.

Next up on the Riot stage was the mighty Testament, and they delivered some old school, pulverizing thrash metal mastery, eliciting an utterly seismic circle pit from the moment they hit the stage. The entire band are like ninja assassins, with lead guitarist Alex Skolnick just burning down the place with insanely scorching feats of scalpel sharp lead guitar. I hadn’t seen Testament since 1990 and was utterly overjoyed to discover that they are better than ever.

The Story So Far followed on the neighbor stage and fell far short of Testament’s delivery.

We held our ground near the front as Anthrax brought their insane energy, good cheer, and Big 4 level thrash mastery with a set of songs voted on by their fans, so we heard a killer crop of Anthrax classics.

A personal highlight for me was a moment where lead singer Joey Belladonna and I made direct eye contact and he made sure I knew he was noticing my enthusiasm. In a pure moment of being in the right place at the right time, as Anthrax ended their fantastic performance, 2 people directly in front of us vacated their spot on the barricade and my girlfriend and I quickly secured our spots in the front row and began our wait for the band we planned our entire trip to see…the immortal Slayer! But first we had to wait through an admittedly pretty good set from Rise Against as they headlined the Roots stage.

Rise Against has had a 30 year career so far and they had a great crowd of their own. I gained a whole lot of respect for them when their singer took a couple of minutes to acknowledge the importance of Slayer and their rabid fan base. We collectively gave them a roaring sample of that power in response. Finally, Slayer took the stage and delivered a show for the ages. Standing directly in front of Gary Holt (the frenzied lead guitar player who has been on loan from Exodus since the death of original Slayer member Jeff Hanneman) was a dream come true.

Holt and Kerry King unleashed a furious barrage of vintage Slayer riffs and the psychotic back and forth lead guitar sorcery that is the band’s trademark. Throughout this magical set, Tom Araya was in the zone vocally, letting his mighty roar fill the air repeatedly on a set of all the iconic songs we have adored for decades.

The lights and flames were massively intense from the front row and we could feel that scorching heat from all that glorious fire every time it erupted from the stage. When it inevitably had to end, Tom Araya wandered from one end of the stage to the other, lingering a long time in several spots, obviously full of emotion as he absorbed the enormous outpouring of love directed at him and the others…but most of this is about him, because we all know it is Tom who is retiring. Holt, King, and drummer Paul Bostaph will carry on in other projects.

Tom eventually made his way to his microphone, thanked us briefly, and said he will miss us…then he said a simple goodbye.

I have now seen Slayer 3 times in 3 different states during this farewell tour, and Araya’s goodbye time grows longer at each show. It fills me with sadness, pride, love, and happiness that this iconic man (and band) have given us so much, and that they are leaving the game on their own terms, and as kings of their domain. Cheers, Slayer…I have one more show coming up, but nothing will ever top this one…thanks for everything, Tom!

Day 3

On this date in history, 9/15/2019, Riot Fest returned for its final day of fun, sun, and musical exploration.

By the 3rd day we felt like Chicago’s Douglas Park was pretty familiar territory (although we never did find our way to the Rebel stage) and we took a little extra time to explore more of the vendor areas. Having survived the intensity of all our metal bands throughout Saturday, we made a mutual decision to begin Sunday with a much more laid back approach.

Save Ferris was the first band we checked out, and it was from a distance this time. We sat back in the shade and listened to the female fronted Ska band deliver quite an enjoyable set with a couple of surprises at the end. The singer talked to the crowd quite a bit and seemed to have a great rapport with the people up front. She informed us that they were going to play Too Drunk To Fuck by the Dead Kennedys and that was super entertaining to hear Save Ferris re-imagine that one. After that they launched into Come On, Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners…needless to say, my Ilene was less than thrilled! It was still pretty funny and awesome in my opinion!

