The city of Pomona, named after the Roman goddess of fruit trees, was home to the debut of a potentially annual, concert event: Epicenter ’09, subtitled “So Cal’s Rock Explosion.” Two stages and concessions were set up at inside the racetrack at Fairplex Park.
Being inland 27 miles east of Los Angeles, Pomona is expected to be hot in August, but the day started of unusually humid as well, with claims of a 20% chance of rain and thunderstorms. To combat the heat, my friend Ted and I made sure to load up on “fluids” in the parking lot.
As we made our way in, Street Sweeper Social Club got the main stage started a little after one, playing a short set of songs from their debut album. Their music was rockin’, as expected with the talented Tom Morello on guitar leading the way with his trademark pyrotechnics that make you wonder how he makes some of those sounds. The lyrics were filled with messages that likely work better for the have-nots.
A lot of attendees wore black, but the commitment to their lifestyle should have given way to comfort, considering how hot the day was getting. We sought shade in the two-story Monster VIP booth, which was placed behind the soundboards, and drank their energy drinks and ate their appetizers.
Hollywood Undead came out wearing masks and sounded like a heavier version of Linkin Park, which in part means they seem inorganically manufactured by a producer or music label. I was surprised a good portion of the crowd was into them. After a couple of songs they took off their masks, so I didn’t get the point of having them in the first place nor why five guys were running around on the mic. I found them very boring and was concerned that in combination with the heat I was going to pass out regardless of their volume.
Atreyu also created forgettable, loud noise. When they first hit the stage, it didn’t sound like their guitar and mic levels were set right, and a background vocal track could be heard, but we couldn’t tell who was singing. Maybe a recorded track? Later, the bass levels were off as well. Near the stage a nice size mosh pit broke out, so some people must have either enjoyed the music or having hot, sweaty, dirty, man flesh banging into them in a homoerotic manner
We headed out into the masses to catch Wolfmother, whose debut album bowled me over and still does. Unfortunately Chris Ross and Myles Heskett left the band in 2008, so Andrew Stockdale now leads the 2.0 version accompanied by Ian Peres (bass/keys); Aidan Nemeth (guitar); David Atkins (drums). Opening with “Dimension,” there was too much bass. The levels were corrected for the next song, something off the upcoming Cosmic Egg. The songs played from this album didn’t have any organ in the arrangements. The band played a very spacey opening on “Carnival,” and came back to it during the bridge, but the bass was off again. They rocked hard on “Woman” and Stockdale delivered a good guitar solo. Their set was way too short.
During “Mind’s Eye,” some young man a few people in front of me dropped to his knees because he didn’t now how to properly pace himself. As his friends picked him up and turned him around, he looked wrecked and had trouble focusing his eyes. With arms on shoulders, they tried walking out, but he collapsed. Friend #1 grabbed his legs and friend #2 put his arms under the pits and across the chest. As they carried him, he briefly came to with a “what’s happening” expression. People in the crowd laughed and took photos, angering friend #2 whose middle-finger-extended-hands rested on his barely conscious friend’s chest, as if he was willing to drop the guy and fight 20-30 people.
We headed over and grabbed a seat in the grandstand for Alice in Chains, who we were both anxious to hear with new lead singer William DuVall. Opening with “Rain When I Die,” the band destroyed our apprehensions, as they sounded great. DuVall has a deeper voice than the late Layne Stayley, but what helps smooth the transition is guitarist Jerry Cantrell singing harmonies. However sitting where we were the sound was very odd, almost like the speakers were rotating. A lot of people in the crowd were happy to hear the old songs live. Listen to them here.
I must confess I am still unable to comprehend the appeal of the studio-polished, rap/rock of Linkin Park, but was in the minority at Epicenter. They are all adequate at what they do, but none are compelling enough to generate any interest in me, and I am completely turned off to the shrill shrieking vocals of Chester Bennington. Their stage set-up was odd as members stood on boxes at different times, looking like children trying to reach the grown-up’s table. At one point, the sound when out during a song to the delight of Tool fans who find LP weak, but fans helped finish the vocal. Things came to a screeching halt when Mike Shinoda offered up some poem about a soldier and war that mentioned Bush and Obama. Bennington brought out his side project Dead By Sunrise for three songs. I enjoyed their ‘80s alt vibe on the first, but the second sounded too much like LP.
Tool closed the show with the most impressive set of the day. I enjoyed their songs, which are not only heavy but also have a progressive rock element to them as they run slightly longer and are seemingly more complex than most of the bands that played this day. The visuals are also an integral part to a Tool experience. The video screens offered unusual images in accompaniment to the music, likely the videos for the songs, and colored lasers shot out over the crowd and pierced the black sky above.
Vocalist Maynard James Keenan was on crutches but told the crowd he wasn’t going to let them down. It was interesting to see him staged in the back alongside the drums, creating a sense that the vocals are not more important than any other element of the song.
Epicenter ’09 was a great success from my vantage point and those around me, so here’s looking forward to Epicenter ’10.