Pop-Break Live: Uproar Festival 2014

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If anyone recently watched the culturally irrelevant 2014 MTV VMA’s, the blatant disrespect shown towards modern rock music severely spiked my blood pressure and perhaps caused unnecessary heartache. If you missed the MTV train wreck disguised as an award ceremony, Lorde picked up the victory for best rock video of the year. Did you notice what I just said? Don’t get me wrong, Lorde is extremely talented, charming, and possesses quite the high ceiling to maximize her delightful musical capabilities. I must ponder this question, is she really a rock artist though? The answer is hell no! Just because she fronted Nirvana for a reunion show doesn’t mean she is quote on quote a ‘rock artist.’ Is MTV blatantly out of touch with modern music? I’m withholding my laughter but I fear for a future generations of mainstream listener’s with no exposure to hard rock on any wide scale medium. Does this symbolize a society that no longer cares for the values of rock n’ roll music?

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Just a few days later, I attended the 2014 Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival in Camden, New Jersey for a full day excursion celebrating an old school aesthetic seemingly extinct in the mainstream. Straight up, some of these artists performing at Uproar represent the very few acts in hard rock achieving any sort of commercial success in today’s fickle music industry. In what’s become the wild west, this package represent a small demographic of musicians sticking to their guns and clawing through the trenches to keep the spirit of rock n’ roll alive. Here in New Jersey, FM stations like WMMR, WRAT, and WDHA still manage to plug in some newer acts despite conglomerates like Clear Channel shoving the same classic rock playlists down our throats. For what it’s worth, this event felt like a cure to my ailing troubles following my pessimistic disappointment with MTV. Truth be told, I always hated the VMA’s but you’re telling me that artists like Seether, Pop Evil, or even a modern powerhouse like Avenged Sevenfold couldn’t receive a nomination despite having successfully charting albums? Regardless of how the majority interprets rock n’ roll, young bands will continue to forge ahead whether it’s in the clubs or in front of a big amphitheater right outside of Philadelphia.

Just a few weeks after Mayhem’s inaugural trek in Camden, Uproar followed the blueprint of its heavy metal cousin by organizing a lineup packed with promising talent and established veterans. While Mayhem typically attracts predominant metal acts, Uproar invites established hard rock artists capable of attracting non-casual rock listeners based off popular radio singles. If my friends ask for new rock recommendations, I could usually point to Uproar’s lineup as a guide to assist their search. From the offset, I thought the young guns like Escape The Fate and Pop Evil made their presence felt and nearly stole the show from some of their veteran contemporaries. By the night’s conclusion, Godsmack literally put on a clinic that made the Uproar lineup look like appetizers when compared to the Boston veteran’s full course meal.

Starting my recap by focusing on the second stage, Escape The Fate stuck out like a sore thumb considering how their style leans more towards metalcore, yet still infuses the grandiosity of eighties inspired sunset strip nostalgia. In modern terms, they find a common ground between Motley Crue and Bullet For My Valentine. Hailing from Las Vegas, this five-piece is no stranger to displaying Crue-esque attitude, especially when vocalist Craig Mabbitt commands the crowd to open up a circle pit during the softer verses. In terms of the ripping up the fretboard, the spotlight shined on Kevin Gruft who displayed a fierce clinic of mouthwatering sweep arpeggios and thrash infused guitar riffs. I give Escape The Fate props for holding onto an essence of eighties inspired glitz and punch not commonly found in newer bands nowadays. In essence, attracting young listeners who clamor for Escape The Fate benefited the veteran acts looking to impress unfamiliar listeners. Despite the sun clamoring down and causing looks of massive dehydration, this youthful audience kept the crowd in tact and pushed those older attendees to lose their minds during “The Guillotine Pt. 2 (This War Is Ours).”