Moving on from the Rise stage where Save Ferris was winding down, we made our way to the Radicals stage to sample a bit of Nick Lowe With Los Straitjackets and determined that we weren’t quite feeling their style. Just a bit too mellow for us, although they sounded fine, so we wandered off again in search of the Village People. I never saw them, but there was another female fronted band playing on the Riot stage as we passed by. I just looked them up and it turns out the entire band was women. I wanted to mention them because I thought the singer sounded fantastic and well worth checking out later.

The illustrious Village People performed on the Radicals stage in front of a pretty impressive mid-afternoon crowd. We didn’t plan to stay long, lingering for one song and wondering if any of the costumed singers were original members. I’m guessing probably not too many, but not curious enough to research it at this time.

As fate would have it, near the end of their set, a spontaneous circle pit and Wall Of Death broke out as they played Macho Man and Y.M.C.A.! Classic stuff, and there is video of the event out there if you are interested in checking it out. We weren’t in attendance when that happened, but we were content to be seated again for a bit as Ride played a pleasantly hypnotic set on the Roots stage. Apparently they originally formed in 1988, but this was my first encounter with them. Their music reminded me of early U2 in a good way with its pulsating, driving, vaguely psychedelic rhythms and intensity. The vocalist didn’t sound anything like Bono, so it kept their sound in that cool spot where it sounds familiar, but still freshly unknown. As we wandered off in search of food and drink, we passed by the Rise stage as Streetlight Manifesto captivated a huge crowd with their high energy Ska sound. I loved their horn section, which stretched across the entire front of the stage. They sounded fantastic and fun was literally bursting out of their sound. I will hopefully catch a whole set from them in the future.

After we chowed down, it was time to prepare for the bigger names towards the late afternoon and early evening headliners.

We arrived back to the adjacent Roots and Riot stages where we had spent our day Saturday in time for the end of a rocking set by Against Me!, and they sounded fine, but nothing I would probably go out of my way to see, honestly. Next up was Bob Mould, performing as a power trio, and delivering a blistering set of punk energy and hard rocking songs. The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar singer, guitarist, and songwriter really impressed me on all levels, and as a bonus, his drummer looks like Peter Dinklage’s taller brother! Patti Smith And Her Band followed, and we truly should have stayed for more than the two songs we witnessed, because the legendary singer/poet just sounded amazing. Patti’s voice sounded exactly as it has since her ’70’s heyday; totally glorious and full of character. She looked fantastic, too…long white hair looking like the light was emanating directly from her spirit…and perhaps it was.

We had decided (on the advice of some friends) to go check out Ween, so we regretfully left Patti (sorry Patti…hope to rectify this grave error someday!) to go see the Ween show. I have to try to carefully explain my position on the Ween experience. Ween sounded great…sound was on point, lights were adequate, but nothing revolutionary. Our problem was the crowd. The best I can explain it is that it felt like being at a party where you don’t know anyone. It was like everyone had this secret language and knew the inside jokes and gestures they were not willing to share with us outsiders. 45 minutes into a 2 hour set we started to hear loud music coming from one of the other stages. Someone yelled out, “Damn you, Jack White!” and Ilene and I looked at each other and immediately decided to bale on Ween and go seek out The Raconteurs.

Jack and the boys saved us with a blistering set of raucous, blues drenched jams just as we had reached the edge of exhaustion after 3 days of glorious good times and vibes.

My girl wanted me to hear Bikini Kill, the final headliner on the Riot stage (perhaps to torture me? lol), but I apparently don’t have the ears or patience to endure the caterwauling garbage dump of the sound coming out of their singer’s mouth. Maybe it wasn’t their night (although they had and enormous crowd who may have more of a taste for what they were hearing), and maybe it was just time to make our exit, so we did.

All in all, Riot Fest has gained two new hardcore fans, and we plan to go back for more next year. Riot Fest Rules!

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 8/31/2019, Kiss brought The End Of The Road Tour to Deer Creek, effectively completing a circle that began with my very first concert in 1976.

