Slipknot. Lamb of God. Red Rocks. 08.19.15
Slipknot closed the night with “Surfacing”, a ‘national anthem’ for outsiders around the world, and although the lyrics read like something scribbled in the journal of a disturbed teenager, it didn’t stop thousands of grown men (and some women) from screaming along with their fists in the air. “Fuck it all! Fuck this world! Fuck everything you stand for!” If someone were to walk in right at that point, as masked men were spewing hatred from a stage on fire, they would have probably shit their pants. Those of us who were there from the beginning knew better though. As Corey Taylor mentioned numerous times throughout the performance, it was nothing more than a family affair. Sure, there were dangers lurking around every corner — one guy named Skeeter took a header down three rows of stairs, spilling his beer in the process — and just like every family reunion, there were disagreements that turned into short-lived skirmishes. Those incidents were the exception to the rule though. Overall, the infectious hostility was dealt with in a mature, non-violent manner. A headbanging, fist pumping, air guitaring, lip-syncing manner. And what better way to take out your frustrations than to rage against the world at the top of your lungs, from the top of Red Rocks, while pyrotechnics blow shit to pieces in front of you?
On the off chance that you had a relatively stress-free day yesterday, Red Rocks had you covered. There was no room for complacent people at the “Summer’s Last Stand Tour”, so the bill was stacked with bands ready to elevate blood pressure. And as a failsafe for those who were unable to get off work early, Denver’s finest were more than willing to add a little tension. Police cruisers were blocking Entrance 1 due to a lack of parking spots. Those coming from I-70 were sent south on CR-93 to Entrance 2 to join the gridlock of cars that came before them. The choices were to crawl along to Red Rocks Parks and hope to find a place alongside the road, or flip around and take 470. Getting through Morrison and into Entrance 3 was a breeze, but then hard reality hit when the Lower South lots were full. I was directed through the entire park until I ended up back where I started…a small dirt lot at Entrance 2. I had been driving around for forty minutes by that point. Sure, it was only a minor inconvenience, and the thirty minute hike to the base of the venue was exercise I needed anyway, but by the time I slammed my first beer, I was more than ready to rage! Thankfully, Randy Blythe was in the same state of mind. When Lamb of God took the stage, I was out of breath and covered in sweat, but that was ok, because they were singing my song.
“Walk with me in hell!!!” Lamb of God had no problem occupying the big stage, but as they made their way through that opening cut from Sacrament, it was obvious that a crucial part of their performance was missing. The dual screens were there, Blythe was the powerhouse vocalist and performer he always is, and the band was on point, but there was no pit. The swirling abyss that occupied the middle ground of every other Lamb of God show I’ve been to was missing. Red Rocks is my favorite venue on Earth, but there is a reason I’ve only seen a handful of metal shows there. I might have outgrown the pit years ago, but I still feed off the energy that emanates from it. That said, as Blythe dedicated “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” to our servicemen and women, I realized that 9,450 is a large number. So although everyone might not have been running around in circles slamming into each other, just by being present, the over-sold crowd of metalheads more than made up for the lack of a pit.
Lamb of God have been in the business of making metal over two decades now, so they know what they are doing. A Lamb of God show is truly a no-frills metal experience. Each song is an assault on the senses, and half the time everyone is slamming around and headbanging so hard that they aren’t even watching the stage. Last night was a little different because of the restrictions of the venue itself, so I actually paid more attention to what was happening. What I witnessed was a group of musicians who were only concerned with two things – their craft and making sure the crowd were feeling what they were laying down. Blythe was concerned with those two things as well, but he just couldn’t deny the acrobat within. The dude was kicking and jumping and running around the stage like a man on fire. The videos were sick as well. The fallen soldiers during “Something to Die For”, the bloodied people in fits of rage during “512”, the religious fanatics during “Ruin”, the war scenes during “Hourglass”, and the natural disasters during “Still Echoes”…all reminded me of the amazing photography Blythe posts on Instagram. It was also Blythe who spoke directly to the crowd. “Do you know how fucking cool it is to look at all of you?!!!” It was his first time at Red Rocks, and although he recently crowned a venue in Sweden as the most beautiful he’d seen, he admitted that Red Rocks had topped it.