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After the heaviest portion of the festival not named Godsmack concluded, Buckcherry’s rock n’ roll prowess hit the second stage at the perfect time. For an established act known for popular crossover singles, I commend Buckcherry for getting up close and personal on the smaller stage despite having more ‘hits’ than some of their main stage tour mates. Truth be told, the audience demographic shifted as packs of women clamored for Josh Todd’s utterances of “Crazy Bitch.” If you haven’t heard, Buckcherry’s latest EP is titled Fuck and every song title on the tracklist seriously includes the word “Fuck.” If you happened to look at Xavier Muriel’s bass drum, the “F” logo could be found in the New York City subway system. Anyway, this band’s utterances about sex and drugs more or less increased the crowd temperature; especially when women shrieked during the group’s Icona Pop cover “I Don’t Care (Say Fuck It)” and AC/DC rendition of “Big Balls.”

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Shortly after Buckcherry’s set concluded, I spoke with John Humphrey from Seether for an exclusive interview coming very soon to Pop-Break. Once my conversation concluded, I headed towards the amphitheater where I watched Pop Evil proceed to lose their minds on stage. Have you ever walked into a wall of sound? I mean; those guitars were bone crunching considering the ferocious distortion pouring out of the amplifiers. I’m not joking, drummer Chachi Riot looked like he was in the midst of fighting his drumset considering how hard he hit those cymbals. I will admit, I’m only familiar with Pop Evil’s radio singles but I thought the back catalog absolutely whooped those hits a new one. Channeling the likes of Alice In Chains and Alter Bridge, this Michigan act absolutely blew me away considering my novice expertise on their material. In fact, Pop Evil came to work and took the crowd by storm. By the set’s conclusion, the entire crowd was impressed by this band’s relentless drive on stage. Straight up, I’m giving Pop Evil the highest compliment by placing their set right behind Godsmack’s for the peak points of Uproar. If you’re attending Uproar, Pop Evil cannot be missed by any mean’s or measures!

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In what’s become an inspiring tale, Skillet represents sticking to your goals and ultimately finding triumph through perseverance. Unlike most bands, Skillet continues to grow in popularity nearly eighteen-years since their formation. Right now, this Tennessee act has morphed into an established main stage player with a slew of charting singles on rock radio. While it wasn’t necessarily jaw dropping, I thought Skillet served as a nice bridge between the heavier sets of Pop Evil and Seether. Bringing out some eye opening stage props, Skillet’s use of stage risers definitely drew cheers from the audience. Even infusing a hint of classical music, it was pretty badass to see cello and violin players rise fifteen-feet in the air during “Monster.” In terms of the venue’s sound, I thought Skillet suffered from muddiness that made it hard to hear certain aspects of the performance. Let’s be clear though, some kinks are likely to be expected during a festival like Uproar, especially considering the influx of artists sharing the same stage. Regardless, Skillet’s on stage charisma deserves to be commended.

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The sun started to settle while Seether’s tour crew began to modify the main stage. While huge droves of attendees packed the arena, I felt this sense of excitement amongst the fans who couldn’t wait to hear bonafide hits like “Remedy,” “Broken,” and “Fake This.” I imagine a decent portion of atendees left work and drove straight to the arena just to see the headliners. Truth be told, this sense of accomplishment separates the main stage players from the openers. Seether’s latest LP Isolate and Medicate showcases a band showing no sign’s of wearing down as they continue to create the hookiest songs under the helm of legendary producer Brendan O’Brien. Within seconds, the lights dimmed as the bouncing riffs of “Gasoline” called for instantaneous headbanging. I’m drawing a quick comparison; Seether’s dark stage setup reminds me of Tool’s live show. Instead of mesmerizing the audience by roaming across the stage, the lack of brightness gave listeners the precedent to focus on the rawness of the performance. Standing close to Shaun Morgan, this frontman channels some real inner demons when he taps into the lyrical proponent of his material. In fact, he often looks possessed when expressing those painful emotions and utilizes his time on stage as a therapy session. Anything post grunge related summons the angriest reactions amongst die-hard metal heads or rock listeners, yet Seether’s professionalism and massive stock of crowd pleasers should even impress close-minded haters. This band is completely in synch with one another therefore creating a level of solidarity that creates a sense of appreciation for their craft.