Kiss played the old Market Square Arena that long ago night (with support from Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band and Artful Dodger). Tickets for that first show were $6.50…yeah, you read that correctly! Times have changed quite a bit since then. Tickets for this one ran me considerably more than that, and to make matters worse, we didn’t even get an opening band this time. Instead, we got a painter. Yes, a freaking PAINTER! In his defense, David Garibaldi has talent with his brushes, but somehow a balding guy wearing a leather jacket and prancing around on stage while Guns ‘n Roses and Aerosmith songs are piped in over the PA is a pretty lame substitute for a live band. Enough about that guy…let’s talk about the main attraction.

Kiss delivered the goods and put on a pretty incredible display of an epic arena show. The staging was on a grand scale, the lighting was on par with a Hollywood blockbuster, the sound was suitably huge, and the band performed with admirable energy. Was it perfect? Of course not. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (the 2 remaining original members) both struggled vocally. Stanley, in particular, sounded ragged from the moment he delivered his first of many between-songs speeches very early in the show. To his credit, Paul never made excuses, nor seemed to back off at all in his delivery, which always seemed to be in a quest at 100% effort.

Luckily, the Kiss Army were there in force to lustily sing along with all those arena sized choruses. Yes, you can say what you will about Kiss, but Stanley and Simmons have crafted an arsenal of classic material that lies firmly in the pantheon of rock music that will endure for generations to come. These songs were born for the big stage and they shine brightly in that environment eternally.

Tommy Thayer, sporting the costume and signature face paint of Ace Frehley, possesses none of Ace’s originality as a guitarist, but is a solid player nonetheless. Thayer’s solo spot was fun, complete with the rocket shooting guitar shtick made famous by Frehley.

Eric Singer, on the other hand, is a far better drummer than Peter Criss, and played a crowd pleasing drum solo mid-set that undoubtedly bought Stanley and Simmons some much needed vocal rest. Singer also sang and played a piano with enough sparkle to make Elton John green with envy on Criss’s big hit, Beth, during the encore.

Was this truly the end of the road? I find it difficult to not be more than a little cynical regarding this question. It seems as if Kiss have been on their farewell tour for at least 20 years at this point, but if it is indeed the end, Kiss have gone out with dignity and pride.

I started playing guitar because of Kiss. Would I have found my desire to do so without them? Most likely, but I don’t ever have to answer that question, because there is zero doubt in my mind that Kiss were the ones who lit that spark within me.

Thank you, Kiss…for everything…Love & respect, gentlemen! You were glorious on August 31, 2019. I wanted the best, and I got the best!

On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic

On this date in history, 8/24/2019, Iron Maiden brought their Legacy Of The Beast Tour to Deer Creek in Noblesville, IN, and what a magnificent show it was!

The Raven Age were the warmup act, and the London based melodic metalcore band seemed to be well received by the early crowd. I didn’t really connect with their style, but have to acknowledge that they had a good mix and professional staging and lights.

I’m sure that one of their guitarists being the son of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris probably has a lot to do with them being on this prestigious tour. Nonetheless, they played with enthusiasm and youthful energy, and are undoubtedly having the time of their lives on that stage.

After a quick set change, Iron Maiden hit the ground running, unveiling a replica of a World War II Spitfire plane suspended above them as they played a thrilling full throttle aural assault on their classic opener, Aces High.

From the get go, Bruce Dickinson was in perpetual motion, exhorting the capacity crowd of diehard Maiden fans to sing along and share in this larger than life experience.

Dickinson’s voice was a razor edged wonder that night; powerful and still capable of hitting the highest notes of his considerable vocal range.

After Aces High, with the plane being manipulated to appear as if it were in flight and looking at times as if it were about to dive into the crowd, Maiden immediately launched into Where Eagles Dare and then 2 Minutes To Midnight.