Openers don’t usually do encores, but Lamb of God are more than your average opener, so it wasn’t surprising when they took the stage for a few more songs. The night sky was black, with nothing but a slight sliver of moon hovering above those in the back rows. “Vigil” and “Laid to Rest” led into the ultimate closing track, “Redneck”. “This is a motherfucking invitation!” Some people just couldn’t resist the primal urge during that song, so micropits formed along the stairs, but Lamb of God were gone before they got out of control. The set was too short, but the band did their job. They spun us up tight and then went backstage to hand Slipknot the string.
A giant curtain concealed the stage for a half hour as the men in masks built their carnival of horror, so it wasn’t until 9:30pm when Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil” predicted the start of the show. Still in secretive mode, “XIX” was piped over the PA before any member of the band was shown. As the anticipation became something you could feel in the air, I wondered if Slipknot would deliver. I always have a hard time enjoying bands that I’ve never really listened to, so I couldn’t help but doubt that some nu metal band from Iowa would entertain me more than Lamb of God. But as the curtain split in half, to reveal an 8-piece band surrounded by a river of fire, I realized that Slipknot were in another league when it came to stage presence. The multi-level setup reminded me of King Diamond’s latest tour, but with a trio of percussionists (two of whom were beating kegs from spinning platforms), more pyrotechnics than I’ve ever seen at Red Rocks, a giant horned mask and funhouse mirror, it was the metal concert equivalent of Cirque du Soleil.
It literally was a circus up there. To call Corey Taylor the ringleader would be misleading though, because there was no single person choreographing the performance. There were many freaks, and zero leashes, so the inmates were literally running the asylum. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance here, as I don’t my #6 from my #3, but it was almost unbelievable how in sync they all were. The fact that some of those guys were keeping time by beating on empty kegs, while standing on a spinning platform with fireballs literally exploding next to their heads, would have been impressive even if the music sucked, but it didn’t. I have to admit that I never really gave Slipknot a chance back in the day. It’s not that I didn’t like their type of music (I was and am an unapologetic fan of Korn, System of a Down and Marilyn Manson), it’s just that I never got around to listening to them. I think I found their image distracting and I just lumped them into gimmicky bands like Insane Clown Posse. I now realize how wrong I was.
Concealing your face is one thing, but concealing Red Rocks is something I’ve always had a hard time with. Why cover such an amazing backdrop with your band’s banner? Slipknot did something extremely unique though. The funhouse mirror reflected the crowd back at themselves. It was one of the coolest stage props I’ve ever seen. It was hard to make out all the reflections from where we were sitting, but I’m sure the people in the front rows had a crazy point-of-view experience. You’re probably noticing I’m taking a lot about the visual aspect of the show and not so much about the actual music. That’s because I didn’t really know the songs. Everything sounded amazing though. There were selections that reminded me of Korn (“Spit It Out”). There were groovier pieces (with a razor sharp edge) that brought Pantera to mind. The growled vocals were as on point as the clean singing (“Sulfur”). Looking back at the setlist today, I can say that they covered quite a bit of ground…with almost as many songs from their debut album as from their latest. And the crowd ate up every word of every one of them. It was during “Duality” that the audience pretty much took over vocal duties. The main set ended with “Custer” (cut, cut, cut me up!) before the band came back for a three song encore. The whole thing lasted just under two hours and was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
The harsh reality of sending a bunch of beer-soaked metalheads out into the darkness after a show is that it can lead to violence. Some people just don’t know what to do with the excess adrenaline running through their veins. If that was the case last night, I’m glad I miss out on the fun. As we made our way down the rocky, ankle-breaking Red Rocks Trail, people were lighting the way for each other with smartphone flashlights. The conversations among strangers were loud and exaggerated, but they were civil. It might come across as cheesy when people like Corey Taylor refer to their fans as family, but he is right…there is a true camaraderie among fans of extreme music. Last night proved it. The fact that Slipknot and friends were able to sell-out Red Rocks on a Wednesday night says something about the state of extreme music. As I said before, I wasn’t a big fan of the band when I walked (hiked!) into the venue , but I considered myself part of the family by the time I left. I think I would’ve been able to relate to their lyrical content a lot more about twenty years ago, but there is no age-limit to appreciating an incredible live performance. And as live performances go, there are very few who can compete with those masked men from Iowa.
Lamb of God:
Walk with Me in Hell
Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Laid to Rest
The Heretic Anthem
The Devil in I
Wait and Bleed
Before I Forget
Spit It Out
People = Shit