The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, the biggest and best all-day metal festival in the nation, kicked off its Summer 2012 tour this past weekend at San Manuel Amphitheatre. Nearly 50,000 people packed this year's festival, the most in its five-year history, due in no small part to an immensely solid lineup that sported veteran crushers Anthrax, Slayer, Motorhead, Slipknot and more.
Asking Alexandria, Devil Wears Prada, Whitechapel and a slew of younger bands rounded out the bill. If Warped Tour is for the kids with geometric haircuts, girl pants, eyeliner and shrieking vocals, then Mayhem is for the black-clad big brothers and sisters who beat them up and smashed their shitty stereos.
Slayer and Slipknot were returning Mayhem performers, and both were clearly in excitable form. Devil Wears Prada opened the main stage, and handled the intimidation of playing on the same stage as their heroes. The band, who are currently touring in support of their newly released album Dead & Alive, tore the hell out of their set and made a lasting impact even on those for whom Mayhem was only about seeing the heavy hitter precursors to today's rising acts.
As I Lay Dying and Asking Alexandria sparked enough energy early in the day to get some sizable pits going, an appetizer for the full-crowd cauldron of slamming bodies that rose for Anthrax, who headlined the afternoon fare on the smaller Jägermeister stage over the hill.
As the dinner hour rolled around (meaning overpriced beer, burgers and soft pretzels up on the hill), Motorhead played a hits-packed set that was the unofficial "Oh god I need to get there right now!" alarm to the stragglers and late-comers to the fest. Truth be told, “Going to Brazil” and “The One to Sing the Blues” were two highlights that stood out among all the other performances in the day, simply for the level of fan enthusiasm at play.
The evening’s next performer, Slayer, were working with a replacement in the absence of flesh-eating-bateria level ill Jeff Hanneman. Longtime friend Gary Holt stepped in to blast the packed crowd in front of a stage setup that included two flame-spewing inverted crosses made up of Marshall amps. Oh, your band has spikes on a cardboard cutout of its name? Right. Very metal.
Guitarist Kerry King was a furious blast of intricate screaming riffs, his hands a blur on the frets, not a single fuck to give about rock star imagery or posturing. The man is pure metal, through and through.
To close the night, Slipknot’s headliner set began with a white curtain falling dramatically to reveal a nightmare carnival of flames, with a giant ouija board bearing the words "All hope is gone" looming large in the back. From behind their signature face masks, the Iowa killers' set included live rarities such as "Stuff" and "Gently," a song Slipknot haven’t performed in 11 years.
There was, of course, a notable absence of two essential characters from Slipknot’s lineup: bassist Paul Gray, who died unexpectedly in 2010, and guitarist Jim Root, who was sidelined with a burst appendix. Strangely, Donnie Steele handled bass duties while Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso from As I Lay Dying handled guitar – all from backstage.
Despite their diminished numbers (and Clown's clear discomfort at hitting giant metal kegs with a baseball bat for the length of an entire song), there was no mistaking the fact that Slipknot absolutely owned the stage, and the crowd that hung out in the desert heat all day to see them perform.
Drummer Joey Jordison was a double-bass blizzard of percussion, driving the band through celebrated older gems including “The Heretic Anthem” and “People = Sh*t”. Vocalist Corey Taylor accentuated the intensity with tightly-wound explosive bursts of vocality and electric energy, often roaring off-mic and throwing middle fingers to the crowd with teeth-baring intensity.
With a wildly successful Mayhem, a new greatest hits album and their own upcoming daylong event, Knotfest (featuring Lamb of God, Deftones and Cannibal Corpse), it's clear that the members of Slipknot are determined to rise above tragedy and keep the maggots twisting in ecstasy for years to come. With Saturday's airtight performance serving as a celebrated return from a three-year live absence, it's all smiles today in the world of a Slipknot fan.
Photos: Johnny Firecloud