Dickinson made a speech and informed us that there would be no new material and that we were basically being treated to a “best of” Maiden set. He said they were originally going to end the show with the plane, but then decided to open with it, and then make everything else better. This drew a roar of approval from the faithful, and it turned out to be a true statement, as the band just kept adding song after song to this incredible display of how to stage an epic heavy metal show.

As a guitarist, I have to say that the triple threat of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers were just phenomenal. All three contributed stunning solo work and blended together with harmony lines and the chugging, galloping rhythms that are the hallmark of the Iron Maiden sound.

Steve Harris (bass) and Nicko McBrain (drums) propelled everything with that relentless precision that everything else is built on top of.

Some of the later highlights for me were The Evil That Men Do, Fear Of The Dark, The Number Of The Beast, The Trooper, Flight Of Icarus,and Hallowed Be Thy Name.

Honestly, there wasn’t a weak moment in Maiden’s entire time on stage.

Kudos to the sound man for keeping Dickinson’s voice on top of everything else, for spotlighting each guitarist and making the solos stand out, and for keeping the bottom end full and bright at the same time.

The lights, staging, props, and of course Eddie, were all fantastic as well. All that is left to say is “Up The Irons!”

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this this date in history, 8/16/2019, Slipknot brought their Knotfest roadshow to Deer Creek in Noblesville, IN. Although the masked marauders hail from Iowa in the USA, the other 3 bands brought international diversity to the heavy music showcase.

Behemoth, from Poland, began the proceedings with a ferocious display of Black Metal mastery. The corpse painted band’s dark theatricality and Satanic imagery probably didn’t win over too many of the Slipknot faithful, but I thought they were the best of all the bands that day.

Behemoth are playing for keeps, and that emotional approach always finds its crowd.

Gojira, hailing originally from France, were barely below Behemoth in my estimation, and they played a fantastic set, too. In particular, Mario Duplantier’s drumming is beyond amazing. That guy simply plays patterns that seemingly no-one else has thought of, and he is a lot of fun to watch while he is up there slaughtering his drum kit.

Up next were Denmark’s Volbeat, and they were definitely the least metal of all the bands, but they were quite well received.

A friend remarked that their singer’s voice reminded him of the Swedish chef from The Muppets, and now I simply can’t “un-hear” that comparison!

Rob Caggiano (who previously played lead guitar in Anthrax) played some solid guitar solos and they sounded great mix-wise, but I think overall that Volbeat would be better on a tour more suited to their musical style.

Slipknot did what Slipknot does, which is to say that everything was bigger, brighter, and louder than everyone else. One small complaint for me personally was that one of the utility guys seemed to spend way too much of his time playing around on the treadmill up on the second level of the stage. It was pretty distracting, to say the least. Okay, it was downright annoying! Oh, yes…and Corey Taylor’s vocals were often too low in the mix. With all that is going on in Slipknot’s music, it can’t be easy to give everyone equal attention, but in general, vocals are supposed to be audible in the mix, and the sound guy wasn’t getting it done.

This was my 9th time seeing Slipknot, the 4th seeing Behemoth, the 2nd seeing Gojira, and the first time for Volbeat. All in all, I had a fantastic time, but I stand by my original reason to attend this show. I was there for Behemoth and Gojira, and for my money, those were the best 2 bands on that stage.

Kudos to Slipknot for their generosity towards the support bands.

Everyone had excellent sound, lights and backdrops…all 3 of the openers actually had better mixes than the headliners, but Slipknot is a cottage industry at this stage in their career, and like Metallica, they kind of play by their own rules.

As long as they take this approach to touring, I imagine I will be seeing them several more times before they hang up their masks.

On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 8/11/2019, my girlfriend and I traveled to Ft. Wayne, IN to witness the Twins Of Evil: Hell Never Dies Tour, featuring Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson (with Palaye Royale in support).