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Personally speaking, Uproar’s lineup reminds of Wrestlemania, UFC, or even boxing where the card is stacked with solid matches but it builds into the anticipation for the main event. During past Mayhem and Uproar festival’s, I witnessed Godsmack absolutely embarrass acts including Disturbed and Shinedown by blowing them off the stage like they were inadequate amateurs. I give much credit to the Uproar organizers this year for avoiding such calamity and allowing Godsmack to end the festival on the highest note. Truth be told, few frontmen hone the ability to rile up a crowd quite like Sully Erna. Being fortunate enough to see legends like Bruce Dickinson, James Hetfield, and Ronnie James Dio live, I fully standby stating that Erna ranks right up there in terms of command, reliability, and inspiration. His stage presence should serve as a wake-up call to the countless number of generic frontman flooding metal and rock right now. Whenever the Boston heavyweights hit the road, expect nothing less than a 1000 horsepower’s worth of relentless energy.

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Currently touring behind their recently released sixth studio LP 1000 HP, Godsmack’s setlist maintained a healthy balance between old and new material. I must say; the group’s new song “Something Different” screams radio airplay especially when people nearby had second thoughts about grabbing a beer. Let’s put it this way, current radio topper “1000hp” already made its way into Godsmack’s encore due to its punk infused blend of attitude. Nearly sixteen-years since their debut, one must appreciate this band’s excellence in the confines of a live stage. No questions asked, songs including “Keep Away,” “Straight Out Of Line,” and “Awake” just summon those inner feelings of aggression where your boost of adrenaline hits dangerous levels of implosion. All in the meanwhile, “Voodoo” summons those eerie feelings of witchcraft and reincarnation attached to the band’s lyrical mystique. Once Godsmack kicks into its acclaimed drum solo “Batalla de los Tambores,” it’s case closed for who won Uproar. For those who don’t know, Sully Erna was a lifelong drummer before switching to vocals following Godsmack’s formation. Along with Shannon Larkin, both drummers summon inspiration from geographical percussionists that combine Latin and Caribbean infused rhythms with heavy metal. Aside from Neil Peart’s drum solo in Rush; I never witnessed a more crowd pleasing yet musically virtuosic performance. Even infusing glimpses of AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Metallica’s “Creeping Death,” and Rush’s “YYZ,” I’m sure the entire city of Philadelphia heard this audience scream in droves once the band kicked into “Whatever.”

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As I near the conclusion of my review, I’d like to point out one last story that occurred during the night. In what’s become a drug-addicting staple during Godsmack’s show, Erna challenges his fans to raise the volume during “Whatever” so they could either embarrass the previous city or heighten expectations for the next show. In year’s past, I even watched Erna pin the right side of the venue against the left side in order to see who was louder. This time around, Erna walked over to a table holding 10 plastic cups of cold beer and spoke about the benefits of drinking a cold one during a scorching summer day. If he were pitching a product, I’m sure the audience would have sold out the catalog. In what became the highlight of Uproar, Erna channeled his inner Tom Brady, pointed towards specific members of the audience, and tossed them beer from the stage. I’m not joking; I’d say at least five out of ten fans actually caught flying cups of beer from long distance. Based off the difficulty alone, this seemingly impossible Hail Mary caused deafening roars all around the venue like someone scored a Superbowl winning touchdown. Since I previously mentioned Boston and Philadelphia, it reminded me of when David Tyree made that amazing catch from Eli Manning during the Giants Superbowl win in 2008! Even in a large amphitheater, everyone from the front pit towards the lawn connected with Godsmack as if they were playing a small club. How many bands could make 10,000 people feel so united? In essence, Godsmack’s performance represents the beauty of attending live shows as no other experience comes close to capturing the chemistry between an artist and audience. Regardless of society’s ignorance towards rock music, bands like Godsmack carry the flag through the roughest trends for those of us willing to follow their lead.

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