The concert took place at Memorial Coliseum, a cozy little arena with great visibility and sound. Palaye Royale began the proceedings with a high energy set of raw, glam rock with plenty of attitude. Originally from Toronto, Canada, but currently residing in Las Vegas, the Sin City vibe definitely suits this band. I would love to see them in a club setting sometime.

They suffered somewhat from a lack of brightness in their light show, but the music and enthusiasm with which they performed was absolutely top notch.

Palaye Royale were much better than the opening band from last year’s Twins Of Evil tour. Yes, this was my second time seeing the Zombie/Manson combo, and much of both artist’s sets remained the same for both concerts. However, I was front and center last year in Noblesville, and this time our seats were a higher elevation looking nearly directly down on the stage, which gave me a new perspective…quite enjoyable.

Marilyn Manson remains problematic as a live performer. Having seen him in his prime, I am perhaps expecting too much at this stage of his career, but it just seems like his heart isn’t in the live performing as it once was. Manson is erratic, to put it delicately, and kindly. His live vocals are pretty rough, and his energy is sporadic at best. When he went down into the area in front of the stage and interacted with the fans in the front rows, he was electrifying, delivering a 9 minute version of The Beautiful People that was pure Manson at his best.

On the plus side, he now has a fantastic drummer, and several times the thunderous performance from that guy seemed to light up sparks with the goth icon.

I just long for the days when Manson put as much into his live act as he does in his studio efforts, The man is hilarious when he talks to the crowd, too. I really appreciate that he seemingly says whatever floats into his mind at any given moment….definitely not reading off a script!

As long as he keeps putting out great albums, I will keep supporting the live shows, because when he tries, Marilyn Manson is still capable of rock theater on a grand scale. Speaking of grand scale, Rob Zombie is the textbook definition of over the top spectacle. His light show, back screen projections, and sound are consistently cutting edge, and his band is a lethal machine.

One of the highlights for me was John 5’s ripping showcase of his incendiary guitar technique. He blazed away for nearly 5 minutes, covering several styles at dangerous levels of speed, but with a surgical precision.

Piggie D supplied the booming bottom end and contributed key backing vocals, while Ginger Fish supplied the blasting beats that provide that signature Zombie swing.

Zombie himself is perpetual motion, and totally committed to involving his audience in the experience of full immersion into the BIG SHOW. As I mentioned before, there weren’t a lot of changes in either headliners song lists this time around, but Zombie and band did throw in a scalding version of Blitzkrieg Bop by Ramones in the middle of Thunderkiss ’65, and that was a huge highlight for me. Near the end of the show, Manson and Zombie teamed up on The Beatles’ classic, Helter Skelter, completed with images of the infamous Manson Family on the assorted screens. Zombie pointed out that the 50th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca murders had happened just a couple of days prior to our show…”Better late than never,” he said. Even after seeing this show twice, I am pretty confident I would go back for more next year. That’s how much fun the Twins Of Evil are!

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 8/7/2019, Heart brought the Love Alive

Tour to Deer Creek in Noblesville, IN. Along with the Wilson sisters, we were rocked by stellar sets from Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Elle King.

It was a smart move by the veterans to bring fresh new talent along for this all female front line tour, because Elle King got that crowd pumped up from the very beginning.

I hadn’t heard much of her music prior to this show, but I was impressed with her powerful vocals, her energy, her easy rapport with the audience, and her musical diversity. Elements of rock, blues, country, and pop all weaved in and out of her songs that were born for the stage.

Her song Ex’s & Oh’s is an anthem for certain. That one had the crowd in the palm of her sassy hands! I was an immediate fan watching her play a Flying V guitar that was nearly as big as she was…and handling it like a boss.

Speaking of bosses, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts wasted no time in asserting their badass brand of punk tinged hard rock. Jett is beloved nearly universally, and she effortlessly exudes cool confidence and sexy swagger.

Even on the big screens, one can see that glint of playful excitement in her eyes, and it is as contagious as a rock ‘n roll epidemic. When she lights into Bad Reputation, Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah), and I Love Rock ‘n Roll, everyone in the venue feels like they are 16 again, at least in spirit.

Heart proved beyond a doubt their legendary status with a sterling selection of their career spanning deep treasure chest of classic songs.

Not content to just play their own stuff, Heart tossed in some absolute gems of cover songs, including Your Move by Yes, The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, and an absolutely breathtaking tour de force rendition of Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Ann Wilson’s voice was a force of nature throughout, and younger sister Nancy played electric and acoustic guitars and mandolin with masterful intensity, contributing some lovely lead vocals and harmonizing beautifully with her sibling.

All 3 bands were comprised of men playing their roles with anonymous but fierce contributions; content to let the legendary ladies claim the spotlight. My only complaints about this show were that it was too quiet (crank it up!), and that the crowd on the lawn were too lazy to get off their lazy asses and feed these amazing artists with some well earned energy. Everyone sounded great, but it was almost like someone has decided that the audience is old and tired and might want to just sit in their trendy little lawn chairs and not have to deal with that loud rock music.

I sure hope that doesn’t become the norm, because these artists deserve a better fate than that.

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 8/4/2019, a group of friends and I attended The Night Running Tour, featuring co-headliners Beck and Cage The Elephant, with support from Spoon and Wild Belle. This diverse lineup hit the stage at Deer Creek (Ruoff blah, blah, blah) in Noblesville, IN on a picture perfect Midwest sunny day.

Wild Belle kicked things off with a set of mellow electronica, psychedelic pop, and soulful grooves. I enjoyed the first 2 or 3 songs, but ultimately felt Wild Belle were a little bland for my taste. They had a great sound mix (as did every band on the bill) and looked sharp in their fashionable white outfits, but I just felt they stuck around a little too long.

Up next was Spoon, who I just discovered are from Texas. This kind of surprised me, as I found their sound to be kind of British pop influenced, and very smoothly executed. I enjoyed Spoon a lot more than the opening band, likely due to much stronger songs and more of a rock band vibe.

Cage The Elephant delivered a fantastic set filled with the antics of the wildly entertaining lead vocalist, Matt Shultz. In no way do I want to imply that Mr. Shultz was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, but that would certainly go a long way towards explaining his choice of stage clothing, unorthodox physical movements, and cryptic speeches between songs.

Vocally he was on point, delivering his songs with loads of passion and consistency, on pitch throughout Cage’s long set. The band played with fiery intensity and all seemed to be having a lot of fun (and a shared amusement at their singer’s actions). When the final song began, Shultz headed into the pavilion seating area (where he had previously serenaded audience members for an entire song earlier in the set) and then out into the lawn, where excited crowd members thronged around the security guards who tried to shield the fearless singer. Eventually the song ended, and Shultz was lifted into the air by the wildly enthusiastic fans. He wound up crowd surfing all the way to the back fence of the venue, where he then climbed onto the roof of the gazebo in back, striking a victorious pose on the peak of the building, soaking up the thunderous ovation!

Beck closed the concert with a phenomenal light show, an incredible band, and his own quirky and funky delivery of his many hits. The years have been quite kind to Beck, because he still looks the same as he did back in the early 90’s, and he was equally effective with a few songs performed solo on guitar as he was with the full force of that airtight band.

A long final song that also featured the return of Matt Shultz and Natalie Bergman from Wild Belle, plus loads of confetti and a great atmosphere of pure party time fun, was the perfect ending to a diverse and massively entertaining concert.

This one was outside of my comfort zone and I have to admit I should venture there more often!

On This Day in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 7/21/2019, I entered into uncharted territory by attending a superb show featuring Baroness and Torche, 2 bands I knew very little about. This wonderful event took place at Deluxe, the downstairs room at Old National Centre in Indianapolis. I have been to several shows at both The Egyptian Room and The Murat Theatre, but this was my first time at the Deluxe, and I was quite impressed by the sound and visual aspect of the room.

Torche kicked things off with a lethal barrage of stoner rock riffage that pummeled the crowd relentlessly throughout their energetic set. The only complaints I had were that the vocals were too low in the mix, and that there were literally no dynamics in Torche’s music. Otherwise, what they did, they did exceptionally well, and the instrumental mix was on point…crushing guitars, deep and bone rattling bass, and concussion level drumming, all played with tons of energy.

I will have to check out some of their studio stuff to get a better idea of their vocals and lyrics, though.

Baroness is an intriguing band, and although I had only heard a small selection of songs on YouTube about a year ago, I knew enough that I wanted to see this band on stage.

Nothing could have prepared me for how monumentally satisfying this music would affect me. From the moment they took the stage, Baroness was electrifying; with lead singer John Dyer Baizley running to the edge of the crowd with a beaming, nearly maniacal grin on his face.

Lead guitarist Gina Gleason was visibly excited, too, frequently making eye contact and headbanging gleefully whenever she wasn’t providing spellbinding harmony vocals to Baizley’s fantastic voice.

The guitar work that those two graced the boisterous crowd with was a tapestry of richly haunting tones, mixed with savage power, and consummate tasteful elegance.

Vocally, Baizley and Gleason blended together into something truly magical.

Nick Jost provided excellent bass and keyboard work, while Sebastian Thomson held it all together with rock solid drums and percussion.

Baroness made a huge impression on me that night, and I realized that by having virtually no knowledge of their music and no preconceived notions, I was able to have a purely musical experience, taking the show completely at face value. What a glorious concert…what a beautiful band!

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams AKA “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 6/25/2019, my bucket list was shattered…Shattered! Shidoobee, shidoobee, shidoobee…but I digress…I saw The Rolling Stones! The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band! I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, but I finally got to witness these legends.

As fate would have it, Mick Jagger endured a heart surgery and the entire tour had to be rescheduled over his recovery, resulting in my friend and I getting to see just the second show on the tour!

We traveled through the insanity of Chicago traffic, through an intense hail storm, through being directed to 3 different entry gates before we finally arrived at our excellent seats. At this point I allowed myself to realize it was really going to happen!

I shot some video of Soldier Field steadily filling up with hordes of Stones fans, many of whom probably were feeling the myriad of emotions I was experiencing at the exact same moments.

The opening band, Whiskey Myers, played a good set of rocking Southern tinged Country Blues, and were well received.

Finally, as dusk was giving way to darkness, the lights and video displays started flashing and a booming voice announced the famous words, “Ladies and gentlemen…The Rolling Stones!” Keith Richards was launching into the high octane guitar riff of Jumping Jack Flash; Charlie Watts a millisecond behind him, already steadying the beat and propelling the engine that is the most iconic pure rock and roll band in the history of this universe.

Mick Jagger, 75 years young and fresh from heart surgery, was singing and gesturing, gyrating, displaying moves like, well…JAGGER…and Ron Wood was there with that big lovable grin, and the rest of the extended band were in lock motion with the four mains…and it was absolutely breathtaking!

I have seen the setlist from the Friday night show, and am impressed at how many songs were changed out for our show. The Stones are not a cookie cutter group that plays the same show in every city.

We got a different opening song, and a different acoustic set on the extended stage. Our acoustic songs were a rare Play With Fire, and a killer Sweet Virginia; proving beyond a doubt what I have said for decades;

The Rolling Stones are the best country band on the planet!

A sizzling Miss You midway through the show proved they are also the best r&b and disco band on Earth, too.

Bassist Darryl Jones was featured in an extended bass solo that showcased his funky side without being too flashy; in other words, classy perfection. The horn section had moments to shine, too.

As a former trumpet player I was happy to see an actual French Horn on You Can’t Always Get What You Want, instead of a trombone.

The sax player who took over from the late great Bobby Keyes delivered a sizzling solo on Brown Sugar, as did longtime keyboard guru and band director, Chuck Leavell.

The band introductions were super entertaining, displaying the adoration the fans feel for Ron Wood and Charlie Watts. The biggest love was shown to the immortal Keith Richards, who displayed his rogue pirate persona before he sang the soulful Slipping Away (one of my personal favorite Keith vocal songs) and the wonderful Before They Make Me Run. Keith made a mistake and started Midnight Rambler on the wrong guitar, resulting in Jagger stopping the band and proclaiming they were in the wrong key! Mick said it was still early in the tour and that they still had time for a fuck-up or two! Of course, the crowd loved his candor, and the Stones proceeded to play a blazing Paint It Black.

After a quick guitar change, Keith launched back into Midnight Rambler with a vengeance, and the band matched his intensity, delivering what for me was the highlight of a concert that was totally full of highlights…a stunning 11:30 worth of blazing, muscular, menacing blues…proving that these guys are most certainly not doing this for the money. That type of hunger and passion simply cannot be faked.

Each of the four primary Stones filled me with awe, from Jagger’s nonstop moving (the man literally never stopped for a moment), to his phenomenal harmonica playing and solid rhythm guitar work, Richards and Wood displaying what Keith lovingly describes as “the ancient art of weaving”, guitar lines playing cat and mouse between the two venerable masters, and of course the economy and rock solid dominance of Watts’ sublime drumming.

The sound was pristine (especially considering it was in a football stadium with an open roof) and the lights and video screens were state of the art.

I’m kind of bouncing in and out of the actual timeline, but some other highlights were an astonishing Tumbling Dice, Bitch, Honky Tonk Woman, Start Me Up, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, and Sympathy For The Devil.

There had been an online vote for a song and the winner for our show was Monkey Man…and it was a swaggering gem!

The encores were an incendiary Gimme Shelter and the finale of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (complete with fireworks…a LOT of fireworks)!

For nearly 2 hours, these legends proved without a shadow of a doubt why they are simply the best at what they do. My bucket list is shattered…Long Live The Rolling Stones! Thank you Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie…and all the rest. You guys are the soundtrack to my life…I got Satisfaction last Tuesday…if you try sometimes, you get what you need!

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams AKA “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 6/11/2019, I ended a 40 year ban and saw REO Speedwagon for the first time since 1979! This happened because a wonderful new friend won free tickets and invited me.

The concert took place at The Lawn in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis. I had never been to this venue before and I was quite impressed with the sound and visibility of the stage area.

Sister Hazel opened the show, but I must confess that they basically served as background music for a really interesting conversation my friend and I were having. To their credit, Sister Hazel sounded quite good.

When REO hit the stage, we moved up much closer to the stage and I must say the venerable classic rockers played all their biggest hits and managed to breathe some new life into some older deep cuts as well.

Lead singer Kevin Cronin did a lot of talking between songs, but his speeches served a purpose, such as his introduction of the band, particularly describing lead guitar player Dave Amato as the “new guy”, even though he joined the band in 1989. Cronin also talked about the songwriting process before performing Golden Country on solo acoustic guitar. That is one of my favorite REO songs, and the intimacy of just voice and guitar was a nice little change of pace.

Another speech involved the song 157 Riverside Ave., which was featured on their first live album. Cronin reminded us that the live version on that album was recorded in Indianapolis at the Convention Center.

Since REO hails from Illinois, Cronin played up the neighborly aspect of the band’s relationship with Indiana.

All in all there was a good balance between the big power ballads and grittier rockers like Back On The Road Again, Keep Pushin’ and Ridin’ The Storm Out. The crowd was singing along and swaying to the hits for the duration of the show. I’m glad I lifted the ban, because this time around was way more fun than the show I saw 40 years ago!

On This Date in History